Thursday, September 29, 2011

Funny Fanny

She was working in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens
‘Til her boyfriend kicked her out in one of those crushing scenes
What was she to do?  Where was she to go?
She was out on her fanny…

So over the bridge from Flushing to the Sheffield’s door
She was there to sell make up, but the father saw more
She had style, she had flair, she was there
That’s how she became the nanny!

Now, just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, that is the theme song to the 1990’s television sitcom, The Nanny.  Most of you probably knew that, because most of you reading this are probably Jewish.  Or gay.  Or Jewish and gay.  Jews and gays love The Nanny.  In fact, most of you were probably singing along with it in your head.  Or maybe out loud.  But why am I posting the lyrics to the theme song from The Nanny here on my blog?  I’m doing it as a comparison.  Below is an interpretation of how Australians hear the lyrics to the theme song from The Nanny:

She was working in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens
‘Til her boyfriend kicked her out in one of those crushing scenes
What was she to do?  Where was she to go?
She was out on her VAGINA

Oh, that’s right.  I said vagina.  That’s because Australians use fanny as another word for vagina.  Seriously.  I was shocked to find this out one day at work when someone was talking about a “bum bag.”  I was like “What the heck is a bum bag?”  And that person explained it to me and I shouted out “Oh, you mean a fanny pack!”

Did I mention that the word fanny isn’t anatomical like the word vagina?  It’s more slang like the word pussy.  So basically, I yelled out pussy at work.  A few people laughed.  A few people shushed me.  I didn’t get it.

Fanny means your butt in the United States and Canada.  It’s a fairly innocent word that is appropriate for little kids to use – in the same way that little boys use the term “wee wee” for their penises.  It’s so non-offensive that it was in a TV theme song and it wasn’t censored and nobody thought anything about it.  But here, fanny means pussy.  It’s a dirty word.  And I can only imagine that every time The Nanny came on the TV, every Australian watching cringed a little in their chairs.

I don’t know how this definition dichotomy came about and Google wasn’t very helpful this time, so I’m going to write it off to the Brits and Aussies being dirty ole buggers.  Now, I just need to remember not to sing The Nanny theme song in public… in Australia... anymore…

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Morgan Freeman of Wine

After roughing it in a swag and hostel in the middle of the Australian desert for a few nights, I felt like I was due for a little luxury.  So, just two short weeks after returning from Northern Territory, my mate Jonathan and I hit the road for a long weekend in the Hunter Valley.  It was Bank Holiday – which is a holiday where the banks close.  Just the banks.  Schools and stores and businesses and government are still open, but all banks are closed and all bank employees get the day off.  Jonathan works for a bank, and I work for an insurance company which is a financial institution and therefore close enough to a bank to get a day off every first Monday of August.  Woohoo!!!  I love Australia.

The Hunter Valley is about 2.5 hours north of Sydney.  I had been to the Hunter once before – in May 2010 – on a day trip from Sydney with Oscar, Karen, and a few others.  The bus picked us up at 7am, drove two hours, took us to four wineries, and brought us back by 6pm.  We visited Tempus Two (big and corporate), Blueberry Hill (small and adorable), IronBark Hill (not my favourite), and Tintilla Estate (pretty good).  After visiting the Barossa Valley region in South Australia earlier this year, the Hunter Valley faded to the back of my mind, but I was excited to hit up a bunch of new wineries this time to see how they compete with the Barossa, and with three whole days to do it, it was going to be much less hectic than the first time around.

Jonathan and I slept in a little and he picked me up mid-morning on the Saturday.  We drove up and checked into our fancy schmancy two-bedroom, two-bathroom villa at the Cypress Lakes Resort (oh yes, we went all out!)  After we grabbed some lunch, we headed to an area known as Lovedale to check out five wineries:  Capercaillie, Allandale, Tatler, Adina, and Gartelmann.  We were very pleased with these wineries, especially Capercaillie and Allandale… and Adina… and Gartelmann.  Tatler was ok, but I’m a little annoyed at them because their bathrooms have windows looking right out to the parking lot.  Or rather, their parking lot had windows looking right into the toilets.  Who designed this place?  Anyway, aside from the restroom issue at Tatler, the wineries were extremely nice.  So pleased were we that we ended up purchasing 13 bottles of wine on day 1:

And we lined them up to take a photo because... we're ridiculous people.  I’ll confess that ten of those bottles were mine.  Only three were Jonathan’s.  I’ve obviously earned my wino badge, haven’t I?  In addition to copious amounts of wine, we also stopped at a chocolate factory because, you know, we drove by a chocolate factory, and when you drive by a chocolate factory the only moral, ethical, decent thing to do is stop in and make a purchase.  Or two.  Right?

