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Hi, everyone...sorry it has taken me so long to write about what I have been doing. I just got back from my big trip to the mainland. I spent three days in Sydney, one on a train, two in Melbourne, and two on the Great Ocean Road. I'll just highlight on what stood out to me or I would write end up writing a complete novel…although it may be almost that long.

Sydney was a lot of fun, but as my mom and dad said a city is a city is a city. Although I did get to go to Fox Studios Australia, where they filmed some of the matrix and will be filming parts of Stars Wars Episode II and III. That was really neat but it is so much smaller than universal...only one action ride. (Michelle...I took some pics of the Babe goes to the City set for you). Saw a lot but nothing spectacular.

So there I was sitting on the train for a ten-hour ride through the southeast part of Australia as I traveled from Sydney to Melbourne when an Anzac entered our train car and sat down across the aisle from us where a little boy sat with his mother. He took out his harmonica and started playing Australian national anthems and more children started gathering around him. So there I was listening to Waltzing Matilda on harmonica while rolling green hills spotted with sheep and black and white cattle grazing with the sunlight beaming down and making the world glow raced by outside my window. The stops along the route were small and the train stations were wooden buildings that still had signs that say Ladies and Gentlemen for the bathrooms carved in wood and hanging from the ceiling. There are wooden benches along the platform where people sat waiting eagerly to abroad and or great friends and family returning from the Easter weekend. It was unreal and I felt like I had been transported into some movie scene or something.

I spent Wednesday and Thursday taking a bus tour with twenty other backpackers along the Great Ocean Road. It's just miles and miles of amazing coastline. I took so many pictures (over fifty actually) which I hope to get some of them posted in the next couple of weeks. The first day we saw beautiful beaches and bays. I am always amazed at how turquoise the water is here. The colors are so brilliant and the sand so smooth and soft. On Thursday, we got to see the rocks. More miles of breathtaking coast but this time it was not all beaches but rather the water has shaped the rock cliffs into arches, caves, and blowholes. I can't believe how amazing it was. Oh I am *so* excited. Rob had his video camera with him the whole week so he is going to make me a copy of the tape so I will be able to show you some of what I have seen and he is going to let me video tape places around Tassie when he comes to visit me at the beginning of June:-) Lots of smiles from me.

At one point during the two days, I felt as though I were in space floating among the stars. But really I was just walking through a rainforest surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of little glowworms. I could have sat and stared forever. Tiny little specks of light everywhere, all around me. It was absolutely amazing. Oh and by the way, glowworms aren’t really worms at all! They are actually phosphorescent insect larvae:-)

I was scared of being a backpacker at first -- like being homeless. Traveling with your clothes on your back, bunking with strangers, cooking in a common kitchen. But suddenly for a brief moment in time, the world becomes your home and the strangers your friends. Drinking a beer in a cabin along the Great Ocean Road, laughing and listening as people from all over the world gathered together as friends and told jokes and teased each other. Accents blending into a beautiful harmony. For two days these strangers were friends. And then we all left and returned to our respective lives - strangers once more.

For a bit I was jealous of the people that I met who are here just backpacking around for three or four months. They are going to see so much more of Australia than I am because they don't have to worry about classes but then I realized living in a house with Australians and becoming part of the community is such an awesome experience that they are missing. When you're a backpacker, you meet tons of people from other countries but not too many Australians so you don't get to submerse yourself in their culture.

It's funny...Audra asked me about the culture differences and I have been here for almost three months now that it took me a while to actually think of any. I think the biggest is that this country is so laid back. No worries:-) And they are never afraid to rail on someone. I have been often called a sepo (jokingly of course) Oh I guess I should explain what sepo is. I am a yank and yank rhymes with septic tank which has been shortened to sepo...don't ask. People here love to rhyme and shorten words so it takes a while to understand certain phrases and their origins. (totally off base...ask me to say aluminum, addidas, Nissan, and Nike when I get home) However, for a laid back friendly culture people are not nearly as open as Americans. They tend to joke and laugh together but rarely tell a lot of personal information unless you become friends with them. (Audra - I'll write more if I can think of them...I'll start paying attention to non verbal ones that I may have not noticed.)

On Saturday morning, before I had to leave for the airport I walked around Queen Victoria Market, which is similar to Salamanca except heaps bigger. I love the open air markets...I'm going to have to find some when I get to the states. The blend of music, voices, venders yelling, and then the smells of all the different foods. Oh and they had ducklings and chicks for sale. Only 80 cents each. They were so cute and I wanted to buy one but I didn't think they would let me take it on the plane:-(

I feel so alive...so grateful for my health...and thankful for all the support and encouragement I have received from friends and family in coming here.

"There is a huge amount of Australia that few people will ever see. Rugged mountains, wide red deserts, and thick tropical rainforests are a small sample of what's out there waiting for the explorer willing to rough it a bit. Those that do get out there will see a land so amazing that a person could spend the rest of their life trying to describe it.” -Steve Parish

Those last few words are exactly how I feel. I find myself constantly trying to search for words that will enable me to share a least a small part of what it is I am experiencing - not just the beauty of seeing it but the emotions of experiencing such works of art. If I can for a moment transport you here and allow you to feel what I feel I will have accomplished so much.

Continue enjoying spring for me and writing emails even if I slack in responding. I love hearing from all of you! It's back to uni and work for me. I have four more weeks of classes, then swotvac for a week and then two weeks of finals. And then guess what! I'm coming home! :-) I'll know sometime next week what the exact date will be.

Miss everyone heaps and can't wait to see you this summer.

Smiles and hugs,

Michelle

PS thanks to the speech and debate team for nominating and electing me treasurer! Look forward to being back with you all.

PPS good luck on finals to everyone who has them.

            

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