Posts Tagged bus

Happening Upon My Namesake

Four Posts panorama

After our one day layover in Madrid, it was time to take a 3 hour bus trip west to VaughanTown. You won’t find VaughanTown on a map because it’s not actually a town.  In fact, it’s in 5 different towns.  Our VaughanTown was outside the village of El Barco de Ávila.

VaughanTown is an English immersion program for Spaniards.  As native English speakers, our job was to help the Spaniards gain confidence in their ability to communicate in English by exposing them to a wealth of speech and accents (including American, British, Indian, and Australian in our group).  The Spaniards pay for the program individually or through their companies, and the Anglos, like us, are volunteers who are compensated with free meals and a free stay at a 4-star luxury hotel.

Bus to VaughanTown

Anglos and Spaniards on the chartered bus to VaughanTown. Some are getting their last few moments of sleep, and others are already chatting away.

Before we could start our little English haven in the middle of Spain, we had to get out of the city and away from all the Spanish speakers.  Most of the participants took the chartered bus from Madrid with us to the middle of nowhere.  But along the way, we made one stop outside the town of my namesake.

Before our 30/40 World Tour, I didn’t even know why my parents picked my name.  But when my mom heard that we would be in Ávila, she shared this with me:

Ending the 30/40 World Tour in Spain is more than just a wonderful place to visit before heading home, but it is also a symbol of being on the edge between the east and the west.  The Greeks called Italy Hesperia or “land of the setting sun” and referred to Spain, still further west, as Hesperia ultima.

Spain is the place from where Columbus changed the understanding of where the world does not end, going from the known world to discover the new world. It is a place where Miguel de Cervantes created a fascinating hero with Don Quixote, the dreamer chasing the windmills. It is a place where you can hear amazing guitar tunes (La Tuna, Segovia, Sarasate, and Albeniz) and see flamenco dancing. While each region in Spain is unique in food, scenery and history, all Spaniards share a love for living life to its fullest with time for siesta and time for workkeeping soul and body well balanced.

highway exit to Ávila

The bus made one stop outside Ávila on the way to Gredos

More amazing, is that the last landing of the heroine’s journeyis not only in Spain but also in Ávila, the city of the famous Teresa of Ávila. While it is a coincidence and not a pre-meditated plan of Ms. HalfEmpty and Mr. HalfFull, it is a potential revelation for the couple, but especially for Ms. Half Empty.

In fact, there is a strong resemblance between our heroine and the famous saint of Spain who was constantly in search of perfection, while at the same time she challenged many of the existing social norms for women in the 16th Century. One of her most famous books, The Way of Perfection, describes her experiences in prayer which ultimately culminates in rapture.

St. Teresa of Ávila painting

1827 painting of St. Teresa of Ávila by François Gérard

The secret as Teresa explained in prayer is that it does not matter as much to think as to love.  Loving in the first place is allowing oneself to be loved. “Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift…”  Hopefully, our heroine will discover this on her quest.  It is not about righteousness in perfection, but about letting go to find oneself.

St. Teresa was a trailblazer, a reformer, a Doctor of the Church, and a very smart woman. She was a fascinating señora like our heroine. She liked adventure at an early age; she even ran away from home at age seven with her brother Rodrigo to find martyrdom among the Moors. She was beautiful and atypical of women of her time by making the most of her intellect and challenging the men of her time. She had a mind of her own, which she manifested as a mystic, writer, teacher of meditation, and founder of the Carmelites. Her work became classic text in Christian spirituality, mysticism, and Spanish Renaissance literature.

Four Posts

Ms. HalfEmpty at the Four Posts, which overlooks the walled city of Ávila in the background.  This shrine marks the place where St. Teresa’s uncle stopped her from running off with her brother to seek martyrdom in battle with the Moors.

Our heroine’s last landing is truly fitting before crossing the Atlantic Ocean and coming home to hit the road running and engage in a life of love.

Hotel Izán Puerta de Gredos

Our four-star accommodation during VaughanTown — Hotel Izán Puerta de Gredos.  Our room was on the top floor with one of those windows peeking out of the roof.

Woah, no pressure Mom!  Those are some big expectations.  But I do still love Mr. HalfFull (even after spending 24 hours a day with him for 10 weeks), so maybe that’s a good start on the life of love.

