05/1/13

It’s Just Like Riding a Bike!

Spinning in the gymI can’t tell you how many people say to me, “I’d love to try cycling, but it just seems too hard.”  And, what do I say to that?  Actually, it’s probably one of the easiest group fitness classes because you probably already know how to ride a bike!  There is no fancy footwork to learn like you would do in BodyStep or BodyCombat and no twisting into a pretzel or trying to balance on your hands like we do in yoga or BodyFlow.  If you have ever ridden a bike (or would like to), you can cycle!

Whether it’s called group cycle, Spinning, RPM, Soul Cycle or Moi cycle, the concept is the same:  an instructor leads you through an awesome workout on a stationary bike set to music that will inspire you to work out to your ultimate potential.  While the format and length of the class may vary based upon each program and instructor, the basic moves are all the same.   The most basic move that we are all familiar with is simply sitting on the bike and pedaling.  Another move you will see is running or jumping; all that means is that you are standing in an upright position and pedaling the bike almost like you are running.  Jumps move you from the seated position to the running position and back down again.  A third move that is quite common is the standing climb.  Often when we sit on a bike, we turn up the resistance on the bike (as simple as turning a dial) and mimic a hill.  When the imaginary hill gets big enough, we will then get up out of the saddle and allow our legs to help keep the pedals moving.  Again, if you have ever ridden a bike, you have inevitably come across a few hills in which you found it easier to lift your butt and use the momentum of your feet to help you get up the hill faster!  But, here’s the best part.  When you come across a hill out on the road, you climb it no matter how giant it is.  In cycle class, you get to control the resistance.  In other words, instead of turning the dial to really increase the resistance, you can leave it right where it is at and pretend you are going up a small hill.  Some people may call this “cheating.”  For those new to cycle, I call it a good smart start!

Bottom Line:  anyone, no matter what their background, can take a cycle class.  And, since you are in control of the bike and the resistance, anyone, no matter what their fitness level, will be able to participate in a cycle class and reap the rewards.  It works the cardiovascular system and builds strong muscles in the legs which will help you increase your metabolism and burn calories.  According to Les Mills, an RPM class can burn up to 675 calories in 45 minutes!

What you need for a cycle class:

1)  A towel (you will sweat)

2)  Bottle of water (note the comment above – you will sweat)

3)  Comfortable clothing, such as a t-shirt and longer length shorts (to prevent your legs from rubbing on the seat) or capri pants/crops.  While bike shorts will keep your butt from getting sore quickly, they are not necessary if you just want to try out the class.

4)  Your favorite workout shoes.  While it’s nice to have cycle shoes that clip onto the pedals (and make the workout more effective), most cycle classes allow you to wear your regular running or cross training shoes that you can place into the baskets connected to the pedals.  It’s a great option for beginners or those on a budget.

5)  An open mind, and maybe even a smile.  It can be scary coming into a new class, so just be open to the experience, talk to the others around you, and ask questions!

I hope this took away some of the fear that was stopping you from trying a cycle class.  I would love to see you in one of the classes I teach at Gold’s Gym in Fitchburg, Wisconsin every Wednesday morning at 8am and Saturday morning at 8:10 am.  Before your first class, come a few minute early and let me know you are new – I can help you set up the bike to fit you and help you out with any questions you might have!

See you soon!

 

 

 

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04/24/13

BodyStep and a Beer

Beer & Step

 Who says you can’t enjoy a BodyStep class and a beer?  That’s exactly what our BodyStep class did last Thursday night.  Some of you may wonder, how could someone who just exercised head over to a bar and drink away all the calories they just burned?  Actually, it’s healthier than you might think!

Turns out, a big predictor of having good health is also having a good social life.  Countless studies have been done that show when people have a strong social life, they are happier, healthier, and have a more positive outlook on life.  In a recent British study, participants who were lonely were 26% more likely to die than those who were not lonely.  As I was researching this article, I discovered specific studies on the effect of a social life and social support on cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and weight loss surgery.  Each study showed a consistent result:  Those individuals who had a healthy social life also had better health outcomes!

But I don’t need studies to tell me how my social network makes me happy – I can feel it!  I came home last Thursday, grinning from ear to ear.  About 20 BodySteppers went out that night and got to know each other better.  We learned about each others families, pets, jobs, and hobbies.  It was so great to see a group of such diverse individuals laughing, smiling, and enjoying the positive energy of each other.  New connections and friendships were formed and now we know our gym buddies even more.  Not only did it make us healthier and happier on Thursday evening, it also will make it more fun to come to the gym and stay motivated to exercise when we have people who are excited to see us and work out with us!

