When Living in Australia Is Not a Day at the Beach

Storm over Bondi November 2015

This is a vent, a rant. Given the dark days we’re living in, if you don’t want any more negativity, and I don’t blame you one bit for that, go ahead and slip off this page. Come back another day when I have lovelier things to say. Today I’m going to grizzle and whinge.

I’ve been basically housebound for a good two weeks now. I’m going stir crazy. It all began with a stupid mistake I made, that was then exacerbated by a physio who fancied herself a physician. I’ve been to a real physician now and she instructed me not to go back to that particular physio, or leg wrencher.

Being stuck here at home gives me lots of time to ruminate on the glories of renting in Australia. We had our share of troubles back at our first rental. The place was riddled with mold, sheets of water poured down the entire expanse of upstairs walls when it rained and the property manager told us to put a bucket under it. There was the electric shocking shower issue that we were simply told wasn’t in fact happening, although we’d both experienced it several times.

When we moved into this place three years ago, we were convinced that it would be a different experience. At first, both the owner and property manager seemed approachable and responsive to issues. That was the first week.

A few months later, they did the first walk-through inspection to be sure we weren’t trashing the joint. They sent me a form to fill out with any repairs that needed to be attended to. I listed the loose stone in the front stoop that seems dangerous, the oven that only works on 4 of the 9 settings, and a couple other minor issues. They did send a guy out to look at the oven. He said, “just use a different setting.” That’s great as long as I don’t ever want to broil anything, or simply use the basic bottom burner oven function instead of air circulated heat. Air circulated is great for some things, but not all. He did also say that the door to the oven was broken and should be replaced. Not a one of the issues with the oven or otherwise were addressed.

About three months before the lease was ending, they started pestering us to sign a new lease. We didn’t plan on leaving yet, so weren’t too fussed, even if it seemed a little odd. According to Australian law, we only have to give two weeks notice to vacate.

That following summer we had some issues with the central air. They did send someone out, who told us that what he did was a patch and that the unit needed to be replaced and he would advise the owner of this, as he had done on a couple of previous trips out before we moved in. It wasn’t replaced.

When the first cold air of winter blew through, we turned the heat on and the fan went kerplunk kerplunk. They said they’d send someone out to look at it. They sent an electrician over to change a light bulb instead. We didn’t need a light bulb. For the next few weeks they kept asking us to send photos of the problem. The unit is up in the ceiling somewhere.

They finally replaced the unit just in time to turn it to AC. Granted, winters here are nothing like in Utah, but it is cold and wet and it’s painful to shave the legs when covered with goosebumps.

This year, on the evening of April 17, we were running the dishwasher, when we heard a loud pop. Once I switched the breaker back on I saw dark smoke started billowing out of the machine. I reported it the next morning. They replaced the dishwasher in late May.

There was the leaky toilet earlier this year. Small ponds were forming at the base. I may or may not have accused my husband of peeing on the floor. But, it happened even when I made that bathroom off limits for a day. The owner sent her own “plumber” out to look at it. He told me there was no leak. I pointed at the wet floor. He told me it was mop water. I told him I hadn’t mopped. He stuck his finger in the water, wiped it off, and said, “see? No wet.” I dipped a piece of toilet paper in the puddle and said, “see? Yes wet.” He wiped a piece of toilet paper through the puddle, folded it over to the dry bit, and said… yeah, you get the picture.

The owner does send a painter around about once a month to fix the bubbling paint on the balcony railing that no one can see.

Late last October the property manager started bugging us about the lease again. Mind you, it didn’t terminate until February. Knowing that our Visas were ending this year, we couldn’t sign a year lease. We didn’t know if we’d be here. We told them that we needed some time to see what was going to happen. They said ok. Then about a week later started questioning us about it again. And the next week. Finally, we offered to sign a three month lease and they agreed. One month into it, if that, they started in again trying to get us to sign the twelve month lease. Still no Visa, but “she’ll be right mate!”

After many phone calls and emails and explaining our complete lack of control over whether or not my husband’s company would try to renew the Visa or if Australia would even approve it, they finally agreed to a seven month lease with a “no penalty for early termination” clause. That’s up in December. Today is October 10. They started with the emails September 5.

We still have no confirmation on the Visas. The company is pursuing them, at a snail’s pace. As soon as they submit the application it will be up to Australia to decide whether or not we can stay.

