Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Last Full Australian Day

Today was our last full day in Australia. Sadness. It was a good day, though. We started out by taking the monorail to downtown Sydney to do some shopping. Although other methods of transportation were available, we felt compelled to try the monorail since it goes right past our hotel window. And when I say right past, I mean it’s level with our window and no more than 6 feet away. Thankfully, it stops running around 10 pm on weeknights, but it’s slightly annoying.

After shopping, we had tea at a very fancy tea room in the Queen Victoria Building. The whole building is just about the nicest mall you’ll ever see. Ornate tile floors, stained glass windows above each store front, granite tile sinks in the bathroom (or maybe I should say “toilets”, as that’s what they’re called here). The tea was excellent (I decided that milk and sugar in tea can be a good thing!) and the pastries…oh, the pastries. Incredibly light pastries. Oh, and scones. Now, these were definitely not the type of scones we have in the US. They were moist. And oh so light. Mmm…mmm…good!!

After tea, we took the bus to Bondi beach. Beautiful!

Huge waves make the ocean here a little rough for swimming, but I wouldn’t mind training in this pool every day. Talk about a great setting…it would be a scenic excursion at every practice!

Over dinner tonight, we shared our “best” and “worst” moments of the trip. Favorite food, favorite restaurant, favorite place we went, favorite activity, favorite wine, favorite tour guide, favorite sign (highlights coming in a future post), favorite Australian phrase, favorite thing in Australia that we don’t have/do in the US, worst restaurant, most uncomfortable moment, most surprising, etc. We can make this game go on for awhile because it’s a fun way to relive a great trip.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Cold, Blue Mountains

Yesterday, we toured the Blue Mountains, so named because of the thousands and thousands of Eucalyptus trees found there. The oil they produce hangs in the air and makes them appear quite blue from a distance. Our tour guide also tried to convince us that the wind blows in and blows all the dust away. I’m not sure how much stock I put in that explanation, though. Regardless, it really is incredible. We looked across several valleys that were just so blue. And different shades of blue. Some darker and some lighter.

The very tall sandstone cliffs add to the beauty of the mountains. The cliffs, combined with the greens and blues of the trees, make a stunning contract in textures and colors. It would be really fun to come back here some time and be able to stay longer, hike, etc.

The top picture is the Three Sisters. It’s a classic image of the Blue Mountains. Aboriginal legend states that a medicine man was tasked with fighting an evil beast and in order to protect his three daughters while he was away, he changed them in to stone. He did kill the beast, but not before being changed in to an animal himself and losing his ability to turn the girls back into humans again. Thus, the Three Sisters are still visible today.
When planning what to pack for this trip, I contemplated the weather, expecting it to be in the 70s most of the time, with cooler days and evenings in the 60s. That’s what weather.com told me, anyway. So, we were a little unprepared for the SNOW that hit us in the Blue Mountains. The high temp was no more than 46, with probably a wind chill in the 30s (strong, biting wind) and snow/sleet flurries on a couple of occasions. I even purchased gloves at one of the gift stores to keep my hands warm. Chalk that up to another dumb traveling decision: I even brought gloves with me, thinking I might need them at the pool if I were cold and wet, but of course I left them in my suitcase at the hotel yesterday morning. Oh well!
You can sort of see the different shades of blue in this photo. Imagine a whole valley that blue.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Successful Summit!

Yesterday, we left our comfy little apartment in Perth and flew to Sydney. The flight took most of the day…since it left an hour late, is 4 hours in length, and we lost two hours along the way. So by the time we arrived in Sydney and got to the hotel, all we did was eat dinner and go to bed.

Today, we took the bus to Circular Quay (pronounced “Key”). We shopped in a great market in “The Rocks” neighborhood and found some more great buys. This market is only open on weekends, so we’re really thankful we got the timing right!

After shopping, we headed to the Opera House for a tour. It was a little surreal to both of us to actually be standing in and around the Opera House. It’s such an iconic image for Sydney and for Australia that it just seemed unreal that we were actually there. The tour was fascinating! We learned all about the construction and even saw some of the designs that were rejected. Good thing, too, because they were all rectangular and boring!

