Yes, yes, I am severely behind in my blog writing. Again. Obviously, weekly or bi-weekly blog writing is not a strength of mine. Moving on, what’s been happening? Well, let me start with a little pre-Tasmania adventure update. I’ll try my best to go in chronological order(ish) but because I want to cover a lot of ground and want to keep it short, I may (i.e., will) jump around a bit.
Before I left for Tassie, I decided that I needed to be properly outfitted. So I picked up a pair of Blundstones (which are a Tasmanian brand) and I was ready to face the wilderness. One thing you learn about Aussies is that they shorten most things (if not everything). Blundstones become blunnies and Tasmania becomes Tassie. You get it.
At the start of November, my salsa class had the graduation party for my level (1.5) in Southbank! It was heaps of fun. The goal, as set out at the start of the party (which I missed hearing by virtue of being late) was to dance with 15 new people. I have to admit this was a hard fail on my part. I definitely did not dance with 15 new people, but I’d say that I danced 5 or 6… so…. go me! Related to this but definitely a time jump, I decided to repeat weeks 3 and 4 of salsa level 1.5 at the end of November because these were the really tough steps to learn. I’m glad that I did because the foundation steps are… wait for it…the foundation to more advanced steps. After repeating the last two classes, I felt much more confident and comfortable with the steps. Unfortunately, it seemed that everyone had the same idea as me because the two classes I attended were jammed packed. I didn’t take any salsa classes in December because of my upcoming birthday and the Christmas holidays but I am excited to return in the New Year and see what salsa in January has to offer.
At the start of November I also attended my first ever spring races – a.k.a. Derby Day, pronounced DARBY Day in Australia. Derby Day is a themed day – black and white – so everyone dresses up in their black and white finery. I found the races interesting to say the least. I definitely got into the swing of thing in a black dress, pearls, and fascinator. Not going to lie, I kinda loved dressing up. To get into the races, you have to go under the Flemington Racecourse flowered arches and it kind of feels like you are in a movie. Our tickets were cheap, so we went out to sit on the lawns but it was sunny and fun and fantastic. I bet on one horse, Ocean’s 14, in one race. While he had a strong start, unfortunately he didn’t win. While I’m not into horse racing, it’s a milestone that most Aussies seem to do – so I’m glad I had the experience.
Shortly thereafter, I went off to Tassie. When I returned to Melbourne, the next week and half was pretty much spent in recovery mode. Vacation from my vacation from my vacation. Some of the highlights from this time were:
Going to see Harry Potter in Concert with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. I can’t even describe how good this was! The orchestra was playing all the music to the first Harry Potter movie, but the orchestra was so seamless and fantastic, I definitely forgot that they were even there. Every so often I would look down and it would be like, BAM!, Oh Yeah! There is an orchestra playing.
I also visited a Melbourne hallmark – Dejour Jeans in Brunswick. There is a line up to get in and there’s a line up to try on the jeans. Why? Because it’s Dejour Jeans. Obviously. While I think there is a more legitimate reason, I don’t know it. I didn’t leave with a pair of jeans, but I definitely will be back because I am sucked into the idea of having a pair before I leave Australia.
I also went to the Night Noodle Market, which was a noodle festival just near Flinders station. I’ve got to say, Melbourne and more broadly Australia has its lawn festival culture on point. So at the Night Noodle Market there are a bunch of stands where you can purchase almost any kind of noodles and some non-noodle things. It’s set up in a large park/riverside area. Once you have your food, everyone just chills on the lawn eating, chatting, and listening to music. It’s hard to put my finger on it but it’s just such an easy vibe. Love it!
I also assisted my ex-housemates in painting the backyard table. Did I mention that both of my ex-housemates are super artistic and fantastic? By assisting, I mean that I had minimal involvement, but it was still a great way to spend a Monday afternoon.
On a random day in late November, I checked out the Abbotsford Convent and Brighton Beach Bathing Houses. The Convent used to be a Convent and is now used a mixed art centre space. It’s a great place to check out and grab a bite to eat. There are three or four restaurants on the grounds. The Brighton Beach Bathing Houses are an iconic Australia image. They were cool to see but not an experience I would need to repeat. I have also since learned that they are insanely expensive. Like 1.5 million dollars. For a beach house. Which is tiny. Without running water. Or electricity. Gobsmacked!! That night, after a long day of sight seeing, my housemate hosted a Taco party that was great!
On another random day of sight seeing, I went to Alumentari for breakfast. I then went to the Shrine of Remembrance, followed by the botanical gardens. One thing about such a lovely warm climate like Australia is that all of the big cities have these amazing botanical gardens. If this was a thing I could transplant to Canada I totally would. Later, I checked out ACMI (the Australian Centre for Moving Image), Melbourne’s iconic graffiti alleys, I had lunch in a lane way and went to the DFO. I finished off the day at Smith & Daughters restaurant and a drink at Naked for Satan in Fitzroy.
