Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cousin Amy's Visit

It’s been a week since my last visitor (formerly) Cousin Amy has left after a world-wind adventure. Well, for her it was an adventure as she’d told me she hadn’t been on a real vacation in 22 years and never overseas so she fought back a lot of fears. On her second day, she realized she’d made a mistake as if she could’ve stayed longer she would have but between having to care for kids plus maybe was a little afraid to do so. If you decide to visit, and I hope you do, don’t make the same mistake. Of course for some reason now that the travel bug has firmly bit Amy, she’s thinking going to Italy is doable. Italy? Is this every young woman’s dream?

Anyway, Amy was initiated into the Aussie culture (at least my version) immediately by heading to the Charles after I got home from work. She met the usual gang and was entertained by the waitress/lingerie model as we all are every week. Steve (Niko), Alan, Bi-Jo, her boyfriend Glen and Bud (picture) were there. Afterwards, neighbours Mark and John came over to my flat where we continued on in a typical Friday night piss into the late hours, the damage is pictured above. The following Friday ended up on the patio outback of the Charles with more of the usuals as you can see in the picture.

Amy’s first weekend was getting to know Wollongong so she could get around on her own using the free bus. Sunday we went to Symbio Zoo which is a nice, small place where you can feed the kangaroos, pet the dingos and maybe even a koala if you’re lucky. Holly and I went there and it really is a family oriented place with picnic areas and swimming pools for the kids on hot days.

I had to work so during the week, Amy enjoyed doing unusual things such as nothing! Relaxing, sunbathing, going to the beach, even shopping leisurely for herself, kids and friends. She even did some cooking including a very good apricot chicken that provided several meals after she’d left.

Getting over another fear, Amy did some body surfing with neighbour John. He took her to the beach and gave non-swimmer some tips on enjoying the active ocean. She had such a great time that she refereed to it as her Great Aussie Gift. As she told me "it was epic! I wouldn't have gone into the surf on my own. Another very enjoyable evening was the neighbourhood BBQ. This is a common comment from my visitors as enjoying the company of my neighbours leaves my guests with a special memory as they are very good people and they know how to throw together a barbie!

One thing suggested to Amy was to try lamb in Australia. I happened to cook up some lamb chops before Amy's arrival and slice them, heated them up and put them on a green salad. With skepticism, Amy tried the lamb and immediately fell in love with it. It didn't taste like any other lamb she'd had in the US. Another covert!

Besides the above, there is one thing I must warn you about and should've done so for Amy. No, I'm not talking about 7 of the 10 deadliest spiders and snakes, this is worse! They're more addictive than cigarettes, more insidious than a politician reaching into your back pocket! I'm talking about.....Tim Tams! A sweet, almost innocent looking chocolate bickky (cookie to us Yanks) that is chocolate, covered with chocolate with a chocolate layer in the middle. Sounds innocent enough however take this warning from Amy's experience! I showed her the Tim Tams at Wollies and she picked out the white chocolate version. I'd gone into her room to say something to her and noticed the empty Tim Tam package. I asked about that and her response was within 20 minutes of getting home and opening the package...they were GONE! She is a woman of remarkable self control (no, not that aforementioned 20 minutes) but never bought any (to the best of my knowledge) anymore Tim Tams until she did her final shopping for home. It was then that I discovered much to my horror, that there are more than just Chocolate on Chocolate or the White on White version, there are TWO DOZEN versions! Butter Brickle, Chocolate Mint, Caramel, the list goes on and on! My head was swimming at the choices. But Amy and her ironclad self control did limit herself to only buying 23 of the 24 varieties available. When she got them home, her son Max told her the Tim Tams were the best thing she brought back from Oz after sampling one of each. I've been told they've been repackaged and placed in the freezer to be opened later. Well, that was yesterday, who knows how many are truly left today.

Amy’s final weekend was fun as well. We went to Sydney and met up with her friend Aussie John at the Opera House. We all walked the adjacent gardens and then took a ferry to Manly Beach. It was hot out (96F) and in our quest to find Hooter’s in West Sydney (Parramatta) we ran into a traffic jam that made the 40 minute trip take over 2 hours. In spite of the heat we remained in good spirits. Maybe it was the exhaustion from the heat that allowed us to maintain but all that was washed away by plenty of beers and Ice Teas. I only had 2 beers as I was driving and those Ice Teas were potent judging by John’s reaction.

After getting to know all the girls who worked there (more pictures) we poured John onto the train home and we began a thankfully relaxing 1 ½ hour trip home though the country side twilight. Amy was a little nervous as I'd never driven that particular route before but we saw a sign for Wollongong so I knew all was well. I did just buy a GPS navigation system so hopefully, this will reduce the anxiousness of my passengers (and myself).

Amy’s last full day before heading home was to be a day of wineries. There are 4 fairly close together in the Shoalhaven area to the South. After a leisurely big brekky in Kiama and looking at their famous blow hole, we headed to Crooked River Winery. We bought a ½ case and headed off only to turn around at Amy’s request to get that one more bottle. Just as we were leaving, the cunning wine host had us taste some Chocolate Port. He knew we’d be back to buy a bottle and he was right.

It was probably about 1:30 in the afternoon and it was hot. The air conditioning in the car wasn’t working as well as it should have and soon the heat, combined with driving on the wrong side of the road and my ‘aggressive’ driving started to affect Amy. I knew the symptoms and shoved some cool water at her to drink and headed back to the flat. I turned the fan on in her room, brought her a bowl of ice water and a face washer (we Yanks call a wash cloth) and she laid down for about an hour.

In the meantime, I’d turned the fan on high in the lounge (living room) and opened the doors to get a breeze to flow through. The so-called breeze was a bit more than that plus it continued to get hotter and hotter as the afternoon progressed. I got on line to check the temperature only to discover it was 106F!!! I know my Brother in Maricopa would scoff at my complaints about the heat, but it was enough to knock Amy down for a bit. She came out of her bedroom only to find me sprawled out on the lounge with the fan unable to cool me or the 6 empty beer bottles surrounding me. It was hell!

Later, after plenty of water things were fine and we were able to speak coherently again. Amy’s comment was, “So, you don’t have air conditioning huh?” she said jokingly. Not in my flat and apparently on a hot day, not in my car either.

Amy had a great time and you too could have exciting (mis)adventures such as these if you come down to visit. While the Kiama Blowhole and winery tour I’ve done with guests in the pass, Hooter’s and driving around Sydney was new to me so I’m always up to try something different, especially when guests arrive. While Amy wasn’t up for it, if you visit you can use my car and I’ll supply a mobile (cell) phone that works in Australia with unlimited calling plus a calling card to the US, which is only 1.5 cents per minute. Not even worth tracking time on that thing!

Holly is planning on coming down the first two weeks of May and I just learned that James G and Dawn might be around sometime next year as well. James G is teaching English in Korea and getting in touch with his heritage from his Mother’s side. It sounds like fun and I look forward to seeing them as well. Shelley has mentioned she may visit towards the end of February for a couple of week as well. Even the woman who took over the vanpool, Christina is threatening to visit. It’s not like my social calendar is getting filled, but I’m glad that some friends are succumbing to the temptation to visit the land down under.

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