Countown to LAX Liftoff


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

G'Bye Mates...

Well, it has certainly been an amazing journey! Lisa and I want to wish everyone a safe journey home and a great rest of the summer. We are here if you need us and are looking forward to your journal entries, survey completion and final projects. But most importantly, we have our amazing memories of this trip with you to treasure and of course, a bazillion photos between all of us.

Here are a few last photos of the gang and the trip as well as our thanks to all who supported and followed us throughout the trip from all over the world (you know who you are)...



Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Last Stop: Great Ocean Road

It was an early morning today. My alarm went off at 6:30 to get ready for breakfast at the hostel at 7:00.  I made sure I dragged Broy (my hat/ alter ego) out of bed for one last Australian adventure.  We carbed up with our assorted cereals and toast and headed off on our tour of the Great Ocean Road. As soon as we got on the bus the battle over the wifi began as only 8 people could connect at a time. After listening to our overly enthusiastic tour guide, Bec/Rebecca/Mate/but NEVER Becky, share a brief history of Melbourne and her personal position on Vegemite I nodded off to sleep.

When I woke up we were in Tourquay, a surfing hotspot and the start of the Great Ocean Road, which is 241 kilometers long. While in Tourquay we walked out to the beach for a view and watched some of the local surfers shred the gnar. When we went back to the bus Bec had tea and coffee prepared for us before we continued on the tour. The next stop was the Eastern View where we saw the Great Ocean Road archway and more views of the Pacific.  We continued down the road making several more stops to take pictures of the water and magnificent cliff side views but pictures really don't do it justice. Scattered showers throughout the morning resulted in multiple rainbows casted over the cliffs making the views even more incredible.  In between stops Bec gave us information on the local areas we were driving through and we were even privileged enough to listen to her plethora of indigenous Australian animal impressions.  What a treat that was!

 We stopped for lunch at Kafe Koala for chicken schnitzel burgers and walked up the hill to look at the wild koalas. We were able to find two koalas but photos were challenging because they were so high up in the trees.  We also had a chance to feed some birds out of our hands which was all fun until one of the birds used Laura's shoulder as a toilet.  We made another rest stop shortly after and I got cookies & cream ice-cream from the award winning Dooley’s Ice Cream Tub which definitely lived up to the hype.  Next, Bec took us through the rain forest and told us about the various plants and trees as well as some of the animals that can be found there during the warmer seasons including the echidna, platypus, and a carnivorous snail.  

We had a short nap session on the way to the 12 Apostles National Park, which was roughly an hour away. I severely underestimated the amount of time that we would spend driving and it showed in the plummeting battery life on my phone. Luckily the land we drove through was filled with a variety of landscapes that had my attention. The 12 Apostles was my favorite stop of the tour. Here we saw the massive limestone cliffs and rock formations of the coastline unlike anything I have ever seen.  These cliffs were formed by years and years of erosion from the wind and waves crashing against the rock. Unfortunately the weather was cold, cloudy, and the wind was beyond aggressive. However the occasional break in the clouds that allowed the sun to shine through unveiled the potential beauty of the Australian coastline.  A short drive away was the Loch Ard Gorge where we could walk down to the beach and get up close to the water and look at the surrounding caves. Before heading back for dinner we stopped to look at a mob of kangaroos on the hillside just before the sunset. 
Lisa treated us to dinner and dessert at La Porchetta where I enjoyed lasagna and my new favorite dessert, sticky date cake aka that sticky sticky.  After dinner everyone was in a food coma until we arrived back at the hostel.  Once we were back a few people went out for one last night on the town while others got a head start on packing.
Overall it was a great way to end an amazing trip.  It was a long and busy day but we got to see yet another incredible part of this country and also spend time together as a group one last time.  I made a lot of new friends on this trip and couldn’t have asked for a better group to share this experience with. I am sure we will stay in touch after returning home and hopefully we will see each other again in the near future.  I will never forget all of the laughs and adventures that were had on this trip.  It went by fast but at the same time it feels like we landed in Brisbane ages ago.  Now it is time to finish packing and get some sleep before we check out at 6:00 tomorrow morning.