Did you know that there are over 1.5 million tiles in this roof? The architect spent over a year working with a tile company on the design of these tiles! They take on different hues, depending on the light.

After the Opera House, we climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge! We walked along this very beam! I first learned about the Bridge Climb from “The Amazing Race” back in 2001. I’ve been wanting to do it ever since! Mom wasn’t sure she would be able to do it…a couple of doctors (including one in the family) advised her against it, but after talking with the Bridge Climb people this morning, she decided to give it a go. She did great! We summitted! See the flags in the top picture? We were standing up there! It actually wasn’t scary at all. Incredible views. Daylight on the way up and dusk on the way down. Very cool!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Stanford Redoux

Well, I completed my sweep of placing exactly how I did at the 2006 Worlds Championships at Stanford with a second place finish in the open water swim. The winner isn't someone that swam any of the pool events. She must have only signed up for the open water. I haven't seen the times yet, so I'm not sure how far ahead of me she was. I gotta confess, I'm a little disappointed with another second place finish. My goal for this meet was to win *something*. I wasn't particulary choosy about which event I wanted to win, just at least one. I know it sounds a little odd to be disappointed with second place at the World Championships, but my competitive spirit wanted a first place finish. If I had swum good times, I might be happier with my placings, but since my times weren't all the great, either, I'm disappointed. Oh well.
We've had a great trip so far, seen some really cool things, had some good adventures (including almost getting a $300 speeding ticket today...thankfully the cop was in a good mood and took pity on the foreigner and only gave me a "caution"), so I really can't complain. And, we're off to Sydney tomorrow morning! Harbour Bridge here I come!

The girl on the right in the above picture is Alicia from San Francisco. We got to know each other this week by swimming mostly the same events. We also ran into her twice outside the competition. This photo was taken about 5 minutes before hopping in to the slightly cold water. And for those that know me and water temperature, if I thought it was cold, it was pretty dang cold. But, once the race started, the water temp felt great.

I'm somewhere in this mass of swimmers. Perhaps the second one since that's where I finished up. But, I think there were 2 girls ahead of me at the start, one may have been in the younger age group, so I'd guess I'm the third one in this photo. Who really knows.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

400 Free

Amazingly, I didn't take any pictures today. So here are a couple from previous days.

We drove to Fremantle this morning to go back to the markets (Mom is looking for a couple items for some friends of hers) but when we walked up, the doors were closed. Turns out, they're only open on Fridays and weekends. Whoops!! Guess I should have checked that out online before driving over there. It's a good thing it's only about 20 minutes away. Mom got a pastry (a daily treat for her) and then we headed back to Perth. We attempted to shop a little in downtown Perth but gave up due to lack of parking. We ended up just eating lunch at the hotel and then watching "National Treasure" on TV before heading to the pool.

The 400 free was today. I swam okay and got second place. The girl that won wasn't in my heat, so we weren't able to race. I was ahead of her split at the 300 by a whole second, but she must have an amazing finishing kick because she ended up beating me by .33 one-hundredths. This is the same girl that came from behind the last 100 of the 800 to win, too. Oh well.

Tomorrow is the open water swim. It's 3K...1.5K down the Swan River and then back. Should be fun!

Also, a random thought: we just returned from dinner. Kangaroo was listed on one of the restuarant menus that we glanced at while walking past. After petting one yesterday, I could never eat it. They just seem too gentle and sweet. I don't have that same "conviction" about cows, chicken, pigs, etc. But there's just something about the kangaroo that makes them special to me now and I can't imagine eating one.

Standing behind the blocks before the 200 free. That's me in the black suit (it's actually blue but apparently it looks black when wet) and the black cap, the fourth swimmer in from the left.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Kangaroos: Soft and Gentle

Yesterday, we drove north of Perth to the Swan Valley and went to a wild animal park. We got to pet kangaroos!!! Their fur is so incredibly soft. Softer than most stuffed animals I own. They were very gentle and not scared of people. We also got to feed them. The littlest ones would come up and put their front paws right on our hands. So cool!!

See the joey in the momma's pouch?

