Thursday, January 14, 2010

Day 18 Squared: The City of Angels

After 14 hours on the plane (I can now say I’m sick of flying) we are back stateside. Upon exiting customs around 10:30 a.m., Adayna and I bolted to public transit en route to our hotel. Our place of choice was the Westfield Inn - Inglewood. Yes, that is the same Inglewood Dr. Dre raps about. On our approach, all I could hear was “California Love”. So after Adayna interrupts my story with her Dr. Dre imitations of “Inglewood” I’ll get back to my story. Once stationary we showered and both fell asleep for a few hours. I needed it because I really didn’t sleep much on the plane. While I slept, Travis stared endlessly at the plane’s GPS map. I am not sure if he thought staring at it would shorten our flight time. Doesn’t he know a watched pot never boils? Okay, well maybe he just wasn’t sleepy and he had nothing better to stare at since the in-flight movie system wasn’t working.

After the nap, I connected with a couple of friends from the L.A. area - Corrinne (Seattle native) and Jerrod (friend from South Carolina). Corrine took Adayna and I to Laugh Factory for a Black Comedy night and Jerrod joined us. Comedians were pretty good. We laughed hard. We saw some amateur comedians and several pros, each were entertaining. I was impressed by this Turkish woman who had the balls to go up on stage and work some middle eastern humor. She truly entertained. I enjoyed the 2 southern comedians. The young guy representing the A had me laughing his entire set.

Of course we couldn’t stop there. After debating which stop to make next we settled on Bar Marmont on Sunset Blvd. We tried getting into Hyde Lounge where my boy Justin hung at just a few days ago, but there was a private party that night. I’ve told Adayna about reading that smut. The boys turned there noses down initially on Corrinne’s suggesting of Bar Marmont so we rode around for awhile only to find ourselves back on Sunset. Bar Marmont was chill. We got ourselves a little booth, some drinks and talked while listening to DJ Rashida spin some tunes. She frequently spins for Prince and had that Prince girl-band look.

It was great to catch up with Corrine and Jerrod. Corrine was a good friend in Seattle and still very funny. I’m glad she’s doing well in L.A. And J-rod is still the same guy I knew from Carolina. I wish him well with his acting career and congratulate him on his new role. I can’t remember the name of the movie he scored. Adayna do you remember? Nah, I think I’d already had too many Manhattan’s when you all were talking about the movie. Oh well, whichever one it is I’m sure he’ll represent SC well. Doesn’t really matter. You don’t watch movies you sleep through them. So I can take you to any movie and tell you J-rod is in it. :) Hush.

Night ended late. I’m looking forward to seeing my goddaughter tomorrow. Night night.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Day 18 - An Australian Closeout

We awoke bright and early on this last day in Australia. Although we had an amazing time there, we were happy to head back home. We spent our last few hours with Trez eating left overs and the infamous Oporto chicken. I snuck in a slice of Sweet Potato Pie and by the way it turned out to be delicious. Our trip in Australia ended with one final 2-hour train ride back to Sydney. We admired the view out of the window one last time and spoke of the many adventures we’d had on the trip.

We had a wonderful experience in Australia and we leave you with this top-10 list. For those of you who haven’t and have never considered going I would advocate for it. Ditto!

You know you are in Australia when... (in no rank order and it’s meant to be funny)

  1. The flies prefer landing on humans to food.
  2. Going to the pub means ordering and retrieving your food at the counter yourself. Only you have the power to provide yourself with great service.
  3. The price of a 6-pack of beer (equivalent to the cost of a 12-pack in the states) drives you to carry a flask everywhere you go.
  4. You make sure to come with your finest curse words because Aussies are bred to unload.
  5. Sightseeing tours begin around 7 a.m. and don’t end until a super late 9 p.m.
  6. A chicken sandwich is not a chicken sandwich but a chicken schnitzel.
  7. Turning on your iPod in a plane while sitting on the tarmac makes flight attendants unnecessarily unhappy - the plane may just blow.
  8. The transit system is funded solely by tourists because it doesn’t seem like the locals pay for their train and tram rides.
  9. The animals mentioned along the tour seem to never make an appearance (case in point - crocodiles, cassowaries and Nemo).
  10. It’s parrots and lorrakeets instead of pigeons that greet you at every turn.

