New York, 2005, Part 1: Taking a bite

Ah, New York- where every street feels familiar as it is out of a TV show or movie that I have watched.

I arrived in New York at midnight and immediately did the wrong thing by being talked into a black market cab, forgetting that I should have headed for the legitimate taxi rank. But it was late and all I wanted to do was get to the Big Apple hostel in Times Square where I knew my friend Phil had booked me a bed.

The next morning we woke up, grabbed a bite at the corner deli, passed the queue in Battery Park waiting to get to the Statue of Liberty and caught the free Staten Island ferry past the statue on Ellis Island. Gotta love a ferry ride- especially one with such a good view.

Back in Manhattan, the World Trade Centre was gone and had been replaced by a building site for the Freedom Tower Memorial. The surrounding buildings were still damaged.

Central Park was too big to walk the whole way from one end to the other- so we just hit the pond , took in the view of Belvedere Castle and visited the amusement park above the famous Bethesda Fountain.

I recognised the trees of the Liberty Walk, a tunnel and the handsome cabs that always seemed to be featured images of the park. I loved Central Park and wished I had more time to explore it further. We went to the MET and I absolutely adored the Temple of Dendur.

That night, we couldn’t find a bar easily near where we were staying so we went to the bar at the top of the W hotel which was quite swanky and expensive making us penniless backpackers feel a little out of place.

The following day we visited the New York stock exchange that had a huge American flag with and even bigger charging bull outside. This was the Wall St I had heard so much about.

We went to the United Nations buildings with all the flags and I relished walking down 5th Avenue passing the famous Chrysler Building, the Rockefeller Centre, Cartier and SAKS– so New York.

All I could afford in Tiffany was a key ring and the FAO Schwarz toy shop where I found the very cute American Kennel Club collection- wish we had that in Australia when I was a kid.

For something different, we went to Harlem, which didn’t seem scary at all with families having picnics in the park. I liked the Columbia University library and tried to imagine what it would have been like to be a student at such a well-known school.

From one school to another, we went to Greenwich Village and were in New York University/Felicity territory. Purple NYU banners surrounded Washington Square Park with the arch and the hanging elm.

We visited the West Village, the Meat Packing District and Soho where I found my dream loft apartment. It was Fleet Week and here the bars were overflowing and easy to find this time around.

Related posts: Argentina, 2005, Buenos Aires, 2005

All things Disney

I love all things Disney.

From the moment my grandma took me to see my first film- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs- I was hooked.

I know that it’s supposedly commercial, but I can’t help but get caught up in the hype. And I enjoy it.

I’ve been to the original Disneyland in Los Angeles 3 times and I am sure I will be visiting again. I would also love to go to Disney World in Florida and maybe Disneyland Paris too.

The old traditional Disney Princesses like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Belle from Beauty and the Beast hold special memories from my childhood.

Ariel, The Little Mermaid, was my favourite as I love the ocean and the thought of being able to live under the sea.

There have been a few additions since then of Jasmine from Aladdin, Pocahontas, Rapunzel from Tangled, Mulan and some weird frog princess who I’ve never heard of, but the concept is still there- perhaps in a new age inclusive kind of way.

Brave teaches little girls to be strong, independent and in control, and I can’t really argue with that message that’s for sure.

Micky Mouse is an institution that has grown and adapted over time to include more animals and better animation. And what child growing up in the 80’s can forget Bambi, Lady and the Tramp and Tinkerbell from Peter Pan?

I’ve recently been introduced to the new Disney Princess for younger girls- Sofia the First- and I must say I’m impressed. It’s not too repetitive or hard to watch as a lot of kids shows can be, and they have cleverly tied in cameos from the fully grown Disney Princesses. The good fairies from Sleeping Beauty- Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are also in the series.

A lot of the newer movies made in collaboration with Pixar, such as Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Up are quite good, with jokes for adults as well as kids. The only one I’m not sure of is Frozen, but everywhere you look there is another child in an Elsa dress so who I am to argue with popular opinion?

Disneyfy me up I say!

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Argentina, 2005

My friend Phil and I visited La Boca with its well-known colourful buildings and statues. Both tango dancers and tourists were out and about in the Caminito.

We wandered off the main drag and were told to get out in Spanish. Too busy taking photos and not knowing the language, I didn’t know what was going on. Fortunately Phil’s Spanish was good enough to realise that we were in a dangerous area and needed to vacate.

