Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Around the Bay in a Day

When I wake up in the mornings I turn my computer on. My homepage is the Startribune website. Lately I have been noticing that the temperatures are in decline, it almost seems unfair that I get to report that we down here are warming up.

Last Sunday was a popular Melbourne bike ride titled “Around the Bay in a Day”. It is an annual event that, as you probably can guess, rides along Port Phillip Bay. Beth and I had already planned a ride with a friend of ours and as the details were being finalized our friend (Amanda), suggested that we partake in the riding festivals. Besides, the web site promised a nice ride with friends, a park where we could relax and listen to a band at the half way point, and free stuff like water bottles and t-shirts.
Our options for the bike ride were 50k, 100k, 210k or a measly 250k. Since none of us felt like we were in great shape, we decided on the shortest of them. I am glad we did. That day turned out to be the hottest October day on record. Temps were in the mid 90’s.

Melbourne seems to have a lot of organized activities. The events have been one after another since we arrived here. The Fringe festival, the International Arts Festival, the Melbourne marathon, and now this bike ride have all taken place in the last seven weeks. These are only the few that I know about. I am sure that we are missing some. The difference between these activities and other activities that I have participated in is the organization and participation. As you may have read in the last blog entry I think that Beth and I were the only people out cheering for the runners in the marathon. Since we didn’t want to be the only people on the sidelines for the cycling event, we decided to participate. We found out on the website that we could sign up between 4:30-8:00 AM. Naturally we signed up at 8:00 because the ride didn’t start until 8:30, who wants to get up at 4:30? The riding officials must have decided to start early because as we were signing up thousands of bikes started whizzing by, which of course throws me into a panic because I don’t want to be left behind.
It has been my experience that when there is an event such as this, a route has been blocked off completely for the participants. It is not the case here. The beginning of the route is in the middle of the city and as we started we were in the midst of hundreds if not thousands of madly peddling people on bicycles. One would think that the roadway would be cleared. It was in parts, but for most of the time we were supposed to stay in the bike lane, which is a little too small to accommodate so many people. Not only that, we are also supposed to obey the regular traffic laws. So here we have a mob of people on bicycles peddling like the wind so they can make the next traffic light. Of course we didn’t always make it. So we would wait patiently for the light to turn green and get our feet cranking again to beat the next light. Of course we wouldn’t make it ……and so on, and so on…..I think it took us about an hour to go 5K. It was shaping up to be a very long day.
After we got through the heart of the city it wasn’t so bad. The biggest challenge was going to be the Westgate Bridge. Imagine the High Bridge in St. Paul but longer…a lot longer. Did I mention that it was starting to get warm out? The advantage that we had going over this particular bridge at this particular time was that we had the wind at our back. I did mention that it was starting to get hot right? We had a strong north wind that day. You may be thinking ahh a cool northerly breeze, remember everything is different here this air comes from the desert, not the tundra we know as Canada.
We had achieved the bridge obstacle and we were now about a quarter of the way through. The half way point was the promise of the band and food and refilling of water bottles.
We reached the park at Altona (the half way point) without much incident, only to discover that the food wasn’t free for the riders. The website said something about enjoying a muffin while listening to a band, drinking from your new water bottle and wearing a fancy new shirt. So far there was a band playing cover tunes, I brought my own water bottle, we didn’t get a shirt yet and now I have to pay for my food. I am glad I brought some money. Some of the advertising promises had come true, we did enjoy the company of friends. We have about 6 friends in Melbourne at this time and we actually ran into 3 of them. With the addition of our German friends Mirko, Rachel, and Eric we became a traveling bike convoy of 6.
After resting in the shade and replenishing the water stores, it was time to head back. Remember the desert winds that helped us across the bridge? Do I need to say anymore? We did get a chance to stop at the bridge apex and take a few photos, you can make out downtown Melbourne (known as the CBD) behind us. Back across the bridge into the city, waiting for the traffic lights, into the park where the rewards awaited.
Finishing a race is always exciting, the roar of the crowd as you come down the shoot, the inevitable photographer capturing your image, food, drink and all the goodies that come with the enormous entry fee. As we and the rest of the stragglers turned to bend to come into the shoot there was no crowd, just like when we were cheering for the marathon. The guy with the camera was there though, but he was changing the film so he missed us. Yes, I did say film. Everything will be alright because the feast awaits us. We dismounted our tired bicycles and made our way to the food tent. As promised a table full of nourishment was in front of us, we made our way into the line and were told that this line was for the people who rode the 100K ride. What we ended up with was a sub par mini-muffin.