Day 17 - Last Day in Australia: Quiet Dinner & Witnessing Trezmania

I told Trez I’d join him at 6 a.m. in the living

room to watch the Auburn versus Alabama rivalry game. Trez having grown up 10 minutes outside of Auburn was hungry for the upset. And I, being an SCC fan would never turn down watching an SCC football game. I managed to find the t.v. around 7 a.m. Trez being his loud self gave out several yells signifying Auburn’s early lead. Then, an interesting thing happened. A ticker flashed below the screen that read Tiger Woods was in a serious car accident. I really didn’t know what to say or if I really believed it was serious knowing how media stations rush to be first before gathering all of the information. The Aussies would be interested in the Tiger Woods update as he was just there a couple of days before winning a golf tournament. And allegedly screwing his mistress. At the same time, I was hopeful Tiger would be okay. Much more sad to later learn of what really transpired. You must be referring to those “transgressions”. Oh and about the game, Alabama beat Auburn.

While T and T were catching up on football, I was getting in some much needed sleep. I motivated soon enough and caught up on some more beach. What can I say? I am going back to a wintry Northeast. Who wouldn’t go to the beach everyday if they could before then? Travis had suggested he’d join me at the beach at some point, but some point never came. I wasn’t mad at all. I enjoyed my solo beach day and knew he’d want to spend some final hours with Trez before our trip home. I did get him all to myself for dinner. We hit up Green Thai on Crown St. Yum, yum.

Dinner was great. I enjoyed some alone time in our final hours to recap our trip and partake in some good Thai food. When we returned home Trez and the gang were all dressed and ready to go. They’d been outside, in their backyard, for the past few hours drinking gearing up for a night out in the Gong. The establishment of choice, Harp, was a bar/karaoke/club. It felt college-y sprinkled with more mature party-goers. We went there before and I wasn’t much of a fan. As many as you know, I am very picky about my music and really didn’t expect much from an Aussie DJ. The karaoke room was filled with pop, 80‘s rock and alternative vocalists. Not my cup of tea. I even browsed the list thinking I should show them how it’s done, but the selections were not up to my standard. Still having trouble accepting that drinks are costly, I just didn’t enjoy it my first time, but vowed to stick around for tonight’s festivities. Trez put on a show.

I chose to sip on an already bottled Jack and Coke mix. I’d ne

ver seen anything like that. The music went from hot to cold to tepid and back to cold. One minute the DJ would play Beyonce and the next minute Robin S. He even thought it was cool to re-play songs that no one danced to. I hit the dance floor just once. I may have hit it again if I’d been allowed to take my drink with me. Yes, another rule. More on Australia’s intricacies later. Trez did make it entertaining. We’re waiting for US Weekly to place a hefty bid for that night’s pictures :). I’m glad we hit the town with Trez and his gang. It was kind of like a last fete.

Trez was in rare form that night. And for those of you who remember partying and dancing with Trez it was a flash back. I laughed all night.

Tomorrow we leave to begin our next adventure. Operation Move Travis to NYC!

Days 15 and 16 - Thanksgiving Down Under

Our return to Wollongong went smoothly despite our 4:30 a.m. wake up call and yet another flight with Tiger Airways. We greeted Wollongong shortly after 1:30 p.m. and hit the beach for some sun and nap action. The first day back in the Gong was relatively chill. We hit Woolworth’s (remember those) for Thanksgiving groceries and a few things for a much desired home cooked meal that night. Yeah, cause I’m sick of eating schnitzels and fast food.

We decided to celebrate Thanksgiving on a Friday so that it would coincide with Thanksgiving in the states. The menu consisted of rotisserie chicken from Chico’s (Trez raved about it), roasted vegetables, macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob, roast lamb with gravy and some appetizers (pastelitos and pico de gallo). I improvised a little with my pastelitos because the frozen flour discs from Goya were nowhere to be found. Guess Goya and Latinos haven’t made it down under.

