He Just Smiled and Made Me a Vegemite Sandwich

Trip Start Aug 09, 2007
Trip End Jul 29, 2008

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Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Sunday, June 15, 2008

G'day mate!!

On our final leg of our Australia flight we left from Tahiti still angry about this false advertising of said 'Tahiti Treat'. Hmmph!  We took off at roughly 3am and arrived in Sydney at 8 or 9ish in the morning.  We went through customs, which was really really strict.  First they asked us if we had the usual seed, cutting and all that other junk.  They then asked us "Are you Backpackers"…uhhh….Are we backpackers?  What do you think we are carrying on our BACKS, suitcases?  Well, yes, I guess we are backpackers.  So then they asked if we had a tent and I said we did.  They then they led us to this stainless steel examination table where they asked us to remove all of our clothing, bend over and cough when we heard the ‘snap!’ of a latex glove - just kidding, they just asked to see the tent which was securely stored beneath piles of dirty boxers and imported South American trinkets.  Quite a yard sale to just check the poles for dirt, but it was all good and after I asked if there was a kangaroo on their passport stamp (which I’m sure no one has ever asked before), we were pushed through before we could ask any more annoying tourist questions.  Sweet, now all we had to do is meet my friend Ryan and we were good to go.  I did remember that I was given some seeds of flowers (Peruvian Lily) from Bariloche in Argentina by a nice old hostel keeper, but, customs didn’t find those, Ooops.  They looked busy enough with the Asian lady importing suitcases full of costume jewellery anyways…

When we exited the secure area we were pleasantly greeted at the gate by one of my long time friends from Ottawa.  Ryan Holbein; Male, Caucasian, Brown Hair, Blue Eyes, Medium Complexion, Height 6’9” (206 cm).  Ryan is a Gemini and likes to take long walks on the beach while holding hands.  He enjoys a good waterfall, surfing and likes fun.  Did I mention that he is 6’9”, so naturally Ryan stands a good foot above everyone else and it was really easy to pick him out in the crowd.

When we got to Ryan’s car, I walk over to the passenger side of the car – that is, passenger if you drive on the right.  Ryan says, “So you want to drive, buddy” he chuckled.  I looked at him then realized in that spilt second that they drive on the left.  I should have realized that since we flew on the left the whole way to Australia that they must also drive on the left, but in that instant I forgot and habit set in.  That was by far the strangest experience when we first arrived - sitting in the front passenger seat and driving on the left side of the road.  Everything was backwards for me and Sarah.

So why do the Australians drive on the left?

If you didn’t know:

About a quarter of the world drives on the left, and the countries that do are mostly old British colonies. This strange quirk perplexes the rest of the world, but there is a perfectly good reason.

In the past, almost everybody travelled on the left side of the road because that was the most sensible option for feudal, violent societies (ie/Australia) J. Since most people are right-handed, swordsmen preferred to keep to the left in order to have their right arm nearer to an opponent and their scabbard further from him.

Also, a right-handed person finds it easier to mount a horse from the left side of the horse and it’s safer to mount and dismount towards the side of the road – hence, horses were ridden on the left side of the road.

What happened to the rest of us to kick us to the right?  Communism.  Actually, Napolean.  Details provided at end of blog. 

Ryan drove us the scenic route though Sydney, which is an incredible city.  He took us around to where he first lived in Sydney and then drove us over the Harbour Bridge.  The Harbour Bridge is really one of two main attractions in Sydney, the first being the Opera House.  The bridge is pretty massive and as you drive across you get a good view of the Opera House and the South Head.  The city of Sydney is essentially a southern land mass and a northern land mass, referred to ask the two “Heads”, which are separated by Sydney Harbour.  The city mainly relied on ferries for transport around the city, until the bridge was completed in the 1930’s. 

The city was beautiful with the giant Harbour and with ferries and bridges running all over the place.  Ryan took us to the North Head to see if we could spot us some whales, mate.  The drive to the north head was fantastic; you could get a good sense of the power of the ocean as it crashed on the cliffs of the north head.  The cliff must have been 30 or 40m high and when we got to a look-out area, we could feel the power of the winds.  Unfortunately we didn’t see any whales but we had plenty of time for that yet, so we were all optimistic.  We drove back to Ryan’s apartment, which was located in Queenscliff, about 5 minutes walk from Manly Beach.  We had brekkie (Auzzies like to add -y or –ie to everything: brekkie (breakfast), sunnies (sunglases), boardies (board shorts), exy (expensive), combie (old broke-down minivan)…..the list goes on) and then decided to walk around Sydney and check everything out.

