Category Archives: Melbourne

The Best Part of Waking Up

No, its not Folgers in my cup.  It’s Melbourne Breakfast tea.  I might not be in Melbourne anymore but at least I have something with Melbourne’s name on it that I get to drink every morning while I wish I was back in Australia.  Too bad my tea mug isn’t a magic lamp or that wishing would actually be useful.

A good friend of mine let me in on his secret tea blend right before I left and I knew I had to bring some home with me.  Well its not exactly a secret blend, any T2 store in Melbourne carries it, but unless your a tea-holic you won’t know about the blend.  So I’m just putting it out there for any fellow Melbourne fanatics that are only leaving  because their visa is expiring, go to T2 and for $25 get yourself a box.  It will alleviate some of the more severe symptoms of the Melbourne blues after you have left.


The University of Melbourne Hunger Games

Candidates,” the voice boomed into the speaker system echoing across the high ceiling of the convention center.

“Reading time begins…now.”

I felt like I was in the Hunger Games.

3,000 final exam test booklets were flipped over in almost complete unison as students started trying to memorize and work through the test answers in the special 30 minutes allotted to them before the exam time actually began.   Special instructors had been hired to continuously walk up and down the aisles to make sure no one had a pen or pencil in hand- reading time is only for reading.  Get caught writing and its the equivalent of cheating.  Their presence had freaked me out.  They held their hands tightly against their backs or held clip boards to their chests as they peered over shoulders or would momentarily stop to watch a student work out a problem to ensure they were doing their own work.

For one moment before I began reading my own exam I allowed myself to take note of my surroundings.  I was sitting at a desk that had a perfectly measured distance between it and the surrounding desks; precisely enough of a space that no one could sneak glances at some one else’s exam.  The rows of desks seemed to extend indefinitely and at each one a student was hunched over an exam.  Besides the sound of pages turning there was complete silence in the cavernous convention center. I had seen the building before and had wanted to explore inside it but taking my final exam for my most hated class was not the way I had wanted to experience it.  Too bad I did not have a choice.

I looked down resignedly at my 43 paged Logic exam, it seemed as a thick as a textbook.  I had struggled all semester with Logic knowing I needed this math credit in order to receive my diploma from GWU in May.  And after all the pain and struggling I sat in this room worrying the same thing I had heard many of my other class mates worry about: Thanks to the bell curve, we did not know if we would pass the exam let alone pass the class.  It had been a much harder class then many of us had anticipated and although there were some star students destined to become mathematical geniuses my friends and I were not among them.

I sympathized with Katniss Everdeen as she stood on her platform waiting for the announcer to countdown the start of the Hunger Games.  If Katniss jumped off the platform too soon she would be blown up into tiny pieces.  If I had so much as bent the edges of the exam towards me before reading time officially began I would have been booted out of the exam hall with a big fat zero to fill in the space of my exam score.   Katniss stood there not knowing if she was going to live or die in the next few moments.    I too sat there uncertain of my near future.  Once I opened my test booklet and started scanning through the questions I would know whether or not I had a shot of passing the exam.  And if the exam was impossible I may as well be good as dead.  I was already going to just make it to graduation by overloading on classes during my senior year in order to fulfill all my graduation requirements.  Without this credit it might just tip the scales out of my favor to graduate in May.

I started scanning through trying pep talk myself that I knew the answers.  I got to a page that I had a question about and tentatively raised my hand.  A serious looking man with a clipboard came over and noted the time and my desk number on his paper.  Then he asked me what my question was.  In whispered tones, I explained my confusion about one of the questions and he jotted down notes as I spoke.  When I was finished talking he summarized my question and asked me if he had recorded it correctly.  I said yes.  He then told me he would confer with my professor to see if he could answer my question and, if so, to what degree he could answer my question.  I thought it was a bit over the top that my professor could not just come over and answer my question directly but agreed to wait until he returned with my professors answer.  In the meantime I continued scanning through the rest of the questions until the man with the clip board returned 5 minutes later to inform me he could answer my question.  It seemed I had timed it perfectly because no sooner had he left my desk when the voice came back on through the loud speakers making me jump in my seat.  ”Candidates,”  why the hell can’t they just call us students? I remembered thinking.  ”Your exam time begins now.”