Me, Broy, and the bus

Tea and coffee with Bec (far left)

Great Ocean Road Archway 

Broy and beach pics

Broy takes on the rain forest 

12 Apostles National Park

Loch Ard Gorge

Sticky sticky and ice cream

Monday, June 8, 2015

June 8th: Game Day!

Sadly it's my day to blog, which means that this trip is almost over. After everyone woke up to prove to Lisa and Linda that we were all still alive, some headed to the casino to watch the NBA game while others ventured off for some brunch. Now for the folks like me who enjoy sleep, we slept in a bit and later joined the group to meet Linda’s daughter, Sydney, and head off to the AFL game. I think we were all a little more excited for this game because, unlike rugby union and rugby league, we hadn't learned the rules prior to watching the game. After arriving at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds (MCG), Maura, Carolyn, Skye, Sarah, Bryan, Sydney, Stefani and Laura discovered the face paint and decided to get a little AFL spirit going.


Seeing as we had never had an AFL lesson, none of us had any idea as to what was going on in the game. A few nice individuals (those that overheard us trying to figure out what was going on and, I assume, felt bad for us so they decided to step in and help) sitting nearby helped us out with all of our confused, American questions and explained the game to us. By half time we felt like AFL pros. Ryan and Jeb (Sarah) were slightly tired because before the end of the third quarter, each had fallen asleep multiple times.


We were really starting to get into the game as we learned more and more. It was a close match up until the end where the Collingwood Magpies finished off with a win over the Melbourne Demons of 85 – 110. Some group members decided to leave the game early to beat the crowd while only a few of us stayed for the ending. Leaving the game, we lost a few more group members and all met back at the hostel. Some decided to stay in and hangout while others decided to go out, find dinner and have a bit of fun. As our favorite Chinese spot was closed, we went next door to a similar restaurant and had some questionable food (at least mine and Trevor’s food was questionable). To finish off our second to last night, we had a bit of fun then headed back to the hostel to end our night.

I hope this blog, though short, fulfilled your daily wonders about what we are doing in this amazing country. It’s been a great trip so far and I’m glad be sharing it with all these incredible new friends. Thanks to everyone who’s been keeping up with this blog, mostly my mom who only reads it so she doesn’t have to ask me about our day!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

June 7th: (Not so) Free Day!!

Warning: If you have spent 5 minutes of you time with me, you are well aware that one of my top talents is talking. Unfortunately for all of you, my long-winded nature does not change when I put words on paper. So, grab some coffee because this may take some time to get through. I promise to make it worth your while by ending with pictures!

After a few weeks of waiting, I was gifted the opportunity of blogging on one of our free days! This was a privilege quickly revoked once Lisa remembered that we had a 10:30am tour of the enormous Melbourne Cricket Grounds (MCG), followed by time in their National Sport Museum.  I was far from upset waking up this morning, however, as I remembered being proposed to by Trevor’s handsome little brother last night during a FaceTime with his jaw-dropping mother! Ladies: he’s blonde, confident, just received his kindergarten degree, and he’s getting in the game early. Not only did I have a delightful conversation on my mind to drag myself out of bed (it was a bit of a struggle this morning, I won’t lie), I also had junk food day to look forward to. Yes Mom and Dad, you read that correctly, I ate like a normal human today with a lot of forceful peer pressure from my 16 awesome classmates. After a banana bread breakfast we headed off to the circular tram and into the stadium. Although I started a bit rough after walking past a VERY easily missed boundary sign, Sarah’s blatant laughing during my scolding from a miffed security guard made my red face less embarrassing. Not to worry, our tour began 3 short minutes later.