I’ve mentioned this before but Melbourne has so many good cafes. Like amazing. For instance, Code Black just off Sydney Road. In a perfect world, I would like to be a paid travel food blogger in Melbourne. Any ideas on how to make this happen would be appreciated.
In non-sight seeing news, at the end of November I moved houses! I have two amazing new housemates and a dogmate. I will definitely be sad when it’s time to move again.
Shortly after moving in, there was breaking news across Melbourne of an impending rain-apocalypse. People left work early for fear of flooding and the news anchors warned people to stay in doors. Taking their advice seriously, I decided to be prepared and dress for the weather. While there was some rain and even some heavy rain on the Saturday – I would not describe it as even close to a monsoon storm.
At some point at the start of December, I wrote about a million postcards. I use the term “million” loosely, but that’s how it felt. Also, postage is really really expensive. It’s basically the same price as the postcard. Come on – international postal system. Surely there is a better way. That said – I think there is something special about receiving international snail mail. It’s nice that someone put in the effort to write to you a letter. However, as I write this blog (almost a month after sending the postcards), I know that many of the postcards have not yet arrived which makes me a bit nervous. I’ll follow-up with the intended recipients in another month or so but if the postcards never arrive, it’s the thought that counts right?
As I mentioned above, Australia has all these amazing markets with such fun, vibrant, positive vibes. During the second week of December, I went to my local neighbourhood Coburg Night Market and had a great time. Great music, good fun, lots of knick-knacks to buy. So, to revise my statement above, if there were two aspects of Australian culture I could transplant back to Canada, it would be the markets and the botanic gardens. And yes, yes, before Canada yells at me, I know that there are markets in Toronto, but they just aren’t the same. As an entirely unhelpful suggestion, I suggest you come here and check them out and you’ll agree with me.
So I am breaking my own self-imposed internal structure and skipping slightly ahead (a week or so) in what is my sort of chronological blog of what is happening while I seek summer. The reason being that I really really really want to talk about my trip to TASMANIA (and rules are meant to be broken, right?)!!! In the blog below there is heaps of detail (points of interest) that would be really helpful (I hope) if you are planning a trip to Tasmania. If you are not planning a trip to Tasmania, you may find the blog more boring than “usual” but in fairness to me, I am warning you in advance.
Where to start? Probably the first thing that I will discuss are my general tips for Tasmania:
- Tip 1: Cell phone reception can be sketchy outside of the main centres so it is best to have a companion with a different provider (e.g., Optus and Telstra). Even with different providers, you may both may receive the SOS or No Service sign A LOT. So I would highly recommend taking advantage of any of the free maps that are generously provided to tourists. They will help. We used them (it was like going back to the dark ages).
- Tip 2: Again, once outside the main centres and unless you are on the main highway between Hobart and Lonnie all the roads are really windy. Literally, all of them. While the driving signage says 80 km/hr or 100 km/hr unless you are a local, I highly recommend going slower. Also, you will notice that there are a number of turns with slower recommended speeds. You should follow those.
- Tip 3: There is road kill everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Avoid driving at dawn or dusk where possible.
- Tip 4: The best way to get around Tassie is a hire car but you will have a much more comfortable time driving a slightly larger car like an SUV. There were only 2 of us, but the roads are not always great and we at least felt safer in a larger vehicle.
- Tip 5: If you are visiting 2 or more national parks (excluding Cradle Mountain) you should buy a park pass for your vehicle ($60). You need a park pass to visit any of the national parks. Individually, each park visit is $28.
- Tip 6: If you visit the Port Arthur historic site, the pass you purchase allows you access for 2 days so why rush it (if you have the time). Also bring snacks.
- Tip 7: If you are travelling the east coast of Tasmania (and visiting Cradle Mountain) I would recommend flying into either Hobart/Launceston and flying out of the opposite airport. Saves a lot of driving time.
My friend C and I, decided to explore Tassie for 8 days and 7 nights. I wish I had slightly more time to spend in some of the locations that we visited so if you have slightly longer to stay that would be better. That said – we managed to see a ton of stuff in the short time we were there.
We landed around noon the first day and after checking into our airbnb we drove up to the top of Mount Wellington. What a spectacular view overlooking the city. It is just incredible. It is about 10 degrees colder on the top of Mount Wellington then elsewhere in the city so be prepared to be cold. On our way to dinner on our first night we stopped to play a rousing game of giant chess in Franklin Square (I felt a bit Harry Potterish I have to admit). We then continued onto the wharf to find somewhere to eat.
