Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Australia Style

We drove up to the Hunter Valley on Christmas morning. It's a lot like Napa 20 years ago before it was as crowded and pretentious and with much cooler wildlife. No, they did not just put up this sign because it is insanely cute. We saw a dead wombat about 20 feet from the sign. If only he'd gone a little farther to the wombat crosswalk...

Roses are grown at the end of rows of vines because they're in the same family as the grapes and serve as an early warning sign if soil conditions are beginning to deteriorate.

This is our gang sampling some organic wine...This man purchased another vineyard first and tried to convert it, but he quickly determined that the chemicals in the land would take 250 years+ to bleach out, purchased another vineyard, and started over. It took him four years in the second location to make a harvest. It makes me nervous just hearing about other people doing risky things like that. Next to Eric are Kate and Dan, from the UK. Behind them are Stefanie and Jake from Destin, Florida, USA, followed by Anna (Russia) and Reza (Iran, although in Australia for the past 22 years). We're a pretty diverse crowd, but wine helps everyone to get along.

I went walking in the woods one morning for 1.5 hours, and this guy hopped along side me for a while. He'd hop a few feet, and I'd walk to catch him, and then he'd hop a little farther. More threatening were the many brightly coloured spiders whose webs I walked through. Bugs are big here, like ones you might see in an amusement park ride.

These are some of the kangaroos who ate in our yard each evening about dusk. There were probably 15 around the house throughout the evening. It's really cool to watch them graze. They keep their tails flat on the ground for balance as they lean forward to eat, then they slide their tail along the ground between their legs, lifting their little rumps in the air, until they can take a little hop forward, using their tail for extra propulsion. They just kind of slink around like that until they're ready to go, and then they hop off into the forest. Kangaroos are much like deer in that they hide in the shade of the forest all day, coming out to eat in the morning and at dusk. (We were never awake to see them in the morning...) Kangaroos are also similar to deer in that they also like to commit suicide on the highway.

This is the 3-bedroom house where we stayed. It's about 6,000 times nicer than where we live. I thought I'd never get Eric out of the shower. You could turn around in it without hitting the walls. We spent most of our time out on the big porch drinking wine, playing cards, and looking out for kangaroos. By the time we headed home, my liver was crying for help...We came home along the coast, and I'm proud to say that I drove most of the way. It's not enough that they have to drive on the wrong side of the road, but they also throw in a roundabout every 50 feet. Sheesh.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


The first picture above is from this week's Consulting "meeting" over tea at the Queen Victoria Building. From the Tea room's website:

Imported by the East India Company, the first samples of tea reached England between 1652 and 1654. By the middle of the 18th century, tea had quickly proven popular enough to replace ale as the English national drink.
Prior to the 17th century, the English had two main meals - breakfast and dinner. It was Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford, who first invited her friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal of bread and butter sandwiches, small cakes and, of course, tea. Later, made popular by Queen Victoria, afternoon tea developed into an indulgent cuisine of wafer-thin crust less sandwiches typically of cucumber, smoked salmon and cheddar cheese, fancy cakes and regional British savouries and pastries such as Welsh rarebit, Scottish scones and English crumpets.
Two distinct forms of tea services evolved: ‘low’ and ‘high’ tea. Low tea, enjoyed in the low or early part of the afternoon, was served in aristocratic homes and featured gourmet titbits with emphasis being on the presentation and conversation. The working class originated high tea. Not having the means of two main meals each day they combined afternoon tea with the evening meal, serving meats, breads and cakes with hot tea at the end of the day.
I was surprised to hear that high tea originated with the working class. I had always associated it with the wealthy, but it makes sense that they couldn't just insert an extra meal in their day. This was quite clearly high tea as I almost had to be rolled back to the office.
The other picture above was taken at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron's restaurant just before our last race of the Spring Series. Eric is about to eat a bacon and egg roll, one of his favourite discoveries in Australia. He has one every Friday at work and has been telling me about it for months, so we decided we'd both get one to fuel us for the final race. I had thought a bacon and egg roll would be some kind of wrap, but it's actually a large dinner roll or like a deli hamburger bun. The eggs are fried, which gets quite messy, and the bacon is more like a large slice of seasoned ham. The closest thing to what Americans think of as bacon is called crispy bacon here. You slather the whole mess with BBQ sauce, which I think it delightful. I've been trying to figure out how to get BBQ sauce into breakfast for years...Of course, if this was an American invention, it would also involve cheese.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I went to Canberra for work on Thursday - slowly seeing Australia one business trip at a time! For you non-Aussies, Canberra is our nation's capital, located in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), our state that was designed specifically to house the capital when the Commonwealth was formed in 1901 (Canberra was not complete until 1913). I like the fact that this is somewhat similar to the creation of Washington, DC in the US.

The central part of the city, which houses Parliament and the Australian National Musuem (pictures above) is built around a lake and is very pretty. Everything is very green, and there are rolling hills in the distance. However, everything is really far apart. It took us about 30 minutes by taxi to get from one office to another, which seems outrageous in comparison to the Sydney CBD, where most things are a 5-10 minute walk away.
At the airport, I was trying to suck down the last of my water when the x-ray attendant told me I could just bring it through. Her response to my surprise was, "This isn't America." I told her, "I know -- it's like a free country!" I don't have to take off my shoes, take off my suit jacket, or get rid of my water. On the downside, they don't check my identification, and if I travel with a laptop, I still have to take it out of the bag.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Happy Christmas PreVisor!