Now I was allowed to touch my pencil.  I grabbed at it and started writing as fast as I could hoping three hours was enough time to get through the 43 pages of the exam.

Camping in The Grampians National Park

Camping in the middle of the Australian winter probably wasn’t the best idea I have ever had but I did not have the option to wait until the weather warmed up again.  Thankfully our local friends who brought Megan and I down to the Grampians were well versed in the art of Australian camping.  They provided us with all the necessary camping gear as well as “swags” which we later found out is a special Australian style sleeping bag.  The drive from Melbourne into The Grampians did not take long at all.  If my memory serves me right the drive was not more than two hours (although Google maps disagrees I am not ).  When we officially entered into Halls Gap, a specific area within The Grampians,  we more or less randomly chose a road and began to drive down it.  We finally came to a fork in the road where one of the roads was the blocked off by a small gate warning against flooding; beyond it were fallen leaves, a few big rocks and some fallen branches:

The other road was free of warning signs and road blocks so naturally we decided to take the road less traveled.  This included squeezing the car between the gate and a random post not far from it.  Our side-view mirrors just cleared the wooden posts on each side.  Then we bumped along the road until we found a decent spot to park, climbed out and scavenged for a good camping ground.

After clearing a sizable area and erecting our tents we attempted to cook.

The boys clearing out the area:

Cooking ended up being a more tedious task then we anticipated because we had forgotten to pack any kind cooking implement.  We tried a few different techniques such as making a “frying pan” out of a cut up beer can and some sticks but the metal melted and warped before we could properly cook the meat.  We ended up getting so desperate from hunger that we just speared our kangaroo steaks with some skewers, the one thing we did bring, and roasted it that way.  For dessert Megan and I had brought an American campfire specialty to share with our Australian friends: smores.  It was funny listening them repeat the word in confusion because they had never heard of it before.  We made each of them a gooey chocolaty sandwich and they loved it!  Around bites of melted chocolate and marshmallow they kept repeating the word “smore” in their accented English trying to commit the word to memory.  Next came the campfire stories but as we were doing this camping trip “Aussie style,” as the boys referred to it, there were certain requirements that needed to be fulfilled.  One of which was to listen the to the renown Australian poem A Man From Snowy River (if you would like to see the whole poem:  No one had brought along a copy of the poem but thankfully that wasn’t a problem because one of the boys knew it by heart.

The next morning we had a bit of a sleep in before cleaning up and heading to a few of the famous sights in The Grampians which were absolutely gorgeous!

**Note- I did not take any of the photos in this post.  Photo credit goes to my friend Scott Hodges.**

Phillip Island

Phillip Island is a popular day trip destination from Melbourne and I was determined to experience the little island before leaving Australia for good. A month ago when my grandmother came to visit me in Melbourne to run the Great Ocean Road Marathon I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to finally visit Phillip Island.

I had been advised by friends who attempted the trip on their own with a rental car that a day trip tour is worth the splurge because there is so much to do on the island in one day. I booked a day trip with STA travel because they had an office on the Uni campus. I thought I was being smart because I thought by booking with the specific STA branch it would ensure that we were picked up close to campus. It turns out I was very wrong. What made matters worse was that I thought I knew where the pick up place was only to get there and be told we were at least a 3o minute walk away from the pick up point and we had 20 minutes to get there or the bus would leave without us. So Nita and I did what Barrera’s do best- we ran. And ran. And ran. Keep in mind this was at 8am with a slight hang over, without breakfast, while everyone else is trying to get to work and its lightly raining outside. I got to the office winded, red in the face and fighting the urge to spew on the freshly cleaned office floor. My grandmother, the marathon runner, walked into the office barely winded and with a bounce in her step. It is then that we found out the bus driver was running an hour behind schedule.

When we finally got on the road we were briefed about our busy schedule for the day. Our first stop was an animal reserve where I finally got to meet the national symbols of Australia- the emu and kangaroo. I also got to cuddle a koala and feed wallabies, something I have been dying to do since I first arrived in Australia. The emu was not a very polite creature. It violently pecked at my out stretched hand spilling most of the food on the floor while giving my hand a wrenching pinch. Nita was too scared of it to even feed it.

