Feel Like Rain.

Posted by Brandon at 2:25 am on Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Filed under Australia,Melbourne

Melbourne, as well as much of Victoria, has been suffering from what appears to be a pretty serious drought over the past several years.  Thus, the rain this past weekend was widely appreciated.  Except for the fact that it ruined my plans to have a picnic in the botanical gardens.

My friends Leanne and Nicole from home,  who happen to be studying at Deakin University in Melbourne, met up with my friends and I from the Student Village at Flinder’s Street Station in the city, and we had all of these great intentions to have a sunny, warm, picnic-y day.  I even bought salads to share, and I don’t often share food.  But I guess it’s more important for Melbourne to stop having a drought than for me to eat a meal outside.

We then stumbled upon an outdoor festival dedicated to the fact that the Olympics are going to take place in Beijing, China.  There were so many people there in support of the event.  But again, it was too cold and rainy for us to thoroughly enjoy the situation.  We stuck around for a little, ate some food, watched some performances, and decided on a new game plan.

Instead we thought it would be fun to go to a nearby casino.  I figured it sounded like a fresh idea, even though I don’t gamble.  A game that involves potentially losing money just isn’t fun to me.  I’m also really bad at poker and such.  Exhibit A:  I once bet all of my money on a pair of two’s and was surprised when I lost.  However, Tracy forgot her ID, and couldn’t get into the casino.  I personally think it was a blessing in disguise; I probably would have left the casino bankrupt.

We finally decided to just go to a local coffee shop and chat.  We thought it would be a bright idea to enjoy our warm beverages in the outside dining area.  Unfortunately, this thought process occurred in between rain clouds.  Of course it started raining again, and we had to rethink our seating strategy.  We moved underneath a pavilion so the rain couldn’t hit us, and the employees moved these portable heaters next to us.  It kind of reminded me of drinking hot chocolate during a snow storm.  Except we weren’t drinking hot chocolate and it wasn’t snowing, but you get the idea.

Overall it was a gorgeous day, even if the weather didn’t reflect it.  It’s refreshing to know that, even when you’re across the world, sitting in a coffee shop talking with your friends can still be the best day ever.

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“Because a Moment can Become Eternity Depending on What it Contains.”

Posted by Brandon at 6:00 am on Saturday, April 26, 2008
Filed under Australia,Melbourne

My friends and I decided to keep a promise that we made to ourselves and do some touristy things around Melbourne.  First up:  the Melbourne Museum.

The area surrounding the museum is really beautiful.  It’s clean and the architecture is stunning.  It made us jump for joy (literally).


(Tracy, Natsumi and I jumping for joy).

The inside of the museum is massive.  There are several different sections, each of which could easily take two hours to see.  Originally, we planned on visiting the museum with the sole purpose of seeing the new Aboriginal art exhibit.  However, when we reached the museum, we realized there were a million other things we wanted to see in addition to the art exhibit.  So unfortunately, we spread our time a little too thin, and I didn’t end up seeing everything I wanted to.  But it’s okay; I will return.

We visited the sections dedicated to insects, marine life, the human body, and the human mind.  The insect and marine animal exhibits weren’t anything I haven’t seen before, but the human body/mind display was really interesting to me.  It went through the history of mental illnesses and people’s perceptions of them, as well as how they have been treated in the past.  I have no idea why this struck such a chord, but it really got to me.  People used to be treated like psychological disorders were their fault.   That’s really messed up.  If I had the words, I would elaborate on this issue.  But I think everybody should look at an exhibit like this one, even if it makes them feel a little uncomfortable.  I digress.  The museum closed right after I finished getting through the human mind section, so we were forced to leave.

Jump back to my friends and I being extreme tourists.  It turns out the Melbourne Museum is basically across the street from Little Italy.  Perfect.  For some reason we all forgot to eat a substantial amount of food before visiting the museum.  Hungry City, and I was the Mayor.  As soon as we walked onto the street, a man outside a restaurant warned us of other restaurants fooling us with gimmicks.  I’ve never really encountered a restaurant gimmick before, so I was kind of nervous.  Apparently some places in Little Italy give you “free food” that they end up charging you for.  Thankfully, the place at which we ate wasn’t about tricks.  After a delicious meal and good conversation, we said good bye to the city… but just for the night.  Because we obviously plan on going back often and reclaiming our touristy ways.

