Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hooray for Scoopon!

This short blog post is just a shout-out to Scoopon. I've bought several coupons through them to use at various restaurants, hotels, etc. We had purchased flights to Thailand through them, but then Air Australia went under. Scoopon refunded our entire purchase price (and everyone else's as well). According to articles I've read, this is going to cost them over a million dollars out-of-pocket. In a time when lots of companies seem to be all about making profit, it was so refreshing to receive the news that we would not be out this money. Hooray for Scoopon! If you're in Australia and haven't checked our their deals before, here's the link: Scoopon. No, I was not paid to do this post, although if Scoopon wants to give me some free deals or something, I'm available! :) Now to figure out when/how we're going to get to Thailand...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Rottnest Island

On Valentine's Day, we took a ferry over to Rottnest Island. It took about half an hour to get there from Fremantle, and it was beautiful! Cars aren't allowed on the island, so we rented bikes and took our snorkeling gear to a place called Parker Point. On the way, we saw some of the native quokkas, marsupials that are only found in certain areas of Western Australia.

Once again, we were quite impressed by the snorkeling. My little camera with its plastic waterproof case doesn't take the best of pictures, but hopefully you can get the idea of some of the fish we saw (more are posted on my Shutterfly site). The farther out we went, the better the coral got, the bigger the fish got (we saw some huge ones), and the more scared we got about encountering a shark!

Zack relaxes at Parker Point.
Covered in the white powdery sand!

Now this is the way to spend Valentine's Day!
A small bluebottle jellyfish on shore.
After hanging out at Parker Point for awhile, we headed to Little Salmon Bay, because I had heard the snorkeling there was good too. We saw a few bluebottle jellyfish on shore, but we took our chances and headed out anyway. By the way, blue bottle jellyfish are called Portuguese man o'wars in other parts of the world. Anyway, we both felt a few small stings on our legs while we were in the water, but the fish and coral were awesome, so we kept swimming. Zack headed back into shore after a bit, but I stayed out there and swam out in the deeper water.

As I was coming back into shore, I saw a jellyfish in the shallow water and swam away from it. Apparently I swam right into one, because suddenly my neck was burning! I stood up and started throwing everything off...the camera that was hanging around my neck, my snorkeling gear, etc. Luckily, Zack was standing on shore watching me (because he was afraid I was going to get attacked by a shark in the deep water!), so he ran out when he saw me sort of freaking out. "My neck!" I yelled, and he saw a jellyfish wrapped around my neck, tangled in my braids and swimsuit! He had to pull it off of me. It must have been around my right shoulder and upper arm, because that was burning as well. After he got it off of me, I ran up on shore and held a towel around me saying "ow, ow, ow" for about five minutes. The pain felt like when you have a really bad sunburn and somebody touches it. Imagine that but constant! The next five minutes felt more like a bee sting, and then it started itching. The next day, it still itched and hurt again when I took a shower. A week later, I still have red marks on the back of my neck and wound around my upper right arm. Fun stuff!

Zack washes off my snorkel equipment at Little Salmon Bay after my jellyfish attack.
Luckily, we needed to return the bikes and catch our ferry back to Perth soon after our time at Little Salmon Bay anyway, so we left after my jellyfish stings. I guess I learned my lesson about going in the water if you see those darn bluebottles on the beach!

Rottnest Island was a beautiful tropical paradise (minus the jellyfish) and a great place to spend Valentine's Day. We had a leisurely ferry ride back to Perth, where we had a nice Italian dinner and walked around the city a bit before heading to the airport for our overnight flight home. A long weekend in Western Australia was a wonderful break in the middle of February!
A view of Perth from our ferry back from Rottnest Island.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Yallingup and Fremantle

On our Monday in Western Australia, we spent the day at Yallingup Beach. There were several surfers, and we rented surfboards, but we weren't good enough to hang with the pros who were surfing on the huge waves over the reef. So we swapped in our surfboards for boogie boards, but the waves that weren't over the reef were crashing right on the beach, which left us basically no room to ride. So we used the boards as beach beds instead. Oh well! Here you can see Zack relaxing on his board trying not to get too much sun.