We also got to see and touch some koalas. Did you know that they sleep 20 hours a day? What a life! This one almost looks fake to me.

Any guesses on what this is? A Tasmanian Devil! Did you know that was actually a real animal? I sure didn't. This one was doing his daily exercise routine in his enclosure. He ran down the path, looped around, and then down the path again. Over and over. He's sort of funny looking, isn't he? A cross between a pig and a dog?

The Past Two Days in Photos

The past two days have been busy! We've done too many things to blog about in detail (mostly because I'm tired and don't feel like typing a ton), so here are some photos that capture some of our adventures. We drove down to Margaret River (about 3 hours south of Perth) on Monday and had a LOVELY lunch at the Vasse Felix winery. This was the view from our table. So beautiful! And peaceful! And relaxing!

Then, we finally saw the Indian Ocean! All the stories I've heard about miles and miles of beautiful, white sand beaches are true. The ocean was relatively warm. I just stuck my feet in, but it would have been a good temp for a swim.

On Tuesday, we took a ferry down the Swan River. We passed the most expensive house in Australia along the way. It could be yours for only $84 millon. We then ferried over to Rottnest Island. No cars allowed on the island. Every one bikes around, so I managed to get Mom on a bike for the first time in 30 years...last time she rode she broke her jaw. She was pretty nervous at first, but she did great! Next stop: Tour de France!

We biked from bay to bay and ran out of syonyms for "beautiful", "gorgeous", "unspoiled", "isolated", "unpopulated", "breathtaking".

The island also has some inland lakes, which are up to 7 times saltier than the ocean. The salt, combined with the algea, makes them look pink. Notice the pinkish/purplish color on the far right of the above photo?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Shopping, Swimming, Sight Seeing

Yesterday, we drove down to Fremantle in the morning to do some more shopping in the markets. There were lots of great deals to be had! Some items were very typically Australian, and other items were imported from places like India and China. One of the neatest vendors we found sells items made from Jarrah trees, which are quite common in Western Australia. It's a dark, almost redish wood, very beautiful. Items at the markets are about 3x less expensive than in traditional stores. Being the shoppers that we are, we loved it!!

In the afternoon, it was back to the hotel for a lunch of egg salad sandwiches and an apple. My mom first began making me egg salad sandwiches before swim meets when I was 7 years old! The tradition continues! Despite not having Durkees, or salt and pepper, the salad turned out great. Maybe the eggs came from saltier chickens?

I swam the 200 free yesterday afternoon. Apparently the official competition website isn't doing a very good job of posting results (not sure why...seems like that would be an important feature of the website?). I had a pretty good swim...my time was just 1.4 seconds slower than at Stanford two years ago. I took third place. So far, I've placed exactly the same as I did at Stanford.

After the meet, we walked through Kings Park. It's a huge park built on some bluffs that overlook the Swan River, another river with a native name that I can't remember right now, and the city of Perth. It was established in the early 1900s by settlers of Perth who wanted to preserve the early "feel" of Perth and Western Australia.

After Kings Park, we had dinner at the Old Swan Brewery, located on the Swan River. We both had pork cutlets with pineapple salsa. Yummy! We saved room for dessert...which did not disappoint. The chef gets total style points for these creations. The pink stuff on the creme brulee is like cotton candy and that's toffee sitting on top of the strawberries. I can't remember the last time I photographed my dessert!

(Sorry about the blurriness...I'm not very good at holding the camera super still while on the night setting.)

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Yesterday, I swam the 200 back in the morning. This is the indoor pool. The guys and girls alternate days in the indoor and outdoor competition pools. My 200 free and 400 free will be outside. I was a little worried about how I'd swim yesterday, given the late hour of my 800 free, my lack of warmdown afterwards, and the fact that restaurants in Perth don't seem to be open past 9 pm. After trying unsuccessfully for about an hour to find a place to eat after the 800, we finally gave up and made oatmeal and peanut butter at the hotel. It's good thing that's one of my favorite meals! But, I seem to have recovered okay and swam well yesterday morning. I went about the same time as I did at Worlds two years ago at Stanford (only .08 seconds slower) and got 4th place. I'm happy with that swim!