Our second day we headed off early with plans to see Fortescue Bay and Port Arthur. Unfortunately, we had not yet learned the park pass lesson and thought it was a bit steep to pay $28 per park visit given that we were only going to do a short walk in Fortescue Bay. So, we skipped the walk and went straight to the Port Arthur Lavender Farm. Totally worth a visit. The fields are at full bloom in December and January (not the time we were there – early November) but were still worth it. We then spent the afternoon wandering the Port Arthur historic site. We only had a half-day to wander, but the historic site starts with a 20 minute free tour talking about the history of the site as well as a free boat cruise along the harbour. There are heaps of buildings to explore and if you are so historically inclined and want to read all about it before visiting (you might get more out of the experience then I did) but that said – it was great to wander the buildings on the site with no specific plan in mind.
Before heading back to Hobart, located closeby to the Port Arthur historic site is the Remarkable Cave and Crescent Bay. It is about a 10 minute drive. Totally worth it. Apparently, you can see the outline of Tasmania in the unfilled spaces at the Remarkable Cave. It is kind of difficult to see from the viewing platform but as I mentioned, it is so close that it would be criminal not to check it out (insert bad joke here. Port Arthur. Criminals. Get it?)
We then headed back to Hobart for our second night. We went to the Burger Haus in North Hobart (where there are tons of restos/bars) for dinner and then wrapped up the night walking around the Salamanca Market area (the market itself was not open because – helpful tip, it’s only open on Saturday and you know, during the day).
On our third day we had an early start and drove to Freycinet National Park. On the way, we stopped by Kate’s Berry Farm. At Freycinet we did the Wineglass Bay Lookout walk (about 45 mins to 1 hr return) and then I did the Wineglass Bay Trek which goes down to the beach (about 1 hr return). Spectacular views from the lookout and if you have the time (and energy to walk up about a million steps. Okay. Maybe I exaggerate but at least a couple hundred) then I also recommend the Trek.
For a late lunch on that day we then stopped at Devil’s Corner Cellar Door (which is also an award winning winery) and enjoyed a tiny break. It is about 30 minutes from Freycinet to Devil’s Corner. So after lunch, we decided to head back and finish the day with the Tourville Lighthouse walk (which is a super easy 20 minute boardwalk trek). The lighthouse itself is nothing special but again the views are worth it. This is one of the times – I wish I had more time to spend in Freycinet as there are a ton of hikes in that I would have loved to do.
We spent the night in Bicheno. There is not much happening in Bicheno but you can check out the Bicheno Tasmanian devils if you have the time (we did not) or check out the Bicheno blowhole (which we did).
On our fourth day we drove up the Bay of Fires Conservation Area. To see the outstanding red rocks that the Bay of Fires are known for check out Cosy Corner Beach, Jeanneret Beach and Swimcart Beach. We then stopped by the only winery in the Bay of Fires Conservation Area region which is Priory Ridge Wines. It is a tiny cellar door with a lovely owner and I highly recommend visiting.
After Priory, we went to Pyengana Dairy Company. A short 18 minute drive from Pyengana Dairy is the St. Columba Waterfall. Tip – the entrance to the Waterfall trail is away from the washrooms, you should go through a little hut, and there is a clear signage. It is not the giant road at the end of the parking area. I don’t know where that road takes you but it definitely doesn’t go to the waterfall.
To wrap up this very long day we finished the drive to Launceston (stopping of course to check out Brook Eden Wines Cellar Door). For dinner (at like 8 pm) in Launceston we went to Baker’s Lane (the name of a resto/bar not an actual lane). If you are looking for a good night out apparently Baker’s Lane turns into a bar around 11:30 (but I’m too old to stay up that late). Instead, we went to Saint John Craft Beer for a local brew.
On the fifth day (being a Saturday) we checked out the Harvest Market in Launceston. It is amazing. There are so many delicious treats and arts and crafts to browse. I highly recommend it. We then went to the Cataract Gorge Reserve (it is basically within the city and free except for parking so this should definitely be on anybody’s list). The bridge across the gorge is or feels like a death trap (I’m sure it’s perfectly safe) so of course we crossed it.
We then checked out Penny Royal (good for kids, ice cream, zip lining, etc) and Relbia Estate Cellar Door (also basically within the city). We then went on a wine trail of the Launceston region including Jinglers Creek Cellar Door, Joseph Chromy Wines, and Sharmans Wines. To note about Tasmania wines – if you like a dry wine, this is the place for you. The cool climate results in heaps of Pinot grapes and dry wines. So even a riesling, which is typically a sweeter wine, is on the dry as opposed to sweet side. Tasmania is also known for its sparkling wines (see I listen!). We also stopped by Ashgrove Dairy and the Christmas Raspberry Farm (the raspberry sorbet is so good).
Generally speaking, during this day we were headed in the direction of Cradle Mountain and so the stops were located along that route. We also stopped by Sheffield Town. Sheffield is known for its murals. There are literally murals everywhere. It’s pretty cool.
