Thursday, December 31, 2009
Photos by Steffanie Scholze.
Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009 was the huge, monumental Melbourne Cup Race Day. There’s really nothing akin to it in the states. We might want to compare it to the Kentucky Derby, but there’s really no comparison. In various parts of the continent, it’s a public holiday, and most businesses close. While the main race and the day-long party in Melbourne is occurring, every Australian city is busy holding its own horse race. School children pick their favorite jockey. The newspapers and televisions have one story to report, and that’s the race. When the final race begins, everyone in the country turns on the television. It’s fitting then that it’s coined “the race that stops a nation”.
Steffanie and I really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
First thing in the morning, Deidre took Steffanie and I to one of their local radio stations for an on-air interview. It was really exciting, because even though I’ve been on the radio before, never had I gone into a studio. The DJ was really welcoming and funny, asking about the pageant and what I thought of Wagga Wagga. He also wasn’t shy about poking fun with Deidre about the Quest, and Deidre always made sure to put him in his place.
We returned home to grab a quick breakfast of toast and Nutella (my favorite) before Jess, a former Community Princess and this year’s Quest Chairman, picked us up to escort us to the next interview. At this radio station, we were interviewed by a very, very sweet DJ. She talked to both Steffanie and I, asking us about where we lived in the states. She even ended our interview with Sinatra’s “New York, New York”.
After a quick tour of Wagga Wagga, Jess dropped us off back at home so that we could prepare for the races. Fashion at the races is exactly what you imagine it to be: the big hats, dresses, gloves, and the works. I had to pay special attention to my wardrobe for the day, seeing as I was given the responsibility of judging Fashion on the Field.
Once properly dressed, Jess took the both of us to lunch at Mick’s for one of their award winning meat pies. Meat pies are taken very seriously in Australia, so I absolutely had to have at least one during my stay. We met up with a few other Quest chair people for lunch, and even accidentally ran into Wagga’s local Congressman!
The race grounds were really beautiful with stunning gardens and fountains. Since neither Steffanie nor I had ever been to the races, our “chaperones” for the day directed us through the action in the betting tents. With some greatly needed assistance from our chaperones, Steffanie placed a bet for the both of us on horses. I had really good feelings about “C’est La Guerre”(it just sounded vicious), while Steffanie went with “Crime Scene”.
We made our way out of the betting tent and over to the track. It was in between races, so we found some relief from the heat (and the flies) inside the racing club. We were introduced to a number of people, before making our way down to a few tents serving food near the track. After some more socializing, it was time for me to help judge Fashion on the Field!
The first category was Best Hat. A slew of women stepped up on a riser set up in front of the track, and were judged by myself and three judges from the local businesses who were donating the Fashion on the Field prizes. I asked them for help on what to look for, but they were really great about letting me add my own input. We came to a consensus on a very nice white hat with a large black organza bow, seeing as this year’s race theme was Black and White.
Following this, Steffanie and I were invited into the private racing club by the club president, which is a very big deal. In the club, we got to have a few appetizers and watch what was going on in Melbourne, all while meeting a few more people within the club.
I was then grabbed to go judge the remaining two Fashion on the Field categories. I was joined once again by my three co-judges. We first had to judge Best Dressed Gent, which was a little tricky seeing as the men were much less eager than the women to hop up on the risers and be judged. However, among the few competitors, a winner was picked. Next was the main event: Best Dressed Lady. This was a very, very difficult decision, since there were so many well-dressed ladies, of all ages! Our judging group eventually decided on a young woman wearing a ’60s inspired, very demure black lace dress, with matching gloves and pillbox hat.
With Fashions on the Field finished, the final race at Wagga went underway. Soon thereafter, everyone’s attention focused on the big screens throughout the race track, as the Melbourne Cup was about to be decided. The winner of the big race was “Shocking”, with a second finish by….Crime Scene! Her first day at the races, and Steffanie walked away with some winnings!
We left the races and headed to Wagga’s Daily Advertiser so that I could speak with a reporter. She was very nice, and we simply had a nice chat for 15 minutes. I always love being on the other side of the interview, for a change. The photographer from the day before caught up with us and took Steffanie and I to the Wagga Memorial Park for some extra photos to run with the article. He had me pose all along the fountain and near the rose bushes, so close, in fact, that my dress got caught on a thorn and I was stuck!