We started our trip with a ferry ride from Manly to Circular Quay (“Key”) which takes about 30 minutes.  The seas were angry that day my friends so to prepare our stomachs, we picked up some chocolate muffins and chocolate dipping sauce along the way to enjoy on the ferry, or instantly as it were.  The winds were fierce, the waves were huge and the boat was no match for the seas that day, so naturally the three of us moved to the bow of the boat so that we could be first in line to crash through the waves breaking over the bow!!  The ferry rolled like a fat man chasing a wheel of cheese down a steep hill and we slid all over the place – it was the greatest ride ever and we had a blast!!!  While on the ferry we got even better views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House since the ferry drives right by both, what a steal – a fun ride and boat-tour in one!  When we got to Circular Quay we were soaked, smiling and thirsty for a tall drink in a brown bag.  We walked from the wharf to the Opera House took some photos and then headed to ‘The Rocks’ to get our drink on. 

The Rocks is an area of Sydney that mainly had labourers and blue collar workers in the ‘50’s.  Today it has been gentrified into a pretty trendy neighbourhood with lots of pubs and restaurants.  There are still a lot of residences left, but, it is definitely a more affluent part of the city now.  So the three of us walked around the Rocks; we went into a bar that had urinals in the shape of pint glasses but their brew was too rich for our blood so we headed to a cheaper bar to drink a few and finally to the corner store for some “longnecks” (750 ml bottles) and put them in brown bags, so that we wouldn’t arise suspicion on the street….nudge, nudge……wink, wink.  To the Bridge!!!

Soaking wet, ripped jeans, brown-bagging it, we arrived to the base of the Harbour Bridge and then walked up & across until we ended up at one of the towers on the bridge.  Here we walked up to a museum/viewing area which had a viewing area where you could see most of the city and the outlying areas of Sydney.  Inside they had movies, scale models of the bridge and stories of the workers that built the bridge.  I do remember there was one story of a worker who fell off the bridge and survived, miraculously he had a few broken bones but nothing too serious, they did however find his boots had the soles ripped off and the boots were pushed up to his thighs.  We also learned that ‘it’s the bridge we’ve been waiting foooooooooor!!!’ J

After a pretty long day we decided to take the ferry back and then go out for some pretty awesome sushi.  Sarah and I were really excited since we hadn’t eaten sushi for a whole year, and Ryan was boasting that this place was the best in Sydney (best outside of Tokyo in fact!).  We all donned our Panama hats and classed our way into the restaurant where we then gorged ourselves, waddled back to the car, drove back and crashed at his place.  Well, more like I crashed in the car driving back to Ryan’s place and Sarah and Ryan fell asleep shortly after we got back. 

The next day Ryan had to go to work being Monday and all, so he got up early – I believe it was the “Ass Crack of Dawn.” - and drove to a place 2 hrs north of Sydney called Newcastle where he was working for the week.  While we were in Sydney we spent a lot of time at his apt while he was working for companies in Newcastle and a mine on the outskirts of a town called Mackay (aka: Butt F*$k No Where).  He was awesome enough to meet up with us on the weekends to do fun stuff – it was really nice.  He even met in Brisbane and Cairns, but that is much later in our adventure…dun-dun-duuuuuun…

The day he left we decided to plan what our trip in Australia would be.  So we spent the next day and a bit planning the places we wanted to see and things we wanted to do while in Australia.  We were visiting Australia in their winter, so it was pretty rainy and pissy in the south by Sydney and Melbourne, but we had planned on seeing Ayers Rock in the centre and Cairns in the far north so the weather would be better there.  The winter in Oz really isn’t that bad; it’s rainy and windy and cold, but, it only gets to maybe -3oC at the lowest.  However, since being in the sun for about 1 year our blood was thinner and we were taking the cold like a pair of sissies.

Having roughly 5 weeks in Oz we decided to see the most we could on our budget.  As a rough guide, we were going to fly to Melbourne and rent a car to drive along the Great Ocean Road for 3 days, come back to Melbourne and then fly to Ayers Rock (Uluru).  A few days here and then we would fly north to Cairns in the North where we’d rent a Wicked Camper Van (actual name, no BS) and travel down the coast to Brisbane where we would stop in to see Clare (Sarah’s Sister-In-Law).  Then we’d fly back to Sydney, head out to Katoomba and see the Blue Mountains.  It was a lot more flying then we were used to, but, Australia is HUGE and it’s like taking the bus in Canada - long and booorring.

