Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Foot in the Door

After returning from our wonderful long weekend along the Great Ocean Road, I, personally had a crazy week of WORK! That's right folks, I actually went to work. :) For those who do not know, I have only worked for about 5 weeks since arriving in August, when I was placed in temp job (which was fantastic, but not in my line of work) during the months of October and November. I have had several other job offers since then, but these jobs were not in my field and I was really holding out for the chance to find my ideal job in Oz. To be honest, I'm still not sure what the ideal job is for me here, seeing as my profession does not exist in this country. However, I am working hard to try to find my professional "niche" here in Melbourne so that I can work at a job that I feel passionate about.

On Monday, I went to 3 different jobs! The first was teaching a Sports Trainer course to a group called SEDA. Basically these students are in "grade 13" and they are working towards work placement in the health/fitness/sports/recreation field or they are trying to get into a university program. I was the head lecturer and I had 2 assistants to help me (there are 50 students in the class). I thoroughly enjoyed teaching even though the class seemed more interested in asking me questions about American than they did about the Sports Trainer course. One step at a time. :) Later that day, I went to job #2, at a local school that has an athlete development program. Promising Aussie athletes are given a free education at this school where many students spend half of their day training for their given sport(s) (sounds like my kind of school!). The "rehab coordinator" was on his honeymoon, so I was asked to fill in for him. I have to thank a former athlete, Kendall Fletcher, for helping me get an "in" at this school, because she dragged me over there to meet the head of their athlete development program. In addition, one of Erik's supervisors had written an email to someone at the school mentioning that my skills and background could be beneficial to their students. Basically I worked with injured athletes who had been seen by the physios (like physical therapists). I am unable to assess/diagnose injuries in Australia, which is not only strange but totally unfortunate because I could be much more of an asset to the school if that was the case. I'm in collaboration with a few people who are working to get athletic training recognized as a profession here, and hopefully that will happen before we leave this country! Later that evening, I stopped by footy practice of the team that I will be working part-time for this season. It is a small, local club that needed some extra help, and I'm excited to learn more about the game of footy and to get to know the guys who play for the club.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I was back at the school, and on Thursday I taught another SEDA course where this time, I was an assistant. Friday I also worked at the school, but left in the middle of the day to complete a brief orientation for job #5, as I will be teaching labs and tutorials for a Human Physiology course at the university where Erik works. I'm extremely excited about doing some college-level teaching, but also a bit nervous because I have a lot of material to review before starting to teach the first lab, which happens to be this Friday! On Saturday, I taught an all-day Sports First Aid course (similar to American Red Cross First Aid and CPR) to a small group of students. Again, I really enjoyed teaching the material and the students I had were fantastic. One of the students is actually currently enrolled in a Sports Therapy program, which seems to be the best career comparison to athletic training that I've found here, and apparently the director of the program is an ATC hailing from the United States! I'll be contacting him this week to see if there is any chance of doing some teaching or mentoring in their program.

Needless to say, I've got my foot in the door at a few potential workplaces now, which I am thrilled about! I'm hopeful that through one or more of these avenues I can find the ideal job for the remainder of our time abroad. I find it hilarious that I've gone from no jobs to several jobs all at once, but I think that these roles came just at the right time because I was certainly getting restless being unemployed!

Since I worked on Saturday, we were a bit limited as to what we could get into this weekend. Today we biked to the beach (this is bay beach we are talking about so no waves but beautiful refreshing water), which is about 10 miles or 30-ish minutes from our house (depending on which way the wind is blowing...we had a ferocious headwind on the way home and it took more like 50 minutes!). The weather here lately has been beautiful and rather warm, yesterday it reached 99 degrees F, but I find that it rarely feels hot because the humidity is so low. Anyway, we spent a pleasant afternoon relaxing in the sun at Williamstown Beach. I played around with Instagram on my iPhone to try to capture the beautiful day, the the picture really doesn't do the setting justice. Lots of work this week for me again, so this was a great way to finish the weekend and start the work week!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Great Ocean Road