We met back up with our group from the races at a refurbished Wagga dinner club. The dinner club dates back to the start of Wagga, and has witnessed a lot of Wagga history. One of the club members took Steffanie, myself, and a few of the younger girls on a tour of the club and taught us about its lurid history.
Alana and Phillip drove us home from the club. Our whole family caught up on the day’s events over a very nice dinner of gluten-free pasta. Following dinner, Alana and Leah decided to give Steffanie and I a lesson on Aussie facts, quizzing us every state’s flora and fauna. We were expected by the girls to memorize the information for a test at a later, undisclosed date. In discussing Australia, the girls brought up the viral YouTube video “The End of the World”, which I’m quite familiar with, but Steffanie had never seen. This led to us viewing a number of Australian commercials on YouTube, one of which forced the girls to explain about the existence of the dreaded drop bear.
(You see, drop bears are these terrible mutations of koalas with large, sharp fangs. They hide in Australian trees and wait until a foreign tourist steps under said tree. They then drop from the tree, quickly devouring the tourist’s head with their large, sharp fangs. It’s been quite a bother for the Australian tourism industry, it really has. There is a theory that drop bears can sometimes be diverted by wearing something sharp and pointy on top of one’s head, such as an old Kaiser helmet, but such theories have never been officially proven. )
We then bid each other goodnight, and drifted off to sleep with images of drop bears dropping on our heads.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Photos by Steffanie Scholze
I was a little sad at the start of Monday, November 2nd. After all, Steffanie and I were leaving behind one of the most exciting cities in the world to go and stay with people we had never met before, in a place we knew little about, to do things we were still largely unaware of. It’s strange then, in retrospect, that this day would turn into one of my favorite days on the continent, as it would be the day that I met my Australian family.
As if to mock our melancholy, the beautiful Sydney weather had decided to turn on us, and Steffanie and I had to enjoy our breakfast while watching the rain fall outside our hotel.
We also spent the morning worrying if our luggage would fall under the strict guidelines of the regional flight we were taking to Wagga Wagga. Since the planes flown from one city to the next are so small, we were only allowed about 30 pounds of checked luggage, and 15 pounds of carryon. Not a whole lot! Luckily, the baggage agent at the Sydney Domestic Airport had a soft spot for Americans, and let us get by with a few extra pounds.
The boarding experience was definitely a new one. To board the plane, we had to walk outside the airport and board a bus, which then drove us out to the runway, where we had to walk up the stairs on to an eleven row, propeller airplane. It looked like something out of a movie, and I was only a little worried when I was seated right next to the wing propeller! While the flight was (mostly) smooth, it was still dangerous due to a flight attendant that enjoyed attempting to behead Steffanie with the drink cart. As it was only a 45 minute flight, I decided to spend that time watching as the Sydney metropolis gave way to barren countryside. The view was really beautiful.
After a bumpy landing, we finally touched down in Wagga Wagga, Australia! At the door of the plane, we were blasted with an immense wave of heat! It had to be over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which is still unseasonably warm for Wagga. I have to admit that I felt a bit like a Beatle when I walked down the plane’s staircase on to the runway, as I could clearly see a photographer scaling the airport fence. (I later learned that they had been sent by the local newspaper.)
We didn’t even make it into the Wagga Wagga airport before we were surrounded by a huge, smiling group of people - all members of the Miss Wagga Wagga Quest committee! As introductions were given, we discovered that our new host mother, Deidre Tome, was among the group.
After a very warm welcome, a beautiful bouquet of Australian flora, and a number of photographs taken for the paper, our new Australian “mum” took us to our new home. I didn’t talk much during that first car ride, since I was almost completely consumed with my new surroundings. The brilliant blue sky seemed to stretch on forever and contrasted so sharply with the dry, yellowed crop fields, leading then to the little red brick homes of the Wagga suburbs.
Once within our new home, Steffanie and I met our new sister, Alana Tome. This will probably freak Alana out a little bit when she reads this, but I immediately liked Alana upon meeting her. Only a few years older than me, she was just so relaxed and open in our presence, sharing stories and treating us as if we had always been members of the family.
