Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Netball Newbie

This past weekend, a lot of our activities revolved around Zack's work. On Friday night, Accenture had their end of year party at the Crown Towers in the Palladium. It was quite a spectacle. The theme was "Arabian Nights," and there was food, a band, belly dancers, and decorations to match. Some people even dressed up, and while there, I got a sparkly henna tattoo on my arm. Fun stuff.

The crazy netball team doing the Accenture symbol!
The ref explains another rule.
On Saturday, I went and watched Zack play netball in the Corporate Games. Hundreds of companies from all around Victoria competed over the weekend in various sports, including footy, soccer, cricket, squash, etc. Zack joined a netball team with some coworkers. No, he had never played netball before the one practice he attended before the tournament. Neither of us had ever even heard of the game before moving to Australia. But I guess it's pretty popular here, especially among females (yes, a few friends have since made fun of Zack for playing netball). It's easiest to understand if you think of it like basketball combined with ultimate frisbee. There is no backboard, just the net on a ring attached to a pole, and you can't dribble the ball. So there is a lot of passing and other rules I didn't understand. Zack didn't quite know all the rules either, so the referees had to explain things to him sometimes.

Anyway, the Accenture team played three games, and I can say that they improved with each one. Note that I didn't say they won any of them! Oh well, at least there was a nice catered lunch provided in the Accenture tent after the games. Sunday involved Accenture too, but that was just Zack working for several hours from home in the afternoon and evening. And that was pretty much our weekend! 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Shopping, Sun, Sand, and Surf

Playing around near Darling Harbour.
My mom wrote most of this post too...(Mom, when did you do all of these?)

Um, yes, that is my dad planking in a water feature.
Saturday, November 12 began with a walk to Darling Harbour, a harbour just beside the famous Sydney Harbour.  It was quite a diverse shopping center with many restaurants, cafes, and and tourist shops.  There were various fountains and water features as well. 

This is made entirely of Legos!
After using yet another one of Aubree’s fabulous coupons and eating the most delicious pizza, we donned our swimsuits and took a bus to one of Australia’s most iconic destinations, Bondi Beach. 

Busy Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach is a large expanse of a fine white sand gashed out of rock platforms that borders the most beautiful aquamarine water.  Unfortunately, because of the cove’s shape, the swimming area is known for its dangerous and sometimes deadly rip currents.  Perhaps some of you have seen Bondi Rescue featured on one of the cable stations – I have not, but was quickly informed that the show features all of the happenings at the beach, including many swimming rescues.  While we were there, we ourselves saw three successful rescues – and each time, someone in our group could be heard saying, “Bondi Rescue!”  The beach was very popular for tanned and toned bods and a great place to people watch, and as we discovered, it's apparently one of Australia’s topless beaches. We chose not to participate in this custom.  

Listen to the signs...

...or you might get "Bondi rescued"!

Sculpture by the Sea, an annual outdoor sculpture exhibition, was taking place while we were there, so we walked along the oceanfront and saw several unique pieces of art.

Sculpture by the Sea piece
After returning to Sydney, we took a 30-minute ferry boat ride through the Sydney Harbour to Manly, a peninsula lined with fine restaurants and tourist attractions.  The ferry gave us a stunning view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge spectacularly lit up in the evening sky.  We ate at a German restaurant that featured many kinds of sausage and delicious sauerkraut.  The evening was topped off by some delectable chocolate treats from Max Brenner Chocolate Bar.  -Sue

Sydney Opera House view from Manly ferry.
Lots more posts to come...our day in the Blue Mountains, time spent in Melbourne and along the Great Ocean Road, my adventures with Morgan in Uluru, etc. Thanks for reading!  -Aubree

Harbour Bridge view from Circular Quay.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sydney's Sights on 11-11-11

Where were you at 11am on 11/11/11?
Another post written by my mom...

