Archive for » May, 2011 «

The Royal Easter Show: Sydney’s County Fair

Like catching fish in a barrel

As part of our ongoing quest to attend a variety of Australian events and festivals, we somehow stumbled upon Sydney’s Royal Easter Show. The name is a bit ambiguous really… what exactly are they showing? Turns out the answer is: all sorts of stuff. The Royal Easter Show is a bazaar, carnival and county fair all rolled into one massive event. For 10 days leading up to Easter, it takes over the Olympic Park grounds outside of Sydney. Since we were planning to visit Melbourne for the Easter weekend, we decided to go early.

Land on a lily pad, win a Kermit!

As is often the case, transportation was a breeze. A train from Central Station took us straight to the Olympic Park in 20 minutes and dropped us off right at the entrance. Upon entering the show, we checked out a couple demonstrations, like this guy showing off some new fishing tackle. We then made our way to the carnival area, where Kristen skillfully launched enough frogs onto moving lily pads to earn herself a brand new Kermit the Frog plush.

A banana stand but no Bluths in sight

In addition to the carnival games, there were aisles upon aisles of  storefronts selling everything imaginable. Most of it you probably wouldn’t want to buy, but there were plenty of people happy to sell it to you. There were also some rather entertaining takes on American culture at the concession stands, but I, an Arrested Development fan, found this one to be particularly fun.

A wood chopping competition

Next stop was one of the smaller arenas to observe the wood chopping competition. For those of you who have never attended a wood chopping competition, they, well, chop wood. Lots of it. Forklifts are required to cart giant logs into the arena and wood chips out. A job better left to the machines, you say? Not for these strapping lads, who managed to hack through a rather sizable stump in around a minute or so.

Moving on, we stopped by a fenced in area where several horses were running around getting some exercise. We would have moved on pretty quickly were it not for Frank the horse. Frank was hungry, but apparently he was supposed to be exercising. However, every time the supervising cowboy wasn’t looking (and sometimes when he was), Frank would attempt to steal a snack from a nearby bucket of food. Of course, the cowboy would catch poor old Frank and yell “FRANK!” I’ve never seen what I would call a guilty looking horse before, but they’re pretty easy to spot.

Caution: Cattle Crossing

As it turns out, the livestock on display was the, er, meat of the Royal Easter Show. There were warehouses and showrooms filled with cows, pigs, chickens and all sorts of other farm animals, often accompanied by displays and demonstrations educating the general public about various farmyard processes. Though most of the animals were confined to pens, they were occasionally moved around for various reasons, at which point you better stay out of their way!

Guess who's about to fall in?

One of the items on the afternoon agenda that caught our eye was the Husqvarna Lumberjack Show. We expected it to be something along the lines of a lumberjack skills demonstration. Turns out we were half right. While the lumberjacks in question were indeed skillful, they were also performers, so they had a whole Dumb and Dumber routine going on as well. Even so, it was still pretty entertaining.

The night concluded with a Australia vs. New Zealand rodeo competition (the Aussies won) and some automotive demonstrations (dirt bikes and utes) that unfortunately had to be toned down due to recent rainfall. A good show all around and felt just like home :)

The Royal Easter Show Rodeo!

All around Sydney: Botanic Gardens, Tropfest, Mardi Gras and Surfing

Posts have been a bit sparse as of late, but with good reason: we’ve been busy with a lot of rather uninteresting stuff. I started on a telecom project in Melbourne in the beginning of February, so I’m traveling there every week. Kristen has been immersed in classes, team meetings and coursework, so she’s been busy as well. Nonetheless, we’ve still been able to fit a few things in here and there.

A leisurely day at the Royal Botanic Gardens

At the end of January we took a walk up to Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens, starting at the north end of the Domain and going all the way up to the Opera House. The Botanic Gardens are host to a variety of native Australian plants and some wildlife as well (mostly birds and spiders). A great place for a picnic or just some general relaxation, the Botanic Gardens also hosts the St. George OpenAir Cinema, an outdoor theater with a spectacular backdrop.

Power Plant exhibit at the Chinese Garden of Friendship

Later that night, we stopped by Darling Harbour for the last weekend of the Power Plant exhibit at the Chinese Garden of Friendship. A combination of light, sound and pyrotechnics, we were able to see and hear parts of it from the corporate apartment, so we made sure to stop by and see it for ourselves. It ended up having a bit of a outdoor Haunted Mansion feel, with sections eerily lit by old floor lamps, lots of fire and a variety of odd sounds coming from all over the place. Unique though, and worth the visit. Keep an eye on my photo gallery… more pictures are on the way.