We did enjoy the snorkeling on the reef at this beach. While nothing will ever compare to the Great Barrier Reef, we were able to see some pretty awesome fish and even some decent coral. Keep in mind that this is shark country. On nearby beaches, four men have been killed in shark attacks in recent months, including one American expat! Yikes-we did get a little scared when we were snorkeling out in the deeper water.

That night, we drove to Fremantle to stay the night at a neat hotel attached to an Irish pub called Rosie O'Grady's. Fremantle is a cute little town right on the ocean and about thirty minutes away from Perth. It had several blocks of fun little shops and restaurants. We ate at a Mexican place, and it was actually pretty good (which is rare for Australian Mexican food). Check back tomorrow for a blog post about our last day in WA!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Margaret River Wine Region

We spent a day touring some wineries in the Margaret River region of Western Australia. For this blog post, I'll take you along on our tour, complete with my pictures of each place. The picture to the right is obviously of some grapes at one of the wineries. It was nice to tour wineries when there was actually something on the vines, as I toured the Yarra Valley region in autumn when the vines were withered and bare!

Our first stop was Cullen Wines. They are known for their organic vineyard and biodynamic agricultural processes. After our wine tasting, we had some bread with delicious dips and olive oil. This was a cute little place with great wine and food; it ended up being one of our favorites of the day.

Next we headed nearby Vasse Felix. This place had several strange sculptures on its grounds. The main building was very pretty, and we enjoyed their wine as well.

I'm giving a thumbs down to the Margaret River Chocolate Company. Their "tastings" consisted of picking out a few of what were basically chocolate chips from a bowl. They had white chocolate and dark chocolate, but no milk chocolate was out on the day we were there. Also, they usually have chocolatiers you can watch making treats, but there were none of those working on this day. Highly disappointing (though my mouth is full of white chocolate chips in the picture!).
We were now in the heart of the Margaret River area, and we headed to Cape Mentelle. By this point, I guess the wine and chocolate had made Zack tired, because he took a nap in the car for a little while before we went inside. I didn't mind; I read a book on the swing and enjoyed the quiet winery.

Our next stop was the extremely impressive Voyager Estate. The grounds of this place were amazing! If you think Domaine Chandon in the Yarra Valley region is pretty, it's got nothing on this place.
This place has the second largest Australian flag in the country (the biggest is in Canberra). The grounds are flawless with perfectly manicured hedges and expansive green lawns.

Here's a picture of me ringing the bell out front. It was quite loud, so this shot shows me running away!

We enjoyed walking around the rose gardens and choosing our favorite (this was mine). There were also rose bushes at the end of each row of vines. This was definitely our other favorite winery for the day.

We tried to go to Leeuwin Estate, but they hold a yearly concert which happened to fall on the weekend we were there, so the line of cars to even get on the grounds was insane. We decided to skip it and instead headed to the Margaret River Cheese Company before it closed. After a delicious tasting, we purchased a bag containing crackers and little portions of some of their cheeses. This made for a great snack over the next few days-I love cheese!

The Margaret River wine region was beautiful, and touring it was a relaxing and delicious way to spend a day in Western Australia.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Playtime in Perth

For Valentine's Day this year, we spent a long weekend in Western Australia. We had purchased buy-one-get-one-free plane tickets from Jetstar several months ago, and we were looking forward to the beautiful beaches in the area.

My Baywatch husband!
We flew in late on Friday night and stayed at a bed and breakfast near the airport. On Saturday, we headed to Scarborough Beach in Perth. One of my roommates from the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program is from Perth. I shared an apartment with Ben and six other roommates when I taught in Dallas. Anyway, we met up with Ben for coffee before Zack and I spent the day on the beach. Originally we planned on surfing, but the waves weren't that great, so we just swam and relaxed on the beautiful white sand. The water was so clear and warm; I wish it was like that in Victoria!

We spent Saturday night at Ben's place, and he and his partner showed us around the city that evening. On Sunday morning, I even got to feed and hold their pet chickens!
Roomies reunited!

I'm not sure I've ever held a chicken before!