Our Sydney hotel was quite a treat. Aubree got us a sweet deal with free breakfast every morning and late checkout on our last day. On the first morning, the scrambled eggs, potato gems (tater tots), bacon (thin slices of ham), sausage, spaghetti and baked beans (yeah, we didn’t get that either), assorted cereals, muffins and pastries, yogurt, and hot cocoa, coffee, and juices was a delicious, filling way to start the day. By the fourth morning, the meal had become quite mundane and the most coveted item seemed to be the large moist chocolate chip muffins, two of which were delivered to Aubree and Morgan’s door on the last day since they decided to sleep in and skip breakfast.

Dad and Mom at Archibald Fountain.
Going to the lobby each day was a multicultural event; it was not uncommon to see groups of people from every nation and to hear many languages spoken – a great place to people watch. Have I mentioned our fun with the elevators? A couple of us, and me once for five minutes, were stuck on the elevator because our key card did not allow us to choose a floor or to even open the door so we would have to sit there until another hotel guest happened along and let us out.

Hyde Park greenery
Enough about the hotel – on to discovering Sydney! We had been so busy discovering all things Australian that we often forgot what day it was, but today we were quickly reminded. We began our walk to see the Sydney sights on this beautiful warm day by walking among the green trees, plants and well-manicured bushes in Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens. We kept seeing pockets of well-dressed people and then bride and groom couples and quickly realized that it was a special day, 11-11-11! By the end of the day, we had seen at least twelve (or maybe 11!) couples tying the knot on a date even the most forgetful will remember.

Justin's favorite color is yellow, so we made him pose with these flowers.
We walked along the cove, passing Mrs. Macquarie’s chair, named for an English governor’s wife who used to enjoy the view from her “seat” carved out of rock.

The Dills (with one former Dill-me!).
And then we saw it, the iconic Sydney Opera House! It was spectacular!

Morgan and I amused other tourists while trying to get this shot.
After several pictures to capture the moment, we walked to the Sydney Opera House to begin our tour. The tour was informative and interesting; we learned about the original architect’s dream and the engineers’ struggles to bring it to reality. The project was supposed to take three years and $7 million to complete but it took 16 years and $102 million and by then, the architect had left the project and never got to see the finished masterpiece.

Inside the Sydney Opera House during the tour.
We toured the main concert hall, in which they were doing a sound check for a band that was playing that night. The acoustics were incredible, and we were informed that they could be adjusted depending on the performer or band. As an example, the tour guide said that if Michael Buble were to perform, it would cost him $30,000 to rent the hall for the night – we didn’t think that was very expensive at all (ha). In the opera theatre, we saw ballet dancers rehearsing. There are three smaller drama theatres for plays, one of which is funded by Cate Blanchett and her husband.

Cindy jumps for joy at the Opera House.
We were so impressed by the ambiance that Ray, Cindy, Morgan, and I came back in the evening to see the Australian Ballet Company’s performance of The Merry Widow. The orchestra’s music and ballerinas' costumes were breathtaking, and the dancing was exquisite; we were so happy we were able to experience it all.

After lunch outside the Opera House, we walked through Circular Quay (pronounced key), a wharf surrounded by tourist shops, hotels, and restaurants. On our way to the Harbour Bridge, we passed through The Rocks, Sydney’s old town quarter where colonial and maritime history is preserved, and we shopped in several unique shops. The famous Harbour Bridge was humungous and “suicide proof”; it was hard to get good pictures of the Sydney Opera House because of all the fencing and wires.

To add a little excitement to our afternoon, we donned ponchos and sped around the Sydney Harbour in a jet boat doing several 360-degree turns, all of which drenched us, despite our protection. With fast speeds and a rock music soundtrack, it was a fun way to see the Harbour, and we were glad for the warm Sydney sunshine to dry our clothes after the ride.

Groupon-type deals always come out for these rides-I'd highly recommend it!
Dinner was at a fast food chain called Pie Face, which featured a vast assortment of meat pies as well as dessert pies. It was so much fun for each of us to choose which small pies we wanted! We decided that we needed to buy into this franchise and bring this chain of restaurants to the United States. Anyone want in on our investment? What a thrilling first day in Sydney! -Sue

The girls demonstrate the hilarious Sydney Barbie pose!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving in Australia

Phone pic of yummy turkey.
We interrupt your regularly scheduled blogging (posts about my family's trip) to bring you this Thanksgiving in Australia post. With the warmer weather, it definitely doesn't feel like November. Zack had to work all day, there was no Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or Detroit Lions football game to watch, and we didn't even get to take a nap after eating (we just went straight to bed). But we managed to celebrate the "holiday" anyway!