And of course there was a trip to the Binnorie Dairy to pick up some cheese.  You know I love me some cheese.

We had a chicken and spaghetti dinner that night which we cooked in our villa’s full kitchen (we are sooo luxurious) but we started out with a little cheese and cracker plate to sample our purchases from the day.

The next day was our organized wine tour, so Jono and I both got to get tipsy.  Woohoo!  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that our first stop was none other than my favourite winery from my previous trip:  Blueberry Hill!  According to the owner, this winery is home to the best Merlot in the world.  Also, this winery is home to a man that I have dubbed the Morgan Freeman of wine.  Seriously.  The Morgan Freeman of wine.  The sole proprietor of Blueberry Hill has a voice that belongs narrating some sort of documentary like March of the Penguins.  Seriously.  This man somehow makes the phrases “This wine is utterly delicious” and “The vines that produced this wine also produced the world’s best Merlot” sound matter-of-fact and strangely modest.  Incredible.  Oscar, Karen, and I loved this man when we visited last time, so this time, I couldn’t resist.  I had to duck behind the bar and grab a photo with the Morgan Freeman of wine.  Oscar and Karen:  eat your hearts out!

The rest of the day’s wineries were new to me.  Now, shall I go left or shall I go right?  Can’t I go both ways?

Our next stop was First Creek:

Followed by Lambloch:

Lambloch had a beautiful new tasting room overlooking the vineyards:

Just like on my last trip, we stopped at the Blue Tongue Brewery for some lunch and beer samples.  And just like last time, their beer didn’t impress me.  But it’s ok.  We were already tipsy by that time so I kept a smile on my face!

We headed to a winery called Misty Glen (isn’t that a stripper name?) before our final stop at one of the bigger, more corporate wineries:  McGuigan!

I had been to McGuigan’s winery in the Barossa Valley, and just like the one in the Barossa, I really liked McGuigan’s range of Hunter Valley wines.  The best part was, however, the lady pouring the wine.  While I found my friend in good ole Morgan at Blueberry Hill, Jono found his friend as soon as this little lady starting bringing the sass.  Oh she was good – putting Jono right in his place with zinger here and a comeback there.  I could totally feel the heat from the sparks!

Our tour ended but it still wasn’t 5pm.  Luckily, we were in walking distance of our sixth winery of the day:  Brokenwood.  I made my final wine purchases here right before closing time, bringing my grand total to 20… for day 2 alone.  Oh yes.  I came back to Sydney after purchasing 30 bottles of wine across 11 wineries in just two days.  I think I need a bigger wino badge.

Overall, my second impression of the Hunter Valley was infinitely better than my first.  And I’m sorta tempted to go back again… and again… and maybe again.  There are heaps of wineries still to be tried.  Until then, I’ll be patiently awaiting the release of March of the Winos on DVD, narrated by none other than the Morgan Freeman of wine.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

#90: Uluru!

Our final destination in Northern Territory was the one that I was most excited about:  Uluru!  Also known as Ayers Rock, Uluru is the world’s largest monolith – or world’s largest single rock.  Pretty sweet.  What is visible above ground is merely a fraction of the entire rock – it goes many kilometers down into the earth.  We started one afternoon with a quick mini-walk around a small portion of the rock and followed up the next day with a longer walk almost all the way around the rock.  The shape of the rock was not what I expected.  I expected it to be somewhere between an oval and a rectangle, but an aerial map showed a very irregular figure:

I was also surprised by the texture of the rock.  I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but Uluru seemed a bit lumpy.  It’s very different up close than it is in all of the far-away pictures you find on the internet or in books:

The lumpiness was accompanied by some pretty cool shapes and terrains, like the Wave Rock:

And this one I called the Whale Rock because it looks like a big sperm whale or something:

There were black streaks from the top down the sides of the rock caused by water flowing down.  This isn’t a normal feature as it hardly ever rains, but it rained every day when we were there.  The one good thing about that was that the Mutitjulu Waterhole was all filled up:

Uluru is a sacred site for the local Aboriginal people.  This was evidenced by the Aboriginal cave/rock paintings found all around the base.  Aboriginal cave paintings depict things as seen from above, so these bird tracks actually represent an entire emu:

As it is a sacred site, the local populations ask that you not climb to the top.  Now, the Minister of Tourism wouldn’t dare actually close the climb for good as the allure of climbing Uluru brings many tourists to the region, but they do try to deter people every chance they get.  The climb is actually quite dangerous and it was closed for safety reasons when we were there (as it is nearly 75% of the time), so it wasn’t something we had to consider, but while I was walking around, I thought I’d at least stand on the side of the rock for a few seconds:

Just like the Grand Canyon, Uluru changes colour at sunset.  Unfortunately for us, the cloud cover persisted and the sun was nowhere to be seen setting, so we didn’t get to see the spectacle.  But that didn’t stop Kei and I from having a little photo shoot:

Sunrise was actually worse…

Despite the crappy weather, I must say that Uluru was pretty cool - it was educational, geological, cultural, scenic, and iconic... I kept quiet, but I really was just nerding out on the inside the whole time.  Plus it was huge - just a massive rock - and there isn't one anywhere in the world that is bigger, so there was no fear of something outshining it (like the Grand Canyon outshone Kings Canyon).  But I will say this:  Kata Tjuta could give Uluru a run for its money.  Good thing you can do both in the same day!

We hopped off our tour early without returning to Alice Springs.  We had booked in the Sounds of Silence Dinner – an expensive, fancy buffet dinner with all you can eat Australian foods (kangaroo, crocodile, emu, etc.) and free flowing beer and wine – at the Ayers Rock Resort and were to spend the night at a hostel there and fly back to Sydney directly from Ayers Rock Airport the next day.  As the dinner is set outside under the stars, it was cancelled when we were there… because there were no stars thanks to the rain and cloud cover.  But luckily, our hostel had a great view of Uluru and we took some time that afternoon and did another quick photo shoot:

I call this one Self-Portrait with Rock:

The hostel also had a pretty good view of Kata Tjuta too!

So, what to do when your fancy dinner is cancelled?  Go to the pub of course!  I ordered up an NT Draught:

While at the bar I noticed a sign regarding alcohol rules.  You must be a resort guest (and present your room key to prove it) or have a resort resident pass in order to purchase beer from the bar.  This is intended to keep the Aboriginal populations away from the alcohol.  As this is a resort full of tourists from all over the world, the sign was translated into every conceivable tourist language:  Japanese, Chinese, Korean, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, German, etc.   And next to each language was a flag of the country the language was from.  And next to Korean, they had this:

The flags of both South Korea and North Korea.  Because, you know, there may be a lot of North Korean tourists visiting here… because they can book trips on their internet… and they have passports…

Anyway, we sat down with beer and dinner and watched the live entertainment.  And it took about five seconds and I looked around all confused and thought I was back in Texas momentarily.  Watch this:

Rude awakening:  I was in the Texas of Australia.

Scary, but entertaining nonetheless.  Kei and I may have gotten up and danced a little later on.  Maybe…


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Kata Tjuta

I was super excited to cross another item off my list of 103 things, and the excitement only built as we entered Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.  Our first stop, however, was not Uluru.  We made a beeline for Kata Tjuta.  Even though I like to think I’m in the know, I hadn’t heard of Kata Tjuta until shortly before this trip.  You’ve probably never heard of it either.

Kata Tjuta, also known as The Olgas, is the other major landmark in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.  It is not nearly as well known as Uluru despite being a mere 25 kilometers away, but as I was soon to find out, it is nearly as impressive.