We moved on the Dingo enclosure where I found my new favorite Australian animal. The Dingo looks very much like a North American wolf, one of my favorite animals, with its regal face canine features. There is a particular dog breed from Australia called a Kelpie which allegedly is a descendant of the Dingo. I am planning on owning a Kelpie when I get a house.

After the Dingoes we met the resident Victorian Koala. Apparently Victorian koalas are significantly larger than normal koalas. As such Victorian law mandates that unless a Victorian koala is born in captivity it cannot be held by humans. So I didn’t actually get to physically hold the koala but I did get to put my arms around him while he placidly munched on Eucalyptus leaves.

After the koala cuddle we went through Wallaby Walk with three full bags of corn feed in hopes of hand feeding wallabies. The moment we started on the path the wallabies heard our foot steps and started poking their heads out from behind trees and bushes and tentatively made their way towards us. When they realized we weren’t threat and a source of food we were surrounded by wallabies. It was amazing! They ate of my hand so gently and would then just look at me with their soft brown eyes while they chewed thoughtfully on the dried corn. And if I offered my hand to another wallaby when one wasn’t finished it would reach out it’s surprisingly human-like claws and gently hold my hand in place while it continued to eat from my hand. I don’t know why I thought feeding the wallabies was so magical but maybe it had to do with their sweet and gentle demeanor. What ever the reason I couldn’t tear myself away from them and Nita and I almost missed the bus!

From there we drove to a koala sanctuary and saw a few koalas snuggled up in the tree tops blissfully asleep. After the Koalas we moved on to a farmstead and watched a sheep herding and sheep shearing demonstration. I of course made friends with the huge Clydesdales on the farm. Once people saw that the horses were eating the grass I offered them they all started tearing at the lawn to feed the horses.

We made a quick stop at a delicious chocolate factory where we ordered a hot chocolate and bought some nibbles for the road.

And then we went to the night-time penguin parade, the event for which Phillip Island is known for. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures. Apparently these Australian penguins’ retinas are so sensitive that after a few camera flashes go off in their faces they go completely blind. It was really entertaining and fascinating watching all the little penguin families swim up to shore and then getting the whole family together before embarking across the sand to the safety of the tall beach grass. Their was structure to how they traveled and if there wasn’t enough penguins in their group they would not risk the long journey into the grass. They would wait, swimming in the shallow water until enough penguins swam up and then they would join them.

Phillip Island was a wonderful action packed day trip but by the end of the day I was absolutely knackered. I passed out only moments after sitting down on the bus for the hour drive back to Melbourne Central.

Rippon Lea Estate

As much as I love the city sometimes its nice to get away for a bit and breathe some fresh air.  When my grandmother came to visit me a few weeks ago I brought her to the Rippon Lea Estate, a place I had been wanting to visit for a while.

Despite being outside of the city it was actually really easy to get to.  We took one tram line straight down from the Uni Melbourne stop for about 45 minutes and then only had to walk for another 5 minutes before arriving at the subdued green wrought iron gates of the Estate.  The reason I had been wanting to visit this place is because upon reading about it the estate sounded very similar to The Old Westbury Gardens, one of my favorite places in the world.  The antique house and sprawling gardens did not disappoint.

I do not know why old houses like these fascinate me so much but I enjoyed the very detailed tour that we got of each of the rooms.  I marveled at some of its frivolities like the gigantic ballroom and old Hollywood pool.  My favorite part of these estates though are the grounds and as I said this one definitely did not disappoint my expectations.  I love walking through the grounds and picturing being one of the children growing up with that kind of backyard.  The grounds in Rippon Lea, in particular, were obviously designed with the children in mind.  They had a fantastic waterfall which you could climb to the top of or hide in the secret passage ways carved through the middle of it.  There was even a towering tree house which overlooked the entire estate.  My inner child was absolutely dazzled by this as I had always dreamed of having an elaborate tree house as a child.

After thoroughly walking the grounds of the estate my grandmother and I laid out a little picnic and enjoyed the crisp Melbourne fall weather.  Once our bellies were full and bodies were tired of walking we passed out in the sun for a leisurely nap.

