Monthly Archives: May 2011

I Survived My First Hostel

Unlike the film “Hostel,” my first experience at one of these shared accommodations wasn’t life threatening. What a relief!

We pulled into Alpine Village River Inn in Thredbo after dark, and I didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was that it was bloody cold and I needed to grab my backpack and get inside. (Yes, I said bloody as my UK travelmates are rubbing off on me. Plus, doesn’t it just sound so cool?)

When we got to reception, Disco handed out keys at random. Since I was nearby, I grabbed one of them. The room ended up being a six-share room with three bunk beds and an en suite bathroom. There were no closets or lockers to put our stuff in, but at least the bathroom was clean.

Since I had one of the three room keys, I got to the room first and claimed a bottom bunk. As I quickly learned, the bottom bunk is a highly prized possession. Apparently once you’re older than ten, enthusiasm for clambering up and down a ladder to the top bunk diminishes tenfold.

My roommates for the night were Jill and Joyce from the Netherlands, who were friends traveling together; Christina from Germany and Fernanda from Argentina, who were graduate students taking advantage of a long weekend and Elizabeth from the U.S., who was a recent college grad in Oz on a working holiday.

In general, the hostel situation was pretty good. Sharing one bathroom among six girls was a bit rough but doable. It was like being in a college dorm again and having to maneuver yourself around so many other people. Privacy, long, relaxing showers and face time in front of a mirror were nonexistent. Good thing I left what little make up I brought back in Sydney because I’d hate to carry it all this way and never use it. There would be no time for any of that in conditions like this (although there were a few people who made the effort every day – good on ya!).

The hostel had internet stations and wireless access for AU$1 per 15 minutes as well as a restaurant and bar upstairs. We had our dinner in the restaurant, which was more like an upmarket cafeteria decorated like an Austrian ski lodge. Everyone was hungry and practically inhaled the pizzas two at a time. The staff had a difficult time keeping up with us, and we had to wait a bit for them to make more pizzas. Our tour package included dinner but drinks, even soft drinks, were ala carte. I bought a glass of Coke for AU$2.50.

After dinner, Disco herded us toward the bar where a single ski lay across two bar stools. Within the ski, were four holes to accommodate four shot glasses. This was the Thredbo Ski Shot. Four people at a time took shots off of the ski, with the two people at the ends controlling the speed of the shots. You can just imagine how hilarious this was when people were different heights. I’m not sure what kind of liquor we drank, but it was very sweet and tasted like butterscotch.

Afterwards, we hung out at the bar and more hostel guests arrived. I wouldn’t say the place was bumpin’ but at least we weren’t the only patrons there anymore. Some people chatted with one another while others made their way to bed to rest up for a huge day of hiking in the morning.

Slide Album: Thredbo Ski Shot

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Filed under Accommodation, Australia, Travel

Canberra: Australia’s Capital

We arrived in Canberra and learned that it is the only planned city in Australia. Originally, Sydney and Melbourne fought to become the country’s capital. However, instead of picking one and declaring a favorite city once and for all, the government selected a geographical midpoint. Of course, this did not really satisfy either city and the rivalry continues.

After picking the site, a worldwide competition was held to design this new city, and Americans Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney Griffin won the contest. They favored symmetry, geometrical patterns and straight lines.

Our first stop in Canberra was the Australian War Memorial, a place that honors all of Australia’s fallen soldiers. The place was very busy because ANZAC Day preparations were underway. ANZAC stands for Australia New Zealand Army Corps, and ANZAC Day is similar to America’s Veterans Day.

Slide Album: War Memorial

At the memorial, there is a wall of names for each conflict in which Australians fought and died. I had not realized that Australians served in so many military battles. However, Disco said that most of Australia’s history revolves around its participation in military conflict. According to Disco, many Aussies feel that this military heritage and service is part of what defines Australians as a people. This is so different from my original perception of the laid-back Aussie.