So next time you have a chance to join a friend or group of friends for beer, just do it!  Enjoy the company, connect with your friends, and don’t worry about the calories in a beer or two.  Just go to the gym the next day and wear it off!

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04/17/13

Stronger Than You Believe

 

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in an advanced instructor training for instructors who teach the Les Mills fitness class BodyPump, a 60 minute weight training program.  One of the trainers told me I was strong and was happy to see I put a lot of weight on the bar.  While I knew I was stronger than the average American, I didn’t see myself as physically that strong.  Instead, my focus was on, why am I not lifting more weight or why am I not stronger?  But, after this training, I started to realize I am actually stronger than I had believed.  In fact, the next time I taught a class, I felt fitter, stronger, and more confident than ever and had the best workout I had had in a long time.  While it’s great to hear a positive comment from someone, I am more concerned about the fact that I didn’t recognize my own strength and as a result, I wasn’t working to my true full potential.  And, if I am not recognizing it, then I am guessing you aren’t recognizing your own strength or full potential either.

When we don’t recognize our own strength, we miss out on opportunities.  And, this isn’t just at the gym.  This is in our career, our family, our church, and even with our friends.  It’s failing to apply for a job for which we think we lack qualifications or not joining a committee at a church because you think others are more qualified.  Or, perhaps you are whiz with numbers and budgeting, but your husband manages the finances in your household.  We lose out, and the world loses out, when we don’t know and believe in our own strength.

So, what does it take to start believing in your personal strength?  Simply start with being grateful for all that you do and have.  Take a look at your life and look for the things you do well, the things that make you shine and create happiness.  Notice I said look for the things for which you can be grateful.  Sometimes they can be hard to see in the fog of what we perceive we are missing.  When it comes to fitness, your strength may be the fact that you have the discipline to work out 3 times a week.  Or, with your career, your strength may be the passion you have for your work and your willingness to continuously learn.  Or, with your family, it might just be that on Monday, you cooked the most amazing meal, fueling your children with healthy and tasty food.  Right now, I am in the early stages of setting up a new business and I am grateful for the daily discipline I exhibit including rising early, setting a schedule of work and sticking to it.  It doesn’t always work out as planned and things do go wrong, but I am grateful for the discipline I have, as I know it will only bring more.  Being grateful today allows us to continue on a journey in which we feel comfortable expanding our horizons, allowing more opportunities to come.  And, what happens if you apply for a job and get turned down or don’t get the results at the gym as hoped?  Be grateful!  Be grateful that you took a risk.  Be grateful that you were willing to push the boundaries of your comfort zone.  Be grateful that your comfort zone just got a little bit bigger which means next time, you get to leap a little further.

We need to recognize that we are stronger than we might think.  When we see our true strength, we open doors, see opportunity, and the world changes around us for the better.  Be grateful for all those little things in your life, and your strength will come from within.  So, when someone says you are strong, you can smile and say to yourself, “Yep, I know.”

 

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03/25/13

Tastes like Australia

My last package of Tim Tams.  While chocolate is the original flavor, my favorite is the chocolate and caramel!

I can’t help but fondly remember Australia as I sit here sipping my cup of instant coffee into which I dip my Tim Tam.  The instant coffee may not be all that tasty, but its funny how smell and taste can transport you to another continent.  And, while you don’t go to Australia for the food, there were a few items that stood out.

First, food is expensive in Australia.  Actually, I think a better way to put it is jaw-dropping.  When we noticed the prices our first day there, we actually wondered how we were going to stay within our budget.  And, for the first 3 or 4 days, we didn’t eat much and found ourselves going to bed hungry (considering I didn’t gain any weight on the trip, despite some of the food I ate, I consider that a good thing).  For example, we went to the grocery store, Woolworths, and ended up dropping nearly $30 on sandwich supplies and chips.  Granted, it lasted a few days, but in the US, the cost would have been around $10.  Oh, and guess what beer cost?  $22 for a six-pack of a decent microbrewery (comparable to New Glarus Brewery or Ale Asylum).  Of course, if you preferred to purchase 24 pack cans, you could get Victoria Bitter or Carlton Draught, Australia’s equivalent of Miller or Budweiser, for approximately $55.  Wine, because so much is produced in Australia, started at about $7 a bottle, so it didn’t quite have that same shock factor as the other groceries and liquor.  On a sad note, McDonalds has a small $2 menu, which on the surface, may look cheap, but we all know the long-term costs associated with eating fast-food.