If you are in Melbourne for long enough I recommend visiting the estates.  It’s a quiet and calming day trip retreat from the city.



The Great Ocean Road

Yesterday I returned from a weekend trip to The Great Ocean Road and I am still in awe.  What has amazed me more than anything else is that I have spent the last 3 and a half months in the wonderful city of Melbourne and never realized there were such breath-taking sights so close to were I have been living.

We rented a car and took our own tour of the area and I would highly recommend this experience over a guided trip.  Out of all my friends who have done The Great Ocean Road it seems I had the most in-depth experience.

Inland Route

We drove all the down the road twice and then took an inland route once.  The inland route brought us to the top of a mountain that over looked the rolling mountains that flank the Great Ocean Road.  It was one of the most breath-taking sights I have ever seen.  Cows and farms dotted the sides of the mountains while the orange and yellow fall leaves blazed the mountains with brilliant colors.  While the crystal blue ocean water set a stark contrast to the flaming colors of the land.  The pictures I took do not even begin to show how beautiful the scenery actually was.  I was driving the car when we topped the mountain and I had to pull over just so that I didn’t crash the car- I couldn’t pull my eyes away.  For a few moments Megan and I just stood very quietly at the edge of the road looking over the mountains.  When we got in the car all I could say to her was “Wow,” she just nodded in agreement.

The Twelve Apostles

I have seen pictures of the Twelve Apostles since I have been in Australia so naturally I had to go check them out while we were on The Great Ocean Road.  First of all, they are far far far down the Great Ocean Road.  Most people just do the drive from Lorne to Apollo Bay but we were very keen to see the Twelve Apostles and, on the map at least, it seemed like a quick drive.  An hour and half later Rhonda, our aptly named GPS system, informed us we still had another thirty minutes to drive.  At that point we had been driving all day and since we were almost there we figured we should just continue driving.  It was well worth it. We didn’t plan to get there at sunset but out of all the times during the day I am glad we got there when we did.  As the sun set behind the massive orange rocks it made all the pictures I had seen incomparable.  What I found entertaining was that I spent half of the time looking at the rocks trying to count all twelve of them only to find out there are only eight and have ever only been eight.  Not exactly sure why they were named the Twelve Apostles, unless some one couldn’t count.

The Great Ocean Road

I guess since we were actually on and around The Great Ocean Road I should talk about the road itself.  It truly is beautiful but as a paranoid driver it caused havoc on my nerves.  The roads are super windy which is part of its appeal but the road signs and speed limits freaked me out.  Every couple of kilometers were signs that said something to the effect of “A lot of people have died or crashed here so drive carefully.”  That did nothing to ease my worry.  The speed limit signs also drove me crazy.  There would be a sign that said the speed limit was 80km/h and then directly after that there would be a series of sharp curves in which the speed limit was 40km/h.  Mind games on a curvy road that dropped off to the ocean on one side and had a mountain wall on the other side is not my idea of a particularly fun time.

Melbourne’s Wild Parrots

I never fancied myself as much of a bird enthusiast but I seem to have a certain fascination for Melbourne’s feathered population.  When we first arrived in Melbourne I had heard a few of my friends mention that they had seen birds that looked like parrots flying around the city; as I had not seen any myself I did not think much of these claims.  It was not until the beginning of this week, as the weather has become colder that I have seen not one, not two, but flocks of these gorgeously colored birds.  I have never seen such colorful birds in the wild, especially in a bustling city like Melbourne.  But here they are fluttering about the tree tops with a unique but lovely sounding  bird song.  I was walked very slowly to class yesterday with my head tipped back reveling in all their colors.  They are actually quite cute too.  They are not too big to be intimidating and not too small that they are hard to spot; they are probably a little bit smaller than your average pigeon with the most vibrant of blues helmeting their heads, their bodies a splendid variety of sunshine yellow and a deep tropical green.  Some of them have slashes of red and orange thrown in as well.  I am not too sure about the habits of these birds but if you happen to find your self in Melbourne in May make sure to look up once in a while.  If nothing else the small, energetic birds will put a small smile on your face.

This photo is from White Forge Photos’ Blog:  I do not take credit for their photography, this photo is not my own!  I am simply sharing.

