Friday, October 28, 2011

Mount Ainslie and the Telstra Tower

About a month ago, we guess, we got our first really perfect spring day. The sun was shining, the wind wasn't too strong, it was warm. We decided to take the oppurtunity to go out to some of the more picturesque spots of Canberra. First, we headed up Mount Ainslie. The term "Mount" is probably an exagerration, but it is a very pretty look-out spot as Canberra spirals out from it. 

This is officially the highest point on Mount Ainslie, and like any good highpoint in an urban area, there's a telecoms tower there.

This is the best spot. They designed the city so the main line of the city goes directly to where we were standing. This is Canberra's equivalent of the Washington Mall. At the bottom of the picture is the War Memorial, then a long Mall with monuments along the sides until you come to Lake Burley-Griffen. Note the giant fountain off to the right side in the lake. Across the lake is Old Parliament building, which was always designed to be a temporary structure. Just past it is New Parliament with its beautiful, ornate flagpole. Quite a view.

After Mount Ainslie we drove over to the Telstra Tower, the main telecoms point for Canberra. Telstra is a phone/internet/television company that is a virtual monopoly across Australia.We're not wild about them, but don't have a lot of choice. Anyway, here is the tower as we were walking up to it.

As any good company does, Telstra has found alternate ways to monetize its infrastructure. The Tower also doubles as a [paid] look-out point, gift shop, coffee shop, and at nights, a very high-end revolving restaurant.

Laurel and Greg are both mildly afraid of heights, but have very different triggers. Greg's is all about feeling secure on where he's standing. For instance, if we are walking over a huge, swaying bridge across a raging river in Tasmania, that is not okay. This, though is fine. Sure, we're a couple hundred meters off the ground, but he's standing on solid concrete with a firm railing. Nothing is going anywhere. We're good.

Laurel on the other hand, has no problems with things swaying or being generally rickety. She just wants very high railings. These railings do not qualify. There is still a chance that someone could trip and accidentally catapult themselves over the side, or a strong wind could blow and knock you off balance, causing you to fall to your doom. Mountain peaks have this exact same problem.

This is kind of fun. In the elevator there was little electronic sign that would mark your altitude as you went up and down the tower.  Fear of heights aside, it was a very nice day.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wellington surrounds

On the second day of our weekend, we hired a car and took a leisurely drive along the coast. New Zealand, like Australia, is not a big fan of road shoulders.  Fortunately most of the drop-offs were less severe than the cliffs we were basically driving on in Tasmania.  But that's only because most of the cliffs started on the opposite side of the road, say where the houses started. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Laurel's co-worker who used to live in Wellington recommended this place, the Chocolate Fish cafe, for lunch. Man, he did not lead us astray. They specialize in fish sandwiches, but have a whole assortment of diner-style food. Everything is cooked on the outdoor grill next to the patio. According to a plaque by the door the building was originally part of an old military base that was built in the late 1800's by the Brits when there was a very real concern that the Russians were going to invade. I'm sorry, what!? What the heck were the Russians doing that far south, ever? If anyone could shed some light on this, it would be greatly appreciated.

Apparently, the Chocolate Fish is also a noted spot on the Lord of the Rings tour. During filming it was a popular lunch spot, and I think a movie production building was across the street, so it was probably pretty convenient, but not really sure on the details. Greg's nerd is strong, but not in the elf and hobbit categories.

As we mentioned in our last post, the weather in Wellington is noturiosly unpredictable, but we lucked out for lunch. The sun came out shining and it was beautiful, so we sat out on the deck and enjoyed our lunch. They also provided large, floppy hats which Laurel could not resist.

Fake-out! As we were driving we had to stop and take a picture of this guy, because we thought he was a little penguin at first. Turns out, not. He's just some kind of seagull-type waterbird. Still pretty cute though.

As we drove around Wellington's section of the island we just stopped wherever and took pictures. We had been recommended some especially picturesque places, but, seriously, it all was. Every twist and turn just brought more amazing views.

Clearly if there are rocks they must be climbed. It is the first rule of nature.

The second rule of nature is that Laurel is adorable.

So, as you may have noticed Wellington is super-rocky. Most of the coastal land is rocks, a flat strip that's been used for a road, and then very steep incline. Some houses will have a ground level garage and then a kind of ski-lift elevator looking thing to take them up to their house. Or in this case, the longest, steepest walk to check the mailbox ever. That's right, the zig-zagging white fence is the path/steps from the main street to the houses at the top.

There's not much else to say about this next stretch of pictures aside from noting that it's freaking epic, and the sun did not stay out for long.

We came across this place by complete accident. It's called Zealandia, and it has to be a completely unique idea. A large plot of land, on the northern outskirts of Wellington, has been set aside for the next 500 years to try and return nature to its pre-man environment. They call it a natural zoo. You are welcome to visit and walk through the area. It's wild, so there's no guarantee how much wildlife you'll see, but you will see a whole host of birds. We didn't actually take the tour, it was getting late and they were going to be closing soon, but it's a pretty great idea.

Did I mention that it's built directly over the fault line that runs down the center of Wellington? Here's the sign advising what to do in the [inevitable] event of an earthquake.

