Sunday, April 28, 2013

Anzac Day

This past Thursday was ANZAC Day in Australia. For the weeks leading up to the public holiday (yep, another one!) all anyone was talking about was how FUN the day was, and how it usually was a last send off for summer.

It certainly stood out as a great day for a number of reasons, but if I had to break my day into three parts it would be:

1. Getting up at the crack way before the crack of dawn

2. Witnessing a bar falling silent for 5 minutes

3. Playing "Two Up"

1. Getting up insanely early--

ANZAC Day is a day of remembrance-- it commemorates the first major military action for Australia and has grown to be a day of remembrance for all Australian and New Zealand troops who have died in various battles. One of the ways people show their support is by attending a "dawn service" -- or in my instance, a pre-dawn service.

My alarm went off at 3:30 (mind you, on a day off from work this is probably about the last thing I want to have happen) and I sleepily dragged on some comfy pants and a sweatshirt and was out the door by 3:50. I live downhill from a popular party area in Sydney and forgot that I'd be traipsing through a few streets of people still going strong. Not sure how much remembering they were doing.

The service itself started at 4:30 and it was PACKED. It's pretty incredible to see all of the people, young and old, who were willing to leave their warm beds to come out for a service. The service itself was fairly basic- some prayers, a reminder for why people gather, and laying wreaths to commemorate the troops. The coolest part of the service, though, was when the organizers shut all of the lights off for a moment of silence. Before the lights came back on a trumpeter played Reveille. Equal parts creepy and cool!

In my head I thought the service would be concluding as the sun came up, but as it turns out this service ended at 5:30 and I was back in bed by sunrise. I did see friends' pictures of a service on the beach where the sun DID come up at the end of the service and I think I'll give that a go next year.

2. Witnessing a bar fall silent for 5 minutes--

The other part of ANZAC day is, not surprisingly, drinking. The Australians will use any excuse to put a beverage in hand and most bars open at 8 am on ANZAC day. My friend Ryan and I started a bit later than that, opting for an average beverage instead of an early morning one.

While we were at the bar we suddenly noticed that we were the only ones talking. Wide-eyed, we looked around at the people throwing dirty glances our way and quickly shut our mouths. Well, mine remained open in shock because you could hear a pin drop in the place.

Why? There's a huge AFL game played on each ANZAC day, and before the game starts they do a quick remembrance ceremony/singing of the national anthem- and the entire bar was quiet for the full five minutes that it took. I'm not sure I'll ever witness anything else having the power to shut down an entire bar, and honestly felt more goosebumps after that experience than at the dawn service!

3. Playing Two Up--

The only day of the year that Two Up is legal is on ANZAC Day. No one has been able to tell me why it's the only day you can legally play the game, but I'm guessing it may be because the government hasn't been able to find a way to monetize the game?

It's really quite simple-- it's just a coin flipping game, where two coins have to land on either heads or tails to produce a winner.

Before the "spinner" gets to work, the betting takes place. This was REALLY fun-- if you want to play heads, you take your money and thump your head screaming "heads" until someone screaming "tails" in the bar takes you up on your offer. The person going for heads holds the money, the coins get flipped and either the money gets pocketed or handed back to the tails person.

I ended up in a pretty big bar at Bondi, and the Two Up scene was pretty intense-- imagine the same atmosphere as a heated playground fight, with everyone jockeying to see the action and you'll have a pretty good idea of what it's like. My friends and I managed to shimmy our way up to the side of the ring so we could see all of the action, and it was super easy to get sucked in.

Before I went I told myself I'd play a couple of times, with a $5 bill, just to see what it was like. I quickly figured out that no one was playing with anything less than a $20, which made me nervous. Even though Two Up is a game of chance, it's also the only gambling game where you've got just as much chance as winning as you do losing.

I picked heads for the duration and held on for the ride-- eventually I was up $160. Unfortunately that's when I got cocky and decided to push my luck and promptly lost two games in a row. I called it a day after that, and it's the first time (and probably the last!) that I can say I've left the bar with more than I came in with.

Two Up is only legal from about midday to 6 pm, and because this was a big bar the cops showed up promptly at 6 to make sure everyone had finished playing!

What a great day!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Light Beer?

A couple of weeks ago, I got in some pretty serious trouble.

I brought light beer to a weekend away.

I'd been instructed to bring some beer for drinking games, so I did what I thought any normal, logical person would do-- I picked a light beer. I wouldn't consider myself an above average drinker or anything, but I know my way around a flip cup table pretty well. If there's one thing I learned the difficult way in college it's this: guzzling a heavy beer not only slows down your flips but makes for a pretty terrible morning after.