I have been eagerly awaiting a visit to the Great Ocean Road basically since our arrival in Oz just over 6 months ago. The timing was right this week/weekend, so we headed out to discover what is often deemed one of the greatest drives on the planet. The trip certainly did not disappoint (except for the lack of good, free camping options, which I'll get to later in hopes that the few Aussie friends who read this blog will offer some advice), and I am going to write this post in great detail just in case someone stumbles upon my blog as they are searching for information on this particular road trip. Also, I think it will help me to remember the best spots so that I can take our overseas visitors there. :)
The Great Ocean Road was built by soldiers who returned from WWI as a tribute to those who lost their lives in the war.
First, you should know that I am typically a planner, even if it is sometimes last minute (my mother-in-law would say that I like to have all of my "ducks in a row"...she "hates ducks", though right now she is completing an amazing bike trek across the entire United States and I do know that she had to do a tiny bit of putting her "ducks" in order so that she could have a safe, successful trip). I like to know where we are staying, when we are doing certain things, etc., but for this trip I didn't plan and we just decided to "wing it". I did, however, have the Lonely Planet book that my parents gave us before we left the States and I printed a few things off of the internet so that we would have a rough idea of the best spots to visit.
Lots of roos to look out for on this drive!
We started on Thursday evening after work and headed down towards the start of the road in Torquay. I knew that there was a campground in Torquay and I figured we would stay there since it is the "official" start of the Great Ocean Road. We arrived around 8pm and, lucky for us, the campground office had just closed and the managers were still in the office. It was $33 for a powered site (apparently they didn't have any unpowered sites, which is all we needed), and since we didn't think we had many other options at that point in the night, we went with it. The campground really caters to caravans (we were the only tent campers I saw), and it was a bit commercialized and crowded for our tastes. Regardless, it was a place to sleep and it was close to the beach, which we took an evening stroll down to after finding our camping spot.

On Friday morning we got an early start and headed to our first destination, Bells Beach. If you have seen Point Break (I'm pretty sure Erik knows half of the lines in the movie), this beach should ring a bell (pun intended!) as the home of the "50 year storm". A big pro surf competition is held there every Easter and the beach is known for great surfing waves. When we were there the waves were breaking directly on shore, but the surf was certainly fierce sounding and you could feel the pull of the ocean just by having your feet in the water.

From Bells, we headed into the town of Anglesea, which is known for the kangaroos that graze on the local golf course. Seeing as we had just spotted a bunch of kangaroos on the side of the road near Bells, we decided to forgo that viewing opportunity and head to Split Point Lighthouse. Of course you have to pay to go up inside the lighthouse, which we opted not to do, but the site offers some beautiful ocean views and it was certainly worth a stop, especially if you like lighthouses.

I love signs like this and they seem to be a bit more dramatic here than in the United States!
We continued along the road to the town of Lorne. Of all of the towns we passed through, Lorne seemed to have the nicest swimming beach and it had a really cute downtown of shops and restaurants. It is also home to Teddy's Lookout, which provides amazing views of the coast and is a short detour from town. Teddy's Lookout is also where we spotted our first wild koala! Of course I was SO excited that I took about a million pictures. Little did we know that we would have a koala visit our campsite later that evening. Also in Lorne, we visited Erskine Falls, and even though it's not really the right time of year for viewing waterfalls, it was a beautiful spot in the mist of a big fern gully.