Walking along the Malecon in the Riachuelo port area, we saw Puente Nicolas Avellaneda and then visited the bright blue and yellow La Bombanera Stadium. Phil went back to watch a football game one night, but we were advised that it was too dangerous for women to attend.

As an alternative, we went to see Don Quichotte at the Teatro Colon and to a tango dancing lesson at Bar Sur which was lots of fun and felt very Argentinian!

Over breakfast at the hostel in Buenos Aires, I met Catherine from Washington DC. She was working in South America and was here on a short break to explore a different area of the country. I liked her independent travel attitude and we quickly made plans for some day trips.

We visited Evita’s grave at the famous Cemeterio de la Recoleta- a bit of a pilgrimage for locals and toursist alike. We were joined by an Australian couple on another day trip to the Feria des Mataderos for a great day out.

The Feria had real cowboys called gauchos and people were roasting meat on open grills. The square was filled with dancers in traditional brightly coloured costumes with a few llamas looking on. While there, we also went to the interesting Museo Crillo de Los Corrales.

My short time in South America was drawing to an end. So I decided that even if I had to go by myself, a trip to Iguazu Falls could not be missed. I opted for the quicker, but more expensive plane trip over the 13 hour overnight bus trip and stayed in the only hostel in town.

The next day, after a jeep ride through the Yacaratia trail where a guide explained the plant and animal wildlife of the forest, I got to the falls and was in awe. They were a reddish muddy colour from the natural stones in the area and so vast that I now understood why I could make them out from the plane on the way in.

I took a boat trip on the rapids of Rio Iguazu Superior and under San Martin waterfall which was amazing and went on the walkway over the top of the falls to  Devil’s Throat Canyon. Truly spectacular.

There was no denying the natural beauty of the Parc Nacional Iguazu, but there was also a Sheraton in the park and a casino in town. I hoped that the place would not become a victim of commercialisation and jeopardise this wonder of the world.

Related posts: Buenos Aires, 2005

Adventurous vs Risk Taker

I consider myself quite an adventurous person. I like to travel to new places, try new food and will put my hand up for most new experiences even if they are out of my comfort zone, like stand up paddle boarding or zip lining.

But I am not a risk taker.

As much as I am adventurous, my OCD nature towards list making also suggests I like planning. Risk takers don’t plan.

They make big philosophical leaps that leave all us average people in the dust. They take chances, think outside the box, get promoted and become entrepreneurs.

As much as I hate the idea of routine, I actually find myself comfortable in my weekly routine with the little milestones and rewards along the way.

Risk takers don’t do routine. It would inhibit the possibilities.

The definition of one who is adventurous is someone who is willing to take risks or to try out new methods, ideas, or experiences.

But the definition of a risk taker is someone who risks loss or injury in the hope of gain or excitement.

And therein lies the rub- I am happy to take on new experiences, but I won’t risk loss or injury in the pursuit of excitement.

Which explains why I would love to try hot air ballooning, but would never jump out of a plane.

I also like to be in control of new experiences to some degree. Which is also why I will never be a good skier.

Risk takers are gamblers of sorts. And I don’t gamble either. I come from the school of you don’t get something for nothing and have to work hard for great rewards.

But with great risk comes great rewards. But only if it’s the right risk right?!

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Buenos Aires, 2005

South America was high on my list of places I wanted to go, so when my friend Phil said he was headed on an extended journey in that area, I leapt at the chance to meet him in Buenos Aires.

By the time I arrived, Phil had already spent some time in Central America where he had met a local Buenos Aires girl who he had fallen for. This meant that I had a somewhat distracted travel partner, but also one with some insider knowledge.

My bags had been lost in Los Angeles airport somewhere on the way, so I was given $50 to buy essentials and we spent most of my first day searching for an underwear shop that sold something other than g-strings.

The trusty Lonely Planet stated that if you are vegetarian to not come to Buenos Aires and it was right. All you can get to eat in most restaurants was steak and potatoes. I was also introduced to the city’s very strong drinks on my first night- after only two drinks, Phil and his lady had to send me back to the hostel in a cab where I was told off for having the TV on too loud in the common room after hours.