Phone pic of my plate.
Our friends Emily and Adam invited us over to their place for a feast. They had even ordered a turkey, and Emily's sister, brother-in-law, and nephew were in town. So my sister and I spent the day cooking up some pumpkin pies, green bean casserole, and pumpkin macaroni and cheese to contribute to the meal. Morgan, Zack, and I stuffed ourselves silly and had a great time hanging out with fellow Americans. We walked home, thankful for good food and friends and family.

Also, I finally created something based on an idea off of Pinterest. If you haven't been to Pinterest, I highly recommend checking it out. Beware; you can easily get addicted and "pin" things for hours. Anyway, I made these little turkey treats. You're supposed to use candy corns for the "feathers," but when you're in Australia, you improvise with what you can find in the candy aisle. I think they still look pretty cute. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

My Australian version of a Pinterest idea.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Kuranda by Train and Cableway

Barron Falls near Kuranda
Sorry for the lack of posting lately; Morgan and I have been in the Outback with no cell phone service and definitely no internet! Lots of catching up to do (with many stories). Anyway, this post actually should have come before the one about our flight over the reef. Oh well. My mom was nice enough to write some blog posts for me, so this one's in her words again...

Kuranda Scenic Railway
Wednesday, November 9 began early with a taxi ride to the Cairns Station to begin our Kuranda Scenic Railway train ride. We sat in comfortable restored passenger railcars, which rambled and wound their way through the city and forest to the tourist town of Kuranda.  Once there, we trekked a two-mile trail along the river and through the rainforest.  We had an adventurous lunch – crocodile, emu, and kangaroo burgers.  They actually were delicious!

Cindy shows off her kangaroo burger.
Aubree, Zack, Cindy, Justin, and Ray canvassed the souvenir shops. Justin, the expert on all things sweet, discovered and bought some taffy that even those of us who usually find taffy too sweet, found to be quite tasty.  Morgan and I went to the Kuranda Koala Gardens where Morgan officially and completely fulfilled her lifelong dream to hold a koala – it was an exciting moment to behold!

My mom crashes in on Morgan's koala picture.
Next we boarded the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, which looked like a ski gondola and traveled over and across the rainforest canopy.  Our trip included two stops that allowed us to walk down to and explore the rainforest floor. 

Just a little walk through the rainforest.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent casually walking the beach, reading, taking naps, cooking the “never ending pasta” meal and playing Uno at the mansion.  This relaxing family time is priceless!  -Sue
The Coral Sea looked beautiful from the Skyrail Cableway!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Transition from Tropical to Cosmopolitan

My mom wrote this post about our Great Barrier Reef scenic flight...

Thursday began early for Zack who flew off before the crack of dawn to begin his journey back to Denver for a week or so to attend the wedding of his stepbrother Dave.  The rest of us slept in a little bit before our departure from the mansion at 10am.  After that, we processed into the little town of Trinity Beach with luggage in tow.  During breakfast we discussed the different activity options for the day before our flight to Sydney at 6pm; after good price negotiation over the phone by Justin, everyone decided to experience the Great Barrier Reef from yet another dimension – the air!  

The six of us divided into two four-passenger planes that flew at about 1000 feet over the town of Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.  It was fascinating to see the reef colors and contours from above.  We flew over Green Island, a tourist “drop spot”, Parrot Reef – it was fun to see the large groups of snorkelers from above, and many other large reef formations.  We saw stingrays, noticeable by their black diamond shape and the cloud of kicked-up sand trailing behind them.  We also saw the reef where Australian wildlife conservationist Steve Irwin met his demise when pierced through the heart by a stingray.  The return flight followed the coastline and we were all able to see our mansion from another dimension as well.  Flying in a small private airplane has now been checked off of Cindy’s bucket list! 

