Thursday, November 18, 2010
8 Weeks in Oz
When we arrived in Canberra, Australia, on Friday, September 24, after an exhausting 11 hour flight from Hawaii, we checked in to our apartment at 10:30 PM. Our friends from Connecticut (who were transferred here as well) had stocked our kitchen with some basic groceries to get us started, and they didn’t forget the wine! Uri and I got the girls into bed and settled down in the living room for a glass (or two) of wine. Uri and I sat there in disbelief-- we were halfway around the world – it suddenly felt for the first time like there was no turning back. Our first experience with the Australian wildlife happened that very first morning. After very little sleep we were rudely awakened by the most hideous sound – in my delirium it honestly sounded like a baby being strangled. It took me some time to realize that I was not having a nightmare about a baby being strangled and that there was something squawking outside our window. It was 5:00 AM. Although I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck I was not going to fall back to sleep as long as that noise continued. We learned later that morning that the offender was a very large, but beautiful white cockatoo who likes to perch on our balcony each morning. And, yes, the cockatoo has been there every morning. It’s amazing what one can learn to sleep through after some time. These cockatoos are everywhere -- like robins in the Northeast. They are such amazing birds. It is such a beautiful sight to see them all take flight together. But, I have to say again they make the most awful noise. I recall one of my first visits to the local park with my friend Jodi, her son Michael, and the girls. Jodi was telling me a story, but I had to interrupt her to say that I hadn’t heard a word she said because the cockatoos were making so much noise! She laughed mostly because she was surprised that she had almost become immune to them.
Our second wildlife encounter was with kangaroos (and ants). Our friend Dave took Uri, Anabella, Chloe, and me down to the park by the lake to see the kangaroo. I was so excited to see them! It really is what Australia is all about – the unusual and exotic animals. About 50 meters from the road there were about 25 kangaroo together. When we got out of the car they stood alert, but did not hop away. I quickly, but cautiously approached the ‘roos with my camera aimed and ready to take a picture before they got spooked. However, Anabella was trying very hard to get my attention. She would not give up so I finally stopped to listen to her only to learn from her that I was standing on the largest ant hill I have ever seen! My shoes and pants were covered with very large, black ants…ugh!! I began shaking and dancing around, then raced back to the car where I stripped off my pants to shake the ants off of me. I was nervous and laughing hysterically. I couldn’t help thinking about what everyone told me about the land down under…it is where the 10 most deadly creatures live. Was I going to be bitten and poisoned by one of those creatures? Oh, God, please no. Now, I know that the black ants aren’t of concern, but it did sting a bit when one of those lovely creatures bit me on the knee . When I joined my party back at the kangaroo viewing, Uri was shaking his head as if to say, “Really. Ants. You are afraid of a few ants.” Dave, on the other hand, wasn’t quite sure what to make of my spectacle. He jokingly said that I could be arrested for indecent exposure at which I responded, “No I can’t. I have diplomatic status!” There are some perks to this assignment.
We are staying in a three bedroom serviced apartment in Kingston which is a neighbourhood or precinct of Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Fortunately, Kingston is quite charming and has all of the necessities, and some nice perks, too. Directly out our front door is an IGA – yes, an American grocery store, a chemist (pharmacy), a dry cleaners, a newsstand/ convenience store, the local library, a few hair salons and spas, more cafes and coffee shops than one can count, many delicious restaurants, including Italian, Portuguese, Thai, and Vietnamese, and a few local pubs. There are some wonderful boutiques and gift shops, too. And, each Sunday down by the lake is the Old Bus Depot Market where artists, craftsmen and women, designers, and vendors from all over Australia come out to sell their artwork, hand-made crafts, jewellery, clothing and, of course, baked goods and other yummy foods. I have to say the quality of the exhibits is quite impressive. I am looking forward to buying some original artwork for my home. I’ve got my eye on some beautiful Aboriginal glassware and lanterns. Here’s the web address for one of the exhibitors I was looking at: www.kemarrearts.com.au
About a block away from our apartment is Telopea Park and Lake Burley Griffin (the lake that Canberra is built around). We spend a great deal of time in the park and down by the lake. We are lucky to have our friends from Connecticut here at the hotel/apartment, too. It has been very nice to have them here with us. They arrived a month prior to us so they already found the hot spots and worked out most of the kinks. Jodi and Dave have been generous with their time. They have an eight year old boy, Michael, who has become a great friend to Anabella and Chloe. We spend a lot of time together down at the park and keep each other company in the apartment. Jodi and I began running together a few days after my arrival. Running down by the lake is so much fun. There is a well maintained bicycle trail around it. Having a nice trail with a beautiful setting is motivating to me. Each time that I run down there it reminds me of my runs down by the Charles River in Boston with my sister Lilly except with fewer people and cars, and there are black swans instead of white ones.
Since being here we have been eating out nearly every meal (gotta love the Government per Diem). It’s given us the chance to find our favourite eateries. For Asian, we especially like Madam Woo’s. My two favourite main courses are the coconut and lime chicken and the beef penang. Uri usually goes for the Laksa won ton noodle soup and the girls enjoy the clear won ton noodle soup with a side of steamed rice. The owner, Ruby, knows just how to prepare the girls’ soup. I favour L’Unico amongst the Italian eateries. The owner is quite nice and takes special care to bring the girls pasta out straight away. Having eaten in many of these places multiple times you do tend to get to know the owners and some of the wait staff. It definitely helps. One thing I noticed almost upon arrival was the quality of customer service (or should I say lack of…). It may have to do with the fact that it is not customary to tip service workers including wait staff, hair stylists, bartenders, etc.
When we arrived 8 weeks ago, the biggest surprise to me was the weather. It was cold and rainy! We just came off of a 6 day vacation in Hawaii where the weather was a steady 80 degrees Fahrenheit every day. Temperatures here were as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning and mid 50s in the afternoon. This was not what I had in mind for Australian weather. Coming in at the end of September is the end of the Winter season and the beginning of Spring. Canberra is cooler than most areas because it is at a higher elevation than most other cities. I did not pack appropriately. Within a couple of days I had Jodi drive me out to the mall to buy a fleece jacket, a down vest and an umbrella. All have come in handy. The Australians should be thanking us because when we arrived so did the rain. Australia just ended a 13 year draught with all this rain that has fallen. The locals remind me that the lush lawns and blooming flowers are not typical. I have to say I notice the most wonderful fragrances each time I step outside. I especially love the smell of the beautiful and delicate jasmine that grows here. It is in so many yards. And, the roses are so fragrant, too.
Check out the beautiful roses behind the silly girls
I am signing off of this post for now. There is so much more to write about, but I don't want to lose anyone's interest with a long post. I am thinking my next post may cover my driving experience, the girls' school and some of the embassy events we've attended. Ciao for now!