Sunday, April 22, 2012

Round 1

The district level footy season lasts about 20 weeks, each week defined as a "round". Last weekend was the first round of play for the team that I am working with and the team that Erik is playing for. I wasn't really sure what to expect in terms of how many people would be there to watch and how the day would go, but I did know that there was a special "guest player" playing with our team in order to try to attract a large crowd on opening day. Anthony Koutoufides, affectionately known as "Kouta" by the locals, played for our side (teams are referred to as "sides" here) last week to the tune of what I'm guessing was a couple thousand dollars in his pocket for one game.
Kouta getting ready to play with the Moonee Valley FC
Kouta used to play in the AFL (equivalent of the NFL if we were taking American football and not footy), and had great success during his career, including being a few votes shy of winning the Brownlow Medal (the MVP of the league, essentially) in 2000. In totally non-footy related news, he won Australia's Dancing with the Stars in 2006! One of the guys on our team who follows the NFL first compared him to Tom Brady, but then decided he was more like an Eli Manning, not having quite the stature of Tom and his Under Armour and Stetson cologne ads, though Kouta did advertisements for both Nike and Adidas in the 90's. Either way, he's a big deal and LOTS of people came out to watch him play, which created a really fun and exciting atmosphere. Both teams (the senior team, or the 1's, and the reserve team, known as the 2's) beat the opponent by over 100 points, a big turn around from last year when apparently both teams lost to that same opponent by a combined 300+ points. Perhaps we should have tried to get Kouta for Round 2 as well, because we got flogged (commonly used Aussie word when a team loses badly of which the definition is: to beat harshly) in yesterday's game. Both teams lost by over 100 points, so the shoe was on the other foot, as they say. Apparently the team we played yesterday will be a top 5 team in the league (out of 14 teams), so there is no need to get discouraged yet. I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before or not, but the team I am working with won only 2 games last season, so I am certainly hoping for a better season this year!
Unfortunately I didn't capture the spectacularness of this rainbow, which was completely full and extremely bright over the CBD after a big storm came through this afternoon. Here is what remained of the rainbow when I left the gym.
I thought I'd share a few funny terminology things with you that come up with the footy guys. I often ask them how things went in practice. They are constantly correcting me because they call it training, not practice. Their shoes are not cleats (they have NO IDEA what cleats are), they are boots. In fact, Erik mentioned to the other sports trainer (my official term when working with this team) that he needed a band-aid because his cleats were rubbing, she had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Game jerseys are not called jerseys but jumpers. We aren't exactly sure how that works because a jacket is also a jumper. A bruise or contusion (like when you get kneed in the thigh) is called a corky. In training, when they put on pennies (the different colored mesh things so that you know who is on each team), those are called bibs. Before the regular season started, we had 3 practice matches, not scrimmages (they had no clue what a scrimmage was). And I'm not taping their ankles, I'm strapping them. :)
Another amazing autumn sunset captured thanks to the iPhone.
In terms of life in general, I was back to work last week after two weeks off due to school holidays. School is year-round here and that was the first break, separating term 1 from term 2. I was fortunate to be called to work at the sports school right across the street from where we live, so it was a nice ease back into working in a place that I am familiar with already. Week 2 of the second term starts tomorrow, but it's a bit of an easier week because Wednesday is a public holiday for ANZAC Day, a day that marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the first World War. It will be nice to work for 2 days, have a day off, then work for 2 more days before another weekend rolls around!
I thought this cloud made it look like there had been an explosion over our 'hood!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dandenong Ranges National Park

The second day of our failed camping trip was intended to be spent hiking in Dandenong Ranges National Park, which is one of several parks that are within an hour drive of where we live. Having slept in our nice warm bed instead of in a freezing cold and wet tent, we were happy to get up bright and early yesterday to beat rush hour traffic on our way to the Dandenongs. In addition to finding a book about camping in Victoria last week, I found a book of day hikes in the state. I wanted a challenging hike with impressive views, so I picked the Mt. Dandenong circuit, deemed a medium-hard trail for a total of 15.5 km.
The start of our hike in Kalorama
Temperatures were quite chilly in the morning, but for the most part the weather cooperated yesterday. There were brief moments of rain and also moments of sunshine, though I would guess that we had cloud cover for the majority of the day. That really didn't matter, as we were in some sort of green fern-laden world during much of our hike! From the car park we started along a trail that was narrow and actually passed close to the homes of some local residents. After a few ups and downs, we ended up having to deviate off of the trail due to a closure (several "tracks" - the Aussie term commonly used for trails- seem to be closed from flooding in 2011 and some for downed trees or other improvements) at the Sky High Observatory. Cars pay $5 to enter, but luckily hikers can check out the viewing platform for free. Fortunately we had a map of the trail in our borrowed book, and Erik was able to navigate us back on track quite easily (even though I was insisting we were going the wrong way...I have absolutely horrible sense of direction!). Once we returned to the trail, the path was wide enough in many places for a vehicle. I later learned that these are fire management tracks to help facilitate fire fighting, as bush fires are regular events on the mountain.
Walking through the morning fog at the start of the hike.
View of the CBD from the Sky High Observatory
Ferns everywhere!