I was excited to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for Trez as he hasn’t had one in 6 years. I knew Adayna and I having cooked together a bunch were the perfect team to lead such an effort. Knowing there wouldn’t be a lot of people there we scaled back the menu. Being so tired from traveling and laying out at the beach, I didn’t want to spend my entire Thursday evening in the kitchen. My mom is up all evening readying for Thanksgiving day. Bless her heart. I made a big dish - macaroni and cheese - and took my shot at a couple of Sweet Potato pies. (They were delicious!) I come from a family of great bakers and have watched them make pies many times, but never attempted to bake one myself. Whenever I practice a dish I always call my mom or dad for instructions, but I was on Australia time so there would be no reaching them that night. So, I went online and found the next best thing - Paula Deen. I followed those directions and poof two pies were ready to go.

I managed to take care of all of my heavy Thanksgiving prep work by early afternoon so that I could do what I love - hit the beach - before sitting down for dinner. I left Travis to take care of my roasted vegetables. He did a mighty find job and made sure to add our favorite seasoning. The Aussies supplied bread, beer and wine. No way I was buying any of that expensive beer. We all gathered for our meal around 7 p.m. and even did a round of “what are we thankful for”. Trez’s speech was the most heartfelt as the rest of us kept it simple.

Bellies full and bodies tired, we called it a night soon after dinner. Spending my first Thanksgiving out of the country was nice, but it made me miss the loud talking ,funny relatives and football even more. I concur. It also made me miss platanos more than I already had. Still, bringing Thanksgiving to life in Australia together with Travis is yet another testament to our relationship. Go us! I’m looking forward to many more Thanksgiving’s with Adayna and with her platanos next tie.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Day 14 - A Day Along the World's Most Scenic Drive

We were up around 6:30 a.m. to dress, checkout, take tram, and find the location where our tour bus was to meet us. Again, I was not all that excited about waking up during my vacation in the wee hours of the morning, but what could I do? Adayna insists we do this and I wanted to do all I could to avoid a squabble. I learned from my dad and other wiser men that it be best I just “go with the flow”. I sometimes think to question this logic, but I’m no fool. Sometimes concession avoids world wars. ;) He makes it sound like I’m Osama Bin Laden. Ask him if he loved the trip when you see him. In your face Trav.

Our tour guide, Shoni, had us heading West from Melbourne shortly after 8. She had nothing on our favorite guide Finn from Cairns, but she wasn’t dull either. Our girl speaks 5 lang

uages, just got back from teaching English in China and pole dances on her free time. Like many young migrants to the area, guiding tourists a couple a days a week is a great way to supplement income and explore the continent.

Our first stop on our Adventure Tour was Bells Beach. For those of you movie and sports film buffs, if you can recall Bells Beach was the fictional setting in Point Break. It was pretty cool to see, on this early Wednesday morning, surfers, many of them I guess from around the world, converge to conquer that one great wave. We even observed a surf couple cooking breakfast outside of their van where they clearly live.

There are no words to describe the beauty witnessed while traveling on the Great Ocean Road. Ocean and mountain landscapes like nothing I’ve seen in the states yet. I was always curious to find out where they film the many car commercials advertising sleek foreign cars hugging cliffs along coastal roads. In watching those commercials, I was more intrigued by the landscape than the car. (Not as if I could ever afford one of those cars.) I guess I have to settle for a ride along one of the most beautiful oceanic drive in the world. The Great Ocean Road created jobs for World War I veterans and opened the southern Victoria region up for tourism.

While on the Great Ocean Road we stopped to see the 12 Apostles, London Bridge and Loch Ard Gorge. The 12 Apostles are rock-like formations jutting out of the ocean that formed as a result of coastal erosion. We took tons of pictures and even had some Asian tourists catch on to Travis’ sailing pose. We caught them mocking my pose after our picture taking.

The London Bridge, named after the famous fable in London, was an extension of rock along the coast. The name derived from its resemblance of a short bridge. The story goes that as the linking portion of the rock collapsed 2 Aussies were stranded atop. They were not just any 2 Aussies, but co-workers who had told their significant others they were going away on business. They were stranded for hours in the cold and wet. And unfortunately for them, rescue came from the only helicopter available at the time - a news copter, thus revealing their identities and secret love affair. What a novela! Clearly nothing good comes from cheating on your partner. Great story, I think I would have risked the swim back. Fortunately for Travis, he’d never be found under such cheating circumstances. Right honey?

