The Karen Files

Category: Melbourne

Laziness in my posts!

Sorry guys, I had been meaning to post before now but I’ve just been having so much fun with Kaz and Cliff that I kept putting it off, and telling myself I’d do it at night… and then when night came I would just be too tired! But now, it’s my last night at their house so I really don’t have a choice but to get it done now (or else risk that my next hostel does not have reasonably priced internet).

Well, I guess I have a bit of catching up to do!

First off, I owe you a post about what happened in Tassie after my tour. During the weekend, I stayed with one of Karen and Cliff’s friends and his three roommates. They were really great people, and hilarious too. The first night we stayed in and just watched a couple of movies, including an Australian film that was EXTREMELY disturbing. It was one of those real-life ones that try to teach you a lesson… the ones that they make you watch in high school. However, I think this one was a lot more disturbing than any that we would have watched in high school! I can’t remember the name of it now, and I don’t want to talk about the subject matter here just in case I have minors (Stacy) reading. But wow. I still can’t believe that these poor Australian kids are subjected to a film like that at the tender high school age!

Anyhow, they also took me to this terrific market in Hobart, and a neat skywalk thing in another rainforest. And for once… it was actually NOT cold in the Tasmanian rainforest!

OK, I probably would have written more about my last days in Tassie if I had been good and updated my blog more promptly, but now because I don’t feel like talking about Tasmania anymore at the moment and I want to finish up the post so I can go to bed, I think I will just talk about what I’ve been doing while in Heathcote with Karen and Cliff.

Well, if anyone read Karen’s comment, we did have a spider incident. It was a HUGE spider – tarantula size even. It was crawling in the hallway of Karen’s house, and no one was home but us three girls (myself, Kaz, and Alissa). Now, I don’t mind spiders, as long as they are outside, and not crawling on me. This spider was inside, and crawling towards the door of the bedroom I was sleeping in! Luckily, the next door neighbor (and friend of Karen) was within shouting distance, so he came and took care of the spider for us, but not before it made a run for my room (and almost made it)! As much as I know you want it, I didn’t get a picture of the spider, but if anyone is really interested you can just google ‘Australian huntsman spider’ and I’m sure it will give you a picture and tell you how big they can get.

Moving on! Yesterday (Saturday) was Kaz’s birthday party. It was a wonderful time. The food was excellent, as was the wine, and I got to meet so many of Kaz and Cliff’s friends. They were all such interesting characters! At times, it was hard for me to understand what they were saying because of the thick Australian accents and slang words that I didn’t know, and I think that it was amusing to some of them to say things to me and laugh at my response… but it was all in good fun. We did have a bit of an issue before the party. Cliff and I drove an hour and a half to pick up Karen’s chocolate birthday cake, and… well… it kind of melted into his seat on the way home. Yeah, it’s that hot in Heathcote. But, we were able to salvage most of it, so I guess it could have been much worse. At least we didn’t have to bring the car to the party and give people spoons so they could eat it off the seat. And it was really good cake, so we would have done it!

Today we just spent the day relaxing and lounging around the pool. I have been running around so much since I’ve been in Australia that I enjoyed the off day. Tomorrow I’m heading back to into Melbourne for one night, and then going off my three-day Great Ocean Road tour to Adelaide. After that, on the 17th, I’m headed into the outback! That is one tour I’m extremely excited about. I’m sure I’ll have tons of things to write about then, and lots of pictures for you guys.

I must get to bed now though. It’s really late here, and laying around the pool all day really tires you out! Cheryl and Matt, please make sure that the pool is open and ready for Aunt Karen when I get back! And Cheryl, did the kids get my postcards? De’von and Richie did already so I’d think your kids probably did.

OH! I almost forgot to mention! I saw a Koala on Saturday, for the first time not in a zoo. Unfortunately, it was dead on the side of the road. Koala roadkill. It was so sad, especially because the koalas are becoming less and less common in this area. Just like the Tasmanian Devils they are all getting some kind of disease that is wiping them out. I have high hopes that before my Australian vacation is done, I will get to see a live one up in the trees.

Ok, gotta jet, ta-ta everyone!

New Pictures and Bill Bryson

Here is a link for a few new pictures – and yes, there are pictures of me and Karen and Cliff (at least one of each).