Teddy's Lookout
Erskine Falls
It is a wonder we made it out alive!
The next town after Lorne is Apollo Bay, and in the middle of the two towns is the Kennett River, which is a great place for koala spotting along Grey River Road. We saw a few koalas and hung out watching them for a bit, but I must reiterate that it did not compare to the interaction we would have with the koalas later on in our trip. We stopped at the visitor's center there and picked up some maps (which would have been helpful to have from the beginning, ha!) and also some groceries for dinner that evening. We were headed into Great Otway National Park to do a little wandering around and to find a campsite for the night.
Koalas aren't the only thing you'll spot on Grey River Road.
How cute is this koala?!
Our first destination within Otway was to the lighthouse, but on the way in we noticed a bunch of cars parked along the side of the road. We stopped to check out what was going on and, low and behold, there were dozens of koalas in the trees! Most of them were sleeping but a few were eating and we also heard a koala growl for the first time at this spot.
Interesting choice of sleeping position!
When we finally arrived at the lighthouse, we found out that they charge $17.50 per person just to get on the "grounds" of the lighthouse. That was unfortunate, but it turned out to be a bit of a blessing because we decided to find a campground earlier than we probably would have otherwise. I had read a bit about camping at Blanket Bay in the Otways. At Christmas and Easter they have a lottery system, and I wasn't sure what our chances were of snagging a spot because it was a nice weather weekend, though it was early on a Friday evening. We decided to head to the campground to check it out, which involved a winding 6 km drive down a gravel road (we are talking BIG rocks here, not just your standard gravel road). Fortunately there were several empty spots and we searched for a "good" spot before parking our car and setting up the tent. Shortly after doing so, we noticed that there was (you guessed it!) a koala bear in the tree across from our campsite. We hung out and watched for a little bit...I think they are beautiful creatures, took some pictures and some video. Somehow Erik managed to get video of the koala jumping from one tree to the next! That evening we hung out on the beach at Blanket Bay before cooking dinner and getting some rest. In the middle of the night I woke up to growling. It was REALLY loud and sounded like it was right outside of our tent. I woke Erik up and asked him what the noise was and he said "it's probably the koala" and he proceeded to fall right back to sleep. Fortunately I was able do the same and when we woke up I took a look outside our tent to discover that the koala had moved to the tree right above our car! There was another koala up there as well. As we were making breakfast and packing up our things the koala decided to move, which I somehow managed to capture on video. A few kids came over from another campsite and eventually their parents wandered over as well. They told me that it is generally very rare for koalas to be so active (they sleep 20 hours a day), and that many Australians do not ever see what we witnessed that morning. I was also told by someone that they growl before they go up in a tree to make sure that there are not any other koalas in the tree.

Our friend watching Erik pack up the car!

I left the sound on the video so you could get the full effect of me being shocked at the jumping koala and the kids getting excited about seeing the koala. Also, Erik is a much better videographer than I am, so if the second part of the video makes you feel ill, it's all my fault.

After quite an eventful evening and morning, we headed off to check out a potential campsite for the following evening, also in the Otways, Johanna Beach. The campsite is off another long and winding road, but it is really nothing more than a big grassy area full of caravans and a few car campers. It wasn't nearly as good of a site as Blanket Bay, so we felt lucky that we had stumbled into such a great campsite the night before. We had intentions of setting up our tent and leaving it to come back to that evening, but since we weren't thrilled about the site, we decided that we would look into some other sleeping options. At that point we were on our way to the 12 Apostles, which is the main attraction along the Great Ocean Road. The first stop was Gibbons Steps, where you can actually walk onto the beach and see the rock formations at eye level. The rock stacks on the beach there are named Gog and MaGog, and they were certainly stunning to view.

Our next stop along the road was the 12 Apostles, and the first sight of them was absolutely breathtaking.

From the 12 Apostles we stopped at Loch Ard Gorge, where we were able to do quite a bit of wandering around, as they have walking tracks to several lookout points. The Loch Ard was one of the many ships that crashed along the coast due to foggy conditions, shallow reefs, and/or the rugged coastline. What we thought was going to be a quick stop turned into a few hours of sightseeing.

This is Bird Island. The birds that live here migrate all the way to ALASKA in the Australian winter months!

Our drive took us into Port Campbell, another cute holiday town with a nice, small swimming beach. We enjoyed fish and chips for lunch before heading back out on the road. The next stop was The Arch and London Bridge (which is no more because it fell in 1990), another amazing site to see and I really felt as if I could stand and watch the waves crash into the limestone forever!
London Bridge used to connect the two limestone pieces. Eventually the The Arch will collapse as well.
Proof that we were on this trip together. :)
Our last few stops were The Grotto, Bay of Martyrs, and Bay of Islands.
The Grotto is essentially a pool formed by crashing waves at high tide.