On our sixth day, we woke up in Wilmont and headed to Cradle Mountain. I love love love Cradle Mountain. What should you know? Basically, everyone has to park outside the park limits. 30 cars are allowed into the park itself at one time, but unless you are the first one there – just park outside the park limits. What does this mean? You will have to take a shuttle bus (free with your ticket into the park) to get around to the different walks. If you want to do the most well known walk – Dove Lake Circuit – (which is also the farthest from the lot) it is a 20 minute shuttle bus to the starting point. Add this time into your calculations. The last bus back is at 5 pm. We basically had left enough time to do 3.5 hours of walking (the Dove Lake Circuit is 2 hours) – so I would really recommend leaving a full day to do explore Cradle Mountain (if not 2 days) plus if you are staying for a full day bring plenty of water, snacks, sandwiches, etc (we were woefully unprepared for a full day). I also did the Ronny Creek to Dove Lake (via Lilac Lake) walk. During this walk I saw a wombat (which is not unusual) so I highly recommend doing the walk. I also tried to go up to Marion’s Lookout (made it about halfway) but due to time constraints had to start heading back down (hint hint – leave more time to spend in Cradle Mountain).
We then drove to Devonport for dinner. There’s not much happening in Devonport. However, there is even less happening in Wilmont, which is where we spent the night. If we were to do it again and only leave one day for Cradle Mountain we would probably have driven back to Launceston (but if you are staying multiple days in Cradle then obviously you want to be closer).
On our seventh day, we did the long drive from Cradle Mountain to Hobart. It is about 4.5 hours on the main highway with a stop in Campbelltown. We arrived in Hobart just after noon. We then immediately headed to MONA (The Museum of Old and New Art). The ticket into MONA is $28 AUD and the ferry is an additional $22 AUD. You can drive and park (so as to avoid the ferry cost) but as another blog pointed out to me, how much did it cost to get to Tassie that you don’t want the full MONA experience. When we visited Mona, the special exhibit was the Museum of Everything! There were some really interesting pieces but like all art it’s probably hard to take in everything in an afternoon. I would give yourself a full day, have lunch, take a break, and then try and absorb more art during the arvo. My favourite piece (or at least the one that stands out in my mind) is the White Library. Everything in the room is white. The whole room is art (so – and this is for you C – you can’t touch anything. ANYTHING). I should mention that if you’re on the ferry you can have a snack and you can also sit on sheep (obviously fake. Of course I knew that before getting on the ferry. Obviously….). MONA lives by the O – meaning there are no labels on any of the artwork and you carry around an iphone that they give you. The iphone gives you basic info like the name of the artist and maybe some background information but I think the point is for you to interpret the meaning of the art without labels. Meta. I know.
For our last night in Tassie, we went to Urban Greek for dinner! Delicious and great customer service.
For our eighth day (and last day in Tassie) we spent the day exploring the Richmond area. On the way to Richmond you can stop by the Wicked Cheese Company (which is great and has great customer service). Then you go to the historic town of Richmond which is quaint and cute and lovely. We spotted some baby ducklings going down river and got really excited (yes we are adults). Be sure to check out the oldest bridge in Australia (or so I am told). There are also heaps of vineyards in this area so we stopped by Puddleduck Vineyard, Coal Valley Vineyard and Frogmore Creek Winery for lunch.
After that it was time to get on a plane and head home!! I miss you already Tassie. You are INCREDIBLE!
What to say about Melbourne? Well given that I haven’t written in about 6 weeks (I know, I know, bad me) I will stick to the highlights and try to keep it short. I blame the delay in writing on the spring time change. That’s seems entirely reasonable, right…?
During October I signed up for a 4-week salsa course known as salsa 1.5! It became quickly apparent that I am not a natural dancer (like at all) but it was heaps of fun. I hoped to meet me people (which I did not entirely do – I mean obviously I met people because I had to dance with people but will they become friends is a question yet to be determined). Anywho, 1.5 has a steep learning curve. The first and second weeks are fairly basic and then the third and fourth weeks involve some complex footwork for the women. Nothing like a little challenge at the end of the day. All that said, it was great and I will definitely be back.
Canadian Banking Woes
Sometime after my arrival in Melbourne, I tried to take out money from a particular Canadian bank via an Australian ATM. After several failed attempts to access the account, I gave in and decided to make the international call. What a freaking nightmare. Almost an hour later on the phone with said Canadian Bank, in answer to the question what if it is my PIN and not the account, the bank rep said: “yeah, there’s nothing we can do over the phone to reset your PIN, you have to attend a branch.” Ummm hello. You have got to be kidding me. I repeated to the friendly (but apparently oblivious phone rep) that I was in a foreign country and would not be back for a year. “What am I going to do in the mean time? Can I add someone to my bank account? Appoint a POA? What are my options?” Bank rep to me: “I am sorry, I don’t think there is anything that can be done. Perhaps Western Union?” USELESS. SO USELESS. Let’s just say that was not a great night and to make a bad night worse, I was drenched in a storm. On a positive note, a week later it did get sorted out.