Our tour guide, Alan, was a peppy and knowledge-filled MCG volunteer with an ever-growing passion for the game of cricket. Facts concerning the MCG flew out of his mouth like an auctioneer at times, but here is what I could catch and get written down quickly enough to share:

-       Built 176 years ago, MCG was one host venue for the 1956 Olympic games.
-       The stadium, home to no specific team but instead acting as a host for Australian Football League (AFL) and the Melbourne Cricket Club, holds 100,000 people at maximum capacity. This splits into 95,000 seats with standing room for an additional 5,000 spectators.
-       Each year approximately 58 AFL games are held between April 1st and the end of September after the conclusion of about 40 cricket games held between October 1st and the end of March.
-       Of the 18 total cricket clubs in Australia, the city of Melbourne is home to 10!
-       After recently replacing the field turf for the first time in 15 years at a cost of $1.7 million, MCG determined they would no longer hold concerts to preserve the integrity of the playing field itself. The large field/pitch is computerized to provide constant feedback concerning temperature and water saturation levels, oil composition details, and various other information that grass fanatics would kill for.  To each their own?
-       Another $7 million was spent on digital advertising boards based on the American concept of selling ad space around sporting venues.
-       There are no imaging systems available on site for use despite rooms in each locker room for physiotherapists and team physicians.
-       The record for largest attendance is 135,000 when Billy Graham took over (before non-sporting events were dismissed from the schedule).

      After our speedy tour we were showed to the Game On center, the interactive portion of the museum. Once our thirty-minute time slot expired we made our way through the fact and stat-filled exhibits until we had our fill of AFL legends, cricket heroes, and other Aussie greats. At 12:30pm we left and split into smaller groups to bounce around town.  

      Our fearless leaders, Linda and Lisa, showed a few group members back to the Queen Victoria Market while two more groups decided to scavenge for food in the laneways Sydney described in her blog yesterday. Sydney, Sarah and I ended up at a burger place called Grill’d that a woman on the tram recommended. My junk food day didn’t start off too strong when I ordered a grilled chicken sandwich, but there was a French fry involved in there somewhere! A quick glare from Sarah and a tongue lashing from Sydney ended in the three of us splitting Dutch pancakes once we made our way back to the Market. After devouring the puffy silver dollar pancakes covered in powdered sugar, icecream, and chocolate syrup, the three of us (and my shoulders) began our treasure hunt for souvenirs, clothes, and anything we could convince ourselves we really needed in the moment. (No, we didn’t let Sarah buy the memory foam Skechers she found, but let me tell you an unpleasant temper tantrum was thrown). Lucky for us, we ran into a few groups of our friends and we all eventually made our way to our hostel for well-deserved rest time…just after I stopped to buy some TimTams, of course.
      At 6:30pm, after some life-changing and revitalizing naps, Leah and Ryan went to church and the rest of us went to Brunswick Street for Italian food. Splitting into multiple groups, Skye, Laura, and Carolyn ate on the opposite side of the same restaurant that Sydney, Bryan, and I ate in, though we didn’t figure this out until we saw our matching take away boxes 40 minutes later. As some groups made their way home after eating, Syd, Bryan, and I looked for those that stayed so we could all gorge ourselves with gelato to follow our delicious pizza (yep, real cheese and everything, what a day! This whole community bathroom situation is about to get interesting…). Finding them in an American-themed bar was humorous with the most random memorabilia plastering the walls. Two of my favorites were the stuffed animal claw machine and the only college flag being from Nebraska, and it should be noted the Yankees emphasis was not appreciated. Coming home and calling it an early night was a great move considering it is currently 11:40pm and I am by myself in the lounge while everyone else is sleeping soundly in their beds listening to one another snore. If you would like to finish your reading expedition here, I completely understand, thanks for sticking with me! I’ll end with this: thank you to Lisa for your immaculate planning and execution, Linda for being forever-calm and reasonable, my parents and family for sending me on this trip, my friends for waiving my monthly dues but still talking to me while I’m away, my classmates for making this an unforgettable and once in a lifetime experience, and all of those that have taken the time to show/explain/teach something to all of us as we expand our capabilities on social, academic, and personal levels. For those of you that would like some pictures and a quick update on your favorite people, see below!