At that point it was decision time. We could camp in Peterborough or Princetown, the two towns closest to our location; however the only camping options there were caravan parks, which we really wanted to avoid! In fact, the closest free campground would be all the way back at Johanna Beach, which would have been at least a 1.5 hour drive for a relatively unappealing campsite. Here we are along this beautiful stretch of road with lots of empty land and there is nowhere to camp for free! I pulled out my iPhone to search so that I could assure myself that I wasn't missing anything and I found articles of locals complaining about campervans parked in the middle of these towns during peak holiday season. There were quotes from local residents saying that there was a need to create more spaces for people to camp for free or cheaply (I do not think that $33/night to camp in a tent is a good deal!), but that was from a meeting held almost a year ago and it doesn't appear that there has been any progress on that front. You would think that in a country like Australia where there is so much undeveloped land that there would be plenty of room for someone to pitch a tent. I understand not wanting people to camp at the tourist sites of the 12 Apostles, etc., in order to keep those spots nice and tidy, but surely there have to be better options for tent campers than caravan parks?! I've heard about the Camps 6 book so I will look into purchasing that, but would welcome any further insight on camping in Oz that anyone has to offer.

Anyway, we decided that it would be fun to stick around to see sunset at 12 Apostles and then we would just drive back home for the night via the inland road, which would be about a 3 hour drive. We had some time to kill before sunset, so Erik went on a run while I went for a short swim in Port Campbell. This was my first swim in the Southern Ocean and it was COLD! The water temp was 17 degrees C, which is 62 degrees F, yep that's chilly. Erik also went for a swim after his run and then we headed back to the 12 Apostles where we cooked dinner and waited for the sun to drop in the sky. Unfortunately the clouds did not cooperate completely, but it was nice to see the Apostles at a different time of day and seeing the setting sunlight shine on Gog and MaGog was awesome.

We left around 8:30 and we were home by 11:15. The drive was a bit hairy in the beginning because it was dusk and we were on back roads, so I was terrified that we would hit a kangaroo, but Erik cruised down the road with confidence and we encountered zero traffic. We were blessed with a beautiful weekend weather-wise and we were also told by a tourist that we met along our way that this time of year is the best time to visit the Great Ocean Road. In general places were not very crowded and we had no issues getting around or parking. I plan to do a similar trip in late September when my parents come to visit and I hope that the conditions are similar, though I know it will not be nearly as warm because it will be Spring. In my opinion it is certainly a road trip worth taking and I'm already looking forward to heading back to do more exploring--next time perhaps doing some hiking in the Otways or maybe even doing the 100km Great Ocean Walk, where there are hike-in campsites along the trail for day hikers.

Monday, February 13, 2012

National Sporting Capital

Melbourne is unofficially referred to as the sporting capital of Australia. Many major sporting events are held here including the Australian Open, Melbourne Cup, Australian Formula One Grand Prix, AFL (Footy) Final, and the Olympic Games in 1956 to name a few. There are other events as well, and in the 6 months that we've been here, we've noticed that the Aussies do love their sport. Of course the interesting thing is that there is essentially no sport at the high school and university level -- it's all club based. This is one of the reasons why I believe it has been so challenging for me to find a job.

On Friday, we had plans to meet up with one of my former athletes from UNC, Kendall Fletcher. Kendall plays for the Victory, the women's professional soccer team here in Melbourne. The men's team is called the Victory as well, and due to her connections, Kendall unexpectedly hooked us up with tickets to watch the men's Victory team play the Central Coast Mariners on Friday night. It was a really good game, as the Mariners were in first place in the league and Melbourne had been struggling a bit, tying in their last 3 contests. The team plays at a soccer specific stadium, AAMI Park, with a pretty sweet view of the CBD.
Crazy-looking skies over the Melbourne Victory game!

Scarves with your favorite team's name on them are very popular here.
We had dinner beforehand at Mexicali Rose, and I would rate the food as pretty decent Mexican. More traditional than Mamasita, similar price range, but the margarita wasn't quite as good. :)