Finding Canadians Abroad
In Melbourne (like in Brisbane) I have been fortunate to meet some amazing Canadians abroad who have been super welcoming and inviting into their lives. I went to a lovely family dinner style potluck, my first ever clothes swap and a super fun spooky Halloween movie night. Big shout out to these peeps and their friends. Making new friends is no easy feat, and they have made it easier!
Melbourne Inner Suburbs and the Transit System
I know that this was discussed in my first blog – the conception of Australia burbs versus Canadian burbs – but I think a friend has hit the nail on the head re: the difference, so I would like to share this insight. As I mentioned previously, the Australian inner suburbs are not what Canadians think of as suburbs. Rather (as explained by my friend) they are just the different neighbourhoods that comprise part of a megacity. E.g., in Toronto there are neighbourhoods like Little Italy or the Junction.
Melbourne has a ton of inner burbs, but some of the more interesting burbs that I have explored (and I use the phrase “explore” loosely to mean picked a location (usually a restaurant) and walked to it) are St. Kilda, Fitzroy, Thornbury, North Melbourne, Carlton, Richmond and South Yarra. I can’t believe how many bars, restaurants, and cafes there are in Melbourne!! If you ate one meal at a different restaurant every day for entire year I don’t think you would see a quarter of the food/watering holes Melbourne has to offer. The point being –there are an untold number of fantastic options for eating and as a result my pants are getting the opposite of lose.
As you may know from my second blog, I live in Boburg (or the boundary between Brunswick and Coburg). Unlike the other suburbs, I think it would be fair to say that I have done a pretty intensive exploration of these two – and still I have so much more to see. So far I love it. Close to me is the creek, which has quickly become my favourite running route. I am trying to run twice a week. As I am writing this blog entry, I am a bit bummed because they are doing major construction in our area and it is almost impossible to access the creek. While I usually find it pretty difficult to get out and run (and to you know to keep running), I always feel great once the run is over!
On an totally unrelated side note –the Melbourne Transit system is out of this world! It is so good. With the mix of trains, trams and buses, there are usually at least 2 ways of getting where you need to go and it is kick ass! This pic is only the train lines!
The St. Kilda Pier
Did you know the St. Kilda Pier has penguins? I bet you didn’t (or at least I didn’t). The penguins are super cute and you can get fairly close to them (but no – you cannot take a penguin home with you). The penguins are very miniature! I sort of imagined them as these larger than life waddling bears (I don’t know why) but they are not. St. Kilda’s penguins are Eudyptula minor (in case you are interested).
The AFL Grand Final and Go-Karting
The AFL Grand Final was hosted in Melbourne. The two competing teams were the Richmond Tigers versus the Adelaide Crows. I have only ever seen 1 live AFL game – and it was an Adelaide game but I currently live in Melbourne and felt the need to cheer for the home team. Divided loyalties. So I decided to stay neutral. Richmond ended up winning and Melbourne went nuts (as Richmond should. I think it was over 50 years since they made a final). On a more self reflective note, this is definitely an instance where I should have exerted some more independence. I really wanted to watch the game but because I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to watch with me, I just stayed in (booo me). That was totally silly. Lesson learned for next time – when you really want to do something – just do it.
I also went go-karting for the first time ever (not by myself). How the AFL Grand Final and go-karting go together, who knows but I decided to chuck them together for the purposes of this blog. Go-karting was heaps of fun! I thought I did fairly well. I am not saying that I am now an avid fan of karting but I definitely want to go back (a couple hundred times). It’s probably the closest experience I will have (and need to have) of being a race car driver! Vroom!!!!!!
The Dandenongs (and Emerald Lake) and the Tulip Festival
To date, I have been fortunate enough to go the Dandenogs twice (once for the tulip festival and once for a hike)! The tulip festival were good (although admission was pretty expensive for being in the middle of nowhere) and I’m sure the cold and rain did not help my impression of the festival.
The hike (which is free once you get there) was amazing!! There are heaps of trails. I highly recommend it!! I was lucky to spot an Echidna (which is like an Australian porcupine). Apparently, Echidna are some of the few mammals that lay eggs. Weird. I know. I also went to Emerald Lake. To manage expectations re: Emerald Lake, you just drive up to this smallish lake and walk around. It’s not exactly what I would describe as special. Canadian lakes are way better. But f you are out in the Dandenongs already you might as well visit it!
Queen Victoria Market/Melbourne Winter Night Market
So the Queen Vic Markets double as a functioning market during the week and a food festival in winter and summer. Pro tip, if you go to the regular market on a Sunday, close to the end of the day you can get some great deals on fresh fruit and veg. DEALS!! They also have all other sorts of things at a regular market like chocolate, cheese, and meat. During winter (and summer, although what’s that saying – you got to see it to believe it) one night a week – the Queen Vic Market turns into the winter night market. At the night market there is great music, food vendors, vendors selling other wares, drinks, fire pits and an overall fantastic time!!!