The meat pie served with “chips” and a salad.

Since Australia was once British, it still has much of the British influence in its food.  First off, they love their pies.  And, no I don’t mean apple or custard filled.  I mean the ones with lots of meat and gravy.  Every bakery, in addition to selling doughnuts, cakes, and breads, also sells a wide variety of pies.  There are even national fast-food chains, one of which was named Pie Face!  We did try a meat pie when we dined at the Rusty Water Brewery on Phillip Island (not far from Melbourne) and it was absolutely delicious.  Think Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon in a delightfully flaky pie crust.

My husband, attempting to order the food via the iPad

Best Chinese Ever!

My first taste of dumplings but hopefully not my last.  The bar has been set high.

Australia has also become a melting pot of nationalities, with people immigrating from all over southeast Asia.  And, when we were in Sydney, we found a highly recommended Chinese restaurant not far from Chinatown.  You know the food has to be good when you realize you are the only non-Chinese in the restaurant and the waiter barely speaks any English.  The waiter brought over one iPad and one large menu.  Fortunately there were pictures of the food to go along with the Chinese and (barely) English captions.  The food was by far the best Chinese I have ever had, offering just the right amount of spice, which could be easily cut by a bite of a sesame topped dumpling.  I very slowly ate it and savored every bite.  Of course, I don’t really know how to use chopsticks, so it took me about 30 minutes to eat a quarter of my food, which is perhaps why I enjoyed it so thoroughly.  Perhaps I should try that at home.  I might just lose half of my body weight that way!

The outside of a chocolate lamington

The inside of a chocolate lamington

I cannot deny that I have a pretty big sweet tooth.  Over the years, I have managed to tame the beast but all bets are off on vacation.  Who can resist stopping at the local bakery and picking up a treat or having a rest at a cafe after a night at the symphony for a flat white or a long black and a slice of pie?  The chocolate lamington was totally Aussie.  It is a super soft cake topped with chocolate frosting and coconut; it was the softest cake I have ever had and just melted away in my mouth.  But, who can pass by the delicious caramel slice, a cookie crust loaded with a 2-3 centimeter layer of caramel and topped with a thin slice of chocolate!  Or my personal favorite, which was a puff pastry folded in half like a taco and stuffed with apples and real whipped cream.  Whenever we could, we would try to counter our sweet treats with a bit of coffee.  However, they don’t have coffee like we have coffee in the US.  In fact, if you order coffee, you get a cocked head, squinty eyed look back that usually says, would you like a long black?  Coffee Shops don’t serve coffee, they serve espresso based drinks.  I loved my flat whites, which are similar to a latte and my husband stuck to the long blacks, which is espresso with a shot of hot water added in.

You can definitely see the British Influence at The Lord Nelson Brewery

Finally, I must talk about the beer, not that we had all that much, due to its hefty price tag.  The craft beer industry is starting to build in Australia, but it certainly hasn’t reached the heights that we see in the US (and particularly in Madison, where we are so lucky to have so many great breweries).  We found three brewpubs in our travels, all of which produced excellent beer, albeit different than what we find in the US.  The Lord Nelson was my husband’s favorite.   It is located in the Rocks district of Sydney and is considered the oldest Australian Pub Brewery.  The beer served is generally of two styles:  a pale ale or a stout.  Sometimes, the pale ale was an Indian style, other times, an Australian or New Zealand style.  The biggest difference between the pale ales we had in Australia compared to what we find in the US, was the hops.  In Australia the hops were subtle, leaving a delicate bitter aftertaste, compared to some of the crazy hops beers, like Ale Asylum’s hopalicious, where the hops are overpowering.  Although my husband loves the hopalicious, he really enjoyed the pale ales in Australia to the extent that he has reconsidered his buying of the super hoppy beers in the US!

A variety of dips and chutney, roasted vegetables, olives and baked cheese.  The beet dip was probably my favorite:  sweet with a bit of a spicy bite.

Oh Australian beer, I do miss you!