After swimming, we were starving! We had passed a little restaurant called "Woodpecker Pizza" on the way to the pool several times, so we decided to try it for lunch. It was yummy!! We split a shrimp, canadian bacon, and mushroom pizza. Man it tasted good! We both really liked the decor of the restaurant, too. Those are wine bottles hanging on the far wall in the picture. Every thing I've read says that it's not necessary to tip the servers, but it feels so weird. I always feel like we're cheating them out of something.

After lunch, we headed to Fremantle. It's about 20km south of Perth. Fremantle has quite a history of prisons. Most of the town and infrastructure was built by prisoners fresh off the convict ships from England. We toured the Fremantle Prison, which was in use from the 1850s until 1991. One of the most shocking aspects of the prison is that they used a "bucket system" for toilets...even in 1991. The prison guards even learned not to walk down the center of the main cell block or they'd end up with human waste dumped all over them from the upper cells.

Prisoners must have been shorter back in the 1850s!

After the tour, we did some shopping in the Fremantle Markets. If you've ever seen "The Amazing Race", the markets are somewhat like some of the markets they've been to on the show. Lots of little stalls, with vendors selling everything from jewelry to clothes to Aboriginal items to photos to boomerangs to food. We didn't have enough time to browse through everything we wanted to yesterday, so we're going back there this morning before I swim the 200 free in the afternoon.

We concluded the day with a fabulous dinner. I had a fillet, which is apparently pronounced "fill-it" here and Mom had duck breast. We also enjoyed a bottle of wine from New Zealand. Overall, it was a great day!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Swan Bells

The pictures are of the Swan Bell tower and the view from the observation deck on the tower. The tower holds 18 *big* bells that were brought over from a church in England. We got to try to ring the bells....it's really hard! The top of the tower provides beautiful views of the city of Perth and the Swan River.

This is the outdoor competition pool.

I swam the 800 free last night. Supposedly it never rains in Perth, but a thunderstorm blew in right before my heat, so the event was delayed about 2.5 hours. I swam okay, not great, and got 2nd place. The 200 back is this morning and then we're headed to Fremantle in the afternoon to take in some of the history and shopping.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Where's the Turn Signal?

Greetings from Perth!!!
We arrived without incident yesterday. Well, mostly without incident...I managed to drop my laptop while going through security in Sydney. Oppss!!! But, it booted up and is working like a charm so far.

Driving on the left side of the road is an adventure (for me, my mom is scared spitless...not sure what that says about my driving?). I'm getting the hang of it, but the hardest part is that the turn signal is on the right side of the steering wheel. The wind shield wipers are on the left. So almost every time I try to signal, I first turn the wipers on, yell out "Dang it" and then try to actually turn the signal on before turning. Oh, and down is "right" and up is "left", so that's backwards too. And apparently Australians don't believe in a lot of street signs, so we've had a few "detours" but it's a beautiful city and we're beginning to get it figured out!

I haven't taken any pictures yet but will do that today and try to post some soon.
G'Day Mate!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Australia Bound

I leave Tuesday for Australia!!! My mom and I will be there for about two weeks. I'm competing in the Masters Swimming World Championships for five days. I'm swimming the 200 free, 400 free, 800 free, 200 back and a 3K open water swim. We'll be sight seeing and having adventures the rest of the time. I'll try to post pictures/updates frequently. I'm not looking forward to the 14 hour flight from LA to Sydney and THEN a 5 hour flight from Sydney to Perth, but hopefully we'll be able to sleep a lot of the time. Down Under here I come!!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

National Champs!!!


Sunday, April 6, 2008

What a Game!

Thanks to my totally awesome brother, who scored us some fabulous tickets, I am currently in San Antonio, celebrating the Jayhawks amazing victory over North Carolina in the Final Four!! What a game! I usually think I'm pretty relaxed during the game (certainly the most relaxed person in my family), but last night's game was exciting from the get-go. I was jumping up and down and yelling and clapping and woo-hooing!! And then when KU let UNC back into the game in the second half, I was so nervous. But KU extended the lead again and oh my gosh!!! The excitement!! Rock Chalk Jayhawk, KU!!!!