At the end of our bus journey, we reached Hotel Izán Puerta de Gredos, which sits on 15 acres of land in view of the Gredos mountain range.  The location was beautiful and secluded — a 30-minute walk from town.  This would be our home for the next 5 days, during which we would spend 16 hours a day speaking English to Spaniards.

  • Who is your namesake?
  • Have you found a life of love?
  • Have you ever participated in a program like VaughanTown?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Adventures in Overnight Train Travel

Barcelona Sants Train Station

Remember how hard it was for us to buy train tickets in Spain? That may have been a foreboding sign for our upcoming overnight train trip.

We tried to book a sleeping car with an actual bed, but those were all reserved. We ended up getting Perferente tickets, which is first class. Keep in mind that there are 2 classes (Litera and Turista) worse than ours as you read.

Barcelona-Sants Train Station

We arrived at the train station early, assuming that the train would just be stopping for a few minutes to pick up passengers in Barcelona before continuing on the journey. In our limited train experience, you need to be on the right platform at the right time, or get left behind. But as an American, much of the tempo of Spain is slow and train travel (especially the ticket buying process) is no different.

In all fairness, we didn’t give them much of a chance to be fast by booking the 9-hour overnight train instead of the 3-hour day train, which is three times more expensive.  Once again, we learned that you get what you pay for!

When we approached the entrance to our platform, we were told that it was too early to get our bags scanned and to come back in an hour. We grabbed a bite to eat and then looked for seats in the terminal. There were very few seats, and most of them were in the middle of the shops, not near the platform entrances.

While we sat, I used the time to edit photos on our netbook. After several minutes, a young man with a large rucksack approached Mr. HalfFull to ask we would watch his bag while he went to brush his teeth in the bathroom.

Red flag! Huge alert! Don’t they always tell you to never leave your bags unattended, and never to watch a stranger’s bags? Of course, Mr. HalfFull being a good guy, agreed to watch the bag.

After the guy returned, Matt decided to use the bathroom before boarding the train. But he couldn’t because there was a fire in the men’s room! It seems like a strange coincidence that the guy with the rucksack was just in there and didn’t want to be weighed down by his bag. I have no proof; it just seems very suspicious.

Finally, it was time for us to check in and get our bags scanned. This too, was different than the US. Granted, I haven’t ridden a domestic train in a while, but I’ve never seen baggage scanners for trains. The Barcelona scanners were a complete facade of security. We were required to place our bags on the conveyor belt, but no one was watching the screen! Plus, they didn’t require passengers to walk through metal detectors either. So it all seemed like a waste of time.

We proceeded to walk to the correct platform number, but were shooed to a section of seats. I was very confused by this. There was no explanation (not that I would have understood it in Spanish anyway).

Eventually, a man carrying a sign reading Madrid told us to follow him. So everyone grabbed their luggage and proceeded to follow this guy to the other side of the baggage scanner, past the ticket windows, past the shops, and out onto the street. I had no idea what was going on. I thought we were supposed to be boarding a train on a platform beneath where we had been sitting, but now we were walking back out onto the street!?!?

So remember all that heavy-duty security? Anyone could have joined our group walking through the terminal. So much for being secure!

Bus to ???

The man with the sign lead us to a bus. What? A bus? I thought we bought train tickets. Some of the Japanese passengers freaked out and started yelling about the train. I’m not sure they ever got a sufficient answer due to language barriers, but eventually, they too, boarded the bus.

The other problem with a bus is that all our luggage was underneath us, only accessible from the outside. This made me very uncomfortable since we had been repeatedly warned that thefts are common. We had no control of our luggage, but people on the outside had direct access.

Eventually, the bus started moving. We were driving through the city of Barcelona. Mr. HalfFull seemed to think that we were not heading toward Madrid, since he had guided us through the city all week. Eventually, we got on a highway. I began to panic as I wondered if we were taking this bus the whole way to Madrid. It didn’t have a bathroom! I really wished I had gone at the train station.

The bus drove farther and farther from the city lights until we were in a desolate area with a tiny train station 40 minutes later. Woo hoo, we were going to ride a train! Relief flooded over me and my bladder.

To this day, we still have no idea what the bus was about. But we think that perhaps there was some sort of labor strike, which may also explain the fire in the bathroom.