With our plan in place, we set out to explore some of Sydney and were happy knowing we’d be back there again before we were gone – it was beautiful!  Our strolls brought us to the Botanical Gardens, the Australia Museum , the ANZAC War Memorial and Darling Harbour. 

While walking around the Botanical Gardens we saw some amazing birds that are very common here but rare in other parts of the world.  They had Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, Rainbow Lorikeets and a strange looking bird called an Ibis.  I initially thought that I was in a zoo, but, as we traveled the rest of the country these birds kept popping up.  You must think I am a pretty Superior Ornithologist, but, I assure you it just required a lot of looking on the internet for those names.

While walking around one day we saw a lot of renovations being done to a church.  I was thinking to myself “We’re not in Latin America anymore and other British colonies sort of let their churches go to shit or sell them off, so what was the deal?”  The Pope was the deal.  Until then, we had just assumed Sydney to be disproportionately full of young people who liked to amalgamate into groups and spontaneously burst into song.  Our bad.  They were fixing the church up for World Youth Day celebrations that were going to happen towards the end of our stay in Australia.  Should be interesting.

Other stuff that did impress us was the Australia Museum, which had a full humpback whale skeleton, a skeleton-man riding a skeleton-horse, dinosaurs and a ton of other nice stuff that kept us entertained for a few hours.  On the way back to the ferry to Manly we strolled through Hyde Park, saw the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Memorial, then headed to Darling Harbour before taking the Ferry back to Manly. 

One of the best things about staying at Ryan’s place was that you could see the ocean from his kitchen, and whenever you left the apartment, you walked along the beach to get where you were going.  It was amazing.  Oh, we also got to walk past the ‘yelling man’ store on our travels to and fro.  This store was quite incredible – they had a loud speaker chanting out all their sales incessantly on repeat and a store full of crap and trinkets you didn’t know you needed until the man told you so: “Leather belts – geeeeeeeenuine leather belts – leather belts are 50% off.  Ladies jumpers – Laaaaaadies jumpers…”.  The workers looked disgruntled. 

With all our plans in order, flights booked and cars rented we left the next day to fly to Melbourne and then drive along the Great Ocean Road.

Oh yeah the title of this entry is from the 1982 song ‘Down Under’ by an Australian band Men at Work.  Didn’t hear it once in Oz, but, it’s a catchy tune. 

And for those that don’t know Vegemite, it is really f-ing popular food spread in Australia, sort of what PB is to North America.  It is a dark brown food paste made from leftover brewers' yeast extract (a by-product of beer manufacturing).  It’s basically scraped off the bottom of the barrel to be scraped across your sandwiches, toast and cracker biscuits. It took some getting used to but it was pretty good on toasted bread with butter and then a thin layer of Vegemite.  The taste may be described as salty, slightly bitter, and malty - somewhat similar to the taste of beef bouillon and it has a consistency close to peanut butter or Nutella.    

To Melbourne!!!

Love, Niko y Sarita xoox

Speaking of Communism (weren’t we?), here is that excerpt on how we ended up driving on the right:

In the late 1700s, teamsters in France and the United States began hauling farm products in big wagons pulled by several pairs of horses. These wagons had no driver's seat so the driver sat on the left rear horse keeping his right arm free to lash the team. Since he was sitting on the left, he wanted everybody to pass on the left so he could make sure he kept clear of the oncoming wagon’s wheels. So, he kept to the right side of the road.

Then the French Revolution of 1789 happened: before the Revolution, the aristocracy travelled on the left of the road, forcing the peasantry over to the right.  But, after the storming of the Bastille and the subsequent events, aristocrats preferred to keep a low profile and joined the peasants on the right. An official keep-right rule was introduced in Paris in 1794, more or less parallel to Denmark, where driving on the right had been made compulsory in 1793.

Later, Napoleon's conquests spread the new rightism to Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Russia and many parts of Spain and Italy. The states that had resisted Napoleon kept left; Britain, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Portugal. This European division, between the left- and right-hand nations would remain fixed for more than 100 years, until after the First World War.  And this, my friends, is why Australia and Australians still drive on the left - they were former British Colonies and hard-core British supporters (note they still have the Union Jack in their flag).
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