We could at least look forward to the fancy new shirt, right?

When we quizzed one of the volunteers he told us that if we signed up the day of the ride we wouldn’t get a t-shirt.

After all the promises the advertisements made, the goodies we were left with was a day with friends…..and a water bottle.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Where is the Crowd?

Sunday was the Melbourne Marathon. It is a rather large event that is sponsored by Samsung, not unlike the Twin Cities/Medtronic marathon. Since neither of us was in any shape to run this year, we had to be content to stand on the sidelines and watch with the rest of the mob. The route took the runners down the road where we used to live, so we knew that mile marker 24 (don’t ask me to convert that to kilometers) would be a good place to watch. Since Beth’s boss was running the half marathon we wanted to time our arrival to the race where we could see him pass. Quickly we jumped in the car, drove down Toorak road near St. Kilda road where we were sure to spot him. Hoping we could get close enough for a good parking space, Beth sped down the road and we were in luck. As we were pulling up a spot opened not two blocks away from the runners. Off in the distance we could see people running, how fun to be a part of the crowd to cheer these people, who had worked so hard to get in shape, on. To our surprise there was no one there. Even the volunteers for the race seemed to be too busy talking to each other to cheer these people on. Being the experienced marathon/half marathon support people that we are, we started cheering. GO RUNNERS!!! clap clap clap YOU LOOK GOOD!!! clap clap clap YOU LOOK STRONG !!! clap clap clap. I think we actually frightened most of the people. We had a few of the runners smile and say thank you, but for the most part we just were on the receiving end of strange looks. Fortunately we did see Beth’s boss and he seemed appreciative of our loud, obnoxious cheering.

Now that we have a car it is much easier to do things like go out of town or go shopping. We have needed to make a Target run for some time now, so we took the opportunity. Yes they do have Target stores here, and as you all know the Target run is an essential part of living. We drove to what would be considered the Mall of America so we could get all of our shopping done in one place. After visiting a few stores it was time to go to Target. We picked up a few things and then started looking for the essentials:
Soap, laundry detergent, toothpaste, toilet paper, etc etc.
None of these things are found at Target. After further inquiry, we found out from the Target employees that these things are found at Coles, a grocery store. You now may be asking yourself “what is Target good for”? We have asked that of ourselves and are still looking for an answer.
By the way, when we Skyped with Matt, Andy, and Alice, the other day we showed them the little sculpture that we brought with us and Alice exclaimed "oh look, it's Woodchip". So I guess we have a name.

One of the more fun activities that we can now do is go for a drive in the country. The Mornington peninsula is about an hours drive south of here, and the Yarra valley is about a 45 minute drive northeast. Both of these places are known for wine. We have now been to both places and would recommend the Pinot Noir. Not only do they have wineries but other fun places to visit as well. In Healesville we discovered a dam that was built around 1900 to act as a water catchment and reservoir for the city of Melbourne. We spent the better part of a day walking around and quite pleased with ourselves that we had found this place. What we didn’t know was that Healesville is known for the animal sanctuary. You can imagine the amount of teasing we get when people find out that we went to some dam instead of a blissful place full of roos and wallabies.
Just for a sense of scale, that is me standing next to the dam.
That's all for now.
We miss you.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Learning to Walk

While shopping at the market today, “Land Down Under” by Men at Work played over the speakers. Tonight “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” is the movie special on Television. People were happily spreading vegemite on their toast this morning in the coffee shop. Today was warm and sunny, palm trees were blowing in the breeze, and tall tanned people were everywhere. Isn’t this what everyone imagines Australia to be? It was one of those days where we actually feel like we are witnessing a stereotype come to life. Perhaps this really is what it’s like in the summer time.