My husband is threatening to have us move to another apartment, one where he hopes we can rent month to month after the initial twelve month lease ends. We do still plan on moving back to the US, and that flexibility would be helpful. Our landlord isn’t flexing that way. She’s not budging at all. Of course they raise the rent with each new lease, to pay for the repairs that took them months to make.

I have to wonder if her fixation on this inflexible lease doesn’t have something to do with all the incidents of arson we’ve had in the neighborhood. It could be hard to rent if we leave. And do we want to stay in a fire hazard zone? I’m pretty certain it’s the hoodlums next door who are the culprits. No proof of course, except for the photo I have of them out front vandalizing the share bikes. The primary hoodlum’s mother told me when we moved in that she was good friends with the owner. Maybe the owner is trying to get the place burned down in order to collect on the insurance.

I’ll shut up now. I have to go to my new physio. I hope he doesn’t hurt me.

Hidden 2018

It being the final week of the Hidden Sculpture Walk, Joanne and I journeyed out to Rookwood Cemetery in western Sydney. Things would have gone much better had I been brave enough to drive.

Remembering full well the struggles I encountered two years ago when I went to Hidden 2016, I still chose public transport over driving in the city. My (ir)rationale was that I’m in better physical shape for the long walk from the train station, across the vast continent of Rookwood, and then back again, and also thinking that I had a better grasp of the public transport routes than I did two years ago.

When I came back from my recent trip to the US, I was overly eager to return to my gym routine. Having spent a sedentary ten weeks, I just wanted to feel my body move. I overdid it and ended up hurting myself, making my first assumption about walking a complete fairy tale. And while my understanding of train routes has improved, I still underestimate walking distances and what I’m capable of.

Rookwood is one of the oldest and largest, operating cemeteries in Australia, and covers over 314 hectares. We entered the cemetery in the northwest corner, somewhere near the end of the sculpture walk. But where? The tiny map on my phone, pulled from the website, was a snapshot of the area of the exhibit. Hidden was truly hidden from us, but we stumbled about until we found the tail end of the walk. I will admit, it took entirely too long for it to register with me why the arrows were pointing the wrong way.

I should have taken my real camera, but couldn’t be bothered, plus I worried it was going to rain. The wonderfully tempestuous sky hanging over the crumbling gravestones deserved better than my i-Phone camera.

I was beyond pleased to get to the end that was the beginning of the walking tour. The uneven ground meant I was in a good deal of pain. Add that to my full bladder and worrying about my dying phone battery, and I’m afraid I was a poor exploring companion that day. Unable to figure out the disappearing bus schedule on Google maps, and too exhausted to walk the twenty minutes back to the train station, I gave up and called an Uber to the rescue.

Discovering Alexandria

After coasting along for nearly four years now, I’ve become intensely aware of the looming expiration date on our Australian stay. Granted, it’s still a fuzzy expiration date; kind of like buying a tub of yogurt and the sell-by date says, “ehh, sometime in the next year or so.” Anyway, my point is, I feel motivated to experience as much of Australia as I can before we leave. Day to day, I can’t travel far, can’t take a quick jaunt over to Ayers Rock or Darwin. What I can do is absorb all the interesting bits of Sydney and surrounds.

The trouble with trying to find interesting things to do here is when you do a google search all you come up with is the same list of “ten best things to do in Sydney” over and over. Most of that involves drinking, beaches, or drinking by the beach. I love the beach, with or without alcohol, but I want more. I want to find all the quirky bits and curiosities Sydney has to offer. I want interesting neighborhoods to explore, with history and beauty. I’m searching for places that invite a deeper exploration, that spark wonder. I know they are there; it’s just a matter of finding them.

My exploring buddy, Joanne, is always eager to visit new locales with me. Because so many of our excursions involve shopping or running errands, or just eating, we’re making an effort toward a more creative examination of our city. We were all set last week to do something different by making the trek over to Rookwood Cemetery and the Hidden Sculpture exhibit, when my knee started screaming at me. My search for something interesting that didn’t involve too much walking kept coming up empty, so finally I said, “there’s this pretty little coffee shop I’ve been wanting to go to since I came here,” which took us to Alexandria.

Alexandria is an inner-city suburb, just south of the CBD (central business district). A historically industrial area, Alexandria is now experiencing the evolution to hip suburb. Completely by accident, we found one of those places I asked for, the ones that invite more exploration, and we barely scratched the surface.

The suburb is easily accessible by public transport. We hopped off the train at Green Square Station and headed toward our destination, The Grounds of Alexandria. It should be about a ten minute walk if you don’t stop at the Mitchell Road Antique & Design Centre, which we did. It took us a bit longer.