Aside note – Sorry, the pictures are no longer available as of 2015

And here is one quick funny bit.

While I was in Melbourne I witnessed some guy in a car make a REALLY weird right turn. He was all the way in the left lane and made the turn from that lane. I initially thought that either he was drunk or he had gotten stuck in the wrong lane or something, but then I read this passage from the best author in the world, Bill Bryson, in “In A Sunburned Country”. I had read this book before, but I’ve been reading it again on my journey. When I am in a particular city he writes about, I’ll re-read what he says about that city. He explains the reason for these strange turns much better than I could so I will put a passage below:

“Melbourne may not have a Harbour Bridge or an Opera House like Sydney’s but it has something in its way no less singular. It has the world’s most bizarre right turns. If you are driving in central Melbourne and you wish to go right (and bear in mind that you are driving on the left), you don’t get in the middle lane, but rather pull over to the left-hand curb- as far away as possible from where you want to be- and sit there for an indeterminite period (in my case until all the clubs and restaurants have shut and everyone has gone home for the night) and make your turn from there. It’s all to do with keeping out of the way of the trams- Melbourne’s other specialty- which go down the middle of the road and can’t have turning cars blocking their way. It’s immensely confusing, not only to visitors from overseas but to other Australians- even, I suspect, to many Melbourne people.” – Bill Bryson

Now everyone go out and buy that book and read it. It’s really fantastic!

Well, I am going on a boat to Tasmania tonight, so I may not have a new update for you tomorrow, but I miss all of you! I don’t miss the snow that New Jersey is getting though.

Real Australia Part III

Well, I know some people have been complaining that there are no pictures (mom) so you will be happy to know that today there will be two pictures. And hopefully I will upload new pictures to my flickr account soon, and video to my youtube account before I leave Karen and Cliff’s house tomorrow. But first, a bit of talk.

Yesterday I went to a wildlife sanctuary – actually it was just a house where a woman and her son and husband take in injured or orphaned animals and nurse them back to health until they can be re-introduced into the wild, or a suitable home can be found for them. It was awesome – I went into the house and the first thing I saw were kangaroos hopping around EVERYWHERE. There were four or five in the living room, eating hay and chilling out (the woman’s son was feeding one of them a bottle), and there were a few more in the kitchen, and still more in an outdoor enclosure connected to the house. I got to pet them (they are incredibly soft, even the adult ones) and I got to experience the joy of stepping in ‘roo poo’.

If you look closely at the picture above, you can see that the kangaroo in the back has a little joey hanging out of her pouch. Aren’t they adorable?

So anyway, I was a bit jealous that I found out that my sister Cheryl and her family got a pair of adorable pet bunnies. It got me thinking that I needed to top it. Someway. Somehow. I wondered, what can I get that hops, is cute, but is somehow better than a pair of bunnies?

VOILA! I have adopted a baby kangaroo. He will be coming with me on the remainder of my Australian vacation, and I will be taking him back with me on my plane ride. I think for now he can stay in the spare bedroom at my dad’s house. I can take him for walks and stuff, and when he gets a bit bigger he can stay in the patio. His name is Spike, and I’ll be getting him one of those spiked collars. I figure he’d be good to keep out intruders and such… when he gets a bit bigger of course. Here is the first adoption picture:

This is the end of my ‘Real Australia’ series, since I will be leaving Karen and Cliff’s house tomorrow to go to Tasmania. But you can be sure that I’ll have plenty of things to talk about when I’m there! Maybe I’ll adopt a Tasmanian devil so Spike will have a playmate!

Real Australia Part II

G’day everyone!

Well, as I promised, I will now tell you more of my time in ‘real’ Australia!

On Monday, I went to Alissa’s school (Karen drives her to school every weekday) and I stayed for a bit to see how the schools in Australia are different from the ones that I remember going to in the US. It’s been quite a while since I was in the 6th grade so it might all be different now in the USA, but in Australia the first thing they do on Monday morning is get the whole school (all 100 or so students) together in a big room and go over what they will be doing for the week. Then they all sing Australia’s national anthem, which I thought was neat to hear. In case you were wondering about the lyrics, here is the first verse:

 Australians all let us rejoice, For we are young and free; We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil, Our home is girt by sea; Our land abounds in Nature’s gifts Of beauty rich and rare; In history’s page, let every stage Advance Australia fair! In joyful strains then let us sing, “Advance Australia fair!”

