Saturday, October 30, 2010

Golden Birthday in Australia

I've been looking forward to this day for over a decade. I felt sorry for people who had their Golden Birthdays when they were too young to do anything cool. But not me. I'd be 30. Old enough to plan something spectacular and enjoy every minute of it. I never knew exactly what I would do, I just knew it would be awesome, unique, and memorable.

And it was.

First of all, without even doing anything, it's arguably the best birthday ever because I spent the whole day with the woman I love. Isa is amazing. She's beautiful, fun, creative, and a slew of other adjectives that make normal people say "Cheese!" But that's ok. Because I love her. And she loves me. And that's an awesome feeling to have on my birthday.

And then there's the fact that we're in Australia! Again, hard to go wrong there. So we took advantage of it. The father of one of our co-workers picked Isa and I up and took us on a tour of the Gold Coast. He first took us down to the Highlands Ecovillage down in the Currumbin Valley. The village is completely sustainable and really modern and cool. And since everything is so natural and wonderful, wild animals tend to hang out there. Like these guys:

They were really chill with us, as long as we stayed on our sidewalk. Sometimes kangaroos look silly with their skinny little arms. Watch the youtube video I made about my Golden Birthday to see what I mean. We hung out there for maybe 20 minutes and then went over to another town to see our driver's sister. She said koala bears are frequently in her backyard trees, and we may be able to spot one. And we did! They're really hard to pick out. They camouflage really well. But with the help of some binoculars and some patience, we found them. Here's one of them:

Aren't they so cute? They look just like little teddy bears! So we saw wild kangaroos and wild koala bears for my birthday! How cool is that?! Who needs the Australia zoo? And as if that weren't enough, while we were hanging out there, a Kookaburra bird flew over and hung out with us for a while:

Isa had a little staring contest with it for a while, but I told her to smile for the picture, so I guess the bird won. Sorry, Ees.

Then we came back to Surfers Paradise (home for us for the time being) and Isa took me up the Q1 Tower. It's the tallest building in all of Queensland, and I was super excited to see it. We've been to the Top of the Rock in NYC, so we weren't expecting this to be anything amazing, but it was AWESOME! The observation deck itself was really modern and cool, so we really enjoyed just being up there, even without the view. But the view was really awesome too. Looking up the coast was really cool:

Doesn't it look fake? So we played around up here for a while and took LOTS of pictures. We waved in the general direction of our home in NYC:

And we stayed there until sunset and until all the lights in the city below started twinkling like they do.

And then we came back down to ground level and found some fantastic italian food. Did you know they don't tip here? Not at all. Which isn't a huge deal when you realize the waiters are paid $20/hr, but still, it's a little weird to not leave money on the table.

Then we went to the store where Isa had set up a movie (Juno - one of my favorites) with blankets and we hung out some more. I really do love her.

So to sum it all up. Best birthday ever. Thank you Isa for making this all happen and for loving me. Above all else, seeing your smile on my birthday was the best gift of all, and the rest of this was just icing on the cake. I love you.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Longest Flight Ever

Not to spoil the ending, but WE'RE IN AUSTRALIA!!!

Getting here took a lot longer than anticipated though. So here's the full story:

We started off in New York, with a direct flight from JFK to LAX. Not bad, but it's so sad that they don't serve meals on flights any more. And we got on at 5pm, so they definitely should have fed us dinner.

It was at LAX when the flight started getting interesting. First, we thought LAX would have everything JFK does. Like lots of food. We were wrong. In our terminal, there was one option - some sort of bar/cafe thing - and our slice of pizza and lettuce wrap totaled up at $13. How ridiculous is that? We couldn't wait to get on the plane to get some real food.

We boarded the plane and found our seats in front of some rather rowdy kids. I hoped they would fall asleep soon, as it was nearing 11pm, otherwise this would surely be the longest flight ever. But instead the pilot told us something fell off a luggage cart, and they're checking the damage or something, and we need to just stay put for a bit. Thirty minutes later, they told us to get off the plane and wait in the terminal for further information. Still no food. Still starving. While waiting, we discovered a window so we could see what happened:

Somebody drove the luggage cart into the engine of the plane and they PUT A HOLE IN IT! So they cancelled the flight (after another half hour of waiting). They told us they'd provide hotel vouchers and to come back in the morning. We waited a few minutes because we knew there'd be a line at the counter, but we were not prepared for what we saw when we came around the corner. I didn't realize how many people could fit on a 747 until I saw them all in line in front of us. Isa and I, still starving, decided to play cards (BullS***) to pass the time. Two hours later, completely delirious (because we hadn't slept in about 24 hours) and weak (because we hadn't eaten in 14 hours) we got in the now dwindling line to get our vouchers. Happy to be on the way to a bed, we stepped outside the terminal into another mob of people - waiting for the shuttle bus from the hotel.