A smiling crocodile greets shoppers when they enter the massive space that is brimming with retro yumminess and a fair bit of Australiana, some of which is perhaps a little distasteful for modern sensibilities, but definitely a curiosity. I am by no means an expert on these things, but it seemed like much of their wares were priced quite a bit higher than what I’ve seen for similar items in thrift stores or my mother’s basement. Still, it’s tons of fun to look and say, “oh my grandma had that!”

A little dizzy from the smell of dust and old ghosts, we continued on up the road to The Grounds. I was expecting good coffee and fresh food, some sort of garden room and maybe a greenhouse or something. I wasn’t really sure. But wow! I wasn’t expecting what we found. I had read on the internet that people come from far and wide to experience this. It was clear why.

The lush garden atmosphere encompasses several venues in one sprawling location. The Cafe is a hopping place with a retro vibe, where you can get amazing coffees to go with your breakfast or lunch, and they have beautiful pastries to drool over. If you’re feeling more fancy, in The Potting Shed you can dine on fresh, local harvest, while surrounded by hanging plants and fresh flowers.

The Garden is an enormous space where you can sit at long tables under the flowering arbor, or in one of the many other courtyard or intimate nooks, and sip a cocktail or a fresh squeezed juice from the Garden Bar or have take-away lunch from the BBQ, or pizza from the Wood Fired Kitchen. To be honest, we couldn’t find the Wood Fired Kitchen. It’s in there somewhere, but the place is huge! And we were hungry. We had delicious design-your-own salad bowls from the BBQ.

Having a little taste of Alexandria, I do want to go back and finish exploring. The Grounds alone has so much more to experience! Just a couple blocks from there is the green expanse of Sydney Park where you can stroll the walking path, have a picnic on the grass, or bird watch at the wetlands. Another great spot for coffee and inspired breakfasts, that I have been to, is Mecca on Bourke Road. I’m keen to see what other treasures can be found on my next visit to Alexandria.

Searching for Home

“Home is Wherever I’m with You”, I painted on a 12x12x2 inch square of wood. That was four or five years ago, and I did mean it then. My husband and I were contemplating the idea of moving abroad, far away from Utah, something we’d often talked about in a “what it” kind of way. Now though, it had become a possible reality; we were actively taking steps to manifest this dream. The plaque was to demonstrate my commitment to taking this leap with him.

The plaque now rests on a bookshelf in the living room, or ‘lounge’ in the Australian vernacular. Like I said, I was sincere about the sentiment when I gave it to my husband. I wanted to learn what living was like outside of the US. My friend Joanne, another American expat here in Australia, says, “it’s real life, someplace different.” I didn’t know that when I was still back in Utah, but I was ready to find out, to make a new home in a new country and culture. I believed that no matter where we were, we could make it home.

We spent a year in limbo, waiting for confirmation that the relocation was actually going to take place. We didn’t know whether or not we should start packing or put our house on the market. We didn’t know how much we should tell our friends and family about our plans. Why stir things up if it wasn’t going to materialize? I remember I felt frozen, in a state of inertia, unable to move forward in my life because I didn’t know what my future held for even the next few months.

As we come up on the end of our four-year visa, I find myself once more in that limbo state, and pondering the meaning of home. Over the past three and a half years, I’ve come to realize that the concept of home is much more complicated and multifaceted than I understood when I made the plaque. I decided to poll my friends to get their take on the concept of home. Their answers reinforced the notion that home isn’t just one thing or in one place.

I’ve just spent two and a half months in the US, first in Texas, then Iowa, Colorado, and finally Utah, all places I’ve called home at some point in my life. When people here ask us where in the US we’re from – as soon as they hear our accent, that is the first thing they ask – we tell them we moved here from Utah, but rush to assure them (us really) that we are not from there, but consider Colorado home. Even when I say that, I have a question mark in my head.

Back in May, the plane I was on came to a bouncing landing in Dallas, Texas. I quickly pulled out my phone, seeking reassurance that my new granddaughter hadn’t arrived first. She landed in the wee hours, a day later. Over the next few weeks, I navigated the once familiar roads of the Dallas Metroplex, running errands and picking my elder granddaughter up from the same school my own children had attended. I had the oddest feeling of déjà vu, like I’d been picked up out of my world in the present and plopped back down at a point in my past that I had worked hard to escape from; this is actually a reoccurring nightmare I have.