Fern tree or palm tree?!
I loved all of the lush green trees and bushes, even though I guess I was hoping deep down to see a few fall colors in the mix. I did spot a tree or two that had turned yellow or red, but nothing like what happens along the East Coast or in Minnesota during the fall months. We saw our first wallaby on this trail today, as it literally jumped right across the trail about 20 meters in front of us. It was too quick for the camera, so I have no cute animal pictures for you from this hike. :( There were many birds in the park and noisy ones at that, which is pretty typical for Melbourne (the birds here are always squawking at something, it seems). Overall, the trail was a decent pick in that it provided nice scenery and superb views of the CBD (which would have been spectacular on a clear day, no doubt!). It involved a lot of climbing, and also a lot of descending. There weren't many times along this hike where we were actually on level ground.
Can you spot the CBD?
6km to Montrose? We'll be there for dinner, Jill and Dan!
At the end of our hike, we drove to a different location to do a short walk to Sherbrooke Falls. This part of the park features more green ferns and also Mountain Ash trees, which apparently grew after severe forest fires in the 1920's. These trees grow up to 100 meters and can live up to 500 years. The Falls were unimpressive but it was a nice short walk, nonetheless. We will certainly head back to the Dandenongs for future hikes, hoping to see more wildlife and explore new areas of the park.
These birds know where to find the picnic area near the parking lot!

We aren't sure which bright individual came up with the name of this "long" bridge!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Camping Trip...FAIL!

A few weeks ago, Erik and I started discussing what we should do for the Easter holiday weekend. After some deliberation, we decided that it would be a great time to go camping. However, once we started talking about the possibility of camping with friends and co-workers, we learned that Easter is essentially the most popular weekend of the year to go camping in Victoria, and that most campsites were already booked full for the Easter holiday. Not a problem, we thought...we will just delay our trip a few days and go camping for just one night instead of a few, since we were both off work for a couple of days after the holiday weekend.
We spent much of our beautiful Easter Sunday on a long walk near our house.
If only the weather had stayed this nice for Monday...
This past week, I found a book in the library that was helpful in identifying a few more "bush" (the Aussie equivalent to wilderness-based) campsites, though I learned that most sites within an hour or so of the city were larger caravan-type campgrounds. We planned out a few potential hiking and camping areas and packed the car last night. Unfortunately, when we woke up this morning, the weather had taken a turn from pleasant and sunny to cold and rainy! (I did hear on the radio on our drive back home that today was the coldest day in 5 months in Melbourne, which explains why even though the temperature was around 50F, it felt absolutely freezing). While we debated what to do, we caught the exciting end of the Masters, live from Augusta, which was absolutely worth getting a late start for, in my opinion. There seemed to be some patches of blue sky mixed within the clouds, so we decided to head out on some sort of adventure, though we were undecided about our final destination at that point. Sadly, the weather only got worse, and by the time we were in Frankston, a small coastal town on the Mornington Peninsula, it was raining hard and the wind was howling. We nearly turned around to go home, but after looking at the radar, it appeared that the further south we went, the better the weather would get. So we made our way down the peninsula, stopping at a few areas along the way to enjoy the scenery, and we did, in fact, counter some blue skies along the way. The drive reminded me a lot of the Great Ocean Road, though not quite as spectacular, but the road winds along the coast, providing scenic water and beach views.
One of the nice views along the Mornignton Peninsula.
We ended up all the way down at the end of the Mornington Peninsula at Port Nepean National Park. It was free to enter, and from the park you can witness beautiful views of both Port Phillip Bay and the open ocean. The wind was ferocious when we were near the ocean, with gusts so hard at times that I thought I would be knocked over! There are several walking trails within the park, most with access to different forts that were used by Australian soldiers in both World War I and II. In addition to the entrance of Port Phillip Bay being the most heavily fortified port of the Brittish Empire, the area has evidence of some of the earliest European settlement in Victoria, so this would be a great place to visit for history buffs.
In 1967, prime minister Harold Holt disappeared here while swimming.
Evidence of the former military presence.
We ate lunch at the former site of Pearce Barracks, which were torn down in 2007. The land in the distance is the town of Queenscliff, which is on the western side of Port Phillip Bay. A ferry provides transport between the two sides.
We spent a few hours walking around Port Nepean, and then headed over to Sorrento Back Beach to check out some additional ocean waves. Again, the wind was fierce and that made the cold temperatures seem even colder, but the views were worth braving the cold. There were even a few crazy kids in the water (in wetsuits, of course!)