Before I end this post, I’d like to share with you a piece of artwork I saw at the museum.  For some reason when I  saw it I was like, “Woah.  That’s beautiful.”  I know, how insightful.  But really, take a look and enjoy.

Peace & love.

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City Love.

Posted by Brandon at 4:27 am on Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Filed under Australia,Melbourne

Nothing TOO exciting has occurred recently. Life has become pretty routine here in Melbourne, which is both good and bad at the same time. It’s nice to finally have a set schedule, but I miss the excitement and the adventure from our first couple of weeks here. I need to work on that; I need to find fun, cheap things to do nearby. Australia is a lot bigger than my bank account, though. Admit it, that was clever.

One exciting thing my friends and I did recently was attend an Australian Rules Footie game. Our university apparently sponsors a popular footie team (the name of which I can’t remember. Clearly I’m a die-hard fan), so we got free tickets! I love free things. Anyway, footie is a completely original sport — not soccer, not football, and not European handball. Consequently, the entire time I was utterly confused. The field is a lot more circular than other sports, which was different to see. It was really thrilling to just get away for a night, though.  And the fans here are so hardcore about their teams. Even the walk from the train station to the stadium was spellbinding because the streets were packed and full of life in anticipation of the big game. The seats of the stadium were more crammed full of people than any game I’ve ever been to.  It was truly electrifying.

My friends and I also recently visited the city of Melbourne again to meet up with Liam after one of his classes.  It was entertaining because a comedy festival happened to be taking place in the city that day.  There were crowds of people walking up and down the streets, and tons of sideshow acts going on at street corners.  We ended up walking around Brunswick Street aimlessly for a couple of hours.   It’s an artsy, indie area, which is something I haven’t seen yet in Australia.  We went in and out of shops wishing we had money to spend on overpriced, fancy articles of clothing.  Those price tags were high, but I’m pretty sure we ate dinner for the cheapest price I’ve paid here so far, and it was absolutely delicious.  It was a Vietnamese/Thai influenced restaurant.  And it was amazing.  If I could remember the name, I’d advise you to go.  Maybe it’ll come to me in another post.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that my mom sent me what is probably the largest care package ever received by any study abroad student. Ever.  OK, that’s a slightly hyperbolic statement, but seriously, she went all out.  Two packages of Double Stuf Oreos, two packages of Rainbow Chips Deluxe cookies, two packages of cashews (what is this, Noah’s ark?  Just kidding.  That was lame), a 4lb container of my beloved Skippy peanut butter, three packages of Easter-variety Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, a box of Special K Bars, and a DVD.  Now I seem spoiled.  But it was a package for my birthday and Easter combined.  So don’t hate me.

Anyway, I think that’s all for now.  I’ve been moderately sick the past couple of days (what is going ON with my immune system?), but hopefully on Friday I’ll do something worthy of an update.  There are plans in the making.

Until then peace, love, and happy spring-time weather to everybody in… that… hemisphere.

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Mooooovies

Posted by Katrina at 12:32 pm on Monday, April 14, 2008
Filed under Australia,Melbourne

I just thought I’d update to tell you guys about some movies I’ve seen recently. Why am I thinking this would be an interesting subject for the blog, you ask? Because, my friends, none of the movies I’ve recently seen have been American. How refreshing!

On my birthday my friend Liam and I went to see St. Trinian’s, which is British. We both fell for the poster: bright colors, fun fonts, cheeky-looking school girls. It was about some off the wall girl’s school that was in danger of bankruptcy should the aforementioned pupils leave it to the big, dumb grownups to take care of business! I never expected it to be a masterpiece, but the plot (which could have been concocted by a fourth grader) didn’t carry, and the editing (which could’ve been perfected by that fourth grader’s twin sibling) was all over the place. However, Liam and I were the only ones in the entire theater, so we vented our frustrations in voices louder than typically heard in a movie theater. Sometimes a bad movie can be so dismal that it’s fun.

