Archive | August, 2011

THE END

10 Aug

This is it, the last post.  It’s been exactly one month since I arrived home and I’m finally ready to end this blog.  I’m not entirely sure why it’s taken me this long but I think maybe I wasn’t quite ready to admit that it was all over until now.  I got an email today about a photo contest for my study abroad program and was thinking about what I could submit when I realized that I haven’t looked at any of my photos from Australia since I got back.  I haven’t even thought about Australia all that much until today, which is very strange.  Even when I’ve talked about it I haven’t really thought too hard about the experience and what it meant to me.  I’ve gotten used to people asking “So how was Australia?” and responding “Oh, it was great.  By the end I was ready to come home but it was an incredible experience.”  Same answer, every time.  Not a lot of substance but I figure it’s what most people want to hear.

I’ve been thinking lately about how so many people warned me and my fellow studiers-abroad that when we returned home we would have to deal with reverse culture shock.  They said that it would be hard at first to jump back into our everyday lives, that we had to remember that while we may have had a life-changing experience abroad, our friends and family hadn’t.  For the most part, everyone and everything would be the same but we would be different and that could be hard to get used to.  I didn’t really feel that way at first.  I felt totally comfortable and happy to be home.  It was like I’d been gone for a couple weeks… I just fell right back into my old routines and I liked that.  But I think that gradually I’ve started to notice the effects that Australia has had on me.  I don’t like being inside for long periods of time.  I keep forgetting to wear shoes out of the house.  I’m more friendly with complete strangers.  I can’t get in to heavy drinking anymore.  I feel weird eating dinner without drinking wine.  I find myself craving “tasty cheese”.  These are all just little things, but taken altogether they mean that Australia changed me.  I don’t want to get too Lifetime movie here, but I do think it’s important to say that I don’t think I’m the same person I was six months ago.

This was me in Sydney six months and two days ago, the day after I arrived in Australia.  A lot has happened over the past six months; if you’ve been keeping up with this blog that whole time (and if you have, I love you) you can probably attest to that.  I’ve seen the oldest rainforest in the world, spooned a kangaroo, gotten SCUBA certified, been to the outback, seen the sunrise over the Coral Sea, swam with sharks, seen saltwater crocs in the wild, learned to cook, been to Thailand and New Zealand, climbed an ancient volcano, dived the Great Barrier Reef, and made a few amazing new friends.  It really has been an incredible experience.  If anyone reading this is thinking of studying abroad, I urge you to go for it.  Go somewhere new and meet people who are completely different than you are.  If you’re lucky like me, you might end up meeting a bunch of people who are much more similar to you than the ones you know back home.  Either way, I think it’s a great thing to do and everyone, if given the opportunity, should do it.  So do it!

Of course, I can’t end this blog without thanking you all for reading it.  It’s been a lot of fun to write and I’ve loved having people tell me that they read it.  Who knows, maybe someday I’ll get some sweet job that lets me travel around and blog about it and I can reference this blog as the beginning of my career and you will have been there to see it!  Anyway, thanks to everyone who has followed along with my adventures, especially to those who read the whole thing and especially ESPECIALLY to those who have been reading my blogs since my first summer in Cali (so Mom, Dad, Mimi, and possibly my grandparents…. you all are the greatest.)  That’s all I’ve got for you guys, so thanks again, have a great rest of the summer, and here’s a photo taken in Sydney the day before I left Australia to bring it full circle.

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New Zealand: Greymouth to Christchurch by train

9 Aug

From Franz Josef we headed north along the coast.  We drove past a lot of farms and my mom insisted on pulling over on several occasions to take photos of sheep.  Eventually we reached the ocean again, which made for yet another cool but gloomy photo op.  Here are some pics from the drive up.

Our shitty front-bumperless rental car.  It really is a miracle it got us the whole way:

Our reason for driving to Greymouth was to board the TranzAlpine scenic train to Christchurch.  As its name suggests, the train runs through the mountains and provides some spectacular views.  It was a pretty cool way to finish up our trip.  We talked to some nice Aussies on the train, had scones with jam and cream for the last time, and got to see some more snow at a place called Arthur’s Pass high up in the mountains.  The train stopped so we could play in the snow, but the novelty had definitely worn off for me by that point, so I snapped a few photos and returned to the warmth of the train.  I didn’t get many photos over the course of the journey because it’s difficult on a moving train, but here are a few.