Whereas Uluru is one massive monolith, Kata Tjuta is a conglomeration of large domed rock formations which are all in very close proximity to each other.  That’s the major difference.  Geologically, the two have similar histories and both sites hold a spiritual significance to the local Aboriginal people.  The rocks aren’t nearly as large as Uluru, but they are by no means small.  As a size reference, check out the trees growing on top of this one:

We arrived in the morning and there was quite a bit of fog:

But the fog slowly burned off to reveal a series of large domes:

After a hike around the outside, we peered up into the Karingana Lookout and began our ascent:

The lookout sits between two of the larger rocks, and you don’t truly get a sense of the scale of these things until you are inside looking up and looking out.

Absolutely incredible.

We walked back into the lookout – deeper between the rocks – and a lush interior revealed itself.  This was a popular hunting ground for Aboriginals as animals that wandered in often had no escape.

The view coming out the backside of the rocks was just as impressive:

But my opinion briefly changed as soon as I learned that we’d be walking down a very smooth, wet, and slippery bit of rock.  Fun times.

I walked away without falling once (woohoo!).  I was unscathed and completely in awe of the landscape.  Could Uluru be any better than this?  I was soon to find out…

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Kings Canyon

When discussing things to do in Northern Territory, everyone always talks about Uluru (Ayers Rock).  But for those who have been to Northern Territory and seen a bit more than just “the rock”, the one thing that everyone says is a must see is Kings Canyon.  In fact, nearly everyone I spoke to who had been to both Uluru and Kings Canyon said that Kings Canyon was far better than Uluru.  It was for that reason that I was super excited that it was the first stop on our 3 day camping trip.  Also, I was excited because it took five hours to get there from Alice Springs and my ass was killing me from the excruciatingly uncomfortable seat on the bus.  We could have stopped at a camel shit quarry and I would have been thrilled to be there and out of that vehicle even for just a little while. 

In order to best see the canyon, you have to climb up to the rim.  The steps were daunting.  Notice the size of the people in the middle of the photo.

But it’s ok – I was just excited to be there!

See – I’m smiling!  (Ok, this wasn’t taken too far up the trail… by the end I was no longer smiling and I had declared that I had done enough exercise to last for the remainder of the year).  But the view at the top was pretty sweet.

After climbing all that way up, we took some steps down into the canyon…

… to find the Garden of Eden:  a valley with permanent waterholes and lush vegetation.

We then climbed back up the other side for some more views from the top.

Even more striking than the canyon was some of the terrain surrounding the canyon:

I must’ve been a bit delirious from lack of sleep because I just had to giggle when I saw this sign:

Hehehehe!  Cracks!  Hehehehe!  And when I saw this one, it just made it worse:

Rim!  Hahahahaha!  Rim!

Ok, so maybe I wasn’t delirious from exhaustion but rather immature as always.  Some signs were helpful though – like this one which declared that the temperature today wouldn’t be hot enough to kill us all.  Phew!

And this one which warns you of the dangers of straying too close to the edge of the cliff.  Helpful?  Yes.  Did anyone care?  Obviously not.

So, was everyone right about Kings Canyon?  Was it better than Uluru?


Don’t get me wrong:  Kings Canyon was fantastic.  It just wasn’t as fantastic as I thought it would be.  Maybe all the hype surrounding Kings Canyon built it up a bit too much.  Or maybe it was our tour guide’s completely misinformed explanation of how canyons form (I wanted so badly to correct him but I didn’t want to be “that guy” a mere few hours into our tour…).  Or maybe my slight lack of enthusiasm stemmed from me having been to the Grand Canyon before.  So far, everything I had seen in Australia had impressed me – from the beaches, to the coastlines, to the harbours, the cities, the wine regions – you name it, I love it!  But the US does have one thing over Australia:  canyons.  Well, at least one canyon.  The Grand Canyon is bigger, longer, and deeper (oh baby!), and (as expected) far more grand than Kings Canyon.  But Kings Canyon does have one thing that the Grand Canyon doesn’t:  a cock in a frock on a rock.

Ok, so I’m not wearing a frock, but does this look familiar?  If not, then you’re probably heterosexual.  Scenes from The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert were filmed here at Kings Canyon and I’m standing in “Priscilla’s Gap” in the above photo.  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Ah shit, Kei!  We forgot our costumes!