Overnight Train to Madrid

When we boarded the train and entered our 6-person compartment, there was already an older couple nestled in. Somehow, they must have known about the location of the train and avoided the bus ride. This couple had gotten so comfortable that they took over the entire compartment. None of their luggage was on the overhead racks; it was all across the seats and floor. Plus, they had each taken one side of the car in preparation to stretch out across 3 seats per person. Well, we ruined their ideal situation.

Mr. HalfFull proceeded to lift their luggage into the overhead racks, so that we could enter the compartment. They took one side of the compartment with 3 seats and we took the other. Not too bad; it still seemed like we could get some sleep before arriving in Madrid.

But then another man arrived. He was quite a loud, gregarious fellow. I know loud and gregarious; after all, I live with Mr. HalfFull! But this guy may have also been partially deaf, which made him even louder. Or perhaps Spanish is just a loud, boisterous language. He chatted up the other couple for quite a while. It was a rather animated conversation. Eventually, the loud guy left and we all went to sleep.

The chairs slid out into a full reclining position with your legs on the floor. It wasn’t super comfortable, but it was a much better angle than an economy plane seat. On the downside, the seats were old and some of them didn’t lock into place.

Unfortunately for us, the loud guy returned to slumber around 1 or 2 AM. I can only imagine that he was consuming copious amounts of alcohol elsewhere on the train. He was still loud and quite odoriferous. Of course, he sat right next to me. He was so drunk and/or his chair was so old that he ended up sliding all over the place. He would be mid-sentence and his chair would slide out from under him into a full recline. It was kind of funny, but also a bit scary because he was older, intoxicated, and not a small man.

Finally, the car got quiet again and we were falling back asleep when the snoring started. This was fully reclined, open-mouthed, drunk snoring. It was so loud. This old man was relaxed! He got so relaxed that he started talking in his sleep and at one point threw his arm across me. I freaked out and threw it back at him like a hot potato!

Later that night, we got a 6th compartment-mate. This guy was young, but was also a drinker. He slid in late at night with the lights off.  We were all back to sleep when suddenly, the overheads lights abruptly illuminated and a uniformed train officer was standing in the doorway.  The officer only asked the young guy for his ticket, and summarily kicked him out of our car.  The officer didn’t even speak to the rest of us.  I wonder where that kid was supposed to be sitting or if he was even supposed to be on the train.  Another young kid tried to take that same seat later in the night, but he too was removed by security.

Needless to say, there wasn’t much sleep that night between the people in and out, the snoring, the odors, the fugitives, the lights, and a random arm landing on me! We did save a night of hotel expenses, but I’m not sure we would do an overnight train again.

  • Would you watch a stranger’s bag?
  • Has your travel ever been affected by a strike?
  • Do you have much experience with train travel?
  • Have you endured an overnight train?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Into Africa (Sort Of)

Getting to Mauritius, an African island nation off the coast of Madagascar, was an ordeal that started back in Australia. Mr. HalfFull researched airport transportation and discovered a direct bus to the airport with a pickup location near our hotel. This seemed like a great option until we learned that our hotel offered an airport shuttle for less than the bus. What a great deal – no walking with luggage AND a lower price!

But as we’ve learned time and again on the 30/40 World Tour – you get what you pay for!

The shuttle did, in fact, pick us up at our hotel on time. But this was not a direct shot to the airport. Instead, the shuttle was also transporting a family from the airport to their hotel. So we dropped them off and thought, “Okay, we’re off to the airport now!”

Not so fast.

Melbourne

Skyline in Melbourne

The shuttle proceeded to make more stops to pick up passengers heading to the airport. During this circuitous journey, we passed by our hotel AGAIN! Then we stopped at a hostel to pick up two young girls who weren’t ready. With each stop, we got more nervous that we wouldn’t make our flight on time, despite having left our hotel with plenty of time.

Mr. HalfFull was livid on the shuttle ride, especially when he noticed that we were heading away from the airport. He almost blew his lid when we passed by our hotel the second time. But it was me, Ms. HalfEmpty, who tried to help him see the bright side of things! I pointed out that we were getting a nice drive-by tour of Melbourne – parts we had not seen – enroute to the airport. How’s that for role reversal?

After the most circuitous shuttle ride, I endured the longest plane ride of my life (almost 12 hours)!  I didn’t think a long flight would be a problem for me, but I was so ready to disembark after the first 8 hours. Also, this flight was during the day. Even though I’m an expert napper, you can really only sleep for so long before it’s no longer a nap.