I'd been excited to even see a light beer in the liquor store. I'm slowing learning how to drink beer but as my general preference was "as watery or fruity as possible" in the States I'd thought I'd struck gold. I was all smiles as I walked out, thinking I'd finally found Natty Light's ozzie counterpart.

It went over like a ton of bricks. As it turns out, "light" beer in America and "light" beer in Australia don't exactly mean the same things.

Compare a Bud Heavy and a Bud Light: roughly 5% alcohol to just under 4% alcohol (although some sites said 5% to 4.2%).


Not really a big enough difference in my opinion to matter-- it's more about taste preference and the perception that light beer is better for you.

In Australia, that's not quite the case. There's a lot of different types of beers, with "light" being code word for "very pansy" and "worthless."

It was an honest mistake, right? How was I supposed to know there was a difference?

Let me tell you something, though. You bring beer with half the alcohol content of a normal beer and you'll leave the party with half the number of friends you started with. Very awkward.

Half the alcohol seems pretty silly to me and I'd agree pretty worthless, but I'm told some people choose to drink light beer if they want to have a few and still be ok to drive later in the night. I'd say the other option would be to nurse an actual beer or two throughout the night, but I'm guessing it's an excuse to look like you're throwing back with the rest of the crew?

I didn't live the light beer down for the rest of the weekend, especially because after we'd figured out it was the only thing left to drink (ironically we'd used the real beer for drinking games) the only liquor store was already closed for the evening. They didn't even thank me for the absence of a hangover the next morning!!!

There's also "mid" strength beer, which falls somewhere between pansy and acceptable on the range of cool factor. At a Billy Joel concert last night it was the only option at the stadium-- I guess the promoters didn't want to risk all of the middle aged people getting wild and crazy on a Sunday night.

Lesson learned: go for the real stuff, at least in Australia.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What's Next?

I have a bit of fitness ADD- I get super devoted to one thing and then get bored and decide to do something else.

After the huge letdown of the Brisbane Half I debated a couple of options:

1. Keep running and train for either the Sydney half in May (hilly, so this was quickly nixed) or the Gold Coast half marathon in July (supposed to be flat)-- debating the Gold Coast run, but after each half I go through a "but I don't want to run more than 2 miles at a time" phase

2. Join CrossFit (sadly, the closest box I could find for Sydney is fairly out of the way from my apartment/work)

3. Join a Triathlon team (still debating this, but I'm pretty out of swimming shape and don't have a bike here, so it'd kind of be just the running aspect and then it's back at number 1)

Or the winner:

4. Suck it up and get a personal trainer.

My pockets are going to hurt, and hopefully my biceps/glutes/abs/etc as well, but I'm excited about the idea of someone pushing me a bit. I don't really like spin classes, can't keep up in Zumba and am tired of fighting for space in Body Pump (seriously, they pack people in like sardines!) so I'm somewhat grasping at straws for how to vary the workout plan.

The plan is to try to do 2-3 sessions with a trainer (depending on the $ aspect of things), a run or two and at least one yoga session thrown in for good measure.

I can't give up running completely, so I did sign up for the Mini-Moss 10k in early June. If not for friends doing it, I would avoid running the "most challenging streets" in Mossman as the website says. Definitely doing this as a fun run only!

Here's to a new fitness routine!

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Two Stories-- Busted & Lost and Found

I'm currently headed out to "Adult Spring Break"--- aka celebrating the fact that Australia gives Good Friday and Easter Monday off and headed up to the beach with some friends. I've never gotten a single day off for Easter so this is really exciting!

Thought I'd share two stories from yesterday:


It's no surprise for me to say that Australia is super expensive at this point. But sometimes I just feel like businesses are trying to rip me off.

Take the gym: 3 times the cost of Gold's Gym at home AND there are no towels. In order to get a towel you have to pay $3 a visit---you can get a "towel card" in case you rock up and don't have $3 with you, and the nice folks at the front desk will hold your card until you bring back the towel at the end of your session. Kind of like insurance that you won't walk off with the towel.

Seeing as I'm headed to the beach and we have to bring our own linens, though, I had what I thought was a master plan when I headed to the gym yesterday morning. "I'll pay CASH," I thought, "and then I'll be able to borrow this towel forever and take it to the beach."

I've never stolen anything before, but surely with the amount of uses that they get out of those gym towels they wouldn't sell for more than $3 on the street anyway.