During September and October – most Tuesdays evenings – I participated in Trivia nights. This was my first ever time trivia experience. I would say that I (and/or my team) are not exactly trivia champions (repeatedly coming in dead last) but it is so much fun! This is something that I certainly want to make part of my regular routine. My favourite team names: A Tribe Called Quiz and the Harry Potter and the Quizards.
The House of Mirrors Exhibit
The Melbourne festival was during September. One of the exhibits was an outdoor maze called the House of Mirrors. You entered into the maze and (no surprises here) the mirrors are set up to disorient you, confuse you, and hamper your way to the exit. It was great! I think I went in to the maze a bit over confident but by the end I was sticking out my hands and feet with the best of them.
Hanging Rock is about an hour north of my suburb Coburg. Apparently Hanging Rock is the scene of a famous Australian book (which I have not read) and Australian movie (which I have not seen). It is a volcanic formation and the views from the top are incredible. It’s about an hour easy climb. There are loads of nooks and crannies to explore. I would definitely recommend going, getting to the top, and just enjoying the views.
The Hair Product Crisis
Last but not least, a minor comment about moving across the world and trying to find a hair product that works for you. It’s basically an experiment. And by basically, I mean is. It took me 3 attempts, conditioner give aways and very damaged hair but it can be done!!! Eventually you will find something that works for you. Can this principle be applied more broadly to life generally? I don’t know. It seems too deep to think about at 5 pm on a Wednesday afternoon.
Okay so I’m told shorter blogs would be appreciated. So here goes. I landed in Melbourne on Saturday September 9, 2017. I may or may not (definitely the former) had to buy a small carry-on suitcase to shift the weight in my luggage due to differing domestic and international baggage rules. All went smoothly thanks to H (who may or may not have held my hand through the entire process starting with lending me a baggage scale prior to arriving at the airport).
As soon as I landed I was greeted by S and T. Very kind! Our first stop, was an apartment I had arranged to see before leaving Brissy. It was so dingey and the housemates looked, shall we say a bit rough around the edges or worse for wear. Sorry, not sorry. On to the next one.
The next day I scheduled 2 appointments in the afternoon. It was a late night the evening before so I was a sleep deprived emotional wreck of a zombie. To kill time beforehand S and I decided to go 10-pin bowling (which seems to be a big thing in Australia). We then headed to house number 1. It was shall we say, better than the first apartment but not by a lot. The housemates seemed friendly but the house did not have that homey-let’s chill in the living room and netflix and vibe. So, on to the next one.
House 3 was amazing.It was in the eastend. The housemates were so lovely! It was definitely the nicest I’d seen so far and I wouldn’t be embarrassed to bring my friends (still working on those) home. However, as may be the problem with being a millenial (not how I would define myself but that is an argument for another time) I was on the fence about committing to the house. The house was leaps and bounds ahead of the other houses I’d seen but it was still missing that glass slipper feel.
So I decided to see 2 more house on the Monday. By this time I needed to get out of my current living arrangements. While my hosts were quite generous, we were all a little bit squeezed for space. The first house was in St. Kilda, which seems like a great area of town. Unfortunately for me, the house was lacking in many ways. There was no comfortable seating area (and as set out above, the netflix and chill sort of housemates were on my checklist). Also (and perhaps more importantly) there was no bathroom door. I mean, I suppose that is not technically true. The door existed. Just not on hinges or in any convenient way to open and close it. So you know….. no thanks….
The second house was in a Northern inner suburb. I am told that the City and inner burbs are very divided by north, south, east and west. If you are the north side, you don’t go to the south side. I mean, obviously I will go to the south side because I am exploring and travelling but you take my point. So, back to the Northern house. The house and more importantly the housemates were perfect. As part of the interview chat we had, they asked me what I like to do in the evenings. Netflix and chill I answered. Their response – that is exactly what we like to do. Instant bonding moment, pick me, pick me (I said to myself). Followed, by a literal facebook message saying please pick me, please pick me.
They did!! So that glass slipper fit and for at least the next 2.5 months I have a place to call home and some of best housemates I could ask for 🙂
The start of the journey
I have the annoying tendency to overthink everything. I mean everything. For instance, should I keep a blog? Will anyone read it? What is the best way to structure the blog? What should I title the blog? These types of thoughts constantly swirl around my brain. It’s exhausting really. Obviously, I bit the bullet and decided to write a blog. Well really, I decided to keep a daily journal but some of my entries were painfully boring so this is my best attempt at a summary of highlights and lowlights.
I guess the starting point is that just over a month ago, I committed to massively shaking-up my life and moving to the other side of the word. Entirely normal – right? The morning I left for Australia, I totally freaked out. Yes this was an opportunity for enormous personal growth and development but was equally terrifying. However, by that time my plane ticket was purchased, I had given notice at my job, my apartment was sublet, and all of my bags were packed. Like a shark – one must keep swimming forward.