Representing Glass City Films at Tropfest

Tropfest, the world’s largest short film festival, is held in Australia every year. The main event takes place at the Domain in Sydney and is broadcast throughout the country. Coming from humble beginnings at the Tropicana Cafe in Darlinghurst, it is now quite a sizable event, with a record national audience of 1,000,000 people this year (of which 100,000 were on site at the Domain). Films must be less than 7 minutes long and must premiere at the festival, where the top 16 finalists are screened and a winner is chosen. We stopped by for some of the films and were lucky enough to catch the winner on the big screens. Of course, we also had to represent our favorite film studio, Glass City Films!

Mardi Gras in Surry Hills

Sydney also celebrates Mardi Gras, but perhaps not in the same way as other cities. In Sydney, Mardi Gras is also the Gay Pride Parade and is billed as one of the largest (if not the largest) in the world. Featuring close to 10,000 participants and upwards of 300,000 spectators, the parade and ensuing after party are often cited as a must-see event for the worldwide LGBT community. We didn’t make it to the after party, but after getting past the barricades, we found some prime undercover real estate on Oxford Street to watch the festivities and stay out of the rain.

Kristen and friends at the MBA Cup after-party

Every year the students from AGSM in Sydney and MBS in Melbourne meet up for a weekend of friendly competition. Alternating between Sydney and Melbourne each year, this year’s competition (in Sydney) includes a variety of academic and athletic events, from debates to rugby. I didn’t attend most of the events, but I did tag along for the volleyball game and was happy to participate when they needed a couple extra players. Sydney ended up winning the majority of the events over the weekend, so to celebrate the victory (and help the Melbournians drown their sorrows), the after party was held at the Beach Palace Hotel.

Hawaiian Night at the ThoughtWorks Team Hug

Twice each year, all of ThoughtWorks Australia gets together for a staff meeting, affectionately called a “Team Hug”. This year the meeting was held outside of Sydney at Ettalong Beach and included a variety of talks from ThoughtWorkers and a rousing Social Justice-focused keynote from Roy, the founder. There was also a Hawaiian themed party on Saturday night, so I made sure to acquire a classy Hawaiian shirt and a hula skirt to complete my outfit.

Our first surfing lesson!

If you were to ask me before our trip what sport I thought I would become good/better at when I came to Australia, I probably would have answered something like “surfing” or “volleyball”. Turns out the answer is actually “bowling” … I was on the team for a corporate challenge and a weekly bowling outing has persisted in Melbourne for the travelers. We’ve still had time to try out surfing though, and while our first attempt was thwarted by rough waters, our second attempt was successful and we were both able to get up for at least a couple seconds. It’s not easy, but it sure is a lot of fun. If you plan to learn to surf when you visit (and you should!), Maroubra Beach is an excellent place to start. It has a nice sandbar that makes it easy to get out to where the waves start to break and it’s a bit less crowded than some of the other beaches.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a couple of months. We’ve got a couple of exciting trips on the horizon though, so stay tuned :)

First-Hand Guide: Renting in Sydney, Australia

Our corporate apartment. Thanks ThoughtWorks!

One of our first priorities after arriving was finding a place to live. ThoughtWorks kindly subsidized a corporate apartment for our first month but, given the duration of our stay here, we needed to find a place of our own. We were warned prior to arriving that this would be a challenge, but we weren’t entirely prepared for what it actually entailed.

Sydney and its nearby suburbs have a notoriously low rental vacancy rate, currently 1.5%. By comparison, the rental vacancy rate in the U.S. is 6.2%, the lowest level since 2008. As you can imagine, it’s a landlord’s market here in Sydney, so trying to find a place takes a lot of work.

Houses by Coogee Beach

So what does this actually mean? Well, rental units are obviously still available and come on the market regularly, there’s just a lot more competition for the better places. This became apparent when we showed up for our first inspection and saw 10 other groups of people waiting to see the same place. Inspections are essentially open houses and are normally scheduled for a 15-30 minute period on Saturdays. Since most people will plan to visit as many units as possible, we often would see the same groups at 2 or 3 different places.

Many of the people who attend an inspection will submit an application, so visiting a variety of places and locations is a must. We originally considered living by the beach but ultimately decided to live in the city. Units in high-rises tended to have more predictable layouts and within walking distance to everything we need, including multiple modes of public transportation. Also, finding a house was primarily my job, so looking in the city was easier than trekking out to the beach :)

Our new apartment!

As you might expect, renting a place quickly becomes a numbers game… the more applications you submit, the more likely it is that you’ll be the one picked by the landlord. However, we found that some real estate agents, usually the smaller ones, were willing to schedule private inspections during the week in addition to the public inspections on the weekend. This turned out to be very helpful, since, if you schedule an inspection early in the week and submit an application on the spot, it’s likely to be reviewed by the landlord before the public inspection hits. Assuming you look like a reasonable tenant, you have a much better chance of getting the place.

In the end, that’s what worked for us. We found a few places we liked via open inspections. We weren’t selected for one of the places we applied to and another was already taken between the time we saw the place (Saturday) and the time we turned in our application (Monday). However, one of the places we found through a small real estate agent and viewed on a Tuesday was ours a few days later.