On Sunday, we headed out to the Margaret River region to visit some wineries, but I'll write about that in another post. We spent the evening in Busselton at another bed and breakfast. The picture below is of the famous Busselton Jetty. It's over a mile long (one of the longest in the Southern hemisphere) and has been featured on MasterChef. Look for more upcoming entries about our time in Western Australia!

Busselton Jetty

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Big Day Out

On Sunday, January 29, we went to Big Day Out, a yearly concert held in major Australian cities. The headliner was Kanye West, and he put on quite a production at the end of the night, but we enjoyed some of the daytime performances better. I liked seeing Kimbra again (we had first seen her at the Falls Fest in Tasmania).

There were several color-coded stages set up all around the Flemington Racecourse, but here is a picture of one of the main ones (the orange one) when My Chemical Romance was playing. The blue one was right next to it, so once one band was done playing, another could start right away. Along with the other smaller stages, you had plenty of choices for music all day long.
When you got tired of listening to music, you could check out some of the shopping booths, carnival rides, or skate ramp action. Here is the famous Tony Hawk showing off some awesome tricks!
Soundgarden was another major act at the show, and here is a picture of them playing. We left their set early to go check out the band called Foster the People, who are known for their song called "Pumped Up Kicks." Zack has since gotten their whole album, and we like all of their songs!

Big Day Out was a hot, tiring way to spend a Sunday, but we enjoyed the music and experiencing this Melbourne tradition in its 20th year.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Ride Down the River

I had a coupon for a boat rental, so we continued my birthday celebration weekend by using it on Saturday, January 28, which was luckily a hot and sunny day. We picked up our little motorboat in the Docklands, and we spent a couple of hours driving it up and down the Yarra River. It's not exactly known for being the cleanest of water (they say it's brown because of the dirt-I'm not sure that's all!), so we stayed dry and didn't attempt going for a swim.
It was cool to gain a different perspective of Melbourne by going under the bridges and seeing things from the river. I had no idea how ornately some of the bridges were decorated or how much of a tourist attraction the Yarra River was. There were several riverboat cruises on the water that day.

My favorite part was probably going through the Federation Square area and near the Flinders Street Station. I couldn't believe that we were allowed to just motorboat down this river, passing famous sites, with no boating license or permit of any type.

I like this shot because it shows a cool bridge, palm trees, and the Eureka Tower (highest building in the CBD).

Back in the Docklands, we circled around some of the big shipping boats before heading back to turn in our boat. If we had shipped over our household goods, they would have come in a container on a boat like this. These things are huge!

We probably wouldn't have done this without a coupon, but I'm glad we had the chance to enjoy a day viewing beautiful Melbourne from the water on a gorgeous day.
Zack relaxes while I drive for awhile.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Australia Day and My 33rd Birthday

Australia Day is on January 26. It's kind of like Australia's version of the 4th of July, celebrated with BBQs on the beach and fireworks. It was on a Thursday this year, and since Zack had the day off of work, we threw together a spontaneous get-together with our friends Emily and Adam. They biked down to the beach right across the street from our place, we carried our portable BBQ downstairs, and we grilled up some sausages and played beach games for a couple of hours. That night, I enjoyed watching the fireworks from our balcony.

Luna Park makes a nice foreground for the fireworks over the city and atop the Eureka Tower.
January 27 is my birthday, so I decided to have some friends over to celebrate the Australian holiday in combination with my turning 33 on Friday night. I made some Australia-themed snacks for the party. I'm especially proud of my Australian flag fruit kebobs; thank you Pinterest for the inspiration based on the US flag.
Australian cheese and crackers, fruit and veggie kebobs, sausage rolls, and chips (and cupcakes!).

We had sort of a small crowd because several of our friends were gone for the holiday weekend, but those who could come were awesome. They even brought me presents, which was totally unexpected! Here's a picture with Kristy and Joy. I think Emily and her friend Andrea were outside on the balcony at this point. Below are the boys (Adam, Nigel, Zack, and Hannes) and a shot of my favorite chocolate cake that Zack gets at a place across from his work. Yum!

It was very strange celebrating my birthday in the summertime. I'm used to wearing sweaters instead of sundresses and planning snowboarding trips instead of beach parties, but I'm not complaining! I'm hoping my 33rd year is the best one yet. It sure started off nicely!