Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Easter! (Our First Video)

We recently bought a video camera. It's the first time we've owned one since we've been married. Since it's Easter, we thought we'd celebrate by posting our first video blog.

We shot this video on Easter Sunday morning on our way to church. Our church walking route takes us through Hong Kong Park, and we tried to capture some of the great views in the park with our video. Hope you all enjoy our first video!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A normal week for the Christensens

While most of our blog posts are about our adventures in our travels we do lead "normal" lives here in HK. We go to the grocery store (although I to avoid that as much as possible here), cook, go to work (I am back to work after a 2.5 week sick leave), watch TV (Brad's favorite show is "Banged up Abroad"), go visit Rudy and enjoy our weekends. Brad has been busy planning our 4 week summer "Trans- Siberian Railroad trip". I really enjoy being married to such a good travel agent!

Last weekend we went across the boarder to China for some cheap shopping with friends. I a pedicure and both of us got a new pair of glasses. It is crazy how cheap they were (and mine's actually were lenses and frames). I'm still getting used to the glasses (change can be hard for me :-) but Brad loves them so that is what matters. My consolation is they were cheap so getting another pair in a year won't break the bank.

We still love to "garden" even though we live in yet another concrete covered city. Brad bought a cherry tomato plant while I was in the hospital and we have enjoyed 5 delicious tomatoes. I also just sprouted and planted a new little plant. Can you guess what it is?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring Break Accommodation: Our Camper!

Brad and I love taking driving vacations, maybe because since we moved to Cairo we have not had a car of our own. Since we wanted to visit more cities/towns than just Perth and we realized that there wasn't much public transportation we knew that we needed to rent a car. Brad found that it would be cheaper to rent a camper van than to rent a car and find hotels around the coast. As we checked in at the camper rental office we realized that renting a "caravan" is quite popular, especially among young German tourists. Usually on long drives my "job" is to sleep (anti-motion sickness meds usually make me really sleepy) but at Brad's request (and because the roads were very straight) I settled into my seat as "co-pilot" and "photographer" armed with my map and camera. Brad's job as driver was much harder than mine as navigator...the camper van was pretty top heavy and some days were very windy, but he LOVES to drive across large distances. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery, the vast rolling plains and being the only ones on the road. Brad remembered his driving on the left skills pretty quickly and only flipped on the wind shield wipers instead of the turn signal a couple times. I (Emily) instantly fell in love with our little camper van and enjoyed setting up our little home on wheels. I may never be able to go tent camping again! Even though we did change camp sites almost every night it was not stressful to pack up and leave because we never had to pack, tear down our tent and make sure that the food would stay cool. As you can see in the picture there was a sink, counters, drawers (equipped with dishes, cooking utensils and pots), a microwave, fridge, two gas burners, queen size bed anda gear loft (or bed for third person). I loved having breakfast in bed (which I could get from bed by the way). Once I opened all the curtains I could enjoy the scenery, fresh ocean air and hear birds chirping all from the comfort of my bed. Whenever we felt like eating lunch we would pull off the road, find a park or a scenic view point and get cooking. Nothing quite like cooking and eating while having a beautiful view of the ocean. Well camper van it was fun while it lasted and we will defiantly have to rent you on other vacations. You were much more practical than a hotel. Also you have now made it hard for me to think about going tent camping because your bed was so soft, your window screens kept the mosquitoes away, your sink so convenient to wash dishes in and your fridge always kept my milk cold. Thanks for contributing to our lovely holiday.

Spring Break pt. III - Denmark & the South Coast

After 2 nights in what was probably the dirtiest hostel in Western Australia, we packed our bags, picked up our rented camper, and set off for the real adventure of our trip. Usually when we travel, I (Brad) attempt to plan every detail of the trip ahead of time: airport pickups, hotel reservations, transfers from one hotel to the next, walking maps of city centers, etc. For this trip, I did my best to plan as little of the trip as possible, with the intent of building some spontaneity into our vacation. Our intention was to get enjoyably lost in the southwest of Australia for a week, driving as far as we felt like in any given day, then setting up camp at whatever campground presented itself at the right time.

On the first day that we picked up the campervan (a Monday morning), we decided to do the longest stretch of driving for the whole week. Our plan was to drive from Perth to a small town called Denmark on the Southern Coast. The drive was just over 400km, which meant that it would take us between 5 and 6 hours. After a quick stop at a grocery store in Perth (to fill up the fridge in our camper), we set off for Denmark.