We got in to Christchurch that night, then flew out early the next morning to finally head home.  So that’s all for New Zealand!  It was a good trip and I got to see the highlights of the south island.  I would, however, love to go back during the NZ summer and preferably stay for a couple of weeks.  It really is a beautiful place and I hope to one day (soon?!) have the opportunity to explore it again… in the sunshine.  Until that day comes, this is all I’ve got for you guys.

Only one more post until I retire this blog!  Check back within the next few days for that!

New Zealand: Franz Josef Glacier

7 Aug

Franz Josef was easily my favorite part of the trip. I have always wanted to see (preferably touch!) a glacier, both because I happen to think that they are awesome and because I believe that within my lifetime there won’t be many left.

The drive from Queenstown to the town of Franz Josef was… interesting, to say the least. We asked the receptionist at our motel if we would need tire chains and she said that there were two ways to get there: one that would definitely require chains, and one that would not. We opted for the no-chains route and set off.  Everything was fine for the first hour or so, and then it started raining right as we entered the mountains.  In about five minutes the rain had turned to snow and we came very, very close to getting stuck in our crappy two wheel drive sedan.  It was about that time that we started wishing we had brought some chains along after all.  In the end we only spun out once and it all ended up alright, thanks to some impressive driving by my mother while I had a minor panic attack in the passenger seat.  Soon we had reached the west coast where I was thrilled to see the ocean for the first time on this trip, and just after it got dark we arrived in the tiny town of Franz Josef.  Here are some shots I took along the way.

We came to Franz Josef for a half-day glacier hike with Franz Josef Glacier Guides.  They outfitted us with everything we would need- waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, boots, wool hat, wool socks, wool gloves, and crampons- which was nice because otherwise we probably would have died up there.  I know I keep saying things like this, but the weather was ATROCIOUS on the day we did our hike.  It was windy and raining cold, unrelenting rain that occasionally turned to hail.  It was so bad that they cut back all of the full day trips to half day trips and some people decided that even that was too much.  We had a few people drop out of our group before we left.  Their loss, really, because the glacier was truly awesome.  We had to walk about a mile or two to reach the base of it, then we spent a good three hours hiking around on the glacier itself.  I would have loved to bring my nice camera but the weather definitely prevented that, so here are the photos I managed to get with my waterproof, shockproof, freezeproof point-and-shoot (which can be found here in case anyone is interested.)

Before…

Inside of a glacial cave:

After…

Also, just in case you don’t believe me about the weather, here’s a short video I shot on the hike back to the bus from the glacier.  (Warning: it’s kinda loud.)

So that was Franz Josef.  So worth it, even if by the end we were wet and miserable and had multiple blisters.  One great thing about the tour we did is that it includes free entry to the glacial hot pools in the town of Franz Josef- the perfect way to recover from a glacier hike.  We hit the hot pools, ate an early dinner, drank some wine, and passed out.  The next day we headed north to Greymouth for the last leg of our journey, which I’ll talk about in one last NZ post, because I feel like this one is long enough as it is.  Check back soon for that!

New Zealand: Milford Sound

4 Aug

My mom and I used part of our time in Queenstown to take a day trip to Milford Sound.  The tour we chose to do included a 4 hour coach ride to and from Milford Sound, plus a two hour cruise.  It was a long day- we had to be on the bus at 7am and didn’t get back until well after 7pm- but it was worth it.  Milford Sound is a fjord, meaning that it was carved out by a glacier and is now filled with water.  It is known for its dramatic cliffs that rise up out of the water, making it a pretty breathtaking place.  Unfortunately for us, the day we went there it was cloudy and raining (like it was our entire trip) so we didn’t exactly get the full experience.  It wasn’t all bad though; it turns out that rain creates hundreds of temporary waterfalls along the cliffs, which was pretty cool.  Here are some photos, starting with the first one we took on our cruise… which is probably my favorite pic from the entire trip.

DOLPHINS:

The drive between Queenstown and Milford Sound took us through some high-altitude mountain passes, and it happened that by the time we drove back the rain had turned to snow up in the mountains.  The driver pulled over so that we could all play in the snow and my mom and I got the sense that a lot of people on our bus had never seen snow before (which is not that strange in Australia/NZ.)  It was kind of adorable to see them all running around and throwing snowballs at each other.  It was also cool to stand in the snow and think that one week before that moment I was in the humid, tropical heat of Thailand and one week later I would be back home in equally humid, even hotter Virginia.

That’s all I’ve got on Milford Sound.  Check back in a few days for a post about Franz Josef glacier, then it’ll be time to retire this blog for good.  I hope everyone is having a great summer!