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Tuesday
09/19/17

You were probably really confused if you didn’t know who Steve Irwin was. Australia, Part 2.

Posted by bostonki on September 19, 2017 in Australia, travel

So.. I think I left off right when I finished time traveling.  I had left New York on Wednesday morning (local time) and arrived in Australia on Friday morning (Australia time).  And the way we were flying west over the Pacific meant I completely skipped Thursday.  My body was a little angry, to say the least.  When we first landed, I wasn’t that tired.  I was just thankful to be off of the plane.  I think I actually said to the kid sitting next to me, “this is the best moment of my life”.  Yikes.

So we were booked that night at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane.  Not ONLY did the showers have wonderful water pressure (it was like being in a rainforest, minus the frogs), but Sam & I had a primo view of the city.  Once we figured out how to open the sliding glass door (hey, new country, different ways of doing stuff).

We soon took off to explore our new home, walking first through the downtown waterfront area.  We nearly got lost in the maze that is the Queen Street shopping mall (completely underground, reminded me a little bit of Grand Central station but without the trains).  I quickly learned that pharmacies are called “chemist shops”, Coles and Woolworths are the main grocery stores, McDonalds is ridiculously expensive, and that there IS a Target down under but it’s quite different – and also much, much cheaper than the states.  The downtown area is filled with beautiful architecture, a mixture of new and old.  This would become a common theme in the larger cities.

We walked through the Royal Botanic Gardens, another common theme in cities.  Australia may have a Prime Minister that does all the brunt work, but Queen Elizabeth II is still a presence.  She mostly overlooks what PM Turnbull and his government does, and makes side trips to dedicate things in her name.  The gardens were all beautiful, and right smack in the middle of all the hullabaloo.

Peep Mikaela in the foreground.

Afterwards, we walked across a bridge (river, maybe?) to what is known as the South Bank and is clearly the best part of the entire city.  They have strips with restaurants and shops alongside public man-made beaches and pools RIGHT ALONG THE RIVER.  You can take a dip and stare at the skyscrapers across the water.  Best of all, for those basic Instagram pics, they have the letters.  You know what I’m talking about.

Please pardon awful-looking pictures, by the way.  I had to wrestle with my computer to get them under 300 KB so they would fit into this post.

It was around this time (3 PM actually) that I decided to be a party pooper and go back to the hotel because my body was ready to give up on me.  I was running on 1 AM Buffalo time.  So I went back, cracked open a Sprite from the mini-bar (and promptly told the hotel clerk I took a pop from the fridge – there was a little bit of misunderstanding there), and slept – for fifteen hours.

The next day, Saturday, was perhaps one of my favorite of the entire trip.  Our instructor (I’ll refer to him as “C”) picked us up at the hotel bright and early with our bus driver, Trevor, and our coach (bus, that is).  Trevor would become our best friend and ally against the whimsical rudeness (nicely to speak) of our trip later.  More on that as events unfold.

We were slowly making our way about an hour up the coast to Mooloolaba, the touristy beach town where we would be spending the next two weeks.  However, there was a necessary detour to the Australia Zoo, because C felt as though we would not be able to focus on “quality teaching and learning” (I can just HEAR his accent) if we did not have a chance to hold koalas and feed kangaroos before the actual work started.  So we arrived, and a common theme seemed to be STEVE. IRWIN. EVERYWHERE.  Steve Irwin bronze statues, Steve Irwin merchandise, Steve Irwin phots, Steve Irwin-inspired shows, man you were probably really confused if you didn’t know who the guy was.  Oh, and the word “crikey” was everywhere.

Crikey, mate!

We were only given a couple hours at the zoo, so my girls and I zipped our booties over to.. what else?… the koalas.  The best $25 I’ve ever spent was for a minute holding a cutie pie with a professional portrait included.  We were screaming and squirming as we approached our turn, as we could see the FLUFFINESS AND CUTENESS draw closer.  I was so excited when my turn came!!!  The koala caretaker (how lucky do you have to be to get a job like that) slowly handed the koala over to me.  I could feel it’s fur, feel it’s claws grip my sweater in an oh-so-cute fashion usually reserved for human babies and corgis, then felt pellets on my hand.

The koala pooped on me.

“It’s good luck” the girl encouraged.

I was not amused, despite how happy I look in this pic.

My heart still skips a beat whenever I think about this creature.