We had a little bit of a wait in the Cairns airport before our flight; hence the creation of the song below, composed and sung over and over by Aubree, much to the dismay of Morgan and Ray.

Sittin’ in the Cairns Airport

Sittin’ in the airport.
Sittin’ in the airport.
I like to sit in the airport all day.
Sittin’ in the airport.
Sittin’ in the airport.
I like to sit until we fly away!

Notice how bored Morgan and I look in this picture!
Boarding a plane in Australia is quite laid back in comparison to the USA.  No ID is ever checked – all you need is a boarding pass.  Liquids are not a problem, shoes do not need to be removed, and non-passengers can accompany passengers to the departure gate as well as meet them at the arrival gates. 

Upon our arrival at the Sydney airport, we each bought a MyMulti1 Weekly Pass (allowed us to use any form of public transportation for a week, be it rails, busses, or ferries) and Aubree guided us seamlessly through the airport and onto a train, which took us close to our hotel.  I was so impressed by our once “directionally challenged” daughter!  After a few difficulties with getting the elevator and room keys to work (picture Morgan and me stuck in the elevator unable to open the door or go up or down for quite some time), we snuggled in for a good night’s sleep before our search of Sydney’s sights began the next day.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Sailboat Life

A post from my dad about our time on the sailboat...

Cindy and Justin in front of our boat.
Growing up in the Gilligan’s Island era, you’d think there would be trepidation in anything more than a three-hour tour.  But, childhood memories and fears aside, we set sail for a two-day overnight voyage to the Great Barrier Reef.

Dad and Morgan are ready to set sail.
Fortified with Dramamine, we left Cairns Harbor on the Vagabond, a sailboat with a crew of three and room for eleven passengers.  This departure included only nine passengers, a honeymooning couple and the expanded Dill Family of seven. With the Great Barrier Reef nearly 25km off shore, it took nearly four hours to get to our first stop.  The water was a beautiful blue, and the sail ride was phenomenal. 

The water was even prettier in person!
We anchored at our first of two coal reef areas for the day, got some basic snorkel instructions, and were ordered off the boat.  Snorkeling was easy to learn and effortless to execute.  You’ve heard individual accounts elsewhere, so I’ll not go in depth on snorkeling experiences here.

I thought it was the appropriate place to don my touristy Australian swimsuit!
We later went to the second site of the day, which was also where we remained anchored overnight.  Bel, one of the crew, also served as cook and chief bottle washer.  Meals were cooked in a small kitchen below the deck and were quite tasty, varied, and satisfying, considering the constraints of such a tiny galley and limited refrigeration.

Dad and Mom with their fun sun hats.
Some of us took scuba diving excursions, which was very nerve-wracking as a rookie, but I’m so glad I did it.  To become proficient would take much instruction and many more dives.  As these were first dives, we were not allowed to move away from the instructor, so exploration of the reefs from below was limited and slow.  I actually enjoyed the snorkeling much, much more.  Zack and Dwayne, the scuba instructor, became best buddies, so I’m certain Zack’s accounts will place scuba diving well ahead of snorkeling.

Happy Hubby
For nighttime activities, we broke out the ‘Catch Phrase’ game.  The newlyweds from Seattle and the Aussie crew joined in the game and the Aussies were quite bewildered by questions based on Americana.  For example, ‘Home Depot’ did not register with the crew, nor did they have any concept of ‘rain date’.  They were good sports and actually quite adept at responding with accurate answers.  We overheard the crew later discussing that they should have games like that for all their guests. 

A lovely sunset view from out in the ocean.
Everyone, except the elder Dills who had the luxury double bed, had individual cots.  It was early to bed and a better night’s sleep than anticipated.  Being constantly and gently rocked all night can be a good thing.  We woke with sunrise and a few brave souls were snorkeling at 6am, with breakfast at 7am. 

Paul (the captain) wearing the official Vagabond shirt.
We visited two more coral reef sites and snorkeled nearly the entire morning.   A great lunch, and then we took the trip back to port.  The weather was great, the views were absolutely astounding, and we all had a great time.  If ever in Australia, add the Great Barrier Reef to your itinerary.  -Ray

The Dills and Keys heading back to Cairns.