We decided to sit on a ledge to wait it out, and we managed to work our way to the front of the mob to get on the second bus (no doubt thanks to the skills we've picked up getting on the bus at 161st Street - people in the Bronx do not believe in lining up for the buses). This dropped us off at La Hacienda, into another line (but this time of only about 150 people or so) waiting to get rooms. Another 45 minutes or so passed until we finally got a room around 3am. Around 3:15 came a knock on our door - the hotel given our room to another family - but we invoked the "first come, first served" rule and sent them back to the front desk.

Four hours later, I woke up for breakfast - the best part of my journey so far (we never did get to eat anything else the night before) - and it was wonderful. Eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, toast, jams, orange juice, everything. I ate. And then ate again. And then I made a plate and brought it back to Isa so she could have breakfast in bed.

We went back to sleep for a few more hours and then woke for lunch (the airline had called the hotel and told us to be back by 2pm for a 4pm departure). Still groggy, a little stinky (they kept our luggage - and even though we had planned to carry everything on, they wouldn't let us take on anything over 6 kilos - that's about 13 lbs - so we couldn't brush our teeth or change our clothes) and completely out of it, we went back to the airport, through security, and found our flight was delayed again.

By this time, we're starting to recognize other people on our flight so we pass the time learning other people's stories - some on honeymoons, some going home, others on ridiculously cool vacations - and playing cards until we finally board again around 5pm.

I thought the flight went pretty fast. I watched three movies and Isa read the Hunger Games (I've since read it too. IT'S AWESOME!!) and before long, we were crossing into a part of the world I've never been:

The Southern Hemisphere!!

That's right, on all my travels, I've never been over the Equator. So I was pretty dang excited about that. And then just a few hours later, we crossed the international date line, and Sunday night turned into Monday night, just like that. We arrived in Fiji around 11pm, but all connecting flights had already left by then, so the airline had to put us up in another hotel (as much as we were excited to stay the night in Fiji, we were not excited about another line for another hotel voucher and then another line through customs). At least we got our bags so we could shower and change and brush our teeth. We woke up in the morning to find this our our balcony:

Not bad, Fiji. Not bad. Isa and I woke up early and went for a walk to see the beautiful countryside. The airline told us to be back at the airport by 7am for an 8am flight, so we couldn't go too far. But we saw enough to know that we definitely want to go back. :)

So 7am came around and the lady at the ticket counter told us that our flight to Brisbane was way overbooked and she asked if we would like to stay in Fiji another night (or maybe even two nights) all expenses paid until we could get on a flight. Oh decisions, decisions. Ultimately we decided that we were already a day late for work in Australia and we shouldn't make them wait any longer. So they put us on a different flight through Sydney, and then continuing on to Brisbane via Qantas Airlines.

But they didn't tell Qantas. So when we got to Sydney, Qantas said they had no record of us, and they wouldn't allow us to fly until they had signed paperwork from Air Pacific. Which we didn't have. They put up enough of a fuss that we missed our flight to Brisbane. Eventually they found us and put us on a later flight.

We finally made it to Brisbane around 5pm and ran onto the train to the Gold Coast. We had no phone, and we hadn't had internet since La Hacienda, so nobody in Australia knew where we were or when we would arrive. So when we finally got to our train stop over an hour later, not only was nobody there to get us, but nobody was even in Surfers Paradise. They were all in Brisbane, and could have easily picked us up from the airport, but we had no way to contact them. :(

So we got on a bus which promised to take us to Surfers. In deed it did, but we didn't know where to get off, so we went straight through Surfers and continued on to the next town down the coast. Our bus driver laughed at us when we told him where we were headed, "You should have gotten off 20 miles ago" but he let us stay on the bus until it made its return trip.

We hopped off and wandered the streets of Surfers Paradise for a little bit until we found our store. One of the employees showed us the way to our apartment. And we made it. 62 hours after getting on the subway to the airport in New York, we arrived at our little apartment in Surfers Paradise, Australia.

Here's a pic of Isa on the beach the next morning:

If you want to see more of that trip (as if reading that ginormous account wasn't enough), feel free to watch it on my youtube page:


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