My mistake was paying with a $10 instead of paying exact change. The front desk must have seen straight through me, because as she handed me my towel she said "I'll give you your change when you bring your towel back."

THWARTED in a big way. I guess I still could have stolen it, but it would have cost me the full $10.

Next time I'll try paying the exact amount. Fitness First, I will establish a collection of your towels.

The next little story could have really put a damper on this weekend's trip. Spoiler: it didn't.

Lost and Found

I've always wanted a gay best friend. Something about having a gay best friend just seems really really cool, and really handy for gossiping about work, fashion choices etc. I'm lucky that in Sydney I've got two gay best friends-- my colleague Ryan and his partner Ceph.

Ryan's got a flair for the drama at times, which is part of the reason why it's so much fun to hang around him.

Last night after work, the three of us piled into the super economy car that we've hired for the weekend (ie, the most Ceph would agree to help pay for) and started making the rounds: Aldi, Cole's and finally the mecca of liquor stores, Dan Murphy's.

The car was already fairly packed by the time we picked up booze, and with rain pouring down as we wheeled out our purchases I instructed the boys to pack the car and then come back around to pick me up.

Minutes pass by and I begin to wonder what in the world is going on. Glancing up from my phone, I see Ryan grandly gesticulating with his arms. Uh-oh, I thought, there's an argument brewing. But it was worse than I thought. With a shriek, Ryan turned to me and yelled "he's lost the keys! he's lost the keys!"

I groaned, knowing that this meant I had to walk out in the rain to search for the car keys that had just magically disappeared after opening the door.

It's funny to see these two operate-- both getting more anxious and dramatic by the moment-- going through all of the shopping bags, searching the floor and checking under the car.

"What are we going to do?" Ryan wailed after another 15 minutes of searching. "It's a public holiday tomorrow and this is a hired car and now we won't get to go to the beach and it's all your fault Ceph and how did you lose the keys and what are we going to doooooooooooooo?"

"Give me 5 minutes to think," replies Ceph, so we climb back in the car (soaked), Ryan's anger palpable and me stifling giggles in the backseat.

Being the super rational, always levelheaded person that I am, I know we've just missed the keys somewhere and that they are, in fact, somewhere in the car.

"Scoot your seat forward all the way Ryan," I say.

"I've already checked under the seat. The keys are lost forever. We're going to have to cancel the trip. Ceph, how could you? How could you ruin our vacation?"

I interrupt-- "Ok fine, but do it anyway. Scoot forward."

And there, lying perfectly fine under the seat, are our missing keys.

Crisis averted.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Five Awesome Things

Just a random collection of some things I've found awesome lately:

1. The Easter bunny came! I'm not sure how in the world he found out I live in Sydney now, but man it was a nice surprise to come back to the apartment to find this awesome chocolate bouquet waiting for me!

(side note: how thoughtful are my parents????) Growing up we always had Easter baskets, even through college and years we've been apart. My family is a sucker for traditions but even I was surprised that the bunny could hop this far!

2. This book:

I've been seeing this book pop up in various blogs as a must read, so last week when I was out shopping I decided to give it a whirl. Google Play keeps saying I can't purchase things with my card (I think it's something to do with my card being US and me being in AUS? gotta investigate that) and it's been awhile since I've had an actual book in hand.

I flew through this-- it's definitely an easier read but it's beautifully written and a heartbreaking story. I should have realized that any book involving a kid with cancer would be sad, but a book involving a first love between TWO cancer ridden teenagers? Definitely sobbed the entire plane ride home from Brisbane last night. Many thanks to the Mom next to me who supplied some kleenex.

3. Pinterest's updated mobile site. This is probably old news, but for awhile I thought that Pinterest's ipad/iPhone apps were pretty crappy. Not anymore! I've fallen back down the black hole that Pinterest can quickly become again and absolutely loving it. I think I've pinned more in the past 3 days than I had in the past three months!

4. Bananas! I had my first one in about a year today after I saw one and just couldn't get it out of my mind. I used to eat a banana almost every single day but after a stint of "no carbs" to get ready for a Hawaii trip last year I just had sort of written bananas off. I had one with peanut butter today-- can't believe that I've been missing out! Welcome back, bananas, I've missed you.

5. DIPS! Australia loves dips, and I love that Australia loves dips. Seriously-- there's a whole section of the grocery store devoted to different types of yummy dips. Each time I go to the grocery store I inevitably find myself "just browsing" the selections, and 9 times out of 10 find myself buying one (ok fine, two). Buying two is actually pretty crucial so you can buy one that you know you like and one that may be a gamble.

Top: gamble.
Bottom: old stand by.