At this point we had pretty much ruled out camping. There are spots to camp along the end of the Mornington Peninsula; however, they are all caravan parks, not the "bush" campsites we were hoping for. The closest bush campsite that I knew of was a two hour drive away, and home was less than a two hour drive away, so that was a pretty easy decision to make. This was sort of similar to our decision to leave the Great Ocean Road a night early to head home due to lack of good camping options. Hopefully we'll be more fortunate on our next camping trip in regards to campsites and weather!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Full-on Footy

The term "full-on" is often used by Aussies to describe something that is intense, complete, or busy. They might describe a crazy night of partying, a hard workout, a difficult class assignment, or even a holiday as being "full-on". Right now, the Australian Football League season has just gotten underway, and I would describe the first weekend (also known as Round 1), as full-on. The first game was Thursday night, and I'd guess that most of the state of Victoria was tuned in to watch at least a bit of the game. Games continued on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and with each game seemingly came excitement surrounding the beginning of a new season. Because we arrived towards the end of the Footy season last year, we didn't totally immerse ourselves into the footy culture. We did watch the Grand Final (like the Super Bowl), but we did not own a television for the first few months of our time here, so it was not easy to watch the games.
Two players in "the ruck". This is similar to a jump ball in basketball. A ruckman is usually one of the taller guys on the team and he generally has sensational vertical jump height!
We got in on some of the Round 1 action today, as we headed to a game with a few friends. At this point we haven't completely decided who we are going to cheer for during our time in Oz. A common question that is asked this time of year is "who do you barrack for?", meaning "which team to you support?". I'm leaning towards the Essendon Bombers, because we lived in Essendon for a few weeks when we first arrived. I'm also a bit partial to Geelong, because they won the first footy game we attended even though they were the underdogs. We learned their victory song right away that night (yes, every team has a victory song), and it stuck with us for the last few weeks of the season. Geelong won the Grand Final last year, and they certainly aren't lacking supporters, so that might help me make my decision of which team to support! Today's game was a team from Perth (the largest city in Western Australia) versus a team from Footscray, which is actually where Erik's work is located.
The game requires an aerobic capacity similar to soccer, but with the addition of a physical component of tackling like American football (commonly called gridiron by the Aussies!) or rugby.
We were cheering for the team from Footscray today, but unfortunately they ended up on the losing side of the match. Regardless, it was fun to watch the game live and it was a beautiful fall day to be outdoors watching a sporting event at yet another stadium in Melbourne.
Our first sporting event at Etihad stadium. Lots of red, white, and blue from the Footscray supporters.
In addition to the AFL (which would be comparable to the NFL if we were talking "gridiron"), there are "feeder" leagues of footy. Then there are also district level footy leagues across various regions of Melbourne and presumably throughout Australia. Let me introduce you to a few of the guys who are on our footy team!
That is their promotional video for the 2012 season. Some of the guys get paid to play for the team, though I think what they make is generally equivalent to gas money for the week or money for beers and dinner on the weekend after games. We've had 3 practice matches and the regular season starts in 2 weeks, just after the Easter holiday. The team is coming off of a really bad season, but they have made some changes and they seem optimistic that this year will be better. They certainly keep me busy with lots of injuries and I'm enjoying getting to know the guys on the team. It's nice that Erik is playing as well, because it's something we can enjoy together. Impressively, Erik actually scored his first goal (worth 6 points) this weekend, in only his second game of footy!

We also continued our search for delicious Mexican food this weekend, as we met friends for dinner at a Latin American restaurant, Los Latinos, that happens to be a short walk from our house. The prices were very reasonable and the food was quite good. Erik and I split a delicious Chilean appetizer called "arepas de mascora", or seared yellow corn cakes topped with melted cheese, grilled chorizo, and sour cream. I was a bit disappointed that they did not serve margaritas on the rocks, but they did have a great selection of yummy frozen margaritas, so I indulged in a mango flavored drink. I also saved room for dessert, and the tres leches cake topped with whipped cream and berries was amazing! I'm hopeful that we'll make a trip back there when we start to crave Mexican-flavored food, which seems to happen quite often in this house. :)