The Obelisk on Avenida 9 Julio at Plaza de la Republica remains one of the most enduring images from my stay in Buenos Aires. We were staying a couple of blocks away from this- the widest street I had ever seen- and I passed it most days on my sight-seeing adventures.

As a dog lover, I also loved all the paseaperros or dog walkers that were everywhere in the city. I was constantly snapping pictures of them on street corners and in parks- some of them with more than 10 dogs at a time on the leash.

Buenos Aires is a city of plaza’s and fascinating buildings. In our local area were Plaza Lavelle, the Templo de la Congregacion Israelita, the Asociacion Cristiana Feminina de Buenos Aires and the huge orange Palacio de Aguas Corrientes. Nearby, the richer area could be found along Avenida Alvear to the Plaza Intendente.

Other notable squares were the huge Plaza de Mayo with the red Casa Rosada, the Palacio del Congreso where the Monumento a Los dos Congresos looked like a wedding cake with a green roof and the nearby Confiteria del Molino was easy to spot; and the Plaza Libertador General San Martin with the cute Petit Paris café and Huge Faculty of Law Building nearby.

We visted the Museo Nacional de Belles Artes to see my favorite Degas paintings and saw the bizarre Biblioteca Nacional on the way back. We went inside Museo Mitre- the house of past president Bartolomé Mitre- that had a pretty courtyard with his statue in it. I liked the lovely Palermo Park with its large lake, Rosedal and Planetario Galileo Galilei.

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It’s all in the attitude

Recent happenings have made me think about the great Aussie attitude of making a positive out of a negative.

We are generally known as a friendly, easy going bunch. No worries, she’ll be right, throw another shrimp on the barbie and all that.

When the elements, the world and people conspire against us, we keep battling and promote the good that comes out of these events.

Bush fires are raging away, but the fire fighters rescued a koala.

Terror attack resulting in racial fear on public transport, it’s all good, #illlridewithyou.

One-punch attacks after too many drinks, don’t worry, we have lock-out laws now.

Perhaps it’s all that sunshine and Vitamin D that makes us a positive nation that just gets on with it. We are known worldwide for our beautiful beaches after all.

Australia is also a multicultural country with us all having been immigrants at some point (unless you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander of course). We may not all be culturally integrated, but we are all from somewhere else.

Aussies themselves are slated as hard drinkers. Most public holidays are centred on public drinking, like we needed an excuse to have a beer at the pub anyway?! Melbourne even has a public holiday dedicated to gambling and drinking.

This year I plan to try to live the Aussie attitude to the fullest and turn all negatives into positives, but is that realistic? Maybe sometimes things are just bad?

The fact that we are affected by global warming is a reality.

Racial tensions in our society do exist.

Public violence due to drinking happens.

But what are you going to do about it?

I pledge to reduce, reuse and recycle more, never judge a person by their ethnicity as always and keep my drinking to a manageable level as much as possible; which is about as close to new year’s resolutions as I have ever gotten!

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New Zealand, 2004

It was a last minute decision to go to New Zealand for Christmas with my friend who had family to visit there. The chance to visit a new country was too hard to resist and I figured my family wouldn’t mind as I had been overseas for Christmas before.

We landed in Auckland on Christmas Eve and it was dead. I expected it to be one of the most happening nights of the year, but I was wrong. Auckland turned out to be a pretty harbour city like Sydney, but about 20 years behind!

I saw the town hall, went up the Sky Tower and went to Mission Bay. Viaduct harbour was definitely the highlight for me as it had lots of waterfront bars and restaurants to enjoy with a view of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

We drove to Rotorua which was smelly due to the thermal springs, but you got used to it after a while. We visited Whakarewarewa thermal village which had the Te Aronui a Rua Maori cultural centre. We saw the Nga Mokai Akoko mud pool and the beautifully blue coloured Waiparu hot pool. The best bit was when the Pohutu Geyser sprayed water high into the air.

The next day we went to Lake Rotowhero which is warmed by thermal activity and the enormous Lake Rotorua. We caught the Skyline Rotorua gondola to the top of a Mount Ngongotaha and had a scary luge ride back down.

There were lots of sheep in green fields to be seen on the drive back to Auckland to catch our flight home. On the way, I went clay bird shooting for the one and only time I have ever shot a gun. It was harder than I thought and I got a strange muscle injury in my right shoulder that served as a reminder of my trip until it was cured by an acupuncturist a few years later.

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