Side note:  They do not smell fantastic.  I don’t know what they smell like but they certainly don’t smell good.

I’m pretty tired so I think I’m gonna wait until next week to discuss kangaroos.

Stay tuned for more zoo, Mooloolaba, and life at the University of the Sunshine Coast!

Wednesday
09/13/17

“It didn’t smell like I expected”. Australia, Part 1

Posted by bostonki on September 13, 2017 in Australia, travel

This summer, I had the good fortune of being able to go to New York, all around Australia, and New Zealand within the span of six weeks (don’t discount my hard work though – numerous hours begging people on Facebook to donate, filling out scholarship apps, etc.).  I have all sorts of memorabilia next to my bed not limited to a stuffed koala, a framed photo, maps, boomerangs, and a little model of the Sydney Opera House, but I still can’t believe this actually happened.  This place has been on my bucket list since my first Finding Nemo run-through!  But as I’ve learned and you will come to as well, Australia more than the Opera House, more than kangaroos, and more than a weird Aussie twang.  It’s a vibrant, culturally exploding hub of people from all over the world, really good breakfasts in cute coffee dives, and areas so remote you feel like you may never encounter another living human being again.  It’s breathtaking natural wonder, it’s stinky but beautiful city neighborhoods lined with vintage style homes, and it’s home to undoubtedly the CUTEST animals on Earth.  It’s a little bit of everything you could ever need, really.  Come along with me as I reminisce about my time abroad, and hopefully in the process (if you’re a college student) convince you that study abroad is completely possible – and without a doubt worth it.

I left for New York early on a Monday morning.  My guess is that 95% of readers are either from the New York city area (UB joke, haha) or have been there before.  So I’ll skip the winded explanation of what I did and just say I crossed some more touristy stuff off my bucket list – the Metropolitan, Grand Central Station, the giant library a 42nd and Bryant, a sit-in on Good Morning America,  my first taste of Cookie Do, and of course a repeat contender, Times Square.  I could hear the New Yorkers groaning as I typed that.  Okay, I suppose I’ll post one New York pic, of course behind the scenes at GMA!

Mom and I narrowly missed a selfie with Michael Strahan and had a kid near us who was bragging about having seen Jimmy Fallon like 36 times.

My first time in JFK was… well.. busy.  Buffalo’s one-terminal International Airport (only named so because we service flights to Canada) had nothing on this bad boy.  Mom and I somehow found the international terminal where my Qantas flight was scheduled to leave from, and I said my goodbyes.  As she walked away I realized I wouldn’t be seeing her for six weeks.  I felt the same about the rest of my family as well as my boyfriend.  I don’t remember much about the wait out.  I met up with some friends I would be traveling with and eventually we got on the monstrous plane.  The double-decker kind with 80-something total rows and ten people per row, split into two aisles.  The kind with really really nice, first class.  If I paid $700 for my ticket there, I wonder how much being able to lie down without anybody breathing down my spine would have cost.

The first leg (of 10, my calculations concluded) was a five-hour stint to Los Angeles.  We flew right into the sunset and I got glorious shots of the Rockies underneath a sunset.

In Los Angeles, I savored the last of the Starbucks I would have until New Zealand (Starbucks’ are practically nonexistent in Australia except maybe in some major metropolitan areas).  They’re much more of the mom-and-pop type, although I did discover a wonderful chain called The Coffee Club.  I would later discover that they have the world’s best heated muffins, and also serve their pancakes with ICE CREAM.

Vanilla ice cream (top left) and butter (top right). And Americans are unhealthy?

Now for what would become the loneliest and most excruciating part of the trip – the 14 hour chug across the Pacific Ocean.  Not only are you crossing it, but you’re traveling South so it takes much longer than feels necessary.  It starts out alright (unless you’re in the middle in economy class like I was).  It was nighttime and I was pretty tired, so I could sleep.  There was insane amount of music, tv shows, movies, and even a language-learning program available on the plane.  I had spent $15 on magazines before I left New York.  I had like three thick books in my carry on.  But by hour seven you’ve slowly lost all sense of time and you’re longingly looking at the map and countdown-to-landing clock on the tv screen every twenty minutes, seeing your plane move an agonizing millimeter.  You’ve slept through some of the meals they said they were gonna pass out to you.  And your neighbors are sleeping so you can’t pee.  The kilometers (it is an Australian airline after all) pass by slowly and it gets really lonely because you know there is nothing below you.  And will be nothing below you for like eight more hours.  Except Vanuatu.