1)   Matt is thriving is this art-filled city where there is always another piece to look at, whether it is a professional painting or amateur street art in a laneway.
2)   Carolyn is still rocking an incredible tan that makes everyone jealous while going with the flow and adding a smile to every situation.
3)   Dad (Trevor) continues to serenade all of us whenever the opportunity presents itself and is even working on incorporating song into his graceful tension-dissipating strategies. Sorry to break it to you, Trevor, but your Mom is the real star of this trip.
4)   Stefani rode a roller coaster of emotions today as she woke up at 4:30am to watch a victorious soccer game, followed by the realization that her all time favorite player is leaving the team. We’re all here for you in this time of need, Stef.
5)   Uncle Dusty (Dustin) and his fully formed frontal lobe are mastering this tram system faster than everyone and it’s working to all of our advantage.
6)   Zack is slaying the ladies 24/7 with his irresistible winking ability, meanwhile mumbling perfectly timed hilarious snippets for only those around him to enjoy.
7)   Ryan is rocking some new soccer gear while always being down to volunteer when the group needs someone to demonstrate anything.
8)   Emma, the unanimous group favorite, is still being offered kids’ menus while sitting at the adult table, but that doesn’t stop her contagious laughter from bubbling out constantly.
9)   Leah has done a fantastic job keeping us all updated on US scores and necessary info while repping X with pride everywhere she goes.
10)  Morgan remains calm, cool, and collected while knowing the details of our schedule whenever needed, since none of us can ever seem to remember.
11)  Skye will never cease to be one full of kind words and a compliment to perk up our days.
12)  Sarah is becoming increasing courteous as the trip goes on. She even napped with her Skechers on today so they wouldn’t stink up our room. Jebby Webby Wechter, you’re too thoughtful!
13) Laura is always looking picture perfect and sets the bar high everyday for every girls’ hair goals. This golfing beauty queen articulates herself incredibly.
14)  Sydney has showed amazing self restraint with shopping on this trip (really Mrs. Maxwell, I swear!) and has only worn a dress two times…that’s unheard of!
15)  Emily, charming accent and all, is always lighting up whatever room she walks into. Somehow this saint is surviving sharing a room with myself, Sarah, and Sydney… I apologize if we send her back a bit traumatized.
16) Last but not least, Bryan breaks our hearts a little bit each day that he leaves Broy (his new beloved hat) locked away in his room. It’ okay, though, Bryan and his sarcasm are usually company enough.

I hope the States are ready for us to be back, even if we aren’t ready to leave this beautiful place. Where else can you find middle aged men in neon vests everywhere you turn?! Bye friends, old and new, thanks for reading! Shoutout to Mrs. Davis, our unwavering reader. I hope you found this chapter of your book satisfyingJ

Linda and Lisa, always ready for action! Thank you again to these two amazing women.

MCG tour group, whirlpools in the locker rooms, and one crowded elevator. (Thank you to Morgan for be willing to be stuffed against the wall for me to take this!)

Interactive Game On center where Stef practiced archery and Matt sized up the competition. Note the small and subtle No Access sign that anyone could have easily walked by without noticing...

Leah continuing her shoe shopping game, Zack warming up to release a new wink, Ryan juggling like a pro, Trevor posing to match his twin in the picture behind him, and Emma soaking in a view of the Melbourne skyline.

Running into friends at the Market, Dustin and Trevor compete for the best reaction time, Bryan attempts cricket and Sydney uses her softball skills to show him how it's really done.

French fries, Skechers, Nebraska fans, gelato, some interesting entertainment, and A $12.50 PINT OF BEN AND JERRY'S (don't take your icecream for granted, people!)

Dutch pancakes, a view of Melbourne's skyline, and Carolyn happily strolling with Sarah

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Day 3 in Melbourne

Hello friends, family, and random strangers,
            It’s day three here in Melbourne and sadly, we’re in the final stretch of our trip.  For those of you who have been keeping up with the blog, you’re well aware of how much fun we’ve been having over the past few weeks, and for those of you who haven’t been…start catching up! We’ve only been in Melbourne for two and a half days but it’s been jammed full of fun (and of course educational) activities.  

After a fun night of “group bonding” followed by a bit of a slow start this morning we were off on a walking tour of Melbourne . Luckily, no one got lost this morning (*cough* Linda). According to my FitBit we covered about six miles on the tour and while I can’t 100% confirm the accuracy, it definitely felt like it.  If only I had Skechers like Jeb’s to prevent my feet from hurting.  However, I can’t imagine a better way to get to know the city than walking through it.  Our tour guide, Courtney, was extremely knowledgeable (at least he seemed like it, but who knows he could have made it all up) and taught us everything we need to know about Melbourne.