What do you bring with you when are packing for a year? Well, problem 1 – is that packing light is not my forte by any means. Problem 2 – is an entire year encompasses seasons! Plural. While Australian winter is not like Canadian winter, depending on where I ended it up shorts and tank tops were by no means appropriate for a full year. In the end, I arrived at the airport with 1 large suitcase and a Gregory Amber 70L Pack. Taking a stab in the dark, I could guess that my suitcase was a bit too heavy, but I figured meh – I’ll just pay the overweight fees. Boy was I wrong. The agent at the desk informed me that for my 1 large suitcase, overweight luggage fees would be over $200 CDN. Cue jaw drop and scramble to move clothes between bags and into my carry-on here. A harrowing 15 minutes later. Success. Bags checked. No overweight fees.
Once my bags were checked, I had plenty of time spare given that I failed to clue into the fact that while I was technically flying internationally to Brisbane, I was first arriving in Vancouver, thereby making my flight a domestic flight! Not international. The flight from Toronto to Vancouver was pretty much without incident except for the loss of my Nana’s pearl earring. I found this very upsetting and a certain airline extremely unhelpful. Unfortunately, by the time I noticed there was virtually nothing I could do except to try not to focus and obsess (which I find very difficult). Learning opportunity?
Vancouver was the last Canadian port before embarking on the plane to Brisbane and all of the uncertainty and adventure of the next year. What am I going to do? Where am I going to live? How will I make friends? How will I build a life? Yikes!
Unlike the peaceful flight from Toronto to Vancouver, the 14.5-hour flight to Brisbane was hellish. Young screaming children surrounded me. While I sympathize with parents and the need to travel, when it personally keeps me awake for the duration of an international flight my sympathy starts running dry. As I write this now, I am on another flight (to Melbourne) and again there are 2 young screaming kids in front of me. I can only assume that I have done something in a past life to piss of the flight gods and that I will forever be punished on future flights.
In total, the trip from Toronto to Brisbane was about 21.5 hours. After landing in Brisbane, during the very short period between picking up my baggage and clearing customs, all of the concerns and worries I had before leaving Vancouver returned. The light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak was having V (a friendly face) waiting for me at the airport. It was so comforting having a familiar face in the crowd that I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Baby steps. I’ll sort the rest out later.
The first day in Brisbane
I walked out of the airport into 23 degrees winter weather. Glorious. It was impossible not to smile. I’ll give my first day a bit more detail then I will typically. To avoid jetlag I spent the first day walking around the City with V. I set up a cell phone, got a bus pass, walked to the Eagle Street Pier, walked to Story Bridge, walked to New Farm and walked to the Power Plant. After a short rest, we kept walking to Tenerife and ended the walking tour with live music at the Trifford. I think I stayed awake until about 8 pm that day. Not too bad given that I had maybe 6 hours of sleep over the last 2 days.
Brisbane – the highlights and lowlights
I spent 1 month in Brisbane. Brisbane (and I think Australian cities generally) have a downtown core or (CBD = Central Business District) and it seems that most people live in the suburbs which are not equivalent to how I would describe Canadian suburbs. It’s hard to put my finger on the difference, but I would say that there does not seem to be any housing “in the City” and the burbs or at least the inner suburbs– are really just neighbourhoods forming part of the City. I don’t think I quite hit the nail on the head but I will get there. Anywho! For suburbs I explored The Gap (where I was staying), Paddington, Westend (where I would want to live if I stayed in Brisbane), Newstead and Milton.
I also spent some time wandering around the CBD, I did a self-guided tour of classic buildings in the CBD, went to the Queensland Museum, and Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art. I also wandered around the Brisbane Botanical Gardens and cruised around the city ferry.
The Gallery of Modern Art had an exhibit about travelling which I thought was very apropos. Travelling can mean different things to different people. Those with resources and privilege (myself included) travel of their own volition and for leisure and fun. Refugees “travel” to escape and it is often not a choice. Immigrants may choose to travel for better life opportunities. Indigenous peoples were forced “to travel” or to leave their lands and many were put on reserves and communities.
My second favourite piece in the exhibit depicted the ripple effect of our actions across the planet. Acid rain originating in one place on the planet can travel and have diverse impacts somewhere else. We are all connected and the planet is small. In speaking about another one of the pieces, the curator described the intention of another piece to the effect of – by ignoring someone else’s humanity, we lose our own humanity.
Being in a new City without an established social network is pretty difficult. One of the obvious differences that I should have expected but had not given a lot of thought to is that when you travel (which I have done solo previously) is pretty easy to make friends. Most travellers staying at hostels are also looking to make friends. It is much harder to insert yourself into the daily every day lives of other people. While I would say that I was pretty successful at reaching out to my friends and asking them to introduce me to their friends (e.g., making friends through friends of friends) and catching up with old friends, I was entirely unsuccessful at making new independent friends.