Next was a rental watched in a dark room, a bunch of us squished onto the bed:Death at a Funeral.  Can’t you just smell the irony? It was another British one, but this one was really good. I have to admit, British humor sometimes fails me. But I’m starting to change my mind. Tracy and I were pretty much in guffaws throughout. It’s about–duh–a funeral, which sets the scene for a bunch of little mishaps that snowball together to ultimately explode into what was a surprisingly heartwarming climax. If you rent it, take note of Uncle Alfie, the grumpy old man. He was my favorite. I always love to see elderly actors embracing the roles of real nasty, grouchy, old people, because it shows they’ve got a real keen sense of humor. Which, now that I think about it, actually does quite a bit to combat ageism. But anyway.

Last (because it was the best) is The Black Balloon. Brandon, Casey and I were having a super-laid back, mopey weekend, and one of the reviews for this movie promised we’d “laugh as much as we cried,” or something to that extent. Obviously we were drawn in like moths on your computer screen at 2 am when you’re trying to write a blog….

Ah, killed it.

Anywho, the movie did just what it promised. And this one was 100% utterly Australian, which I didn’t know going into it. All Australian actors, Aussie slang, Aussie companies. Toni Collette (mom from Little Miss Sunshine) and supermodel Gemma Ward (mistress of Vogue as of late) were both in it, as well as others I didn’t recognize. It focused on a 15 year-old boy and how he deals with his family, specifically his 13 year-old, severely autistic brother. It was one of those films where you’re just crying and crying at the end because it’s happy and it’s sad and it’s beautiful all in one. And then you walk outside and feel a little lighter, even though it feels like now you can recognize and physically feel all of the universe’s magnitude and possibility pressing down on you from the sky.

Kinda like that…if you’re psychotically analytical of your emotions. Ahem. But yeah, try and find a way to see it eventually.

Oh, also, Brandon and I are going on our third day of the cleanse. He just IM’ed me with “I want Outback steakhouse cheese fries. What are your feelings?”

The cravings are supposed to go away tomorrow.

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Class differences

Posted by Katrina at 12:25 am on Sunday, April 13, 2008
Filed under Australia,Melbourne

Although I do hear a lot about Marxism here, I’m not discussing economics. I’m talking about my actual school classes. 

The past two weeks have been spent doing the whole ‘back to the grind’ thing. It’s amazing what two weeks of travelling can do to your motivation when it comes to going to classes. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been skipping out, it’s just harder to get myself to go to class than it is here in New Paltz. I think it’s a combination of things though: for one of my classes, I have to take a 20 minute bus, wait for a 10 minute train, then take a 15 minute walk to campus. On a Friday.

But that class is my favorite by far since it’s a writing class. My other classes are…okay. I don’t mean to be a whinger, (whiner) but I really just think Australians have a different mindset towards education than Americans. I think that it’s ingrained in us since we enter schooling that we HAVE TO GO TO COLLEGE AND GET GOOD GRADES TO GET A GOOD JOB, so that’s what we strive to do.  I’ve always taken my education very seriously. Here, they’re more laid back. It’s common to take 1-3 years off after high school to travel or work or just get your bearings in the world, so sometimes it feels like my classmates are all on completely different levels. The student-teacher relationship is also really different here. At home, the professor completely runs the class, and the students can pretty much expect him or her to be an expert on the subject matter.  Sometimes here, (in some classes, not all) it’s almost as if it’s just a big group discussion that may or may not end up anywhere.

I don’t know. I’m trying really hard not to sound snobby, but I know I do. It’s not that I don’t value the education I’m getting here, I just like the way everything’s run at home better. But that’s part of the experience, eh?