And, here is the faultline. Please note how the ground on one side of the fence is about 10 feet higher than the other side of the fence. That is nuts.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Your Sport Update

If you don't already know, Australia is sport mad. [Editors note, in a quirk of the Australian language, they don't always follow the same plural rules Americans do. The plural of "sport" is "sport." Conversely, the plural of "math" is "maths"]. While the US has football and baseball as its national pastimes, with basketball and hockey existing as more niche sports, and really that's about it. I guess there is a little bit of golf and tennis, but, eh. Australia is so sport mad it can't decide what its national sport is. In Sydney, its Rugby League, in Melbourne its AFL (Australian Rules Football). Or to some people its Rugby Union. Or soccer (strangely, Australia also doesn't call it football). Cricket is also huge everywhere. NFL and MLB games are televised regularly, cycling is massive, tennis is pretty big. Its kind of unreal. I get the impression Australia might have taken over half the world by now, except there was a game on. What game? Oh, any game.

This past weekend has been an exceptionally big sporting weekend. All three footie codes (NRL, Rugby Union, and AFL) are having premierships. We'll start with Rugby Union, which is the old school Rugby you think of the British as playing. Right now, New Zealand is hosting the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Never heard of it? Me neither. This is the seventh tournament and like the Soccer World Cup is held every four years. They claim its the third biggest international tournament in the world, but that can only be true if you count the Summer and Winter Olympics as one event. Which they aren't. Anyway, its an awesome tournament and an awesome game, but it has some problems to overcome for it to really become a world senstation. The first problem is that there are only about 6-10 really good nations, and then another 4 or 5 that are all right. And well, they still need to fill out a 20 team torunament, so they let a few other teams play, too. Sadly, the US falls into this category.

Wait? The US has an internationl rugby team? I had no idea either. We're the Eagles, and we have a 3-27 record in the World Cup I believe. We're no good, but at least we're not Namibia (who lost every game this year by at least 60). The problem comes when the great teams play the not -so-good teams. You get 87-0 scores. That's not exciting sport for anyone. So, who are the good teams? First and foremost are New Zealand, the feared All-Blacks. You probably know them from the movie Invictus.

New Zealand may be small, but they are the Brazil of International Rugby. They're the default pick for champion every time they step on the field. All-Blacks support is practically a religion in NZL, the above logo might as well be the flag of the country. Except there is one crucial difference between Brazil and New Zealand. New Zealand also has the choking ability of England. While they won the inaugural tournament in 1987, and have been the favorites every single time since, they haven't won it again. Australia has won it twice since then, which tweaks the Kiwis to no end. So while everyone agrees that New Zealand SHOULD win, no one really believes they will. As a good faux-Aussie, I support the Wallabies (you never say root in Australia, its really, really dirty).

Sadly, the Wallabies have not had the best first round experience. They have made it to the second round, but lost to Ireland in pool play, and now to get to the Finals will have to get past South Africa and New Zealand (#1 and #2 in the world), instead of relatively easier matches against Wales and England or France. Sigh.

Moving on, both AFL and NRL schedule their championship games for the same weekend. AFL is on Saturday. AFL is a giant, freewheeling mess of a game played on a cricket field, where goals are kicked on the run, and the primary means of passing is kicking it forward. If a player catches it (called a mark), he gets a free kick, so the other team has an incentive to make sure he does't catch it. As near as I can tell as long as you don't punch someone, its a legal hit. It makes for some spectacular marks. [Laurel says the no punching rule is another example of why this sport, like all sport, is inferior to hockey]

Now, this season has been pretty clear-cut from the start- the two previous Premiers, Collingwood and Geelong, have been on a collision course all season. And that is what happened. Collingwood, a suburb of Melbourne, won last year and has looked dominant all year. They are the Magpies and have perhaps the best logo in all of sport.

Now, I said Collingwood has been dominant, and they have. Except for two games. And both those games were against Geelong, which is a city an hour west of Melbourne. Wait? Who is Collingwood playing? Geelong? . . . Crap.

Geelong Cats. I find this hilarious. Not Wildcats. Not Panthers. Not Pumas. Not even a Catosaurus. Just plain old housecats. Regardless of their less than intimidating mascot, Geelong played Collingwood close all game until it was time for the fourth quarter and then they decided that they had played with their prey long enough, and dropped the hammer on Collingwood. They won by 38. Great game. Unless your a Magpie supporter.

Lastly, NRL. We've told you about NRL previously, as Canberra has a local team, the Canberra Raiders, Laurel's beloved Green Machine.

Sadly, after the first epic win of the season that we were at, they pretty much didn't win again all year. They finished 15 of 16. Curses. Now, the NRL fanbase seems pretty comparable to NASCAR if that tells you anything. A lot of Australians lift their noses at NRL. NRL was created to be a dumbed down, straightline version of Rugby Union, that could be played professionally (at the time Union was an amateur only thing). Its supporters say its more high-octane and exciting, but I'm unconvinced of that. This year's championship game featured a favorite, the Manly Sea Eagles, against the surprise of the year, the Auckland Warriors. The warriors were supposed to lose in the first round of the play-offs but just kept winning. Think the Arizona Cardinals from a couple years ago. The Warriors gave it a hell of a shot, but in the end the Sea Eagles were just too good.