After a cool drink of water and a little family chat, Deidre took Steffanie and I out on the town. We first stopped to meet Deidre’s husband Phillip at his workplace, and continued on to go hat shopping. Why hat shopping, you ask? Due to some wonderfully coincidental timing, we had arrived in Wagga the day before the National Melbourne Cup Race Day. The best way to describe the Cup Race Day is to compare it to the Kentucky Derby, if the Derby were ten times bigger and was treated as a national holiday. Race Day is taken so seriously that proper race attire is expected, right down to those big racing hats! Having not a clue what to look for, we left it up to Deidre to find the proper materials for our hats.
The three of us girls grabbed a quick lunch and ran over to the Wagga Chamber of Commerce to grab the official Miss Wagga Wagga tiara, cape, and scepter. We then continued on to one of my favorite experiences : grocery shopping in Australia! I think it’s so interesting to compare the stores and foods of the United States to those in other countries. The Australian candy aisle excited me the most, with their large selection of Cadbury Chocolate “Freddie Frogs” and “Carmello Koalas”. While I busied myself with the junk food, Deidre showed Steffanie the large and varied gluten-free section. At the checkout, Phillip caught up with us and we met our final family member, Leah Tome. Leah is only a few days older than me, so we immediately hit if off on the car ride home, discussing our English classes.
Our first night in Wagga was really wonderful. While Deidre prepared a Chinese meal from the groceries we had bought, the rest of the family sat around the table playing a game using Scrabble pieces (that I was absolutely terrible at). Right before dinner was served, we were joined by the current Community Princess and Miss Wagga Wagga, Nicola and Sally, respectively. Our dinner out on the back porch was so relaxed that we really got to know each other. Steffanie and I finally learned a bit more about the Miss Wagga Wagga Quest from Nicola and Sally, as they shared their experiences with the quest and their travels to the United States.
I was so happy at the end of the first day with my new family that I was sad to go to bed. But, we had a long day ahead of us the next day, so we had no choice but to get some rest.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Photos by myself and Steffanie Scholze.
On Sunday, Steffanie and I woke up at an ungodly hour. But why waste our time in Australia with sleeping?
It was so early that the streets were eerily empty and peaceful as we walked to the train station. We each bought an all-day pass for Sydney’s bus and train system, and we grabbed some breakfast - all organic, gluten-free granola bars (just about everything in Australia is gluten-free). Our train ride took us out into the Sydney suburbs, allowing us to see the beautiful purple trees in bloom that Steffanie loves. Since it was Sunday, the train could only take us so far, so we had to stop and grab a bus at another station. (That station had a McDonald’s advertising a “brekkie roll” which just killed me, it really did.)
From the bus stop, it was just a quick ride to Featherdale Wildlife Park. The park is this little wildlife sanctuary situated in the middle of a Sydney suburb. Featherdale also gains its fame for allowing visitors up close and personal access to Australia’s most famous wildlife. In almost all of their advertisements, the park boasts about the chance visitors have to “cuddle with koalas”. Steffanie and I knew we had to go.
As promised, as soon as Steffanie and I stepped into the gate, we were greeted by a very, very young wallaby joey, held by a Featherdale animal handler. After a quick visit, we soon made our way into the park, eager to cuddle some koalas! With it being so early, most of the koalas were all curled up, snoozing in their trees. (Undoubtedly the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.) One koala was awake, and already posing for pictures, so Steffanie and I took turns getting out snapshots with him.
We then ran into a few wallabies and kangaroos that have free roam of the place. We were able to pet a few wallabies just lounging around in the shade. They were so calm and gentle! Featherdale has this really neat system where they give you a “passport” at the front desk, and as you see each animal, you stamp your passport. We got plenty of stamps, as we saw Tasmanian devils, an albino kangaroo, fruit bats, echinadas, and my favorite…fairy penguins! They’re the cutest, tiniest little penguins I’ve ever seen, and native to southern Australia.