The tour started off at what used to be the Magistrate building and prison where Australia’s most famous criminal, Ned Kelly, was convicted of three counts of murder and sentenced to death by hanging.  However, the building is now party of a University, RMIT.  Courtney told us all about the story of Ned Kelly and his gang and while he may have been a criminal, he was seen as a hero to the Australian people because the majority of his crimes were committed against authorities, much like Robin Hood.  It seems that Ned Kelly was an extremely interesting man, so if you’re interested in learning more about him check out the 2003 movie starring Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom.
The tour also took us past a lot of buildings that were built during the Marvelous Melbourne Era (1850-1880).  In 1851 gold was discovered in several locations throughout Victoria (the state that Melbourne is in for those who don’t know) and the gold rush that ensued radically changed Melbourne. In just a year the town’s population doubled and this large influx of people fuelled an economic boom that lasted for the next forty years, thus creating the Marvelous Melbourne Era.  Melbourne was the richest city in the world at this time and rapidly expanded with the building of places such as the Parliament House, the Royal Exhibition Building, and the Princess Theatre.  But as they say, “All good things must come to an end” and in the early 1890s the city of Melbourne suffered a huge economic downturn where more than half of their banks collapsed, resulting in a massive depression.   But, they recovered and while they may not be the richest or biggest city in the world anymore, they are constantly competing with Sydney to be the best city in Australia. 

Art is a huge part of the culture here, especially street art.  We walked down multiple laneways and alleys lined with buildings that are used as artists’ canvases.  The artwork was incredible and made me feel like I have absolutely zero talent or artistic ability (probably because I don’t).  It was definitely my favorite part of the tour.  Not only because of the art, but also some of the best bars and restaurants are located in these alleys that I never would have thought to go down if Courtney hadn’t taken us down them. 

As I said earlier, the tour covered over six miles of city and lasted about three hours.  That being said, this was an extremely brief recap of everything we learned about on the tour.  For those of you who are lucky enough to know me, I’ll be sure to fill in all of the missing details when I get home next week. 

The tour finished up around 12:30 and we split up into smaller groups to go to lunch and explore the city.  A group of us went back to the Royal Arcade, which was a place we had visited on our tour that is kind of like an upscale indoor strip mall filled with little shops restaurants and cafes.  We ate at a place called CafĂ© Segovia and it was delicious. But unfortunately some of the girls ended up at an authentic Chinese restaurant that wasn't quite as delicious.

After a short tram ride back Maura and I decided to walk around the Queen Victoria Market for a couple of hours.  The Victoria Market is kind of like a hybrid of a giant outdoor flea market and a giant farmer’s market.  Mo and I both agreed that we could spend an entire day there if we had the time.  By 3 o’clock pretty much everyone was down for the count.  Everyone made their way back to the hostel to nap and get ready for another fun night out in the city. (I promise I’m learning a lot too Mom and Dad).

It's crazy to think we only have three days left on this excellent adventure.

The prison where Ned Kelly was held and later sentenced to death by hanging.  It's now part of a University, RMIT

The Royal Exhibition building

The Princess Theatre, which is one of the buildings built during the Marvelous Melbourne Era

Street art of Ned Kelly 

It's day 21 and I still have to take a minute sometimes when we're walking around these giant cities and remind myself that I'm actually in Australia right now.  I think I can speak for everyone when I say how thankful I am to have had this opportunity and to have chaperones like Lisa and Linda who (mostly Lisa, Linda is just here to fold the laundry and boil the eggs) have planned all of these incredible things for us to do and see while we're here.  I don't think there's another study abroad trip in the world that could even compare to the one we're on.

 I'll wrap up my post by saying a HUGE thank you to my beyond amazing parents for sending me on this trip of a lifetime.  I love you and can't wait to see you in four days!! Stay tuned to hear about all of the other fun (and educational) things we do over the last few days!

-Sydney Maxwell (not Sarah Wechter even though google seems to think I am)