After that they talked about things like the importance of sunscreen and hats when they are going outside. They aren’t even allowed to play outside unless they have sunscreen and a hat on! Also, the kids learn a lot about the environment and the importance of saving water and energy. They learn so much more about protecting the environment then I ever remember learning in school. I think that is wonderful, they will grow up wanting to make a difference. Actually it seems like overall, Australia is WAY more concerned about the environment then the USA is. Hopefully we’ll catch up soon. Anyway, I really liked seeing the school. It was fun being around a bunch of cute little kids with Australian accents.

After the school, Karen, Cliff and I went to this nifty crystal warehouse. This was a place where they sold geodes and stones and really beautiful crystals at wholesale prices. Some of the things that they had in that place were gorgeous. They had a coffee table where the entire bottom was an amethyst crystal! It was only a few thousand dollars so I bought it and I am having it shipped home. Dad, I used your credit card numbers, I hope you don’t mind?

I also did something else truly Australian. I tried a little something called ‘Vegemite’. What is Vegemite, you ask? Well, it’s a spread for toast that many, many Australians have for breakfast each morning. I think that here, it’s more common on toast then jam is. Why is this so interesting? Well, have you ever TASTED the stuff?  In my opinion, it is the weirdest thing that someone might eat for breakfast EVER. Weirder even than the spaghetti on toast they eat in England. It’s this yeast product that is so intensely salty. It has such a strange taste, it doesn’t seem like a breakfast food! Ok, it wasn’t quite ‘throw up’ gross, but it was really, really salty I don’t think I’d ever have the urge to eat it again.

Besides vegemite, crystals, and school, Karen and Cliff have taken me to a few small (ish) towns that we have checked out (non-touristy towns) which has been a great experience. It’s nice to get out of tourist mode. I also met Karen’s other daughter (who is 20) and I’ve met a lot of their friends (true Australians!). We also took a Bush walk where I saw a few other big spiders and a kangaroo bounding around in the trees. The cockatoos flying above their house has become a common sight and sound to me – and they are SO loud.  I’m also learning a lot about their other native birdlife, like the willy-wagtail (I love that name).

I also introduced the family to a lovely American campfire tradition called ‘s’mores’. I had to improvise a bit… they don’t have graham crackers here so we had to use a different kind of sweet cracker, which was a bit too thick and not really sweet enough… They also didn’t have Hersey bars so we used another chocolate bar called a ‘Flake’. Also, they only had marshmallows that came in a package with strawberry and vanilla mallows… so we just picked out the strawberry ones and used the vanillas. Oh, and there is currently a fire restriction in their area (it’s a drought and it’s high fire season) so we used the electric stove to roast the marshmallows. They turned out pretty good, but nowhere NEAR as good as they are with all the proper ingredients! We’ll just have to make sure that the next time Cliff and Karen come to the States, they try the proper version of s’mores!

I don’t know why I always wait until this late at night to write my blog posts. Now I’m so beat and I’m sure I’m forgetting a ton of things, and I tend to ramble more when I’m tired. I better end this now and go to bed. We will have to have a ‘Real Australia Part III’ tomorrow. And let me tell you, it is going to be good. I haven’t even told you what happened today! Always leave them wanting more.

G’nite everyone! If you go to Mackers in the arvo, don’t forget to put dead horse on the chips!

Real Australia Part I

Sorry for the lull in my blog posts, I’ve just been having so much fun here in REAL Australia! Also the internet available hasn’t been working too well lately.

I’ve been staying with mom’s friends Karen and Cliff, and I have to say that they give all Australians a terrific name. They have been so friendly and have gone out of their way to show me around and take me places. It’s been wonderful and I’ve had a lot of fun! They have a couple of daughters, though I’ve only met one of them so far. Alissa is 10 and she’s such a great kid, very entertaining and dramatic and always singing and dancing. She reminds me of my little sister Stacy when she was that age! They also have three dogs which are really sweet and lovable.

I’ve been staying about an hour outside of Melbourne since Sunday. We had a barbecue on Sunday with a few other Aussies (and a South African) and it was so yummy! Meats, potato salads, you name it, the works! But I’m sure you don’t want to hear about the food so I’ll just tell you about the deadly creatures I’ve seen.