The best beer and dining experience we had in Australia was The Rusty Water Brewery.  Again, the majority of their beers were ales, but there was one that stood out as possibly the best beer I have ever had:  the Dark Malt Burnt Toffee Ale.  The description speaks for itself.  It had a full toffee, almost caramel like flavor, that wasn’t overpowering.  But, also notable was the food.  In addition to the meat pie I described above, we thoroughly enjoyed the appetizer of dips.

The Melbourne Market

One disappointment I had with Australia is their lack of farmer’s markets.  Although we stopped at a roadside stand south of Brisbane where we picked up some fresh bananas, it wasn’t until we got to Melbourne that we found a farmer’s market.  And, this farmer’s market had everything, including beets which appears to be the national crop of Australia.  Seriously, you see “beetroot” in many dips and side dishes and even the greens are mixed in with salads.

So, while you don’t go to Australia for the food, there is certainly some interesting tastes to explore.  What do I miss most?  Definitely the Tim Tams and the beer!

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02/27/13

Just a Few Pictures

I’m home and back to the reality of snow and cold of Wisconsin.  And, since jet lag has decided to keep me awake, I thought I make use of the wee hours of the morning to bring you a few more pictures of our trip to Australia and mention a few of the stats of our trip.

We actually drove over 2300 kilometers and yet, it seems like we only saw a tiny bit of the huge country of Australia. Our trip began in Brisbane, the tropical part of the country, where we got our first taste of koalas at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

Koala’s may not be the brightest creatures, but its hard to deny their cuteness!

South of Brisbane, we worked our way past heaps of beaches and seaside communities along Australia’s Gold Coast.  But we also discovered that just inland is lush farmland perfect for sugar cane and bananas, some of which we picked up at farmer’s stand right off the road.  These bananas were obviously fresh and tasted much sweeter than anything I had in the US.

There are heaps of roundabouts in Australia.  Of course, there you have to look right as you turn left.  Byron Bay, Gold Coast

A few shops in the small town of Byron Bay, my favorite village on the Gold Coast.  It was laid back, almost hippie like.

Byron Bay

Following Byron Bay, we headed toward Yuragir National Park, which we read had costal camping.  Little did we know it came with so many kangaroos.  I felt bad I took their campsite!

This turned out to be our campsite.  They slowly moved away when we got out of the car and started to set up our tent.

The dad, mom and baby kangaroo.  Can you see how much bigger the dad is?  He stood up when we walked by and showed us that he was in charge.  Since he was taller than us (and keep in mind we are over 6 feet tall), we opted to widen our distance!

Finally to Sydney.  When we drove over the Harbor Bridge and looked to our left at the Sydney Opera House, we were elated.  This city is beautiful!

A hot summer day in Sydney.

This picture is taken while we were on a ferry returning to the harbor.  The harbor is always bustling with ferries!

A different view of the Opera House

Following three days in Sydney, we headed to the Blue Mountains, a world heritage site due to its diverse population of animals and plants.

The three sisters, a popular tourist destination in Katoomba.

After a rain storm at dusk near Blackheath.

Never ending water falls, near Blackheath.

We saw lots of termite mounds, but nothing else was as big as this one.

The shallows, right before we began swimming again.

Following the Blue Mountains we headed southeast toward the coast and followed the meandering coastal road through small fishing and whaling villages.  A helpful tourist center told us of an island where you could see wild koalas.  Most Australians haven’t seen koalas in the wild because they are so hard to find!  We headed toward Paynesville in the state of Victoria and took a quick ferry over to the island, where koalas thrive because they don’t have any predators.

A koala in the wild.  I believe that’s his version of smiling.  When I saw him up in the tree, I said, “Hi” and woke him up, so that could also be a yawn.

I don’t think this pictures needs a caption.  I’m guessing you are cooing right now.

Seal Rock at Phillip Island, home of the Little Penguins

Melbourne.  Someday I will come back here to live, at least for a few months during winter in the US.  It’s very artistic and full of energy.

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02/22/13

Check for Penguins under your Car

The sign at the Penguin Parade really did say we should check for penguins underneath our car before we leave the carpark! Of course, we forgot to check. Fortunately we did not run over any penguins.