Nah. Can’t be. It’s too predictable.


We are continuing to enjoy life in our spacious apartment and still trying to get the hang of things. We equate it to learning to walk.

For the month that we lived in the hotel, Eric would go grocery shopping about a mile away. The tram service was slow down that street and he ended up walking it all the time. The night before we moved out, we went around the corner from our building to what looked like a small 7-eleven store. It turned out that the store really opened up once you entered and it was an enormous grocery store. Poor Eric looked ill. He didn’t want to talk about it. This is precisely one of the ridiculous things that happen when you are new to a country. There are oodles of these things in our lives right now. We are just trying to figure it all out.

Driving is still not natural and we have both become back seat drivers. I think it may genuinely be more difficult for each of us to sit in the passenger seat without a steering wheel to hold on to. We still get a really big kick out of it when the other person turns on the windshield wiper instead of the blinker. We laugh a lot at what dorks we often feel like here.

The language barrier still poses somewhat of a problem – I think it just takes a while to get in tune to the accent. They are used to the American accent since it is all over the TV and therefore they understand us...but I can’t always understand them and I am embarrassed that I say “what” so often. It doesn’t help that some medical terms are not the same either. It’s exhausting to strain to listen. I collapse on the sofa after work because I am so tired from listening, driving in a new city, meeting new people, and trying to take it all in. Occasionally there will be a meeting at work where everyone is gabbing quickly back and forth and suddenly (out of nowhere it seems), they all burst into laughter. I think at those moments I probably have a grimace on my face as I fain understanding and laugh along with them. I’ve even noticed that my boss will talk one way to my coworkers and then slow down and speak very slowly to me. “e..l..i..zab..e..t..h,…I…want…to …talk..with..you.” ugh.

The Aussies also have all these funny slang expressions and they like to use dramatic verbiage such as “shocker, fantastic, and diabolical.” I have a meeting in Sydney next weekend and my coworkers asked me if I was going to get frocked up for the occasion. Apparently everyone gets frocked up at these things. My really fun colleague Jo told me her day was going well and then it all went suddenly pear shaped. The standard greeting is “Hey you going?” Other popular phrases include the expected, “good day mate”, and the unexpected proper English phrases “I reckon” and “a bit”. They also regularly use the term "fortnight" which makes us feel like we are in a Shakespeare play. I guess it’s just my pigeon to learn these regularly used terms and I don’t want to be labeled as tall poppy about it.

Frocked up = dressed up
Pear Shaped = day turned upside down
Hey you going = how are you
Your pigeon = your responsibility
Tall poppy = very important person (seen as rude)

Eric and I have established some favorite spots and are trying to scout out the fun things to do and the cool parts of Melbourne. The food here is terrific…almost diabolical (ha). Even the small shops where we wouldn’t expect much have really been impressive. Sometimes it feels like a mini New York City; great food, multicultural, horrid traffic with no parking, good public transportation, and much to see and do.

Work continues to be challenging, interesting, and frustrating. How can I love and hate my job on the same day? Just like in the US, we work some long unpredictable hours. They don’t seem to call as much after hours for the unexpected things…but they do have pacemaker and defibrillator implants at all hours of the day and night. Scheduled midnight and 1AM pacemaker cases were something I didn’t have to deal with in Minnesota.

My first case at one of my hospitals out on the western side of the city afforded me the opportunity to meet the entire cardiology department at the hospital. Things went terribly wrong and they called a code and within a minute about 30 physicians and RN’s came pouring into our tiny catheter lab. In the end, all turned out OK, but it was a reminder of how scary and on the spot this job can be. That’s an introduction I won’t soon forget.
(Perhaps this photo that I took last weekend should have foretold my week ahead...)

Well...that’s all for now. I’ve got to watch the end of some bad TV movie that was too rotten to ever show in the US. We get a lot of that here. I guess I could flip channels to 'Australian Idol' instead...hmmm.

Keep checking in on us, and keep the blog comments coming. We love to read them. MOST IMPORTANTLY…PLEASE DON’T FORGET ABOUT US OVER HERE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD.