Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Simple Life

Saturday was Derby Day in Melbourne and Tuesday was a city holiday due to “the race that stops a nation”…The Melbourne Cup. Women and men dress in their finest duds and proceed in droves to Flemington track where they dine on fine food, drink champagne, bet like crazy, and proceed to get smashingly drunk beyond comprehension.

From our perspective, it’s the first four day weekend that we have had and we decide to forget the races and head out of town and see the sites. Besides, we were invited to a friend’s beach house from Sunday through Tuesday. The beach house is in Walkerville which is near a gorgeous national park called Wilson’s promontory. It’s a jetty of land that was once a land bridge to Tasmania. It is green, lush, hilly, windy, and surrounded by the beautiful turquoise ocean.

The government wants to place a number of wind turbines in this area and the people are divided on whether they will allow this. There are many signs and bumper stickers that protest or promote wind energy on the Gippsland coast. It’s the evolution of paradise I guess.

Eric and I decide to leave on Saturday and stay somewhere along the coast that night in order to maximize the weekend. Of course it takes us way too long to get moving on Saturday and then we decide we should avoid any trouble by booking a room before we leave. There aren’t exactly a bunch of Motel 6’s in Australia and rooms can go fairly quickly. It becomes one of those fruitless searches that makes a person decide that they hate the internet. How can there be all of this information and none of it proves in any way useful?

Maybe we shouldn’t go? What if there is no room? Arghh. There is always a room, right? We are packed; we are ready…let’s just leave and see how it goes. Three hours and only 6 incorrect detours later, we arrive at a hotel somewhere within about an hour’s drive of our final destination. Mind you, the trip to Walkerville should have only taken 2.5 hours to begin with. We go into the hotel entrance and end up in the restaurant. We search every door and after finding the kitchen, break room and restrooms, we have to ask someone the location of the lobby. She gives us a blank stare in return. Apparently, hotel’s in small towns are not hotels…they are pubs…and we have just asked if we could sleep in the pub.
We hide our embarrassment and sneak out the back entrance.

We continue on from town to town and find every small motel and b and b to be full. Didn’t we know…this is the annual motorbike festival and rooms have been booked for ages? I’m reminded of just about every road trip I have ever taken with Laura O’Brien where we suffer this exact same fate. We have tried to visit small towns during the annual water ski weekend, tulip festival, art festival, ski racing weekend, and homecoming for the local college, etc. etc.

The shadows are getting long and now we are driving on small country roads that warn of wombat and kangaroo crossings. There is a third animal represented on the signs but we just can’t make out what it is….? Kangaroos are most active at dusk so I’m officially on roo watch as Eric is driving. We pass through the towns of Leongatha, Koonwarra, Korumbura, Lang Lang and Meeniyan and finally pull into one of the motels with a brightly glowing “no vacancy” sign and ask for mercy. Eric sends me in to do the doughy-eyed-pathetic-American-needs-help-in-your-country-thing. The man gives me a list of motels with phone numbers and even calls around a bit for us. At long last we ring a motel that has a cancellation and the room is ours. We stay for the night in a little town called “Foster” which makes us giggle because it seems so Australian and because they have Foster’s beer signs everywhere yet none of the drink is available. The room is something out of a Hitchcock movie but we are glad to have it. We head to the local pub and have a good meal and a couple beers (again, not Foster’s). We shoot a few games of pool and hang out with the locals. At about 10 pm we join in with the mass dart game put on by the bar’s owner and the area high school kids. The owner of the pub explains to us he encourages the kids to come every Friday and Saturday night to host a game and, he says, “It keeps them away from all the booze out there.” It sounds quaint and benevolent until you think about it and the irony hits you that all these kids are now hanging out in the town bar, and most of them are drinking.

We retire at a decent hour because we have plans to rise early and get in a good long hike in the National Park before the others arrive. However, that night the rain starts in and it rains as if to cure Australia’s draught once and for all. It rains through the night and by the next morning someone must have turned the nozzle on high because we have to dash the 5 feet to our car just so we don’t get completely drenched. We spend most of the morning sitting in a delightful café drinking delicious latte’s, reading the paper, and eating the worst eggs benedict on the planet (Caesar salad dressing is NOT a substitute for hollandaise sauce, people!).

November 4 marks one year since the death of our beloved golden retriever Tofte and remembering her by waiting out the rain in a small town bakery and coffee shop (which also contains a strangely placed stage since it doubles for the town theater) isn’t all bad. We explore a bit of the town of Foster as well as the nearby town of Fish Creek before the call comes in that our friends have arrived and we are to meet them at the beach house.

The beach house is fashioned in 60’s style as if to say, “Austin Powers was just here.” Its tangerine orange, kelly green, and mustard yellow interior is cozy and warm with a big deck overlooking the sea and the promontory. Our friend Amanda (she’s from the US, but her Aunt is Aussie and this is her Aunt’s place) was standing on the deck and hand feeding wild bright red parrots. The beach house was one level, had sleeping arrangements for 8, and enough chairs to seat everyone comfortably around the wood burning stove. Basically, it was exactly what a cabin should be. There were five of us, but one
(Andrew) was from the area and would be staying with his parents on their farm just up the road.

The next day is cool and sunny and the crew spent the day hiking to the top of a mountain overlooking the park and the sea.
I know it was beautiful there because I saw the pictures of it.

I, unfortunately, spent the day driving back to Melbourne to help with a surgery and then back to Walkerville in the evening. Do I need to say more about this?
Probably not.

At some point when it is hot and sunny in the summer, we will rent camping gear and hike deep into the park and camp on the beach at a place called “Refuge Bay.” It is actually still quite cool at this time of year and most of the campers that we did see appeared wet and miserable…about as miserable as those lousy eggs benedict.

One of the weekend’s highlights was visiting Andrew’s family farm. This is the type of farm from a children’s storybook. If you could romanticize a farm and then create it in reality, this would be it. Now, Mom and Dad, you know I love you both…but if I could have grown up on this farm, I would be in heaven. And Bob and Gretchen, I must inform you that your son feels the same way.
For the sake of the family farm, Eric and I are hoping for adoption by the Landy family.

Imagine 2000 acres of lush green rolling hills that slope gradually down to a light blue sea. About 1 mile of sea is visible and beyond that Wilson’s Promontory rises up out of the ocean and touches the clouds. I took 20 pictures and none of them even come close to doing it justice.

We visited the farm on a sheep shearing day. Actually it was only a partial shearing for which the details are probably best left out of polite conversation. But, we did get to watch the dogs herd the flock and we watched the farm hands at work. The land was rather wet from the recent rain and our shoes were covered in all kinds of unmentionables. One of the girls in our group began laughing when she got stuck in the mud and said that she felt like Paris Hilton in the show “The simple life”.

Andrew’s parents took us in, fed us dinner, and gave us a proper tour. They are terrific company and very interesting people. We fed carrots to the horses and Andrew’s mom packed us a picnic basket of tea and cake which the five of us took down through the fields to an amazing expanse of beach. The beach was so beautiful that it was the spot his sister had chosen as her wedding site 5 years ago.

Never before have I seen a farm with a beachfront and ocean view.
It really was a place created from the imagination of a children’s book.

It’s nice to know that land so beautiful is only a short drive from here. We returned to Melbourne this evening and with horse races over, it’s back to work tomorrow. Sigh.


kakarandy said...

So, five years from now will I be visiting you two on your farm in Australia?!! Even with the down pours, yucky eggs and long drive home to attend surgery, this sounds like a true E&E adventure! I truly felt like I was right there with you for a moment!

Keep the "Tales from Down Under" coming!

Marcus said...

Sounds like a delightful weekend. It is much more the activates of absorbing as much of the culture and life that surrounds the two of you that I have come to see you do when you are in a grove and feeling at ease. Nice to see that you two are melding into your new environment with all the fervor of two explores discovering the new world.

