Saturday, November 29, 2008

Breaking up is hard to do...

My sailing career is nearly at an end. Almost every Saturday since the beginning of August, Eric and I have raced out on Sydney Harbour. 20 December is the last race of the Spring Series, and our captains anticipated that we would continue racing in the Summer Series through the end of April. But I just can't take it any longer -- I lack the thirst for blood required for serious racing, and I'm too sensitive to bear the constant screaming. I start dreading each week's race on Friday afternoon and wake up miserable each Saturday. Further, there's something about a compulsory activity every Saturday that just makes it feel like a 6-day work week. Eric and I have just arrived in Australia, and we have a big country to explore, which is tough to do with only one day off per week.

Despite all of that, it's tough to say goodbye. Our captains are really disappointed, and they're such nice people before we start the race and as soon as we cross the finish line. I really wish it had worked out better. I feel so sad letting them down and admitting that this just isn't for me. They blame their high crew turnover on the youth of the people they're able to pull from the online sign-up, but I don't think the realise that there are other contributing issues. If I loved racing, maybe I'd be excited to hit the water every Saturday. I hope that some day I can think of sailing without feeling anxious again, but for now, I guess I can just be grateful that I've had another interesting experience.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Blue Mountains

This weekend's sailing race didn't count for any points, so Eric and I bailed and drove up to the Blue Mountains Friday after work. We stayed in Blackheath at a cute little guest house with four or five rooms attached to a restaurant, in abundance in the Blue Mountains as they were once the respite of Englishmen escaping the Sydney heat.

Friday night we ate at the local hotel/pub. All of the old hotels are now pubs it seems, although some of them do still rent the rooms upstairs. There's one in every little town, or every few blocks in Sydney, and they're always The Local, where the townspeople gather to drink together. And then generally serve traditional British pub fare, which varies in quality (but not in grease content - always high).

Saturday morning we went into Katoomba (you have the love the place names here -- all are either British or Aboriginee) for breakfast and to see the famous Three Sisters rock formation. Katoomba is the most crowded, touristy area in the Blue Mountains, and it was raining a bit, so we drove on to Lithgow. I've only driven one other time, for about five minutes, so clearly it was best that I give it another shot on the winding mountains in the rain. Horrifying. Worst of all, I was pulled over for a random breathalyzer and couldn't recite my address correctly. I hadn't had anything to drink except coffee, but what is it that makes us instantly feel like we're going to be found guilty?

Later in the afternoon, Eric and I did the Grand Canyon hike back in Blackheath. It was 30 minutes down into a deep valley, 30 minutes trek along a tropical stream with weird crawdads and oversized palms, and then an hour back up to the top. When we arrived back at the top of the moutain, we were in the midst of a cloud. You could only see about 15 feet for the mist. Very cool.

Saturday night we made like Australians and ate at the local Chinese restaurant. Asian food is always the safest bet here.

Sunday we hiked the Wentworth Falls/Valley of the Waters trail, another two-hour trek to the bottom of a valley. However, this time, we walked through a valley littered with scenic waterfalls and then climbed about a jillion metal stairs straight up a rock face to the top of the mountain. It was amazing how what you thought was the entire waterfall from below was really only the bottom part. Every ledge we crested showed more of the falls.

On the way home Sunday, we stopped at Terry and Julie's, the owners of the boat, for coffee. They have quite an estate perched on a ledge in the Blue Mountains. I can see why they decided to settle in Julie's home country instead of Terry's...They told us the horrifying story of when the bush (forest) fire passed right over their house, with huge fireballs coming up the side of the cliff. They assign volunteer firefighters to each house, and they make you stay on the premises. Crazy. Julie says one more fire, and she's moving into the city.
We were really struck all weekend by how lucky we are to live here. There are numerous beaches within 30 minutes of our house, we can drive to the mountains in about 1.5 hours, and the weather is beautiful almost every day. It's nice to hear Eric talk about how much he loves where we're living instead of how much he hates it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Eric and I took our second of three surfing lessons today. While the water here is quite cold, you keep pretty warm with the constant paddling. The full body wetsuit helps, too. We obviously had a good time, because we're looking for boards to buy now.
Last Tuesday was Melbourne Cup. In Victoria, where Melbourne is, the day is a holiday. For the rest of Australia and New Zealand, it's an excuse to stop working and start drinking champagne at 2:30. This is definitely a country that takes its gambling seriously. We had several ways to bet on horses in our office. Between my four bets, I managed to win $30 and lose $40. But hey, I'm a winner! Fancy hats are part of the Melbourne Cup tradition, which is evident in the photo above.
The US presidential election was Wednesday Australia time. The entire office was following the progress online all day. When Obama's win was announced, it was the first time I really wished I was back in the United States. I was sad to be so far away on the day I was most proud to be an American. I wanted to be there celebrating with everyone else. At least I had the unique perspective of seeing the reaction of the international community here. I was congratulated all week long, even by strangers who just heard my accent. I think it would have been hard for expats everywhere if Mc Cain had won. The general stereotype of Americans is that of a bunch of ignorant rednecks who think their country is the only one on earth. While I don't think that has been totally erased, there's definitely a little more faith in us now. Now we just have to live up to it. Some of the other legislation that was passed definitely tells me that we still have a long way to go.