When we arrived in Mauritius, it wasn’t very late in the evening, but it was already starting to get dark since it was the winter season in the southern hemisphere. We knew we had about an hour ride from the airport to our 4.5 star hotel (50% discount in the off-season!) on the beach. This turned out to be another crazy drive.

It was too late for a shuttle, so we grabbed a taxi; a harrowing ride ensued! Our driver had no qualms about passing vehicles with oncoming traffic on narrow roads. He also spoke on his cell phone for much of the ride, and was often not in his lane. Plus, we were moving fast!

La Palmeraie at Night

Nighttime view of the overflowing pool at La Palmeraie

Thankfully, we survived the taxi ride, although that fate seemed uncertain several times on the ride. We arrived at a beautiful Moroccan-inspired resort – La Palmeraie Boutique Hotel. I felt under-dressed and yucky from the plane ride. Plus, this wasn’t really a hotel where the normal clientele carried duffel bags.

Room @ La Palmeraie

Flower petals and a letter on our bed at La Palmeraie

As soon as we arrived, they greeted us with a refreshing local drink and chatted with us in the lobby. Despite our attire, our money was still green (or multicolored, as the case may be). I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived in our room and found flower petals on the bed, a personalized letter from the director of the hotel, and flowers in a vase. The little touches made us feel extra special.

We were gearing up for a relaxing week on a continent (Africa) and an ocean (Indian Ocean) new to both of us. After weeks of being on the move, I was looking forward to sleeping in the same bed for 7 consecutive nights! Check back to hear about our experiences in Mauritius.

  • In your experience, do shuttle drivers do a good job of scheduling pickups to create a direct route to the airport?
  • Do you and your spouse ever switch roles?
  • How long was your longest flight?
  • Describe your most harrowing taxi ride.
  • Have you been impressed with a hotel experience?
Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Highs and Lows Come and Go

On our 30/40 World Tour, we would typically book our accommodation before we arrived in a new location. However, on the Oz Experience bus tour, we didn’t have much downtime to do research online. Because of the mechanical problems, we usually arrived at our hotel/hostel late and were so excited to have a bed for stretched out sleep. (Sleeping on a bus can get a bit cramped.) We also had to wake up early to cover the mileage the next morning, so neither the evenings or mornings gave us much time to surf.

Melbourne

Ms. HalfEmpty & Mr. HalfFull in downtown Melbourne

Everyone else on the bus tour had a reservation in Melbourne – even the backpacker teenagers! (I wonder if their moms booked it.) So Squatter made the rounds through Melbourne dropping people off at their various hostels. After my two nights on the tour, I knew I wanted a nicer place to stay. So we got off at the last stop and started walking toward St. Kilda.

We were tired and hungry at this point, which is not a great combo for a traveler with no idea where she is going and a heavy pack on her back. I don’t do so well with the unknown, especially under those circumstances. Mr. HalfFull often reminds me to live my way into the answers and embrace the unknown. But it’s so hard! I like to have a plan and direction.

Our goal was to find a restaurant with free wifi where we could eat and book a hotel like hobos with all our luggage. Even though we traveled light, I still found it a little embarrassing to have so much stuff at a nice restaurant. But they were super gracious at Phamish café and didn’t seem to mind. We were “phamished” so we ordered the sampler appetizer, which turned out to be a huge platter with all sorts of foodie deliciousness. It was quite a contrast from eating powdered eggs.

We didn’t find a lot of reasonable accommodation options in St. Kilda. There were a couple of fancy hotels, but they were rather pricey. I was leery of sketchy places after our last two nights, but reluctantly I consented to a hostel called The Coffee Place. I think its name and color scheme was the only reason I thought it might be okay.

When we arrived, I wasn’t so sure. It was basically run by kids playing video games. In other words, it could have been a frat house. I’m too old for this!

We went up to our room by climbing several flights of stairs. The door wasn’t secure like a front door; it was more like a lightweight bedroom door. Inside everything was clean, but very sparse. There was almost no furniture aside from the bed. However, there was one small built-in shelf with a coffee maker – after all, it was The Coffee Palace.

After seeing the room, I lost it. This was no palace. The tears streamed down my cheeks. There was really nothing wrong with the room; it was fully functional, clean, and spacious. I think I was just exhausted from the bus tour; I didn’t get my afternoon naps or sleep-in time in the mornings! Plus, I was an introvert on a bus full of people for three days. I was drained from all the interaction. I guess six weeks of being on the move left me feeling rather half empty – maybe even completely empty.