Ellen, who responded to my polling question, talked about her parents’ experience immigrating to Australia from Slovenia in their 30s. “As an immigrant, you become homeless in a way. You have a past you cannot share with your new home and you no longer belong in your old home, because time has moved on.” She said that home for her parents is a point in time that no longer exists. My Texas home was certainly that. Driving around, the streets became more and more familiar; I remembered routes I’d taken regularly during my life there, and even a few times when I was lost in thought, I’d find myself on auto-pilot, taking one of those routes. Where was I going? Not home. Home doesn’t exist there anymore.

People and relationships were a common theme in my friends’ responses to my question. Maureen told me, “I consider both Australia (been here 16 years) and the US home. The hardest part for me and it doesn’t get any easier, is missing my family in the US. However, the love of my life is here along with my step daughters and 7 grandchildren plus lots of friends so that means home to me.” Sarah added, “Home is about feeling adapted to a place, rather than ‘out of place,’ about the connections I make with the people there, friendships I make, and the memories I build. But I think for me, my family is really what I think of as Home.”

After six weeks in Texas, I joined my husband in Iowa. I moved to Iowa as a young girl; my mother and brothers live there still. All these many years I have traversed the corn-field lined country roads, every summer taking my own children there when they were young, and now my daughter brings her daughters. I feel a comfort there in the nest of my family; they are ‘home’, but Iowa has never been home, even when I lived there. I never had that feeling of having adapted to a place as Sarah mentioned. Back then, I longed for the other home we’d left behind.

When my daughter and I arrived in Colorado many years ago, I immediately felt at home. The mountains gave me a feeling of being grounded, safety and comfort. This idea of feeling at home in a place you’ve never lived or perhaps never even been before, was something else I heard from my friends. Carmen told me that she feels a strong bond to Italy, the place, people, their behaviors. Her family is Italian, her parents having immigrated to Australia. She was born and raised here, yet when she goes to Italy, she feels like she’s arrived home. She tells me that she can be her authentic self there, and isn’t self-conscious about speaking loudly and animatedly. Everyone else is doing it, too! Sally says, “the first hour I was in Germany, the bus came up over a hill, and it hit me, ‘I am home.’ So what is that? I didn’t know people, culture or scenery, but felt a connection.”

Like Carmen, Merrolee spoke of the “shared values and experiences…ways of being and doing” that she finds when she returns to her New Zealand home. I, too, experience this when I return to the US, particularly Colorado. When I am there I can be myself in a different way than here in Australia. I’m not constantly aware of my otherness. And yet, while in the US this last time, there were several occasions when I bumped into a reverse otherness. I would find myself stumbling trying to perform some task, because I was doing things the Aussie way. I had to stop and say to myself, “oh yeah, it’s done like so here.”

When I’m here in Australia, I refer to the US as home, and when I’m there the reverse is true. I do feel like an outsider here in Australia. As much as I have adapted, I never really have a feeling of true belonging. And back in the US, I no longer feel I completely belong there either. I feel homeless in the way Ellen spoke of. And while I have shared experiences and memories while in Colorado, the place I keep referring to as home, I do wonder how much of that is just a point in time. Yes, my son is there, and friends who are family. They are home. But is Colorado home? When I look at those mountains now, it’s almost like looking at a postcard of a place I once was.

In Boulder, we held the gathering of “Americans who had met in Australia and just happen to all be in Colorado the same week”. As I sat there, sipping wine and discussing with these friends what home meant, I suddenly had the light bulb flash that I felt at home right there, in a way I hadn’t since flying away from Australia eight weeks prior. These people were my new normal, and they could be my “home” whether in Sydney or Boulder.

When we lived in Utah, each time we drove back there after visiting Colorado, as we came through the canyon and the Salt Lake Valley opened up before us, that song from the 1980 Popeye movie would play in my head, “oh sweet haven, god must love us.” That rust and sage colored landscape with the city nestled in the valley felt safe to me. During our renewed contemplation of moving across the waters, Utah has been part of that conversation. I did still consider it a possible sweet haven. Returning there after being away from that particular state for almost four years, I was much more aware of the ingrained passive-aggressive culture than I was when I lived there. There was nothing safe about it anymore.

At the end of ten weeks spent in the US, I longed for the quiet and solitude of this home, this room where I sit typing now, at this desk, this window with a view of the eucalyptus trees and the sounds of the currawongs and magpies. I was weary of sleeping in strange beds, sharing bathrooms with too many people, and cooking in other people’s kitchens. When the Delta ticketing agent told me there was a problem with my passport and that there was no proof that I had permission to be in Australia, I teared up and just about vomited on the counter. I was terrified that my return home would be delayed.