In other news, I celebrated my 21st last week, and I’ve come to the conclusion I like celebrating other people’s birthdays more than my own. This one was especially weird; I felt like half of me was back home with my parents and my friends.

Hmm. I guess I’m not keeping it a secret that I’m a little homesick. I just keep thinking about Spring at home and how glorious it is. And then I look outside and notice the blustery air that’s getting colder every day. I still don’t understand how I thought I would have a full 5 months of sunshine and 80 degree weather. Que sera. So to combat the “eech” feeling the weather has been giving us lately, Brandon and I have decided to do a body cleanse. You basically drink a mixture of water, organic maple syrup, lemon juice and cayanne pepper for 10 days (if you make it that long), and it totally cleanses out all of the toxins in your immune system. Supposedly it gives you tons of energy as well. And Beyonce did it. I’m sold. I’ll let you guys know how that one works out later.

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Takeoffs and Landings.

Posted by Brandon at 4:53 am on Monday, April 7, 2008
Filed under Australia,Melbourne,Sydney

As promised, I will now write, in full, about the classic trip I like to call “Spring Break,” even though it technically took place in the autumn.

Ten of us left for the Gold Coast on Saturday, March 22nd with entirely too much luggage to seriously consider ourselves backpackers. We almost didn’t fit with all our things into the huge taxi/van that transported us to the airport. But it was nothing a little squeezing and shoving couldn’t take care of.


The flight to the Gold Coast was smooth sailing. We flew on JetStar, which, despite its cheap fares, had really beautiful, comfortable planes [insert JetStar logo and jingle here because I sound like a commercial]. Most of us on the trip were able to sit next to each other, which was fitting. I wanted to try really hard to refrain from being pegged as the obnoxious group of 20-something-year-old college students. But let’s be honest, we were on spring break.


When we got to the airport we had not set up transportation to our first hostel, Aquarius Backpackers. Luckily, it was really easy to find a cab. Unluckily, the cab driver wasn’t adequately paying attention when we told him the name of our hostel. After a 20-minute cab ride, we ended up at a beautiful resort in the middle of Surfer’s Paradise. For a second I thought it was a miracle. Then I realized it was a mistake. The cab driver had taken us to Aquarius Resort, not Aquarius Backpackers. Bummer.

About five minutes later we arrived at our not-as-luxurious-looking-but-still-decent hostel. After an hour or so of miscommunication, eight of us were split into three separate rooms, and two of us were placed into another hostel in Surfer’s Paradise. It was moderately annoying, but these things happen. The staff handled it well, and we were settled in before we knew it.

One weird thing about hostels: You often share rooms with strangers. A lot of strangers. Liam and I shared a room made up of four beds with two random people. As soon as we walked in, we noticed a frat-boy type guy passed out in his underwear on his bed. It was awkward. We left the room for a while, and when we returned our other roommate had claimed his bed as well. Liam and I were stuck with the top bunks. Awesome. Both of these individuals packed up and left by morning. Throughout our stay at the Gold Coast we went through at least six other roommates. Some were friendly, some not so friendly. But nothing was stolen from us and everybody was respectful, so it all worked out.

The beach in Surfer’s Paradise was beautiful. It reminded me of the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, the area’s name was a little misleading; there wasn’t one day of paradise-like surfing conditions. However, a few of us took advantage of what we had to work with. I only got to surf for one day because I wasn’t allowed to get the stitches above my eye wet. But, like I said, the waves weren’t that great anyway.

Jump back to me getting stitches. As previously discussed (see: Real Quick), I was fooling around with my friends and got a pretty deep cut above my right eye. I approached a lifeguard thinking he’d be able to fix it with his first aid kit, but I was wrong. He sent me to a clinic around the block. I wasn’t too excited for because of a previous pointless doctor visit (see: There’s A Class For This), but I went anyway. Tracy came with me, but snuck away for five minutes while I was in the waiting room. I thought that maybe she felt awkward in a doctor’s office, or that being around sick people was bumming her out, but then she came back with the best surprise ever.