Phamish cafe

Ms. HalfEmpty enjoying cappuccino at Phamish café

We enjoyed Phamish café so much that we went back there for breakfast the next morning. I had a cappuccino and internet time…I was back baby! Plus, we were staying at The Coffee Palace for two nights, so I wasn’t lugging my bag around this time, and knew where I would be sleeping that night.

Mr. HalfFull loves sports; I become a football widow during the NFL season. We actually got married on a bye weekend for his football team! He also loves college basketball, and once again goes missing during March Madness. So he was super excited to have the opportunity to witness Aussie rules football in person.

It was game day, so we walked to the train station and were surprised that there were no ticket kiosks. A person on the platform informed us that you could buy tickets on the train. This seemed strange to us, but obviously we knew nothing about public transportation in Melbourne. So we boarded the train and found the ticket machine. We soon learned that the ticket machine only takes coins. What does an ATM not give you? Coins!

So we had no coins and couldn’t buy tickets; I felt like a fugitive. Hopefully, they would let us play the dumb American card. We really did have the best of intentions!

Melbourne Cricket Ground

Mr. HalfFull looking for tickets outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground

Finally, we arrived downtown at the enormous stadium that seats over 100,000 people. We were about to engage in some more illegal activity. We didn’t have tickets and were scouring the crowd outside the stadium looking for scalpers. We knew the game was a huge local rivalry between Carlton and Collingwood and thus, was sold out.

We didn’t find the shady people Mr. HalfFull was seeking, so we headed to the club ticket counter. The woman informed us that indeed the game was sold out, but she told us to look for scalpers and warned us not to pay more than face value. An employee advised us to seek out scalpers! Is scalping not illegal in Melbourne?

We walked all the way around the stadium with no luck. Mr. HalfFull didn’t seem so half full and resigned himself to the fact that we weren’t getting into the game. Then he spotted a guy with long hair, facial hair, tattoos, and rings on every finger. He looked like the type of guy you didn’t want to fight. Mr. HalfFull thought he might be a scalper. We hung around to listen to his conversation and learned that he too was looking for tickets.

Stadium Family

Ms. HalfEmpty in the MCG stadium with the side of the family who supports the Carlton Blues

Our chances seemed pretty much exhausted when I overheard the conversation of a family nearby. They were talking about how it was too bad that “those two” couldn’t come. What? Two tickets?

So I butted into their circle and asked if they had two extra tickets. They did, but they were tickets for children. Bummer!

Stadium Family

Mr. HalfFull with the other brother who's a fan of the Collingwood Magpies

We started walking away when they said, “But we aren’t going to use them, so you’re welcome to try. Just walk in with us and be our kids for the day! There’s no harm in trying.” I didn’t know what the penalty was for using the wrong age-group ticket, but we had already ridden the train illegally, so what the heck! Weren’t the Australians descendants of criminals anyway? (Kids, this is why they tell you not to smoke because it’s just a gateway to more and more.)

The tickets worked and we all got in! The introvert had accosted strangers in a foreign country to fulfill Mr. HalfFull’s dream. It was amazing.

Inside MCG

Watching Aussie football inside MCG stadium

The stadium was huge and circular, unlike our oblong stadiums. It was impressive to watch these super fit athletes play with no padding. There was a lot of leg to tantalize the ladies. Plus, there were no big bellies like in the NFL. Even the referees were super fit.

The family we sat with explained the rules to us; they were so much fun. We tried to pay them for the tickets and buy them beers, but they didn’t want anything. They even emailed us a few days later to ask if we wanted to grab “a pot.” After looking that up online, I learned that it’s beer, not tea.

Meat Pie

Sampling meat pie at the stadium

We knew that meat pies are an Aussie football stadium staple. Even after our disappointment with pies in Sydney, we tried the stadium fare. It was okay. I guess they can’t make them like the flaky pastries in New Zealand because it needs to be self-contained and more spill-proof for the stadium.

Red Stitch Theater

Ms. HalfEmpty at Red Stitch Theater

That evening we had tickets to see a play called My Romantic History at Red Stitch theater. It was a super cute playhouse. Much of the play took place in the bathroom and the set consisted of three bathroom stalls. That brought our live theater count to six on the 30/40 World Tour.