We probably could have spent the whole day there, but after a quick stop at the gift shop (where I bought a didgeridoo I had been dying to get), we had to run and catch the bus, and then the train, back to downtown Sydney. We were really cutting it close to the cruise we had scheduled for the afternoon. During our research for the trip, I had come across a cruise that’s run by the National Tribal Warrior Association. The cruise goes all around Sydney Harbour, explaining the Aboriginal significance of various places, and detours at a small island, where an Aboriginal welcoming ceremony is performed. Steffanie and I were really excited to view this side of Australian culture, so when we made it to the ticket box office on time, only to be told that our cruise had been canceled, we were both pretty furious.
With our hopes dashed, we had lunch by the harbor and looked through our tour books to see what we could fill our afternoon with. We discovered that on Sundays, the Australian Museum welcomes an Aboriginal presenter to teach about Aboriginal music, dance, and traditions. As an added bonus, the Australian Museum was only a few blocks away! We grabbed a train, and made our way to the Australian Museum.
We looked through the Native Australian exhibit as the rest of the audience started to gather. The audience was quite an interesting group. From the bean bag chair I was sitting on in the middle of the exhibit, I could hear English accents, French, the little Spanish that I could make out, and a few things I didn’t understand at all. Once everyone was situated, the presenter came out and taught us how to play the didgeridoo, throw a boomerang, and where such traditions came from. When he asked for volunteers to demonstrate a traditional Aboriginal dance, my good friend Steffanie pushed me out on to the floor. I was joined by a French teenage boy, and three little kids as we ran around the exhibit, pretending to be emus. Once the presentation was finished, we took a picture with our presenter, and my French dance partner asked for a picture with me!
After seeing the rest of the exhibit, we headed to the “Surviving Australia” exhibit. We figured we should know what we’re getting ourselves into, right? The exhibit showed all the hidden dangers of the continent, from those in the oceans to those in an Australian backyard. It was quite eye-opening, and I can easily say that I’ve never seen so many taxidermy animals in my entire life.
From the museum we walked and caught a very crowded bus to the most famous beach in all of Australia…Bondi Beach! It was a beautiful day, so the beach was full and frenzied. The water was still a little cold in the spring season, so Steffanie and I were too chicken to don bathing suits. That didn’t stop others though, so we got to enjoy watching people surf and swim, while we just stuck our feet in. The beach bums that we are, we walked along beach shops and outdoor markets until the sun set.
It quickly began to get very cold, so we caught a bus back to Circular Quay. We were so tired from our day’s adventures that we only had enough energy to stop for a quick snack at McDonald’s. It was just your normal, average McDonald’s, selling french fries with sweet chili sauce, and chicken tenders with prune sauce. Your average fare.
We crashed once we got back to the hotel, only bothering to get a few things ready for our flight to Wagga in the morning before hitting the pillow.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Photos by myself and Steffanie Scholze. But mostly Steffanie.
Now that I’ve finished my marathon of college applications (at least, I think I’ve finished…), I’m finally going to stop being stubborn and write about my trip to Australia!
So, that Thursday in late October, I arrived in Cincinnati Airport, which is actually in Kentucky, and met Steffanie at her gate. We happily caught up (After all, we hadn’t seen each other since last November in Austin!) and grabbed some Chic-Fil-A (Yes!) on our way to our gate.
Our flight to LA was suppose to be spent with me reading “The Great Gatsby” for my AP English Class, but instead was spent with Steffanie and I catching up. We talked so much and with such fervor, apparently, that we were reprimanded by the woman sitting behind us who claimed everyone was trying to sleep - even though it would only be 8 pm in LA once we landed.
After that little adventure, we maneuvered our way through what has to be the scummiest airport in the whole entire world: LAX. Now, I say this not to be mean, but because in all of my travels, I have yet to find anything to dispute this fact. So in my mind, LAX will remain the scummiest airport of all time, and we had to spend about 4 hours there until our flight to Sydney left. Getting on the plane to Sydney was very exciting because not only were we getting to leave LAX, but we were finally, officially, headed to Australia.
On the flight, Steffanie and I tried to stay up as long as possible to avoid jet lag once we landed. This wasn’t difficult, because they fed us a lot, there were a ton of really good, free movies, and I had to read the entire “Great Gatsby”. And I did. In five hours. We both eventually drifted off to sleep, and awoke in the morning to the sun rising over the Pacific Ocean. It was one of the most amazing sights of my entire life. We also got to meet our flight neighbor, who had been sleeping the entire time. Her name was Angela from Canberra, and she was pretty amazing. Not only was she a barbershop quartet singer, a scuba diving instructor, and our new Aussie tour guide, she was also a pageant queen from back in the day!