At lunch we stopped at the Canberra central business district and picked up Ramona, who is from northern Italy. With Adventure Tours and Oz Experience (its sister company), you can use the bus as a hop-on, hop-off tour bus and arrange extra nights in certain cities. Ramona was joining us after having spent the previous day in the city.

After lunch we visited the old and new Parliament buildings where we learned about an Aboriginal tent embassy. In the 1970s, several Aboriginal activists protested the colonial invasion of Australia in front of the old Parliament building. They vowed to stay there until their viewpoints were heard and recognized by the government. Today this protest and vigil for Aboriginal rights continues.

The plight of native people is eerily familiar no matter where you are. We didn’t learn too much about their political and social struggles, but they are probably similar to other native people who were “found” by European explorers.

I read that there was a period during which the government took Aboriginal children from their homes to become wards of the state. The children of this “Stolen Generation” were taken from about 1869 to 1969. There are many theories explaining this policy, including to protect children from being abused or neglected, to give them a better life and education and even a thinly veiled attempt at genocide.

Disco took us on a driving tour of Embassy Hill, to find as many of our nations’ embassies as possible. We even drove past the current prime minister’s home, although she was actually out of the country. Interestingly enough, the American embassy was the largest compound we saw because all of its staff lived on the grounds. I guess they are being overly paranoid these days.

After touring Canberra, we headed to our accommodation in Thredbo. We passed through Jindabyne, a town that usually sees its peak tourist season during the winter due to its proximity to the Snowy Mountains. After a long day, everyone was ready to get off the bus and just chill out.

Slide Album: Canberra

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Filed under Attraction, Australia, Culture, Politics, Travel

Australian Adventure Begins

I booked a 21-day tour from Sydney to Darwin with Adventure Tours Australia (ATA). I’d heard they were good at what they did, and they’d take me to places I’d find difficult to get to on my own. Since several shorter tours made up my long trip, I was looking forward to meeting some interesting people along the way. 

The first section of the tour went from Sydney to Melbourne and began at the George Street Oz Experience office. Luckily, Sharon dropped me off so I didn’t need to catch the train into the city. At 7:00 am, I checked in and they asked for my vouchers. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any printed because STA Travel, the company through which I booked the tour, had emailed them to me and hadn’t provided original copies. Luckily, this wasn’t a huge problem, and they told me to email the vouchers the next time I had internet connection. ATA/Oz Experience was already impressing me with their service.

Exiting the office I found the bus waiting at the curb. Disco, aka David, would be our driver and tour guide for the next three days. He was tall and thin and bursting with energy. He looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo with the enthusiasm of Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. And, he wore colorful striped socks. I just knew this tour was going to be interesting.

Disco and his socks

Disco and his socks

There were about 21 people on this trip from Sydney to Melbourne, and the bus was full. Luckily, I was able to snag a single seat up front near the door.

Group photo

Sydney - Melbourne group photo

As we left Sydney, the day was a little cold and rainy. I worried that the bad weather would follow us on the tour. However, as we made our way to Mittagong to refuel Sheila (the bus) the weather got better and better. Someone told me later that Sydney’s weather has been unpredictable for the past year. It experiences showers about half of the month – everything from sprinkles or downpours.

When we arrived at Mittagong, I decided to walk around a bit. A block down the road, I found some older women setting up their white elephant and bake sale tables in front of a church. Their baked goods looked delicious, but for once I refrained. I proceeded to a small park area and wandered around. I could not believe I was actually in Australia!

Marta and Tina

Marta and Tina

The first people on tour that I chatted with were Tina from Lebanon and Marta from Italy. They both lived and worked in Sydney and were taking a holiday over the long Easter weekend. Tina had lived in Australia for three years; Marta for just one.

So far, the trip was off to a good start. There were interesting people aboard, the weather was good and I was in Australia. Could it get any better than this?

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Filed under Australia, Travel