On Phillip Island, just two hours south of Melbourne, we sat on cold bleachers with the southern Antarctic wind whipping at our faces. At dusk, the little penguins begin to come out of the water after a day of feeding in the ocean. These penguins are actually quite tiny, reaching only about one foot in height and only 1 kilo in weight (2.2 pounds). We were just entering the molting season, so some of the penguins were in the process of getting new feathers causing them to look bigger and weigh almost 2 kilos; when their new feathers arrive, they will not be able to swim right away since it takes a few weeks to make their feathers waterproof.

We arrived at the Penguin Parade grounds about an hour before the penguins were scheduled to come out of the water in an effort to get a good seat. A woman and her elderly father sat next to us and we enjoyed chatting about our travels and various Australian issues. I was clearly underdressed and the woman was so kind to give me her scarf, which helped tremendously. The Australians have been so kind, and of course she said, “No worries” to me as she handed me her scarf. The phrase “no worries” appears to be the Aussie’s motto! The lowest temperatures we had seen in Oz until this point was the low 70s, so when we were in quite a bit of shock when the temps dipped into the upper 40′s and we were wearing light pants and a hoodie!

We were told to expect the penguins around 8:30. Sure enough, right around that time, we saw a penguin head bobbing near the shore. He came up to the shore, looked around, and ran back into the water. In fact, for the next 15 minutes that’s all he did! None of his friends had shown up, so he decided to stay in the water longer! The penguins only crossed the beach in groups ranging from 5 to 20 penguins. And boy were they hesitant! Even in the bigger groups, there seemed to be hesitation as to who was leading. Sometimes the leader would stop and all the penguins would crash into him. Other times the pack would start to cross the sand and then a few of the penguins turned around and dove back into the ocean.

Of course, the crowd was as much fun to listen to and watch as the penguins. You could hear the cooing of the crowd when the first penguins arrived. Then there was the laughter when the penguins would waddle up to the shore. And, of course, many people imitated the waddle of the penguins. People in front of us were wiggling their shoulders and hips; you couldn’t help yourself. The penguins mannerisms were contagious!

After watching them come out of the water for a while, we headed back up the boardwalk and were able to see them up close and personal as they walked up the hill to find their holes in the ground. Many of the penguins had babies who don’t fish during the day and instead stay in their homes. Once the penguins started arriving on the beach, the babies came out of their holes and started calling for their parents, sounding almost like a low, whistling growl. The older penguins will walk up to one kilometer to find their homes so we got to watch them walk up, sometimes standing just a few meters from us!

While photography was not allowed at the Penguin Parade due to the sensitivity of the penguins’ eyes to flashes, we did see some of the babies when we visited an area called the Nobbies earlier that day, not far from the parade area. The Nobbies is a protected area for the penguins and provided information about the other marine life in the area, including whales, sharks, and Australian fur seals. When we walked along the outside of the Nobbies center along its boardwalk, we could see a few babies hanging out in their homes.

Some of our best experiences have been when observing the wild life in Australia, and viewing the penguins as they arrive out of the water is no exception! During our two weeks in Australia, we have seen kangaroos, koalas, wombats and penguins in the wild. Australia is truly blessed to have such a diverse and interesting population of animals in its country.

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02/21/13

Feel Your Fear and Do It Anyway!

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When you are afraid to jump, what’s the best way to get over that fear? You jump! That is exactly what I did near the end of our canyoning trip. I jumped off the 5 meter rock into the river.

Signing up for the day long canyoning adventure in the Blue Mountains seemed like the perfect adventure: bush walking, abseiling, rock climbing, jumping down waterfalls, and swimming up river. After all, I loved the Waitomo Cave adventure and the bungee jumping I did in New Zealand a few years ago.

Of course, after we signed up, we got the confirmation email that said, bring your water shoes, a jumper (aka a sweater), and long pants. Ah, what? We had none of that. I really wondered what I signed up for. But, in the usual Aussie style, they said, “no worries, we’ll get you what you need.” And, sure enough, they did!

Our adventure began by packing our backpacks. The contents consisted of a stove, coffee and tea, first aid kit, and an emergency shelter in addition to our abseiling gear and wetsuits. Interesting, I thought. About 45 minutes later via van, we arrived at the top of Serendipity Canyon. We then headed for the canyon which was approximately a 1 hour steep bush walk down hill (which we later walked up), led by our guide, Rhys. It was during this time we learned why we needed the emergency supplies. Apparently if it rains, the canyon fills up with water, which could lead to flash flooding, requiring us to take shelter. Coffee and tea would help us stay warm until help can reach us via helicopter.