Loch Ard Gorge was a bit more exciting than our previous stops. Darn right it was. It was at this stop where I got my laugh of the day. The gorge is spectacular. Imagine an elevated edge as high as 150-200 feet parted over many years by the water’s strength. Thus opening a small beach within these walls. It’s obvious why this unique location was home to many shipwrecks. On this long stretch of sand, running waters pounding the cliff’s entry and rolling an additional hundred feet to shore I dared to take my shoes off to test the temperature of the water. Adayna, tagging along, still swatting flies, followed me to the shore’s edge snapping photos. After a couple of silly poses, a fellow tourist asked Adayna for a snapshot of her standing ankle deep in water. Adayna obliged. The next thing that happened changed my mood. A strong wave came and startled both Adayna and this woman. Thus, causing them both to turn and run. I witnessed the entire thing from just a few feet away. The wave, though stronger than previous rushes, was not something that would sweep you away. I quietly awaited and knew a strong one would come, but didn’t know when. Then it came (laughing). Adayna turned to run like those Friday the 13th characters when they run through the woods away from Jason, but then all of a sudden he appears wielding a knife. I think she took 3 steps and fell just like in the movies. The lasting memory I have of it was seeing her fall with one arm extended trying to keep her camera from going under. Way too funny. The first thing she said was “Oh my camera” then “oh her camera”. I fell to the sand laughing. They both were soaked and cameras were damp, but all okay. I made fun of the moment the rest of the day. Hardy-har-har... Yes, it was funny. Even I had to laugh. My camera made it out okay, can’t say the same for hers. What’s a trip to a gorge without a little splash in the water. I was a good sport.

An Australian tour is not complete without a sighting of animal or two. While on our Great Ocean Road drive we stopped at a national park where we spotted koalas in the wild and Travis fed several parrots who flocked to him at the sight of the yummy seeds in his hands. I abstained from the bird feeding because I’m only like to appreciate birds from afar and I wanted to capture some Kodak moments for Travis. They stood on his head, perched on his shoulder and grasped to his wrist - anything to get at him and his seeds. My koala pics are classic.

The 2-hour long drive back wasn’t very exciting. We slept on each other the entire ride. Quite uncomfortable, but good enough. We had each other after all :)

Days 12 & 13 - Quick 2-day Melbourne Medley

I convinced Travis that we should leave the Gong as it is so aptly called sometimes and head out to the artsy/cultural capital of Australia - Melbourne. The first thing I needed to do besides book o

ur trip was to stop calling it Mel-born. You see the folks down under refer to it as Mel-burn kind of like how Cairns in Queensland is pronounced as Cans. Go figure. To minimize expenditures (for everything in Australia is crazy expensive - a 20 oz Coke can cost up to 3 bucks) we planned to jet to and fro Melbourne with Tiger Airways and stay at a

quaint little hotel. Operation Minimize Expenses in Melbourne translated to taking the crappiest, tiniest, rudest airline and sleeping on bunk beds. My kind of trip. Bunk bed-sleeping was fun the 1st night, but I was ready for a double bed by the 3rd.

I must agree the flight to Melbourne was very unpleasant. I took for granted the sunshine we experienced earlier in the day and didn’t take into account the storm rolling in. From takeoff to landing, the plane fought severe turbulence. I’m thankful the flight was only an hour and five minutes long. All I could think was, just get us there safely and I’ll be sure to celebrate my time in Melbourne. The turbulence sucked. I let out an “Oh my God” here and there. I had never experienced anything like it. I kept thinking please don’t let me die at the hands of Tiger Airways. Thankfully, God was listening and looking out. It was bad, but not as bad as she thought.