One of the great things about Brisbane are the weekend markets. The Westend market is amazing. There are so many vendors selling different goods and goods. Not a typical weekend market, Northshore Eat Street Markets are also out of this world. There is something like 180 vendors, live music, appetizers, mains and desserts from around the world. There is a little something for everyone. I would highly recommend it and I am not ashamed to say that I went 2 days in a row.
One unusual feature of Brisbane City is the Ekka public holiday. It is a public holiday just for the City of Brisbane (weird right?). My first was amazing! I went to Burleigh Heads (discussed below) and then had a lunch birthday celebration with watermelon cake and cobb loaf! Later that day we went lawn bowling! I am not great at throwing the bowls but I loved the atmosphere.
While the Ekka is one day, the festival (the Royal Queensland Show) runs for about 2 weeks. I would describe the Ekka as a mix of the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition or Ex) and the Royal Winter Agricultural Fair. On a Friday evening, we went to the Ekka grounds and watched the fireworks display. I’ve got to give Brisbane props – this was the coolest fireworks display I have ever seen. It was unreal. The fireworks were timed to music, with flashes of fire torches and people dancing around in sparklers. Yes. That is correct. They had sparklers attached to their bodies. It was great.
In terms of exploring outside the City, I visited Burleigh Heads, which is just south of Surfers’ Paradise in the Gold Coast. During my walk around Burleigh I saw a wild koala. At that moment, I felt like I had the penultimate Australian experience. Note – koalas are not bears and should not be referred to as koala bears. In addition to a koala, I also saw a massive python just casually heading down the neighbour’s driveway. Oh man. The wildlife is to be feared (except for bush turkeys. There is no need to fear the bush turkey).
I also went to Shorncliffe Pier in Sandgate (an outer Brisbane Suburb). Shorncliffe is beautiful and peaceful. Sitting on the pier, listening to the waves and reading a book is just about a perfect afternoon. There is also Wellington Point and Kings Island. If you go at low tide, you can walk out to Kings Island. It is a very cool experience.
The girls (C and G) and I also did a trip to Stradbroke Island. We drove to Stradbroke taking the ferry (of course). Pro tip, once on Stradbroke, do not gps maps. We input Blue Lake and it took us onto “The Track.” Well, about 5 minutes down this dirt road to nowhere we decided to turn around and go to Brown Lake (which had clear signage). Brown Lake was awesome. It is tea coloured. While it was not quite as brown as I am told it sometimes is, the sand was so soft and as usual the weather was gorgeous. We then took a stab at gps maps again (fingers crossed for Blue Lake). Gps maps fail. While the gps did not take us to Blue Lake it did take us past the parking lot for Blue Lake (happy accident). The sandy bush track to Blue Lake is about an hour each way (the short trail). It is perfect, shady and has amazing views. From Blue Lake we headed to the Beach, the Lookout and Amity Point. We could have used another hour or so but all in all I would say that it was a fantastic day.
I was very physically active while in Brisbane. I typically ran 4 out of the 5 days of the week and by my last week I had achieved the goal of running 5k in sub-30! Given the many hills and my terrible tendency to make multiple stops I was and I am extremely proud of this personal achievement. I also joined Rock Climbing for 2 weeks (if I knew I was going to stay in Brisbane for longer, I would have become a member).
While I was in Brisbane I climbed to the Mount-Cootha and Mount Gravatt look out points. I use “climb” loosely – they are not very large and not steep. Mount Cootha was a unique challenge of my own creation as I made the “smart” decision to walk from the Gap to the base. The walk was way longer then expected and I only made it to the start of the trail late afternoon. Thinking I could bus down, I decided to persevere and make it to the top. Made it I did. Bus down there was not. The bus does not run past 4:30 pm or so. Let’s just say I had a hectic run back down before the sunset.
Living in a new place, you are also very dependent on your friends and family back home. I don’t know how many calls I made to friends and family during the first month but they get you through the low days. While it seems like “the life” – having no set schedule during the day was sometimes difficult. It is very easy to get very lonely. Also, finding something to do to fill your days is not as easy as snapping your fingers. Think you’ll work as barista and easily make friends? Australians take their coffee seriously. Training and experience is required before they will let you make coffee.
While I was in Brisbane (and Australia) there was also a lot happening around same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is currently against the law in Brisbane. Because (I think) there is insufficient support in Parliament or the bills to change the legislation are quite divisive and include a number of other polices, Australia is currently holding a non-binding/non-mandatory postal vote to take stock of public opinion. The purpose of a non-binding/non-mandatory vote is a bit lost on me. There was a challenge to the postal vote in the High Court (the equivalent of the Supreme Court of Canada). The challenge was unsuccessful and the court decided to allow the postal vote to proceed. The timing of this was quite striking given that I had recently watched a private screening of Gayby Baby which was filmed in or around 2015 and 2 years very little has changed for the rights of same-sex couples.