I was in Auckland for about an hour. We had to get off the plane, go through security, and then get back on the same plane. I wasn't really sure what the purpose of that was. The three guys working the LAN gate in Auckland all looked like and sounded like Murray from Flight of the Conchords. I think I can tell the difference between an Australian accent and a New Zealand accent.
Sydney is a great city. It reminds me a lot of Vancouver, B.C. and Seattle, Washington. The first few days I was crazy jet-lagged. I was doing my best to stay up during the day, going to be early and exhausted, and waking up at 3:00am unable to go back to sleep - kind of like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. I have not done well with jet lag on previous trips to Europe (7 time zones). I faired even worse with this trip (11 time zones).
Australia is a lot like America and England. It is a modern country, people speak English, and watch a lot of the same TV programs we do. They drive on the left side of the road. Cars are built with the driver's seat on the right. It seems like everything is oriented to that pattern. Escalators are backwards. When walking down a crowded street, I tend to go to the right to move around people and move through the crowd. They tend to move to the left. This causes many awkward moments. I really enjoyed the abundance of English language bookstores.
I spent my first few days in Sydney seeing the sights and shopping. I visited the Opera House, the Sydney Aquarium, the Sydney Tower, and Bondi Beach.
The inside of the Opera House was less impressive than the outside. It was opened in 1973 and definitely had a 70's motif.
Cauldron from the 2000 Olympics.
Dugong at the Sydney Aquarium.
The Australia Museum. Had an impressive dinosaur bone collection.
Fosters Beer is not very common down here. I didn't see it in any bars or stores for a while. I was beginning to think the Australia theme was a marketing ploy. But I found out that Fosters is considered a low grade beer and not many people drink it. Anyone who orders it at a bar is assumed to be a foreigner. The two beer brands down here that seem to be the most popular are Toohey's, Carlton's, and Victoria Bitter (VB).
Australians are crazy about Asian food. I think it's safe to say that in Sydney, two out three restaurants are Asian. I hope I don't get burned out on Thai food before I get to Thailand.
I know I said I was ready for a first world, English speaking country. But I wasn't really ready for first world prices. Australia is expensive. Not by U.S. or European standards, but expensive compared to what I was used to. It's prices are comparable to those in major cities in the U.S. But I got a bit spoiled in South America. Here, lunch costs more than $3-4 and a beer in a bar costs more than $1.50-$2.
The Kings of Leon are incredibly huge down here. Everybody loves the and I hear them constantly on the radio and in bars. I would say they are as big here as Guns & Roses circa Appetite for Destruction or Nirvana circa Nevermind. It's funny because in the U.S., they are still kind of considered to be an indy band. They are based in Nashville. Which is also funny because I don't know of anyone in Nashville who has seen them play. They have an interesting back story. Three sons of a traveling rural pentecostal preacher and their cousin. The lead singer has a drinking problem. That and infighting are threatening the future of the band. Europeans eat that stuff up.
On Monday, February 23, I took an overnight bus to Melbourne. I hadn't planned on going to Melbourne, but everybody I talked to said I had to go, so I went. Melbourne seemed a bit smaller than Sydney. The grass was brown and it was very dry.
Most Aussies seem to be of British descent. Take the whitest people on the planet and park them in a place under the thinnest spot in the ozone layer, and you have a country with one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. I have been good about using SPF30. In South America, I saw a lot of older people on the beaches with terrible-looking, sun damaged skin. This keeps me motivated.
Australia has been dealing with drought conditions for several years. Most of the grass surrounding Melbourne is brown. There are money raising events too numerous to mention raising money to help the victims of the Victoria Bush fires. I haven't seen any fires first hand.
I went for a drive down the Great Ocean Road with Laura from England and Jennifer from Ireland. They had rented a car and I tagged along. Normally I would rather drive than ride. But in this case, I let the girls drive for several reasons. 1. I hadn't driven in 6 months and kind of wanted to keep the record going. 2. They drive on the left side of the road. 3. The driver is on the right side of the car. 4. The stick shift was on the left side. All of these factors combined made me very happy to sit back and navigate. The drive was really pretty. It reminded of me Pacific Coast Highway 1 in Northern California. We went through several smaller towns. It is crazy how much Australia looks like America. The houses, neighborhoods, and downtown areas were very reminiscent of American towns. The main sight along the Great Ocean Road was the 12 Apostles National Park. 12 Apostles is a series of islands formed by wave erosion. We took a helicopter ride to get a better view. The ride was short, but awesome.
We saw a koala bear on the side of the road. I still haven't seen a kangaroo.
On February 28, I flew back to Sydney on Virgin Blue, Australia's discount carrier. On Monday, I will go on a four day tour that will take me up to Byron Bay on the East Coast.