We arrived at our hotel - the Clarem

ont Guesthouse - in South Yarra, checked in and then bolted for downtown Melbourne. We hopped on the #8 Tram and in 15 minutes arrived in Melbourne’s CBD. The transportation system in Australia is first-class. Multi-modal, efficient and fairly clean. Sums up my mobility experience thus far. I hope some cities (i.e. Seattle) would take note. We took in a few sights, Flinders Street Station and part of the arts district before stopping to take pictures in front of the CBD Christmas Tree. It felt weird seeing a Christmas Tree before Thanksgiving in Australia and in the spring season. I think Adayna was enjoying the walk (as usual) but of course, my eyes were on the swivel for the first bar break. At last, I found one. I don’t remember its name, but it had outdoor seating and Michael Jackson on the loud speaker. That was enough for me. I’m there. First drink is on me.

Our first and only bar stop that night was cute. Good music, yummy wine and a few interesting folks for us to chat up with nearby. Travis met this one young man who we talked to for a while. His parents hail from Cape Verde and East Timor which meant his complexion looked a bit like ours. I’ve been drawn in by the few brown-skinned people I’ve seen throughout my travels in Australia. The sightings have been rare. I don’t know how Trez does it. I swear sometimes he is the only black guy in New South Wales.

The young mate was cool. He attended the “Uni” - short for an Australia University. He spoke of his singing abilities and how he would like to come to the States to hear and work with artists. The most interesting part of it all is he sings gospel. I admire that. I grew up in a gospel-singing family. I sang a little myself back in the day. I thought to bring out a little of my “Kirk Franklin” on him, but decided to wait another day.

The next day we got up really early hoping to book a spot on the Great Ocean Road tour. Unfortunately, the tours are usually booked a day or two

in advance. So we were out of luck and had to go with plan two. We decided to make this a day of sightseeing and exploration. Our plan was to go back to the CBD, visit the waterfront, and find a good eatery or two to sustain us. Within two minutes of our walk, I spotted a suit sale sign that I could not resist. Having lost some weight over the past year, it was past time I restock my wardrobe. It is springtime in Australia and with wool suits on sale, I knew I needed one before my move to a cold NYC. We spent an hour or so browsing and chatting with Kathy the salesperson about suits, her admiration for President Obama, her long distance relationship experience, and sights of Melbourne. (Kathy met her husband in Perth. They loved from afar - she in Cyprus, he in Perth. They have been married now for over a decade. Definitely great for Travis and I to hear.)

She was a great salesperson; best interaction I’ve had during this entire Aussie experience. I took this time to give Adayna a “101” on how to spot and buy suits of my preference. I’m quite picky when buying clothes and I want my “wife-to-be” to be comfortable picking out and buying things for me even in my absence. With the pressure mounting, she was able to select not one, but two suits that met my approval. It was a little costly, but what do you expect? I can’t go to NYC with cheap suits. No way! I was happy with my purchases. I used the New York in me to have the Kathy throw in two ties for free!

Suit shopping can sure make you hungry! We headed to Waterfront City immediately where we found a 50% off lunch deal. Our feast included steak, Mediterranean delicacies, vino and the usual drink of choice for Travis - a cranberry vodka. At Waterfront City you can find outlet-like shopping, that is if you are lucky enough to reach them before 5. When do Australians shop? Never seen anything like it. I guess they value the opportunity to be home with family after work.

I was ready to catch more sights after our late, pre-evening first meal. I think Travis was ready for nap time. However, I persuaded him to hop on the tram and head to Fitzroy, described as a bohemian, laid back, artsy kind of neighborhood. We hopped off and enjoyed a few local beers on Smith St. We even shared some neon-colored shots. Hey, when you are on vacation you just can. After a “convincing” from Adayna, we headed over to what was described as the artsy, clubby neighborhood in Melbourne. When I exited the tram i felt as if I was back in Seattle for that matter. It felt so much like the times I strolled Broadway between Pike and John - also known as Capitol Hill. The buildings, the boutiques and of course, my grungy, eclectic people. Though amazed I found Capitol Hill down under and interested to verify, I was still tired and wanting a nap. Having been dragged out by Adayna (it’s what I do) I negotiated a compromise. At first sight of a bar, I was going to stop.