When we got to the bottom near the canyon entrance, we “suited up” in our wetsuits, packed our clothes and supplies in our dry bags and strapped them on our backs and began the first of four abseils. Rhys did all the work setting everything up; all we had to do was hook up and walk our feet down the canyon walls. Oddly enough, this felt like the easy part.

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When we weren’t abseiling, we were walking along the canyon floor, through streams that were ankle to waist high. Occasionally it got deep and we swam it, discovering it was easier to swim on our backs allowing our backpacks to help us float. We had an opportunity to talks to Rhys and ask him all our questions. I quickly learned that while there are generally no snakes in the canyon, due to its colder temperatures, they will occasionally fall in when they are hunting. I was looking up for a while after that comment, hoping not to see a snake aiming for my head!

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After we ate our lunch, Rhys set up another abseil and said, you won’t actually abseil on this one. No, instead, we hooked up like we were abseiling and then he dropped us into the freezing cold canyon water below. Nate went first and didn’t realize what Rhys was doing, so he was shocked and said a few expletives when he surfaced. Even though I knew what was coming, I was still shocked when I hit the water which essentially knocked my breath out as a result of the cold.

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According to Rhys, we went quicker through the canyon than most as a result of our high level of fitness and the fact that it was only the two of us on the trip. Because of the “heaps of time” we had left, we abseiled down into a glow worm cave and had an opportunity to see the little worms shining on the top of the cave with their fluorescent green dots of light. It was fascinating to see them hanging from their thin strings in an effort to catch bugs. Instead of exiting the normal way back, we also took the long way out of the canyon, which included two climbs up the rocks (in which Rhys helped pull us up) and a long swim upriver, through the beautiful rock walls and dense forest. This is when I faced my fear. We were on top of a rock, about 5 meters above the river. Rhys went running off the edge and somersaulted into the river. Nate went next. Then it was just me. I’m not sure why I was so afraid. Perhaps it was the fact that you had to jump out to avoid hitting the rocks at the bottom. It couldn’t have been the height because I’ve bungee jumped with limited fear. But I really did stand at the top and say, “Feel your fear and do it anyway.” And, I jumped!

Our canyoning experience through the Blue Mountain Adventure Company in Katoomba, was expensive, but also one of those experiences we will not soon forget. And of course, every time you push your boundaries and go into that uncomfortable zone, you get stronger. So who knows what we will do on our next vacation!

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02/20/13

Thank Goodness for Criminals

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Without those who stole, murdered, or abandoned their families, Australia would never be the country it is today. In fact, it’s the only country in the world that started as a penal colony. Today, 85% of Australia’s citizens can trace its roots back to a convict. However, not everyone who came to Australia was a convict. To support the convict population, the colony also needed guards and other suppliers of goods and services. In addition, England also sent over single women and Irish orphans (as a result of the great famine) in an effort to help colonize Australia.

One rainy morning in Sydney, we visited the Hyde Park Barracks which is where the convicts passed through from 1819-1848. The barracks are now a World Heritage Site and a great place to learn the history of Australia and see how the convicts lived. One room had a list of convicts that passed through and what they did to deserve their punishment. Some of those offenses included stealing hair, manslaughter, stealing, petty theft, and abandonment. Sentences ranged from 7 years to life, but were not consistent at all; some people with a petty theft charge received a life sentence whereas others with manslaughter received 7 years. And while we think of “locking up” criminals, the British essentially considered them locked up by throwing them on the Island of Australia. There were a few criminals who were locked up on the island in the Harbour for true punishment. However, for the most part, the criminals sent to Australia lived in the barracks but were free to go to The Rocks (the old district in Sydney, now a popular tourist spot with lots of bars) during the day to gamble and drink. The museum had a significant amount of artifacts remaining from the early 19th century. The main reason is that rats actually stole so many of the trinkets to create their rat nests. It was made clear by the exhibits that the rats were a major part of life in early Australia, causing disease and eating the food that was made available to them. My favorite part of the barracks was the top floor where the criminals lived. The rooms were filled with hammocks and even allowed you to sit in them to get the full experience. The Hyde Park Barracks are a great way to taste the early history of Australia.