I have no idea what Dukkah is, but the dip on top was on sale so I figured I'd give it a whirl. Verdict? I still have no idea what Dukkah is but it's pretty damn delicious mixed with sweet potato.

Maybe I'll start a section of this blog (since I write so frequently) and devote it to different dips in Australia. Could be huge.

What are 5 Awesome Things in your life right now?

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Race Recap: Better luck next time?

Don't get me wrong, I love a good story. I just wish this one had ended in a PR.

Sadly, the Brisbane Twilight Half Marathon didn't go exactly as planned. Things started out great: after a sweltering hot day (seriously, the three of us running were seriously debating blowing the race off to lay in the pool and eat popsicles) the temperatures finally broke around 4 pm and a cloud cover stopped the beating sun that had been so oppressing earlier in the day. Little did we know that those clouds spelled impending doom! (and yes, it looks like there is a blue sky in the background, but the other direction was all grey)

This was my first race that started at night, and will likely be my last starting so late. I wasn't really sure what to do with myself all day except for to be nervous, but by the time race time rolled around I had burned up all of my nervous energy. I didn't really like feeling like I couldn't do much during the day as I was trying to conserve energy and know that I much prefer an early morning race to "get it out of the way."

That being said, if the race had been in the morning it would have ended in the sweltering heat and that would have been pretty bad.

But as it turns out the weather in Queensland can be just as nasty when it's not hot, too.

Whoaaaaaa, how did we get from the dry picture at the start to the above?

Answer: just past the 8k mark when the sky fell open and the wind was gusting up to 100 kilometers an hour. Not fun, especially when you're trying to cross a bridge. Things just got worse after that-- the street we were running on quickly became flooded, the lights went out and plunged us into total darkness and then a tree fell on a poor runner's head. That was the final straw for the race officials, and they quickly ushered everyone off the course to the "finish."

I'm not going to lie- I was pretty bummed when the race was called as things were going really well. I was hitting a pace I was confident I could get between 1:50-1:55 with and the course (a weird out and back, out and back loop thing) was fairly flat. But, I was also pretty petrified of the howling wind the the pitch black dark and branches cracking everywhere. I had briefly flirted with the idea of pulling off at the 10k mark, but had convinced myself that because I felt so strong it would be silly to stop. Being forced to quit is not a fun feeling.

Crossing the "finish line"-- can you see all three of us?

After we were pushed through a premature finish and handed medals that I don't think we really deserved the three of us (my boss and a fellow manager) decided that the next logical thing to do would be to run home. Why? I'm not really sure. But as it was two against one, off we went into the darkness.

If you know me, you know that I hate the wind and I hate being wet. Add some running in there and you've pretty much got my recipe for Hell. We ran for another 7k, rounding out our mileage for the day to be just under 18.5k. Not a half marathon, but close enough in my book.

Our pace never dropped, which I'm going to take as a sign that I would have gone faster if it were dry and we'd kept running. Totally would have been a PR, right?

I was encouraged by the attempt though and think that it means I can train a bit harder (and more consistently than of late) and hopefully get a PR later this year.

Disappointed? Yes. Defeated? No. One lesson learned- if it ever looks like rain on race day, you'll find me snuggled up inside.

Now, off to see if I can get my sneakers to stop smelling like the swamp.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

St. Patty's Day Fun!

Sigh, I have the best blogging intentions. Every time I go somewhere I always think "take lots of pictures! Document everything! Think of something witty that you can talk about when you write!"

And then inevitably I come home and find 2 pictures on my camera. Saturday would have been a GREAT opportunity to show off some mad blogger skillz- my friends and I had a pub crawl to celebrate St. Patty's day and the original goal was to take a picture of every drink we had.

We ended up visiting The Winery, Forresters, The Clocktower, Beresford Hotel, The Local, The Gaslight Inn and Royal St. Albert's bar. What do I have to show for it?

-Lovely Rose Sangria from the Winery

-Pimms Sangria from Forresters

Awesome job, right? I don't know how real bloggers do it-- I need to start setting reminders on my phone to take pictures or something!

Regardless, it was a great evening with friends. To top it off a few of us ended up at Kareoke for late night. I haven't done Kareoke in YEARS, but when you've got your own room and only five people you can sing as many songs as your little heart desires. Proof? I was hoarse on Sunday. #worthit

There is one huge difference that I noticed from St. Patrick's day festivities here vs. Washington: no slightly flat green Bud Light to commemorate the event. Not sure how I feel about that.

Goal: actually take enough pictures to sum up a night. Include people for bonus points.

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