So here I am. Home. In limbo again, wondering what will happen with the visa; where will home be six months from now? When we left here to visit the US, there was no indication that the visa would be renewed, so we told people we were probably returning in the near future. Now I’m wishing I’d listened to my own advise from five years ago. It looks like the visa may be extended, after all. I do feel somewhat of a reprieve. The truth is, if my family were not in the US, I wouldn’t be rushing to move back there, even though I miss the seasons and the landscape.

My conversations with friends has helped to solidify the understanding that home is not a single concept, even for one person. Home is the people we love, it’s memories shared, a safe haven where we can be who we are, a feeling of familiarity and belonging. And home doesn’t have to be in one physical location. Perhaps understanding this can help me to move past the limbo and just be where I am. Perhaps I can do as my friend Joy, who I met when she lived in Australia and now lives in London, said, “we simply make our ‘home’ wherever we move to in the world.”

Out With the Old and In With the New

photo courtesy Shaedow Photography

Cliche title I know, but I was so happy to let 2017 explode in a shower of fireworks over Sydney Harbour.

Photo courtesy Shaedow Photography

We finished off the old year and began the new with good friends. 

We’re told that apartment there, in the photo above, is where Nicole Kidman lives. If you look real close you can see two silhouettes on the rooftop terrace.

Dear friends shared their home and family with us for a traditional Aussie/Kiwi Christmas, replete with crackers and paper crowns and a pudding whose recipe has been passed down through the generations.

We had a visitor from the US join us, making the day even more special. She refers to herself as our DNA daughter, damn near adopted. That she is. She first came into our life as my son’s high school sweetheart. That didn’t work out so well, but we’d already formed a bond we weren’t interested in breaking.

As has become our holiday tradition, we journeyed down the south coast of New South Wales. We retraced the route we took last year, wanting to share some of our favorite places with our visitor.


In North Batemans Bay, hidden down a gravel drive, you’ll find scrumptious oysters, fresh from the water. This area is part of the oyster trail, that begins in Shoalhaven and travels south to Wonboyn. Have a few of these as your appetizer, then head on across the bridge to….

photo courtesy Shaedow Photography

…Innes Boat Shed for the very best fish and chips around. Just go ahead and stuff yourself on oysters and fish. It’s so good.

 

photo courtesy Shaedow Photography
The south coast is sprinkled with charming little villages set between coast and rolling farmland. The wooden Santas sitting on awnings seemed to be a theme.

photo courtesy Shaedow Photography

As has also become our custom, we journeyed a bit farther than the year before, down to Merimbula. We had a perfect AirBnB unit, just a short walk from the water in two directions. I was too eager to get my feet in the water and couldn’t bear to wait until the next day, so my beloved and I walked to the beach, completely forgetting how early it gets dark down here. I’m still accustomed to northern hemisphere summers where it stays light until late.

At the end of the trail leading to the beach, we placed our shoes by the fence, so we didn’t have to carry them. We walked along the water’s edge, splashing, talking, stealing kisses. After we’d gone a very long ways, we realized it was getting dark, and turned around. In no time at all, it was like someone had drawn a curtain over the sky. We couldn’t see. Craig used his camera flash to light the bush that lined the beach. There were many of these kinds of trails leading off, but we didn’t see any with shoes, that might lead us back from whence we came! We continued to walk and flash and after a very gigglesome time, the flash reflected off a pair of sneakers hanging over the fence.

photo courtesy Shaedow Photography

The next stop on our journey was Melbourne, a city we just can’t seem to get enough of.  

On our final day in Melbourne, a hellish heat wave arrived. The news warned people to take care and stay inside. There was still much to show our DNA daughter, so we got creative and traveled across the CBD by cutting through air conditioned shopping arcades. While standing in the Block Arcade, deciding where to go next, I happened to notice that we were standing by Hopetoun Tea Room and there was no queue! I’ve never been able to get in because I’m not willing to stand in line for an hour just to eat a pastry. “Quick!” I said, “make a line!” We did and were seated promptly. Now that I’ve had their pastry and amazing tea, I think it could be worth standing around awhile.

photo courtesy Shaedow Photography

The last stop of our holiday landed us in Canberra, where we visited the National Museum of Australia and the Songlines exhibition about the Aboriginal Seven Sisters Dreaming stories. It’s only there until the end of February, so if you have a chance at all, do go see it.