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Despite their convict past, Aussies are incredibly well behaved. They definitely have a fondness for alcohol and gambling, but they drive incredibly safely, never going over the speed limit and always moving over to allow people to “overtake them” when they have a chance to pass. And, their definition of drunk driving is driving with a BAC of .05 or greater. In a country founded by criminals, crime is not as bad as in the US and guns are tightly regulated. While I expected to find a country of rebels, instead I discovered a group of people who are well mannered and not all that much different than their British roots.

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02/19/13

Surf’s Up!

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With the majority of Australia’s population living near the coast, the culture of surf, swim, and sun is strong. It appears on the surface that just about everyone knows how to surf, and people of all ages, shapes, and sizes seem to enjoy the beach, whether lying out or picnicking. Going to the beach in Australia is almost like a national pastime.

The surf culture starts young. At one beach we visited, a school was located across the street and the kids physical education class appeared to be held on the beach. All the kids were dressed in their red school wetsuits and were doing a variety of activities including surfing, wake boarding and running races on the sand. The teachers were watching the water like hawks, blowing their whistles when the kids went out too far, but it generally seemed like a pretty typical day for them.

Sydney’s most famous beach is Bondi. We hopped a bus that took only 30 minutes from the Circular Quay and led us through a variety of Sydney’s neighborhoods. Bondi beach is a huge beach that was still quite busy even though storms were threatening to the West. While the beach looked inviting, we opted to walk the coastal path that went around the coastline, high up on the cliffs, and took you from one beach to another. Here we saw people enjoying the warm weather, grilling out, and playing a game of cricket or soccer. While many people grilled out on their own grills, you can also use one of the grills at the park. When you deposit a couple dollars, you receive a few minutes of time to cook up your kangaroo burgers or sausages, whatever you prefer.

Of course, there will always be a few people who don’t want to swim in an ocean full of critters or fear the extremely strong currents you can get in some places. In that case, Sydney has a variety of ocean water pools in which you can swim. I assume they fill up during high tide and provide a constant supply of free salt water. Many of them appear to be free to anyone, although the one lap pool we saw did have a membership fee, or a 5 AUD charge (a bit more than 5 USD) for a day pass.

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Although I am not usually a beach person, I have found myself drawn to the beaches while in Australia. Perhaps it’s the fact that its February and hard to fathom weather that is constantly hovering around 30 degrees Celsius (86 F). Or, I am just becoming one with the Aussie. Now I just need to learn how to surf!

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02/17/13

Sydney Harbour: Sailing and Surfing, Ferries and Submarines

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Sydney Harbour is bustling with activity. Ferries can whisk you to different parts of the city, sailing seems to be a national pastime, and when we ferried by, there was even a submarine floating in the harbour.

While you can pay an arm and a leg for a harbour cruise, we read that the nicest and most economical way to see the harbour is by taking a ferry out to Manly, a town on the north side of Sydney, right along the coast. The 30 minute ride was only 14 AUD (with return, as they say), and left from the Circular Quay (pronounced key), between the Opera House and the historic Rocks District, on which the Harbour Bridge casts a shadow in the late afternoon. We took off on a very sunny and warm day in Sydney and the ferry was packed with everyone enjoying the sun and the breeze. The sun reflected off the white and cream colored tiles of the Opera House and we got a glimpse of the historic jail in Sydney Harbour, which was their own, much smaller version of Alcatraz used in the 19th century. All along the harbour was a smattering of homes. But mostly, it appeared to be protected areas with high cliffs and public parks where people could enjoy a walk and a picnic, or sit and watch the waves pound against the sandstone colored rocks.

The harbour itself was full of outdoor enthusiasts. We watched what looked like hundreds of small sailboats race down the harbour. There were motor boats jumping the wake left by our ferry, and even pontoon planes taking off and landing. It’s everything you would expect on a warm summer day.

Not only was the ferry ride a wonderful experience, but the town of Manly was a nice little town with a fantastic beach to get even more sun and watch surfers, young and old, ride the waves! The walk from the ferry to the beach, just a few blocks, consisted of souvenir stores, aboriginal art galleries, ice cream shops, and take-away joints, serving mostly fish of numerous varieties. And, we even found a delightful micro-brewery, Four Pines Brewing Company, that served up a delicious pale ale and stout. In all, it was a great day to enjoy the sun, the surf and the beautiful harbour for around 15 USD, a bargain in the expensive land of Oz.

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