When I caught my first glimpse of land on Saturday, October 31st, I nearly started to cry. I was so thrilled by the whole experience that I recorded it all on video. The excitement of being in Australia only diminished slightly during my first ever experience with customs…which went fine for me, but not so much for Steffanie, since her middle name had been left off her visa. Who knew that could be such a problem?
Once we got through customs, Steffanie and I started what would become the most ridiculous shuttle ride from the airport to our hotel. But I couldn’t really be angry…it was like our own little hour tour of Sydney…sort of. We eventually made it to our hotel, the Siebel Pier One, and we knew the 26 hours or so of traveling had been worth it. The hotel was an old converted warehouse right on the water, and it was gorgeous.
After a very needed freshening up, Steffanie and I made our way out into Sydney, Australia. From our hotel, we took a very leisurely stroll along this path by the harbor. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, and I was just in complete awe that everything I had always dreamed about seeing and saw on TV, I was now seeing with my own eyes. We took our time, stopping to window shop and check out restaurants all over Circular Quay. My favorite discoveries were the live Aboriginal didgeridoo performers and the “Yeah” flags on the lawn of the Museum of Modern Art. (I must admit that one of these flags was “stolen”…but more on that in the San Antonio blog.)
I was probably most in awe when we reached the greatest symbol of Sydney, if not Australia: the Sydney Opera House. We “qued up” at the ticket office (as instructed by a sign that just made me laugh) and got our tickets for “God of Carnage”. The play was fabulous. I was told by my New York theater friends that this was the show to see, having won a number of Tony awards this past year. I’m certain the show was even funnier with the Aussie touch the actors gave it. It centers on two married couples attempting to discuss the issue of their young sons’ playground fight, in the process uprooting a number of hilarious issues. Due to the, um, content of the show, I decided it was best if I didn’t wear the banner while exiting the theater.
Once we finished cracking up from the show, Steffanie and I made it to the start of our Opera House tour. Lead by our really nice tour guide and our really funny headsets, we got to see all the beautiful interiors of the two buildings, as well as the Opera and Concert Halls. I could never have imagined how beautiful and detailed the halls could be! I was astonished at the detailed woodwork of the Concert Hall’s amplification system.
We bid farewell to the Opera House and went to find dinner. We decided on a little French café along the harbor. Dinner was very nice, as we got to watch the sun set and see as a few Aussie children in costume participate in the American Halloween tradition of trick or treating. Apparently, the holiday has just started to pick up a following in the last few years.
After we waited about an hour for our check at the café, we stopped at a little convenience store to pick up some snacks for the night…only to fully realize how expensive food is in Australia!
I think we had planned to stay up a bit and plan for the following day…but that day, and the days proceeding them, had been so long that we fell asleep almost immediately upon reaching the hotel. Still, that day was probably my favorite Halloween on record!
Thursday, December 24, 2009
I just got back from visiting St. Elizabeth’s Retirement Home. You may remember that I handed our gifts at St. Elizabeth’s last Christmas Eve, so I decided to pay another visit.
Rather than throw their typical Christmas Party, this year St. Lizzie’s held a Breakfast with Santa for the residents. Despite the Secret Santa gift exchange party I attended last night, I managed to wake up early and head over to visit with the residents. I handed out white carnation to the residents, and they seemed to really appreciate them. ( I had ordered red and peppermint colored carnations, but that storm in the northeast last week decided it didn’t want me to have them.) It’s so strange how the residents’ faces would just light up when they were handed a flower. While Santa started to hand our gifts, I made my way around the home visiting residents who couldn’t make it to the breakfast. Since I had visited last year, administrators trusted me to go along on my own. I made quite a few new friends, as the residents were just so excited to talk to me. I then made my way to the main party, where a number of residents remember me from last year. I felt so at ease around all of them. I don’t think they realize how they brightened up my holiday!
Anyway, now that I’m on winter break, I’m hoping to finally write and upload all the blogs that I’m behind on. Over the next two weeks, keep an eye out for my blogs about all I did in Australia and San Antonio!
I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season!