Mr. HalfFull got his football and I got my theater. It was a good day all around, especially considering the tears the night before.

  • Do you make reservations before you arrive or wing it?
  • How do you handle the unknown? Are you able to relax and let things unfold?
  • Did you have a breaking point while traveling? What helped you get over it?
  • Have you broken the rules while traveling?
  • If you are not normally a sports fan, do you still think it would be interesting to witness in a foreign country?
  • Have you been surprised by the kindness of strangers?

Related:  All posts in the 30/40 World Tour series

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Bus, 3 Days, 1000 Kilometers

Oz Experience Bus

Squatter walking back to the Oz Experience bus, which acquired quite a bit of dirt along the journey

Australia is a big country.  We knew we couldn’t see it all on our schedule, so we chose a small part.  We flew into Sydney, and knew we were flying out of Melbourne.  So Mr. HalfFull decided that it would be fun to see the part in between from the ground, and booked us on an Oz Experience bus tour.

Squatter

Squatter breaking for lunch after our hike to the summit on the final day

Our driver was an ex-military officer named Squatter.  Even though he currently owns his own house, I think he got the name from squatting at his mom’s house too long.  Anyway, he was a great storyteller and made the ride a lot of fun.

We arrived early at the meeting point in Sydney.  Everyone was just hanging around outside the bus, so we decided to get coffee.  It turned out to be a fairly complicated street to cross with inconvenient crosswalks and fast traffic.  By the time we got back, everyone had selected their seats on the bus.  One side had double seats and the other side had single seats.  Of course, most of the singles had reserved double seats for themselves in the front of the bus.  Mr. HalfFull and I wanted to sit together, so we were relegated to a double all the way in the back.  This was not a good start!

Australian Capital Territory road sign

Our whole bus group posing for a photo on the side of the highway

One of the first stops was on the side of the highway.  I was quite confused.  Was the bus broken?  Did someone need to pee?  No, Squatter thought it was a good photo-op with the Australian Captial Territory sign.  He gathered all our cameras as we huddled and shivered behind the sign.

Oz Experience bus on highway

Walking back down the hill to the bus on the side of the highway

Then he commenced talking about Australian war history. I suppose this was interesting to him because of his military background, but I was beginning to wonder if he ever talked about anything else.

As we slowed down in the capital city of Canberra, the bus repeatedly stalled at low speeds in traffic circles.  I was not impressed.  Already I was in the last seat listening to war stories… and now the bus didn’t even work properly!

War Memorial

Red flowers next to the names of the fallen at the War Memorial in Canberra

I soon learned why Squatter was telling us so much about wars.  Our first stop in Canberra was the Australian War Memorial, which is also a museum inside.  Mr. HalfFull enjoyed the exhibits, but I’m not a huge fan of museums.  So a museum about war wasn’t my cup of joe, but I could appreciate that it was a beautiful memorial building.

Canberra

View of a Canberra promenade from the War Memorial

Canberra was a strange city.  Apparently the citizens in Sydney and Melbourne couldn’t agree on which city would be the capital, so they created Canberra as the capital in between.  Canberra is a planned city (actually designed by Americans).  Rather than the usual grid of streets, Canberra follows a wheel and spoke model, so all the main promenades flow into the center of town.  These wide streets are huge and seemed strangely empty.  But Squatter said they were designed for the influx of millions of people for celebrations.  The normal population is much smaller; plus many of the ministers of Parliament don’t even live there full time.

Old Parliament

Old Parliament House with Aboriginal Embassy on the lawn including the word "SOVEREIGNTY"

Our next destination was the Old Parliament House.  When Parliament was in session here, the Aboriginals set up a tent city on the lawn across the street to demand their own embassy.  The tent city has become their embassy, but must be manned to remain so.  Squatter warned us not to take photos of them because it might start a fight.  I didn’t actually see any people at the camp and we took our photos from across the lawn, so I guess that’s okay.  It reminds me a bit of the Occupy DC camps that were recently dismantled.  However, the Aboriginal Embassy had a lot more green space and fewer tents (and no expensive name-brand camping gear; it was pretty decrepit).