Also at the museum was the Midawarr/Harvest exhibit. I was mesmerized by this watercolor painting Distant Glimpses by John Wolseley. Comprised of many paper panels, it spanned the width of the gallery, and contained watercolor, printing, sketches, and I think even some collage. 

We had such a short time in Canberra, that we didn’t get to see much more than this museum and an amazing pork sandwich at Mocan & Green Grout, which is most definitely a worthy destination. We were told by several folks that there wasn’t much to do in Canberra. That was simply incorrect information. Next visit, and there must be a next visit, will include all the other museums: The National Portrait Gallery, The National Gallery of Australia, the Library, The National Science and Technology Centre…. The list goes on and on, not to mention the historical government buildings to see. At just three hours from Sydney, I’m thinking this would be a perfect weekend trip. 

“Oh honeeey!” (starts packing bags)

Testing the Waters

I don’t know how to return to this blog. It’s been 344 days since I last posted.  Shortly before that, I declared that I wouldn’t wait an entire year before posting about my upcoming second road trip down the south coast. I did. Not only that, but I made a third holiday road trip to the south coast.

I’m not going to make excuses for why I’ve been absent from the page, nor will I claim to know what I’m doing here now. I don’t know what this blog is anymore, don’t know what this incarnation will bring, what it has become over its year of incubation. There has been incubation. I have thought about the blog. Even looked at it from time to time. I just never made it so far as to type anything. I’m here now with my fingers tip tapping over the keyboard. I’ll have to wait and see what becomes of this. I’m dipping my toes in the water to test the temperature.

So much has happened over the last year. I find myself almost at the three year anniversary of our arrival in this down under land. Three years. That’s how long we originally intended to be here. The length of time we told our friends and family at home that we would be away. Now what? Our visas expire next December. We have no idea what the future holds for us or even what we want it to hold.

I do know that I still have so much of Australia to experience, and knowing that our time here may be coming to an end date, I want to start cramming in experience like mad.

This is a good time to think back over the experiences I’ve had here already. I can sort through my virtual stacks of photos to relive some memories. Maybe that’s where the blog will come in handy.

One thing I have learned is that I absolutely despise processing my photos after I’ve snapped them. In fact, the only camera I ever use anymore is my i-Phone. I’ve turned all serious photography over to my husband, and so will be turning to him for blog photos. “Hey honey, do you have any pics of that trip to….”

 

Musing on Melbourne Part Two

window dressing

Looking at a map of Melbourne’s city center, you see a mostly rectilinear geometry of parallel and perpendicular streets. Vintage maroon and green trams travel the City Circle route, which marks the boundary of the free tram zone. It is on foot, though, that you’ll find the wonder of this city. Step inside those straight lines and you’ll discover a magical universe where around every corner is another surprise.

The State Library, a popular place to congregate for an al fresco lunch.

Melbourne is a very youthful, hipster city. The first things I noticed were women wearing fashionable yet sensible shoes instead of the towering black ankle booties you find on every young woman in Sydney and the absence of prams.

As I discovered two years ago when we first moved to Australia, there is a rivalry of sorts between Sydney and Melbourne for who makes the best coffee. Don’t tell Sydney I said this, but so far the best coffee I’ve discovered was in Melbourne at Brother Baba Budan , part of the Seven Seeds family. It’s a tiny little place with more chairs hanging from the ceiling than sitting on the floor. At any time you’ll find it jam packed full of coffee lovers, and the coffee is well worth it. Pick up a packet of beans to brew at home. The Adado Gedeo Ethiopia was a revelation.

cocoa and fairy floss at Hash

Another unique, hot beverage experience awaits you at Hash Specialty Coffee & Roasters. It’s a thick, Italian style hot chocolate served in a beaker, which you then pour over the lofty mountain of fairy floss (cotton candy). Myself, I skipped the spun sugar and went straight for the pudding-like chocolate.

Spicy BBQ Pork Bowl at Paperboy Kitchen

Melbournians are spoiled for choice when it comes to food and drink, and we sampled as much as we could in a week. One night we met up with some American friends for pre-dinner drinks at the Gin Palace, a moody, speak-easy kinda joint, with intimate seating arrangements of low, plush couches, and novel length list of martini choices.

After that, we moved on to Meatmaiden, where, as you can guess from the name, they serve a lot of meat. The food was delicious and beautifully presented. One of the highlights of the visit had to be watching the tables full of very large and hungry footy players. They devoured an awful lot of food and, as we got there late, there was a lot of the menu missing. The chef was very kind and sent us some on-the-house goodies.