Last week was pretty eventful for me. I made my third trip to Melbourne on Tuesday, and then flew to Perth on Wednesday. Air travel here is completely different from US air travel. For example, I arrived at the Melbourne airport at 4:18 on Tuesday and was in my seat on the plane by 4:30! So many people do day trips that you can check in for both the departing and returning flights simultaneously. Then you just whiz through security (with your shoes on) and onto the flight. No one arrives early at the airport. Alarmingly, no one has ever checked any of my identification. I check in at an automated kiosk, and they don't ask to see anything at security or at the gate. They do, however, check your boarding pass as you are entering the tunnel to the plane and then again as you get on the plane to give you directions to your seat, as if you may have gotten misdirected somewhere in the tunnel or as if you couldn't figure out that 22B is probably behind row 21 and between 22A and 22C. I guess there is some room for error as they generally board from both the front and rear of the plane, and those boarding from the rear have to walk out on the tarmac and up some stairs to reach the airplane. Australians are already used to what the future state of travel in the US is -- all in-flight entertainment or refreshment requires a swipe of the credit card, and most fares do not include luggage since business travel is almost never overnight (unless you are going to Perth, a 5-hour flight away).
Perth is a lovely city. It reminded me a lot of Pensacola. The CBD is really small and overlooks some kind of inlet. The main sight to see is the new belltower housing the Swan Bells, which we heard was quite contentious given that many residents felt the $15 million should have been spent on roads, transit, schools, etc. ( As transportation costs rise, it is becoming less profitable to export the output from the mines that are the main reason Perth exists. That may be why the cost of the belltower was so hotly debated. The pace is much slower in Perth than in Sydney, perhaps even slower now that their economy is sagging. The beach is about a 30-min drive away in Freemantle. Kate and I tried to get there by taxi for dinner on Thursday, but clearly we got out of the cab too soon and could still only see inland waterways. We had an amazing seafood feast, though, and talked to some people from Michigan who are returning this week to snow. Ha.
Kate and I had to get up at 4:20 am on Friday morning to make our return flight from Perth. I got stuck in the elevator of our dodgy hotel at 4:35 am but took a moment to realise my predicament due to the sleep in my eyes. I had to call Kate on my mobile to ask her to please let me out. The man at the front desk was unconcerned that had I been traveling alone, I might yet be in the elevator.
The hotel was not somewhere anyone from PreVisor in the US ever would have been asked to stay. I was afraid to walk on the carpet without shoes on, my lamp didn't have a light bulb and the overhead light was too dim to read by, and the couch actually collapsed when I tried to sit on it. While I love Australia, the slight dinginess of things wears on me sometimes. Eric and I were watching television the other night, and one of the characters walked into a big, bright, beautiful American grocery store. I felt such a craving just to wander up and down slick linoleum aisles with a cart whose wheels actually rolled. All four wheels on the shopping carts here spin freely, making steering a real challenge. The tape we bought to wrap Christmas presents barely works, our sheets shed blue fuzz over the entire house, the can opener we bought doesn't open cans; I really could go on and on. It doesn't help that the sub-standard goods we buy cost more than the quality goods we could get in the US. Anyway, enough wingeing.
We arrived back in Sydney at noon and sped to the PreVisor Christmas party aboard the Penguin. It was a nice afternoon of BBQ and drinks out on Sydney harbour, followed by more drinks at a nice bar in The Rocks, the original area where Sydney was settled, right next to Circular Quay, where we work and where the Opera House is. Like any Christmas party, some people got too drunk to stand and amused the rest of us by saying and doing inappropriate things. You will note that it is referred to as a Christmas party here, while it is referred to as the holiday party in the US. Australians aren't too concerned with being politically correct. It was Eric's birthday, so our few friends who are not associated with my work stopped by, and then Eric and I split off to go see his Austrian friend who is visiting from the US at another bar up the road.
Saturday we went sailing (of course; one of us was painfully hungover), and Sunday we met up with some friends for surfing in the morning, cleaned up our little yard in the afternoon, and then went skateboarding in Sydney Park in the evening. As we were making our way home from the park, switching off who got to use the skateboard, Eric noticed a posting for patio furniture on the gate of a house. We got a nice faux-wrought iron patio set for $50! Trust me, that's the bargain of the century in a country where a soda costs $3. Now if it will just stop raining, we can eat in our back garden.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Our fellow Americans, Stefanie and Jake, hosted a Thanksgiving party on Sunday, complete with the biggest turkey I've ever seen. Non-Americans were tasked with bringing salad, rolls, etc as they found most of the menu items perplexing. Sadly, I failed at some of my assigned dishes due to technical difficulties, like Australia not having Karo syrup for pecan pie or french fried onion rings for green bean casserole. Fortunately, what Australia does have is liquor stores that are open on Sunday. Despite the three bottles of champagne and two bottles of wine that we started with for eight people, a supply run was needed mid-afternoon. True indulgence; these people are getting the feel for Thanksgiving already.