Our night didn’t end at Fitzroy because I am Adayna after all. Post drinks, I pulled out the map and figured we’d hop on the 112 to yet another Melbourne hood, St. Kilda. En route to the tram, we identified the PJ’s (every major city’s got to have some) and came across more Seattle-like folk cooking up food on the corner like it was a mobile homeless shelter. Our ride to St. Kilda was long. I thought I’d lose my “Map Girl” crown because of this one. Alas, my status remained in tact. In St. Kilda, we grabbed food and drink before our long walk to the 79 tram. On our way there we even saw what appeared to be prostitutes and several drunk backpackers. Still, St. Kilda, was cute. It’s situated south of the Melbourne CBD and sits off of St. Kilda beach. Lots of activity at night. And walking!

I’m sure Adayna will avoid sharing this, but she’s the self-proclaimed Map Girl, assuming the role of my guide pretty much this entire trip. While wrapping up in St. Kilda, aware that the trams stop running around the midnight hour we prepared for a Cinderella dash after drinks and dinner. After a nice Italian meal, I was REALLY ready to go to bed. My “guide” swore we had a 2 block walk to the tram stop according to her map. No complaints from me. I was anxious to get it over and done with. While on this walk, I noticed the pedestrian traffic thinned, the temperature dropped, the ladies of the night were commanding their posts and I went from Beverly Hills to Compton, meaning this walk was over 20 blocks. Ooh you are such an exagerao! The map was not detailed and so it did look like 2 blocks. So much for her map read. I enjoyed the day but clearly she could have let me find rest sooner. I’ll be sure to remember that my love.

Finally back at the hotel, we prepare for an early morning to hit the Great Ocean Road. We decided to share a bunk bed tonight. I’ll let you know how this goes tomorrow.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Days 9 thru 11 - Living the Life of an Aussie: Wollongong Edition

Adayna and I both awoke around 7 a.m. in Trez’s hometown of Wollongong, a beachfront city located 40 minutes south of Sydney. Trez had to work so Adayna and I had some time to ourselves. We managed to secure an internet connection (clearly not long enough to blog, sorry guys) to check email and upcoming itineraries/activities. For the next couple of days we did the small town thing. Grocery shopped, bar-hopped, sat on the couch (my least favorite activity), walked to the beach and caught up with Trez. I enjoyed just relaxing and doing nothing. It doesn’t take much for me to enjoy myself whether it is going hard for days or doing nothing for days. I am content. Unfortunately, I am traveling with someone who thinks a vacation means days filled with activities. I’m sure we are to have issues over the coming years with this one.

I can appreciate laying low, but sitting in front of the TV while in Australia was just not for me. I can understand the occasional TV-watching when you are in a hotel, but to make a day out of watching TV is not the first thing I’d choose to do when I have Australia in my backyard. So, while Travis and Trez caught up on American sports, I ventured out into Wollongong, walking into town and hitting the beach as much as I could. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed some of the other activities held at the Chez Trez premises, like the occasional barbecue and hanging out sessions.

For some reason I was not excited about the beach during this trip. From my days of beach vacations to living in Myrtle Beach, I wasn’t very interested in spending much time on the sand. Still unsure why. Perhaps my 7-year stint in the rain has made me allergic. I’ll have to rid myself of that illness soon. Word. Start medicating. :)

While in the Gong, we hit a couple of watering holes which are nothing like the ones back home. The music, crowd and expensive-ass drinks made for short stints at these places. I asked for a Manhattan at one spot and they had the nerve to want to charge me $14. Crazy! I settled for cheap vodka and don't ask me what kind. All I know is that Captain Cook was on the bottle. (Fun Fact: Captain James Cook was the first to land in Eastern Australia and claimed the land for Great Britain.) When not checking out the food and bar scene, we took in local sights like Mt. Keira. And, no Aussie vacation is complete without a game of Rugby at the beach. I tried to do my thing. Although, rushing to get in 6 tags way before reaching the end zone didn't seem like an ideal strategy, but what do I know. I must say Adayna did well in her international Rugby debut.

Getting to know Trez and Travis through Trez has been a trip. These two are non-stop comedy sometimes. Doing so from Wollongong and not from Sydney or Melbourne afforded me a true Australian experience. Thank you Trez! We are still thinking about where to go next. Will it be New Zealand, Melbourne or back to Queensland? Stay tuned.