Saturday we had plans to take a long drive down to check out the Latrobe Valley Water Ski Club. Erik and I are considering joining the club so that we have a place to water ski over the next few years. They were having a competition and mentioned that it would be a great weekend to come down. The drive took about 2 hours and certainly got us out into the countryside of Victoria. There were kangaroo signs along the side of the road during much of our drive. The lake is a pretty good set up for skiing, and they have a club boat, a slalom course, a jump ramp, and a smaller "back" lake that they plan to put a mini-course on next season. It is VERY expensive to join compared to what we paid to ski on the Severn River back home, which was a mere $25 a season and boat gas. We also had fantastic people to ski with in Maryland (shout out to Tom and Tim if you are reading this!), who provided beautiful boats for us to ski behind (sorry Tim, Tom wins out here...the Malibu is my favorite boat on the Severn!). The people were great and we actually ran into a guy who used to work at Coble Ski School with Erik many years ago...what a small world! We are still contemplating joining due to the costs and also the distance from our house. Unfortunately it's quite far from where we live and we might only get down there to ski once or twice a month. However, we can camp onsite, so if we go down there to ski we can stay for the weekend and get a good number of sets in!

Sunday I had to work. That's right, I said work! Technically I wasn't getting paid though. I am going to be teaching Sports First Aid and Sports Trainer courses for Sports Medicine Australia over the next few weeks, so I went to observe a Sports Trainer course to see how it compared to my Sports Medicine classes back in the States. It was surprisingly similar in many ways, except that they tape (or STRAP!) the ankle a bit differently than I have learned, so teaching that to students will be a small challenge. I start teaching a week from today, and I am excited and a bit nervous to get back into the classroom because it's been about 9 months since I last taught students!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wheels and 'Roos

That's right folks...after nearly 6 glorious months of not owning a vehicle, we purchased a car. We are the proud owners of a 1994 Honda Civic. Yes, that's right, we bought an 18 year old car. It's actually in fantastic shape on the interior and exterior, and we are hoping that the important parts of the car are in good condition as well. If you are reading this and you know my family, you'll know that we have quite a long tradition of driving Honda's well into the 200,000 mile range, and this little car has yet to put on 200,000 kilometers, so hopefully she'll be good to us.
I'm thinking "she" needs a name. Any ideas?!
I was VERY opposed to a red car. No clue as to why, but I'm biased against red and would have much preferred white, black, or silver. I did have a framed photo of a red Trans Am, won from the Reese Carnival, on my wall as a tween, so maybe I was destined to own a red car at some point in my life? At any rate, I told the car salesman my feelings about red and he took a couple hundred dollars off the sale price, so we were sold. The car buying process was quite an adventure. We drove a few cars from private sellers and a few from dealers, but decided that buying from a dealer was easier. Our dealer, MJ's Crazy Cars, seemed to be honest and reliable in the beginning, but we aren't so sure about that now.

Erik went to pick up the car on his own and when he got the car home, we noticed that it was missing the button to control the temperature. We also noticed that the seals on the windshield, which we were told would be fixed during an inspection, were not fixed. We called our salesman, Ben, and he said he would fix both if we brought it down to the dealer. So last weekend, we dropped the car off and rode our bikes an hour home. Ben called on Friday and said that they were unable to find a part for the temperature control, but that our car was ready otherwise. Erik biked an hour down to the dealer after work to find our car hadn't been fixed AT ALL! The seals looked exactly the same but there was a bunch of sticky residue on the car's paint like they maybe had prepped to fix it but actually did not. So we have pretty much given up on getting anything else fixed by them. Obviously those items aren't crucial for the car to run, but we were thinking about resale value when we try to sell the car in 2.5 years.

Due to this new concept of owning a car, we were able to get out of Melbourne a bit this weekend. We had a birthday party to attend out East, so we decided to drive a bit past the party to check out a place where we might come across some kangaroos. I would say that we had GREAT success on that end! I was trying not to get my hopes up too much because I didn't want to be disappointed, but within a minute of arriving to Cardinia Reservoir Park, we spotted a few grey kangaroos. It was almost dusk, and during the course of the 7 o'clock hour, about a hundred or so kangaroos came out of the woods. Of course for Australians this is really no big deal, because 'roos are comparable to deer back in the States, but I was pretty excited to be seeing them in the wild. Instead of sharing lots of pictures with you, I made a short video of our kangaroo-viewing experience. Enjoy!

Last week I also attended a wine tasting event at Federation Square (the same location as the beer tasting), which was a great opportunity to taste some of the local wines. I now have some ideas of what local wineries would be good to visit, and hope to do a trip to a winery or two sometime in the near future.