Australia- The Internet Diet

American Internet junkies beware!  The limitless WiFi of America is something Melbourne has yet to pick up on.  I did not realize just how much time I spend on the internet until I came here.  The University of Melbourne even surprised me because despite it’s rank of the number one university in Australia it not only has very spotty wireless but there is a limit to it!  We get one gigabyte a week- which for international students who use skype to contact their families runs out before the week is through.  Used to getting free wifi while standing in line Starbucks?  Get unused to it.  There are very few, if any at all, places that have free wifi.  So just a heads up to mentally prepare yourself before you leave.  And so that you can download pictures and videos before packing or you’ll be paying for every gigabyte while your are here!  Besides the internet limit wifi, in general, is just spotty and hard to find.  American college students, start getting used to the idea of being plugged into a wall at all times while working.  You’re new best friend: the Ethernet cable.

Australia- Fashion Flash

Some interesting facts about Australian clothing fashion:

1. Leggings- Do NOT wear them unless you are going to the gym or wearing them underneath something else ( a long shirt, shorts, or skirt). They are crudely referred to as “mumblers” in Australia.  I am not going to explain why they are called mumblers as it would make my family members who follow this blog blush and probably result in getting my blog flagged as “mature.”  What I will say, for those who are curious, is that the word refers to certain movements that can be seen in a woman’s nether regions.

2. Rain boots- Leave them at home (as in America).  Although the flashy colors and cutely-printed rubber rain boots are all the fashion right now in America, Australia’s fashion scene has yet to pick it up.  Rubber rain boots are just seen as something worn by children, if worn at all.  This is not to say that no one wears rain boots in Australia though.  I bumped into one Australian girl today who was wearing a very subtle black pair but she was the only person I have seen with boots since I have been here.

3. Men’s pants- are TIGHT.  One thing Australia picked up from their British ancestors is their sense of fashion.  Where American men’s shorts are baggy and easily reach past their knees, Australian men’s shorts don’t leave much for the imagination- the article of clothing really does live up to its name.    Unless you are watching cricket, where men are fully clothed from feet to neck to wrists, you might need to invest in a pair of sunglasses.  Those blinding flashes of white coming from the sports field aren’t from the sun but from pasty white, hairy male legs.  And pants, well, despite the fact that they cover up more skin they are just as revealing, if not more so, then Australian sports shorts.

Australia- Don’t Let The Bed Bugs Bite

When I am abroad, bugs and I just do not seem to get along.  During my time in Ecuador I had an issue with legitimate bed bugs to the point I was waking up covered in little itchy bites.  Although, thankfully, I do not have that problem I seem to still have an issue with bugs thinking they are welcome in my bed.

After the adrenaline surge from the cockroach in my bed incident a few weeks ago I have been a little bit worried about what unknown creatures are sleeping with me at night.  Until now I had just started to calm down because I had been incident free for a few weeks.  Then I woke up in the middle of night two nights ago viciously scratching my upper arm.  Once I had drowsily scratched away the itch I passed out and forgot about it.  Yesterday as I walked to softball practice I noticed a little pimple looking thing on my arm.  I popped  it thinking nothing of it (I know you’re not supposed to do that, don’t worry I learned my lesson!)

This morning I woke up feeling like I had a bruise on my arm.  When I looked at what had been that little harmless pimple it looked much different then it had the day before.  There was a hard yellow little bump surrounded by a circle of red and tender skin (no not ring worm, there were no bumps around the circle).  I had the misfortune of having the bite on the underside of my arm which means it was constantly rubbing against my bag and shirt all morning.  By the middle of the day it was actually becoming quite painful.  The pain was not just on my skin but seemed to go down as far as my muscle.  It reminded me acutely of the feeling you get after you receive a shot, when your arm feels like it has been punched by a professional boxer. When I brought it to the attention of one of the staff members of my college I was told that it looked like a spider bite.  Apparently spider venom forms that pretty little red ring of skin around the bite… joy.

Don’t worry though!  I am keeping an eye on it and will go to the doctor if it gets worse.  They are also coming to fill in the gaps in my windows and checking out the rest of my room tomorrow.  Just my luck though after just posting about spiders.  Maybe it was taking revenge on me for having Harry the Huntsman killed.

ouch :(