The route that we chose took us inland, away from the more densely populated coast. We found the countryside to be fairly pretty: mostly low trees and scrub brush. Emily described the landscape as "barren." One thing became apparent during the drive: Western Australia (outside of Perth) is very sparsely populated. During the 6 hour trip, we only drove through about 2 or 3 towns (our map mentioned more than this, but we found most of the "towns" on the map to be little more than gas stations).

We arrived at the town of Denmark about an hour before sunset, and set up camp at a beautiful and nearly empty private campground about 10km south of town (at a place called "Ocean Beach"). Being our first attempt at setting up the camper, we were very impressed with ourselves when we finished in only about 15 minutes. As I (Brad) explored the campground, Emily set about the task of preparing dinner. It was delicious:

I had seen this campground ahead of time online, and had read an interesting bit of info on their website. They claimed that there were a couple of families of kangaroos that lived in the area, and that they were frequent visitors to the campground. We had been told that kangaroos are nocturnal, and are mostly seen in the evenings and early mornings. We kept our eyes open as we set up camp, and sure enough - the roos made an appearance:
Emily was ecstatic.

The next morning when we woke up (being teachers, we tend to wake up pretty early even on vacation), we discovered that the kangaroos were still hanging around our campsite. I must have taken about 50 pictures of them.
The two young kangaroos in the background were play-fighting most of the morning. It was pretty much the cutest thing I'd ever seen.

They hopped off when I got too close.

After only one night at Ocean Beach Campground, we packed up the camper and headed out to explore the south coast of the state. It was the first time either of us had seen the Southern Ocean, so obviously we had to commemorate the moment with a picture:
We then went into the tiny town of Denmark (pop. 4000). We spent about an hour exploring the town. I'd been told by a friend before our trip that Denmark was a bit of a hippie hangout. We found that it was indeed the place to buy all manner of hemp clothing and assorted crystals. The town itself was colorful and interesting, and we stopped for a cup of coffee and a meat pie.

Australians love their meat pies. Every town seems to have a bakery, and while you'd be hard pressed to find a doughnut on offer, you can always be guaranteed a meat pie. For our American friends, meat pies are very similar to the chicken pot pies that we all enjoyed while growing up, only Australians are a bit more creative with the ingredients. The Denmark bakery had more than 10 pies available on the morning that we dropped in. Some contained chicken, many beef, a few lamb. One of them jumped off the menu at me with the curious name of "Vinda-Roo." I called the cashier over and asked for clarification on the ingredients. "Curried roo meat," was her response. I immediately bought one.

I believe that Australians are unique in that they're the only nation (that I know of) to actually consume an animal that appears on the front of their passports. I have a hard time believing that Americans would ever cook up bald eagle into a spicy stew.

I found my curried roo to be good. Not great. But good. The meat was a bit like venison: a little gamey, not overly tender, but when cooked with enough spices, quite palatable. Emily was able to capture the moment in pictures:

After a walking tour of Denmark, we headed west down the coast. The next couple of days were spent exploring the magnificent forests of the southwest. We'll write about that in a few days.

For now, we'll close with a question for all of you. Brad can now add kangaroo to his list of exotic creatures consumed. If you'd like to comment, here's a question for you: what's the most unusual animal you've ever eaten? (my definition of exotic meat: something you can't buy at your local grocer). We can't wait to hear your stories!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Spring Break Pt. II - Rottnest Island (Western Australia)

I think that for most of us from the northern hemisphere, the word "Australia" tends to conjure up images of the Sydney opera house or the great barrier reef. Those two features are both on the eastern side of the continent. For our spring break, Emily and I spent our vacation on the other side of the country in Perth (see map). Perth has been described as the "most remote city in the world." After doing some reading, I've discovered that Honolulu is perhaps more worthy of this distinction. Still, it is the only city of its size in Western Australia, and is closer to Jakarta, Indonesia than to Sydney. The point is: it's pretty isolated.

We had only booked two nights in our Perth hotel (which was fortunate, as it was a complete dump), and since we had arrived in the evening, we were really only left with 1 full day in the city. After doing some research, we had decided to spend that day on Rottnest Island.
Rottnest is an island in the Indian Ocean, a little over 10 miles off Perth's coastline. The city of Perth is still visible from some parts of the island (see above), but it feels as if it were light years away. As it's only a half hour ferry ride from Perth, it's become a popular beach destination for day trippers from the city.
There are no private cars allowed on Rottnest, so the most popular way to get around is by bicycle. There are excellent bike paths circling the island, and as it's only a little over 20 kilometers around the whole thing, distances are just right to make for a good day's bike ride. Em and I rented bikes and snorkel gear as a part of our ferry tickets, packed a backpack full of sandwiches and water, and set out for a full Sunday of exercise in the sunshine.