Another popular spot was Naked For Satan in Fitzroy, a suburb just northeast of the city center. Leon Satanovich ran a vodka still in this building during the Depression. Because of the blasting heat, he worked in his undies. Folks who came to taste his vodka used the code phrase “let’s get naked for Satan.”  We sat on the rooftop terrace, watched the sun go down and feasted on Basque inspired small plates.

On our last day, we had a farewell to Melbourne meal at Terra Rossa on Flinders Lane. We had the Margherita pizza with fior de latte. Mmmmm!

Wunderkammer

Between meals, Melbourne is a literal cabinet of curiosities, starting with Wunderkammer, which was exactly that. It was filled with skeletons, fossils and minerals, taxidermy, mounted insects and strange little contraptions.

l’uccello

My favorite find, the one I dream of, was l’uccello Vintage Haberdashery & Fancy Goods in the Cathedral Arcade. It was a textile artist’s heaven. Plus, I just like to say “haberdashery.”

l’uccello

It was overflowing with vintage ribbons and buttons, with silk embroidery floss, Liberty of London and French General fabric.

l’uccello

And the Holy Grail of textile arts, something I never expected to see in real life, Sophie Digard scarves and necklaces. I’m having to fan myself right now; I feel faint thinking of it.

As I left l’uccello, I wandered in another shop next door. Fascinated with the collection of objects and the fanciful curating, I was snapping photos and wondering why there was no proprietor. I was alone in the shop until a woman whispered past me and said, “I didn’t see that.” “Didn’t see what?” I asked. The photos. Apparently I wasn’t to be taking photos. It seems a few months back, some extremist Christians had been in, snapped photos and then publicly denounced the shop owner as a Satanist. I couldn’t see anything in the shop that would give someone that idea, but I put my camera down and followed the woman into her shop, the Muses of Mystery.

Muses of Mystery

I had to scratch my head, wondering why the other guy’s shop was targeted. I had a lovely chat with Vikkhi and an enjoyable wander around her shop.

Haunted Bookshop

Another place I found in a local guide and was keen to visit was the Haunted Bookshop. I’m pretty sure the fellow behind the counter is the resident haint. When I asked to see tarot cards he might as well have chased me out of the store rattling chains and howling for all the help he gave. He made it abundantly clear that I was not welcome there. Maybe it was the camera.

 

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Musing on Melbourne

National Gallery of Victoria

I struggle to breathe when I think of what tomorrow brings. I feel like all the oxygen has been sucked out of the air. I vacillate between wanting to bury myself in some activity that wipes out all other thought, and thinking, “no-no-no, I have to do SOMETHING!” Tomorrow I will do a thing, a starting point; I will go to the Women’s March in Sydney. I will dress in black to signify my state of mourning for my country of origin. For today, I will pretend that all is well, and I’ll go on a little mental journey to Melbourne.

I discovered Melbourne last June when I accompanied my husband on a business trip, and I fell in love immediately! I was enchanted with the old world charm, the colorful laneways, and all the twisty-turny places where you can discover delightful surprises.

Our adventure began at the Historic Port Authority Building, an example of Neo-Grec architecture, which was completed in 1931. The granite and marble-filled building is now an apartment space, where we enjoyed an Airbnb stay. I could have spent the day looking at each fine detail of this building, but the husband was doing a lot of heavy sighing, so we went out the door and into the city.

The Forum Theatre

The city center is laid out in a what’s known as the Hoddle Grid, oriented 70 degrees off from true north.  The main streets which run NE to SW and SE to NW are lined with stunning architecture.

Town Hall

Wandering off from those straight lines you’ll discover the laneways, little alleys that run between the main thoroughfares and sometimes veer off into dead ends.

I immediately lost my husband to the graffiti covered walls.

The street art is one of Melbourne’s main attractions.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Among the architectural highlights are the churches. I’m not a religious person, and yet I find myself fascinated by sacred architecture.

Go Go Bar

Our hosts were serious foodies and gave us many good suggestions for places to eat. Nearby was the popular Chin Chin. When we got there, the wait was only 15 minutes, so we went downstairs to the Go Go Bar and had an amazing espresso martini. By the time we were seated the line was snaking out the door, around the corner, down the laneway. The food was worthy of that line, but I am so glad we arrived when we did!

Walking down the sidewalk on the way to dinner, I caught a glimpse of glowing light through the stained glass of the Cathedral Arcade and had to duck in for a quick photo.