She bought me a stuffed koala! We named him Stitchy, because I received stitches. Get it? (Not to be confused with Stitch from Disney’s Lilo and Stitch).

We also spent a day at a water park. It was fun because we were able to run around the place like we were five-year-olds again. We actually got kicked out of the children’s play area. More than once. Oops.

On the 27th we checked out of Aquarius and got on a plane to Sydney. When you get into the heart of the city, the first thing that comes to mind is “New York.” And then you see the palm trees. And you get confused.

Our hostel in Sydney, Base Backpackers, was really wonderful. The company provided free transportation from the airport, which was already an improvement from Aquarius. Additionally, the 10 of us were placed into one room with 10 beds. It was ridiculous, but incredible at the same time. Try staying in a room with 9 of your close friends in the middle of a city. Then you’ll see what I mean.

Our first stop in Sydney, besides the hostel, was the Botanical Gardens. They’re astoundingly beautiful. The place is vast, stunning, and full of wild animals. It’s also located on the way to the Sydney Opera House, which was convenient for us.

While in Sydney we also visited the aquarium, a wildlife indoor zoo type place, Darling Harbor, Bondi Beachand, perhaps most exciting of all, the Chinese Gardens.

The Chinese Gardens, while beautiful, will probably always be engrained in my memory as “the place at which I got to dress up in ancient Chinese style clothing and run around like a four-year-old.” That’s right, halfway through the gardens was a small shop at which, for $10, you could put on traditional Chinese apparel and take pictures. Obviously, my friends and I took complete advantage. And obviously it was superb.

In addition to these fine monuments and notable locations, we also celebrated Andrea’s birthday. We went to an Outback Steakhouse-esque restaurant in Darling Harbor. Andrea was brave enough to order kangaroo for dinner. The rest of us were brave enough to mooch off of her. It had a weird texture, but tasted excellent.

The next day we flew back to the Student Village. And although it was nice to come back, and although living in such close quarters got a little crazy at times, I think we’re all going to miss falling asleep and waking up next to each other every night. If possible, I’ve become even closer with these people.

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My First Spring Break

Posted by Katrina at 11:27 pm on Saturday, April 5, 2008
Filed under Australia,Melbourne

..and it’s not even Spring here. Technically, it’s Autumn.  Anyway, I have just returned from an 11 day trip first to Surfer’s Paradise in the Gold Coast and then down to Sydney. Need I say it was amazing? Well it was. But before I go into any details, I want to say thank you to everyone who commented on my last post. It meant a lot to me to read what everyone wrote, so again, thank you.

The trip started out as five of us planning a small excursion. (We figured the smaller the group, the easier it was to manage.) In the end, however, it turned into a ten plus people adventure, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Traveling to the Gold Coast the group consisted of myself, Brandon, Casey, Tracy, three Canadian girls, two Australians and one Mexican. Getting there was seamless–until we got to the hostel in Surfer’s. There had been some mix-up with the bookings, and two of us had to go find another hostel while the rest of us were split up into various rooms. (We were under the impression we’d all be together.) Everything worked out in the end–Casey, Tracy and I were in a room and just had to deal with a random person (different every night) sharing the top bunk. Other than that, the hostel was fine. Pretty small, not a lot goin’ on, but extremely clean.

We spent most of our time at the beach in Surfer’s Paradise. There’s one beach that stretches for miles and miles called Main Beach. The riptide is extremely strong at this beach, which makes swimming quite the adventure. You’re only allowed to swim in very small areas so the lifeguards can keep an eye on everything. And man, they are really on top of their stuff. They had guys out on surfboards past the breaking waves, trucks on the beach, guys with loudspeakers making announcements about currents. They’re probably the reason no one drowned while we were there. However, we did have one incident. Brandon, during an innocent water-wrestling session, split open the area right above his eyelid, kinda like the cuts boxers always get. I don’t get too queezy upon seeing blood usually, but I’m not going to lie I almost passed out when I saw the cut.  All was well, though–he just needed a few stiches. Leave it to the New Yorkers to injure themselves. Who’s next? (I’m just kidding…knock on wood/your heads!)