We'd picked a sunny 85 degree Sunday to explore Rottnest. We had expected the place to be fairly busy, being a warm weekend. We were wrong. Although we occasionally passed other couples on bicycles, we felt like we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

The main bike path mostly hugs the island's coastline, and as we went, we found that there were beautiful little beaches spaced about every 5km of the trip. The above beach was the first one we came across. Being the closest beach to the "town" that we'd sailed into, it was also the busiest one we visited that day. I think the above photo pretty well captures the level of activity on the beach that day.

After about an hour's ride in the sun (with frequent stops to take in the jaw-dropping beauty of the turquoise waters and white sand beaches), we had made it about a third of the way around the island. We found a shady spot on the side of the bike path and decided to have a picnic. We'd stopped at a grocery store in Perth before boarding the boat (as there are only restaurants in the main town, and we assumed they'd be pretty expensive).

As we ate, it struck me as one of the most relaxed and memorable meals I'd eaten in the past year. It turned out to be one of many such meals in Australia. We only ate one meal out during our entire 8 days in Australia (the Australian dollar is at an all time high right now, so we were trying to save some money). The rest of our breakfasts, lunches, and dinners were self-catered, nearly all of which were eaten outdoors. It was very relaxing.

Helen - this photo is for you. Along with sandwich stuff, we made sure to buy "Tim-Tams" for our first lunch in Oz (based solely on Helen's advice). In the above photo, Emily's enjoying her first Tim Tam. I should probably say "first of many," as we wound up buying about one package of these beauties every other day. For those of you who haven't been fortunate enough to try a Tim Tam, Lonely Planet describes them as "a chocolate biscuit that lies close to the heart of most Australians." I couldn't have said it better myself. Basically, it's a chocolate cookie covered in more chocolate, sometimes with a bit of mint or other flavoring added. Having discovered that Australia was capable of producing such a delectable cookie, I was shocked to remember that "Vegemite" is their most (in)famous culinary export. (apologies to our Australian friends who enjoy that green goo. I still can't seem to develop a taste for yeast extract on my morning toast).

Although it was a warm day, there was a good breeze on Rottnest while we were there. So it wasn't until early afternoon that we found a small bay with enough protection from the wind to be able to try out the snorkel gear we'd rented. Most of you will remember that I (Brad) am allergic to sunshine, and mindful of this, I'd brought my 0.5mm wetsuit along on the trip so that I could enjoy a day's snorkeling on the island. Emily brought only a bathing suit, and was surprised at the cool temperature of the water. She ventured in up to about her waist before she let out a shriek and ran back to the beach to sunbathe. Happily insulated in my wetsuit, I spent quite awhile exploring some of the world's most southerly coral reefs and watching the colorful fish that call Rottnest home.
With the exception of a sailboat that had anchored in the bay, we were the only people on this beautiful stretch of beach.
We decided to mark the occasion with a picture.
By the time we got back around to our starting point (the tiny town where the ferry dock was), it was late afternoon and the sun was already casting long shadows across the harbor. We reluctantly turned in our bikes, a little upset that we had seen almost no sign of the animals that give the island its name. They're called "Quokkas," although the first Dutch explorers to reach the island had (understandably) mistaken them for oversized rats. Hence the name "Rottnest" (or "Rats' Nest"). We'd seen only one of these rodent-like marsupials during our ride around the island (and it had been concealed in some pretty dense underbrush). With only an hour left before boarding the ferry, we were a little disappointed. And then we walked into town. There were quokkas everywhere, mostly eating the scraps underneath tables at outdoor restaurants. I must've taken a couple dozen pictures of the little guys. Emily can confirm that at least one Australian couple laughed out loud at my quokka fascination. I think it looked a bit like a tourist coming to an American city and obsessing over squirrels and pigeons. Laugh all you want. I'm willing to bet that I'm the first person from Mukilteo, Washington to see a quokka.
After a full day of biking, snorkeling, and cataloging exotic wildlife, we headed back to Perth. That evening, we enjoyed our only meal out at an amazing little brewpub called "Little Creatures" on the water in Fremantle (south of Perth). It goes without saying that I bought a t-shirt.

The next morning was the beginning of our camper-van adventure, which we'll discuss in the next couple of posts.

We always love hearing your comments. Here's a possible topic if you're having trouble thinking of something to say: Tim-Tams were undoubtedly the "theme food" of our Australia trip. Do you have a vacation memory in which one food stands out as representative of that whole trip? Share that memory with us!