We landed at 6 AM in Brisbane, on the Eastern coast (4 PM the day before translated into Eastern time, a conversion I would come to master).  Wifi felt glorious after being deprived for 14(!) hours.  Mom and dad even called to video chat, but I had to rudely cut them off because, ya know, customs.

 The plane!

I was on Australian soil now!  No more planes for a few weeks!

A couple hours and wifi plans later, we emerged into the Queensland sunshine (although it was winter, it was basically summer.  It was 80 degrees Fahrenheit and people were bundled up in sweaters by the beach).  I expected it to smell different, cleaner (like a mass-produced Bath and Body Works scent?) but it smelled the same.  Hailed a taxi, which drove on the LEFT side of the road and had the driver’s seat on the RIGHT side (EEK) and off to our hotel to explore the city!

To be continued.

Up next: Brisbane, sleepiness, and me spending $25 to hold an adorable but smelly koala.

Tuesday
09/05/17

Would you travel to this country?

Posted by bostonki on September 5, 2017 in travel

Hi.. welcome back. I can’t believe I’m a junior, yadda yadda yadda. Summer went too fast, textbooks are too expensive, yadda yadda. Australia was great (I actually hope to spend the next several weeks writing a ‘trip report’ on here in hopes of rehashing some of my good old summer fun), thanks for asking. But for now, I want to dive right in. I have a super awesome topic I’ve been thinking about writing for the last thirty five minutes and I couldn’t contain my excitement any longer.

You know that one country.. the one that’s been on the news internationally all summer (spending six weeks in the South Pacific I can attest to seeing this leader’s face on my screen each morning).. North Korea? Yeah, so would you ever, I don’t know,  travel there?

Think about this.  A totalitarian society where its rulers are sickeningly demanding of your loyalty, where the government has its eyes on you every second of the day and even the slightest anti-government activity can cost you more than you’re willing to pay.  Take last year’s story of the death of American student Otto Warmbier, who met his fate after serving time in a North Korean work camp for tearing down a poster of Kim Jong-un in a surveillanced hotel hallway.  The media is choked out of the scene, and access to the Internet is limited – very limited.  All digital activities are under review both for citizens and visitors.  You can be executed for watching American or South Korean films or accessing certain web sites, for example.  The country is notorious for its crimes committed against humanity.  It is an insanely hard country to flee.  And for those not in the upper echelons of society, it can be miserable to attempt to sustain yourself.  Most would agree that the country sounds terrifying.

Military march in capital city Pyongyang.

But for some (really, really brave) souls, they decide scary news articles aren’t enough and actually travel to the DPRK to check it out for themselves.  TripAdvisor lists 41 “things-to-do” and has 28 forum posts for Pyongyang.  Most are actually written about positive experiences in North Korea (nice tour guides, good food, etc.) and the rest pertain to the tour group options.  You cannot travel by yourself, you must be in a group, and you cannot wander from this group.  Clearly, you’ll only see the stuff the regime wants you to see, so is that a true North Korean experience?  Probably not.  Nonetheless, some of the travel spots look interesting, such as the beautiful Pyongyang Metro and the Arch of Reunification.  It makes me wonder how people took these pictures and uploaded them to TripAdvisor, since it is a heinous crime to take photos of seemingly anything unless it is approved by the government.

The beautiful yet somewhat ironic Arch of Reunification (with South Korea).

Almost like Grand Central except with a leader mosaic.

Much of the sights are government-related (like Kim squares or Kim statues), and if they’re not, then they undoubtedly have a nice fresco or mosaic of Kim somewhere in the vicinity.  While scary, daily life in the DPRK fascinates me.  And some of the sights are quite pretty if you ignore the bland and generally depressing atmosphere of the capital city.  Beyond the city walls, who knows what else the country holds.  But you can sure bet that it probably won’t be included on your tour.

Oh, something I forgot.  They have a state circus.  And reportedly, the bears used in the show are unnaturally thin.  So if you are an animal lover, beware.  You will probably shed tears.

And the bowling alley is kind of depressing.  Called Golden Lane Bowling Alley.  Look it up.

So.. would you go?

I think I might just stick to someone ELSE’S account of the DPRK for now.