Ana Orrison said...

I would give anything in the world to be where you were then where I am now! I was in a funk when I read this, and I am in a much better mood now, just getting to relax and imagine I was there.

PS I'm moving back to the cities at the end of the semester, I've just applied at Metro State and I'm looking for an apartment with my best friend from Central.

cshorba said...

Your beach trip sounds absolutely perfect and I so wish I was there with you.

I got caught up on all of your entries and it sure seems like you've made a lot of friends in a short time. That is awesome. Your stories have been great. Even the mundane is interesting.

It only gets better as you spend less time and energy trying to learn and deal with the quirks of the day-to-day lifestyle routine.

We're thinking of you here at home. Take care and enjoy the ride.

amybonnema said...

I can't believe its been a year since Tofte died. I was just thinking of her the other day.. A dog that wags its tail upon arrival.

And, it seems as much as your life is different, your life is the same. Adventures, friends, and Beth having to leave for work and come back.

Your blog is a joy to read. Not only for the adventures but for both of your unique styles. I feel like your just sitting across from me telling a story. (Now all I need is for you to thump Troy across the head every once in awhile!). We miss you but the blog make me feel like you're not really gone. Whew.

c3designs said...

I just checked into the blog and read about your weekend. It sounds fabulous... I want to go camping too! I'm so happy you guys had a good time. I agree, the farm sounds ideal.

Calgon... take me away. I do so appreciate the updates and the photos. Between this and Skype, I just sort of feel like you live in this virtual cyberland and I can visit whenever I want.
By the way, what's for dinner? I'll be there around 6pm.

otrey3 said...

Hey, guys, the weekend sounds fantastic. Sorry Beth had to go into work, though. That stinks. The only thing missing seems to have been running over a cow or losing track of the correct time. I love learning that hotels=pubs. Who knew? Bravo for living life fully and writing so well about it! Your English teachers would be so proud. Don't go so long between blogs, again; we miss you. And Tofte lives on in our memories, too. What a great dog!

Anna said...

This entry of your adventures in beautiful, paradise-like Australia is my favorite so far. Although the weekend seemed to have its little reminders that some things are still very foreign (the hotel/pub thing and of course, the ceaser dressing on the eggs benedict), the good definitely seemed to outweigh the bad. And I never took you, Elizabeth, for a farm girl! It's awesome to learn new things about you across the ocean!

The photos, were, as usual, breathtaking. Do you ever wake up and think "I cannot believe that I actually live here?" I remember thinking that a lot when waking up in Reunion and glancing out the window to see the Indian Ocean. It was an amazing sight that put perspective on everything each and every morning.

And Tofte... Oh how we miss Tofte. And by "we", I do not only mean me and Brandon, but Sally too. I often wonder if she still expects to see Tofte in your yard when she goes out, so that they can chase each other back and forth through a fence. It was worth the dead grass along the fence just to see them play together. In a way, it seems so much longer than a year. Look at all that has happened! Tofte's parents got married and are now living far away in paradise!!! I remember this time last year, shortly after Tofte's loss, sharing a meal of lasgna at our house, tears and memories of a great dog. That night is by far one of my favorite nights of our friendship - not because of your loss, but because we shared in it. Loss, just like cross-cultural moves, either makes or breaks frienships. None of us at that table last year would have ever imagined where you guys would be now...

And here I am, crying once again at work (yes, on a Sunday, need I say more? I think not), missing you guys like crazy, but so grateful that your adventures are posted so regularly. Can't wait for the next blog!!!

Happy Thanksgiving if we do not have a chance to chat before then.

tjossem820 said...

Eric & Beth, just figured out how to read your blogs w/o notice in our e-mail that they are there & have laughed & enjoyed every one written in the past 2 months! You both are skilled in writing & hope you'll continue keeping us informed & I can keep remembering how to get back on to read them!
Thanks for making me smile!
We missed you in Winona for T'giving. We love & miss you LOTS.