First of all, I’ve seen quite a few redback spiders. I learned that besides hiding under toilet seats, these spiders like to hang around anything metal. It seems like all you have to do is look underneath a metal lawn chair or in the corner of a metal shed and you’ll see one. Here is a picture of one of them:

We also saw an even bigger one underneath the lawn chair I was about to sit on, but I didn’t get the picture of that one. I was too busy running away. Not only are these spiders everywhere, but there are also their egg sacs everywhere. I mean everywhere. To let you know how dangerous these little guys can be – one of them bit Cliff a few years ago, and he was in the hospital for three days. A big one’s bite can kill a man in hours if he doesn’t seek medical attention, so they are bad little buggers. Pretty neat!

I’ve now seen tons of wild kangaroos, fairly close up! They remind me of deer. They too will run (bounce) in front of moving cars, and will stop and stare at your oncoming car the same way deer do. Australian’s don’t worry about hitting deer on the road, they worry about kangaroos.

Usually kangaroos groups will have one dominant male that is very large (up to 7 feet tall) and when you get too close it will stand up straight and stare you down while all the other kangaroos run off. It will run off too when all of its mates are safe, but if you are too much of a threat to them, they can be dangerous. They could give you quite a damaging kick with their powerful legs if they are cornered. Yes, even kangaroos can be deadly!


And now for the birds. I’ve seen so many beautiful birds here, but the most amazing to see in the wild have been the cockatoos and the galah (rose breasted cockatoo). How cool it is to see birds in the wild that before I’ve only seen in pet stores! And they too are deadly… well, they are deadly to bugs at least.

They’ve also taken me around the Bush to see the stunning views. It is just gorgeous around here. It’s been incredibly hot and dry, but it has been beautiful.

I’ve done a few more things that I want to talk about, including visiting the public school and seeing a crystal warehouse, but I’ll save that for my next post.


It’s quiet… TOO quiet…

Well, as most of you know I am now in Melbourne. Melbourne is… well, for lack of a better word, strange. It is a city, perhaps not as big of a city as Sydney, but it definitely looks like a city. However in feel… well, it really doesn’t feel like a city. For starters, there is NO ONE HERE! In Sydney there were TONS of people constantly rushing from one place to another. The streets were never empty. Here in Melbourne there is none of that. Sure there are some people around, but it seems completely empty compared to Sydney. Or any city! It’s so strange though because for some odd reason, when I’m walking around by myself in Melbourne, I constantly have the feeling that there is someone behind me. When I turn around there is absolutely no one there.

Despite the emptiness, if I had to choose to live in Melbourne or Sydney, I would choose Melbourne in a second. The people are much more laid back and less rushed than they are in Sydney, and they seem quite a bit friendlier and willing to talk to you. People in Melbourne also seem a bit more into their health here. I often will see people jogging down the street, and sports are a big thing here – especially Aussie Rules Football, which I will explain in a bit.

But now back to the subject of the emptiness of Melbourne… check out the photographs:


It looks like any normal city, you say? Well, look again. WHERE ARE THE PEOPLE???  The cars are coming and going as you might expect, but you can actually look down a city street and not see anyone. It’s almost like a ghost city. With cars and motorcycles. And you want to hear the kicker? This was taken at 4:00 in the afternoon on Saturday!

OK, to be honest there were sections to the city that had more people in them, but there seemed to be an awful lot of streets just like these. Melbourne is a popular city, where are all the tourists taking pictures? I mean, besides me.

All in all, Melbourne is a pretty cool place, but I don’t think I’ll stay here very long either. It’s just another city.

Now on to what I’ve done in Melbourne so far. Yesterday I walked (still afraid of city buses) a really long distance to see where the Australian open was played (just for you, dad!). And when I say long I mean a couple of miles, each way. My calves have gotten another nice work out. By the time I got there I was pretty beat, I had just come from a 12-hour overnight bus ride so it probably wasn’t the best day to pick for this hike, and I pretty much only saw it from afar. I could have walked closer, like to the parking lot or something, but it looked like another long distance and I just kept thinking that I still had to walk back. Also, I am not positive which arena was the correct one. I was seeing it from the back, and there were a bunch of other arenas.

This one (the white one in the background) is what LOOKS like the arena to me, but I don’t think it’s that one. I think that is the Vodafone arena… but you can see the practice tennis courts here which is neat.

This one was right next to it, and is the one that I think is the right stadium… I’m pretty sure (according to the map if I was reading it correctly) that this is the Rod Laver Arena.

Of course, I could be wrong and maybe what I think is the Vodafone arena is the right stadium, but I’m no tennis genius.

Anyhow, after I took a few pictures, I headed back. I was so tired that I didn’t want to sight-see anymore that day.

Now, before I did the tourist thing, I actually did get to meet mom’s friend Karen and her husband. They are really nice people, very friendly (mom has good taste in friends!) and they invited me to a barbecue tomorrow! My first real Australian barbecue! I’m very excited.

They also introduced me to a friend of theirs who has been living in Melbourne so that perhaps he could show me around the city a bit, since they actually live outside of Melbourne and aren’t as familiar with it as someone who lives there would be. I’m meeting all kinds of nice people in Melbourne, it’s fabulous! I still wouldn’t want to live in the city for too long.

Ok so today, against my best judgement (my feet were still sore), I walked over to the Melbourne museum. I really enjoyed it. It’s interesting to see museums in other countries. Some of the things are the same as what a US museum might have (dinosaurs and the like) but when you go into the natural history area and you see that the stuffed native creatures are things like kangaroos and giant crabs that are bigger than a dog, you know you are in a completely different place. Also, when you go into the rooms where people talk to you via a recording, they talk with an Australian accent. Nifty!

For all the computer geeks out there, here is a bit of Australian history trivia. Australia had built the 4th computer in the world, and named it ‘CSIRAC’. It was built in 1949 and it was used from 1949 to 1964. And now, it is the ONLY 1st generation computer that is still surviving and operational. I guess in Australia they take good care of their electronics.

Ok so before I end my post, I want to talk a bit about Australia Rules football.

I was just chilling out on the couch in my hostel, and a football game was on so I was watching it. Wow, this game is probably one of the most intriguing sports I now know of! It’s similar to American football, but it’s also very different. First of all, imagine a bunch of tanned, hunky, fit and toned Australian men. Now put them in tight shorts and tank tops, and give them a football. Got that picture? Good!

I’m not exactly sure about what the precise rules of Aussie Rules Football are, but watching it was fascinating. They did a lot of kicking and throwing of the ball like we do in (american) football, but they also bounced the ball as they ran (sometimes). And when they threw the ball, it looked like they were serving a volleyball. When they ran with the ball and got ready to kick it, they ran while holding it with two hands as far in front of them as they could, like how you would hold a dirty stinky diaper that you wanted to get it to the trash as quickly as possible, and then they would drop-kick it (the ball, not the diaper).

They did do the whole tackling thing too, but once they got the person down they would sometimes put them into a head lock until the person let go of the ball. And they had no issues with grabbing someones shirt and practically ripping it off in order to get them down to the ground so they can take the ball.

And the ball… it was SHAPED like a football, but it was yellow, and truth be told, it looked like a yellow NERF football. Watching the guys run across the field throwing the ball from one person to another in order to keep the ball out of the hands of the other team reminded me of a game of ‘Monkey in the Middle’.

The sport seemed pretty rough. There were a couple of times when a guy left the field bleeding – but he always came back. They don’t wear any padding or equipment like our pansy football players do. Who needs padding and long pants and helmets? I never before realized what wimps our American football players are! (I’m just kidding, all you American football fans!)

So, Aussie Rules is kind of like multiple different games rolled into one neat and easy to manage package. It was fiercely entertaining. And not just because it was played by a bunch of hot tanned men in shorts.

That is my post for today. One more thing – on my trip to Melbourne, I was daydreaming while looking out the window of the bus and the moon was half full so I had enough light to see the landscape, and wow was it beautiful. For the first time since the start of my trip, I felt like I was in real Australia. It reminded me of this painting of Australia at night that is pretty famous – or at least famous in the sense that I’ve seen a few times and I’m sure some people would recognize it if they saw it – I couldn’t find a picture of the painting online anywhere, but it was kind of similar to this picture below:

See, this is what I’m talking about! It looked so beautiful and was just so ‘Australia’.  The cities are fun and all but they aren’t what I came to Australia to see!

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