Australian Parliament

Ms. HalfEmpty sips coffee in front of Parliament House in Canberra

Queen at Parliament House

British lad on our tour kissing the statue of the queen at Parliament House

After seeing the Old Parliament, we were off to the current Parliament building.  Squatter gave us a tour of the inside and made sure to add a lurid detail about each political figure as we passed his/her portrait.  The design for the building was selected through a worldwide architecture contest.  While the final result is impressive, it’s not terribly practical.  The flag that flies 81 meters high gets so tattered in the wind that it must be replaced every 2 or 3 weeks at great expense.  On our tour, Squatter dared the 18-year-old lad from the UK to cross the ropes and kiss the statue of the queen.  As he knew (and Michelle Obama learned), you can’t touch the queen!  Shortly thereafter, our group was reprimanded by a security guard.

Australia

View from the bus

The rest of our day was spent driving to our overnight accommodation.  After the decrepit nature of the bus, I was rather worried about where we would be staying.  But as we pulled up, I saw the word “hotel” and was relieved it wasn’t a hostel.  I already knew that we paid extra to have a private room, rather than be in a dorm-style hostel.  But if they had both types of accommodations at the same location, I figured I would be roughing it a bit.

Snowy River

At least the hotel had a nice view of Snowy River

I was right.  This was unlike any “hotel” I’ve ever encountered. We did have a private room, but it was so tiny.  It was basically just big enough for the bed and to swing the door open.  At the foot of the bed was a bookcase.  When I say at the foot of the bed, I mean touching the mattress so that the lower shelves were inaccessible.  This also made the far side of the bed inaccessible without crawling over your companion.  There was a small TV on top of the tall bookcase — far too high to watch.  It was plugged into the cable outlet, but not electricity.  So I brought it down and looked for an outlet.  There was only one, but the cord didn’t reach that far.  I had no idea why they had this TV in the room since it was unusable in the current setup.  We also shared a bathroom with the other room in our block.  Unfortunately for us, it was a dorm style room with 10 people!  The bathroom was a single toilet, single sink, and single shower all behind a single door — such a poor design for so many people.  Our dinner and breakfast were included in the “hotel” dining room mess hall.  Dinner wasn’t so bad, but breakfast was terrible.  They served military style powder eggs.  I was glad when our night was over!

Remember how I told you that the bus was stalling at low speeds in Canberra?  It continued to do this all day.  There was another Oz Experience busload staying at the same “hotel.”  That group was doing the reverse of our trip and would end up in Sydney, the location of the fleet’s mechanic.  So we switched buses with them and were on our way.  I wonder how they fared with the stalling bus.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it would become very important for us to have an operable bus for the terrain we would encounter the next day.

Toboggan Hike

Mr. HalfFull with his toboggan in search of a sledding hill

The “hotel” was mostly inhabited by skiers and boarders since it was at the base of a mountain.  We drove up to the ski area, but only had an hour, so it wasn’t enough time to actually ski — super disappointing!  Instead, we rented toboggans and practiced our most daring sledding moves.

Sledding

Looks like Mr. HalfFull found some snow. Did he leave any for the other kids???

We were a little out of control standing on the toboggans.  But it’s not our fault they don’t steer well!  There were only a few close calls with small children, but we didn’t take any out.  Although, we did see some of them take their friends out.  The real problem was that no one was telling the children not to walk up the middle of the hill where the sledders should be.  We tried to set a good example by walking up the sides, but the children never followed us.

Weighing Options

Mr. HalfFull weighs his options (with two rocks) in the wilderness. Don't fall in!

Back on the bus, our next adventure led us to remote mountainous roads that require a special driver’s license.  These are narrow dirt roads with curves and cliffs — no guard rails.  It was rather exciting at times.  (My mom would have been screaming.)

Squatter & Friends

A koala and other furry friends help Squatter drive the bus through harsh terrain

We stopped periodically to admire the landscape and take photos.  After one such stop, we all piled back on the bus.  But the bus wouldn’t go.

Apparently, there is a safety feature that if the door is ajar, you can’t accelerate.  So Squatter asked the person near the door to shut it.  This shutting process went on for minutes.  There were gentle closes and hard slams, but nothing seemed to allow the bus to accelerate.  Squatter was able to override this safety feature by using the hand brake.  But he knew he couldn’t drive like that for hours on these roads.