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Casey and Main Beach

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Tracy, ecstatic to be on vacation and Liam, angry at the sun for giving him a burn.

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Brandon takes a moment to reflect upon his stiches.

Let’s see….Tracy, Casey and I also went surfing with one of the Canadian girls. We took lessons with a company that guarenteed you stand up. We all did, so that was great but they didn’t teach us how to paddle or catch our own waves. (They kinda just…nudged us onto them.) But alas, it was a good day.

A bunch of us also ventured to Wet n Wild, a water park, for a day. My most recent memories from a water park were from Splish Splash out in Riverhead on Long Island, and they involved long lines, psychotic, running children and the wedgie you get after going on Cliffdiver. But I was really excited for Wet n Wild. We all felt like little kids for a day, it was cute.

I don’t know if I’d be able to study in Surfer’s. The beach was beautiful and the night life was poppin, but after living in Melbourne, I’ve come to the conclusion that in order to live somewhere I need more than just a beach and a martini. I like the culture and opportunity a city has to offer, which is why I was so excited to get to Sydney.

Sydney’s actually a lot like New York, just with more…ya know, G’day Mate! involved. Everyone told me I would either like Melbourne and hate Sydney or vice versa, but I thought Sydney was as beautiful as Melbourne in its one way. There’s definitely a lot to do. On our first day, we threw our stuff down in the hostel, met up with a few more friends, including EVA! who braved the plane on crutches, and headed straight to the Opera House. Our hostel was in a fantastic location–a close walk to everything we wanted to see. After a leisurely fifteen minute walk, we came to the Royal Botannical Gardens. A little seperate world from the city, it was one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever been to. If you ask me, they kick Central Park to the curb.

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Liam and a Cactus in the Gardens, followed by the largest (both in group and in size) fruit bats I have ever seen.

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Pretty Gardens

Eventually, we came to the Opera House, and just like what happened when I saw the 12 Apostles, despite the heat I got goosebumps. It’s always strange to see something that you’ve only seen in movies or pictures before, but seeing the Opera House really humbles you. I mean, I’m not one to get really excited about architectural landmarks, but I couldn’t stop staring or take enough pictures of both the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

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That night we ventured to Oxford Street, which was buzzing due to its being a Thursday. Our plans were foiled however, due to the health and saftey rules Sydney has to (annoyingly yet understandably) abide by, saying no open-toed or open-backed shoes could be worn in the bar. Seeing as a lot of us were wearing this dastardly footwear, we pretty much walked around and took in the sites until heading back to the hostel.

The next day was spent indulging in one of my favorite pastimes: shopping. I’d been good since I came to Australia–I hadn’t bought a lot of stuff. Part of this was because I knew I’d be gettin’ to Sydney where the gettin’ was good. And good it was. Looks like I’m going to ship some stuff home early if I want to make it home with just two suitcases.

We also went to the wildlife sanctuary and aquarium in Darling Harbour, where I held a rhinocerous cockroach, which is the world’s largest species of cockroach. (I don’t know what possessed me.) We also saw the world’s most dangerous snakes, wallabees, tons of butterflies, sharks and your favorite Aussie bear and mine: the koala.

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On our last full day, Brandon, Casey, Tracy, Liam and I went to the Chinese Gardens in Darling Harbor. It started out as any old tourist attraction…

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……Then we found a booth where you could dress up in traditional Chinese outfits. Best ten dollars we’ve ever spent:

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I’ll never forget that. Then, of course, we all wanted Chinese food, so we headed to Chinatown to get some grub.

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Whew. This has been long. I’m back in Melbourne now for what is probably the remainder of my trip, aside from some tentative weekends trips. Eight weeks of straight classes. Why do I have to actual attend class here? Anyway, I think I’ll end my ramblings here and leave off with some of the sights we saw. Ta Ta!

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The Sydney Tower, Bondi Beach, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Darling Harbour by lightening.

And last (and in my opinion the least), the Real World House:

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