Tinkle Tour

Mr. HalfFull goes in search of a tree to tinkle behind

This location was so remote that there is no cell phone service.  So in addition to requiring a special driver’s license, you are also required to carry a satellite phone.  Squatter set up the satellite phone and called the mechanic, who conveniently never answered.  Fortunately, a Mexican girl in her early 20s had similar problems with her old car back home.  She suggested that we remove the fuse to disable the door safety feature.  It worked!

After getting back on the road, the microphone started acting up.  Squatter spent much of the trip telling us great stories about what we were seeing, and also about his experiences working with Aboriginal kids.  So the microphone was essential.

Fixing the Microphone

Squatter breaks out the toolbox to fix the microphone

The microphone was also essential for another reason — making sure all parties were on the bus.  Squatter told us a story about a previous trip where  a guy went into the woods to “hide an Easter egg.”  This trip included two buses with every seat filled, but no one bothered to do an actual count of passengers when they departed that particular stop.  The guy in the woods had been sitting in the back of the bus (I feel his pain) and no one alerted the driver that he was missing.  Apparently, this guy heard the bus engines start, which made him start running with his pants around his ankles and “Easter egg” all over.  He did not catch the bus, and the drivers didn’t realize he was gone until much later.

So on our trip, we would check in on the teams from each country.  Squatter, would ask for Team Germany and the two German girls would respond.  Team Mexico consisted of one girl.  Team Canada sat directly in front of us on the bus and consisted of a 30-something woman, her boyfriend, and her parents.  Team America was me and Mr. HalfFull.  When Squatter would call out, “Team America?” the Canadians thought it was hilarious to scream, “F*@# yeah!” in response.

For a while, Mr. HalfFull abandoned me to go sit up front and hold the microphone wire for Squatter so it wouldn’t be jostled on the rough roads.  Eventually that workaround was no longer effective and Squatter broke out the toolbox, and I got my husband back as a travel companion and seat pillow.

Remember that I told you about my applicator-less tampon experience?  It happened on this day of the journey out there in the middle of nowhere.  But at least there was a port-a-potty with toilet paper, and I didn’t have to use a tree for cover like Mr. HalfFull.

Dirty Bus

Ms. HalfEmpty is incredulous reading the message on the back window of the bus: "I wish my girlfriend was this dirty!!"

It was a dusty, bumpy journey and the bus certainly looked like it.  Remember the British bloke from above who kissed the queen?  He also decided to leave a note in the back window of our bus.  (See photo at left.)

Kangaroo & Joey

A kangaroo with a joey in her pouch

The next day was the final leg of the bus tour and included my favorite part — kangaroos!  I had seen kangaroos twice on the trip so far, but those were only in passing as we drove by.  This time we were in a field of kangaroos.  We were so close; some people in our group even touched the tail of a kangaroo.  It was amazing to watch them spring into the air in person.

Emu

The emu posed for a photo

We also saw an emu in the same field.  It was impressively large, but at least it wasn’t so close that it towered over us.  It fled pretty quickly and I never saw another one, unlike the swarms of kangaroos that allowed us to close in.

Our final adventure of the bus trip was a hike in Wilsons Promontory.  At the summit, we had a picnic lunch on the rocks and enjoyed the view.  From our vantage point, we could see two oceans!

Australian Poop

Can you guess which is emu poop and which is kangaroo dung?

I complain a lot about conditions like the bus and the accommodations.  I’m just not that rugged, and I do enjoy my creature comforts.  But I know we couldn’t have done all of that on our own.  The number of hours behind the wheel was insane; I don’t know how Squatter does it.  But that also meant that we had to wake up early, so he could cover lots of territory.

Kangaroo & Emu Crossing

Ms. HalfEmpty & Mr. HalfFull pose with the quintessential Australian roadsign

Three days was certainly enough for me, but there are people who take a series of these trips all the way across Australia and back.  In fact, the British lad did a 31 day tour across the United States!  I know that’s not my half empty cup of coffee, but we did have some great experiences and meet interesting people during our Oz Experience.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Where do you prefer to sit on the bus?
  • Do you ever stop on the side of the highway to take photos?
  • Do you enjoy war history?
  • Are you a fan of museums?
  • What do you think of the Aboriginal Embassy?  Does it remind you of Occupy DC?
  • Do you enjoy sledding as an adult?
  • Have you had vehicle issues while traveling?
  • What wildlife did you see while traveling?

Related:  All posts in the 30/40 World Tour series

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,