The Royal Arcade

The arcades are beautiful shopping centers dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

One of the selling points of this city, for me, is you can find a farmers market almost any day of the week. We hopped over to the Queen Victoria Market on Sunday. There we discovered the Brazilian Festival where they were smoking a lot of meat!

A lot of meat!

I spent a good few days wandering this beautiful city and really barely touched on it. What I did see is too much for one blog post. I’ll be back with some highlights of the amazing food, beverages, and some quirky little shops I found. In the meantime, I’m planning our next trip there, which will include revisiting some of my favorite spots!

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A South Coast Journey

A year ago, (Yes a year. I don’t procrastinate, not at all.) our friends were flying off to Perth for the holidays and insisted that while they were gone, we should take their car and go on a road trip. So Christmas day we packed up the car and pulled out onto the highway. They’d given Craig some driving-on-the-other-side-of-the-road lessons in the days previous, but he was still quite nervous. I wasn’t allowed to knit, as I had to be his second set of eyes to make sure he was doing it right. He didn’t really need my help, but it made him feel better.

We drove south on the A1, leaving the city behind. The freeway cuts through the wooded Royal National Park, then comes to the city of Wollongong on the other side. Keep going past the town and suddenly the landscape opens up and you’re surrounded by green rolling hills. The sheer expanse of space made me feel as if I’d just been released from a small closet where I’d been kept locked up for several months. At that moment I thought, “oh, I’m not going back.”

Soon we started seeing signs for kangaroo crossings. My main goal on this trip was to finally see a kangaroo! I hoped the first one I saw wasn’t roadkill. We drove through places with wonderful names like Jerrawangala and Ulladulla, words I want to repeat again and again just to feel the syllables roll around in my mouth.

southcoast-nsw-2-of-25In late afternoon we arrived at our Airbnb rental at Dolphin point. After meeting our host and having a short rest, we walked to the nearby beach, where the waters from Stony Creek River meet the ocean. We walked down the short beach, crossed a narrow inlet onto another large expanse of sand, and across that to the lagoon. The tide was coming in, so we left our belongings a good ways up on the sand, and waded into the water. There was a sandspit on the other side that we wanted to get to and look out on the ocean from there. The river was intent on making its way to the open sea, so we lifted our legs and let it carry us. Once to the other side, we discovered it was pretty much a straight vertical climb up, and it was all we could do to hold our ground and not be swept away.

southcoast-nsw-3-of-25Craig wanted to go ahead and follow the current around the spit and out to sea. That didn’t sound like a good idea to me. Aside from drowning, I was also worried about our cameras we’d left back on shore. A quick glance over told me we’d better hurry back. The water was close to lapping at our cameras now. Even swimming across the current rather than trying to swim against it was obviously going to take me far from where I was trying to go. We eventually made it, just in the nick of time. By this point, the “large expanse of sand” was a small island.

southcoast-nsw-5-of-25According to my itinerary, the next day was when I would finally see a kangaroo. We set off for Pebbly Beach, known for the abundant kangaroo population. The beach was mostly deserted except for other folks who read the same reviews of the beach that I did. On the way back from the loo, one went hopping by and was gone before I realized what was happening. I spoke to a local who told me that, indeed, it was a big kangaroo hot spot, but they usually show up for four o’clock happy hour. So we decided to continue our trek south to see what we could find.

gabe-the-wombatAt Batemans Bay we found Birdland Animal Park and my new boyfriend Gabe.

southcoast-nsw-6-of-25Craig found a different kind of friend.

southcoast-nsw-8-of-25And wallabies!

southcoast-nsw-9-of-25The next day we turned back north and drove to Jervis Bay to our next Airbnb. It was a just perfect size tiny cabin in our hosts’ backyard, surrounded by flowers and chickens. Our hosts recommended Orient Post Bakehouse for truly amazing fish and chips, and invited us by in the evening for a drink. That’s one of the things we appreciate about Airbnb, is the chance to meet people and make new friends. We ended up staying until midnight or later drinking wine and chatting with our hosts, two other Airbnb guests from Germany, staying in a caravan out front, plus two of the hosts’ friends from Ireland who were there visiting.

southcoast-nsw-11-of-25The next day we went to Hyams Beach, where it’s said to have the whitest sand around.  Hmmm. Not exactly white, but it was a gorgeous beach!  On the way to the beach, we stopped off at the Jervis Bay Maritime Museum in Huskisson. A year later I don’t remember everything that we saw, but I know I found it interesting and there were lots of things from boats and an old ferry.

For lunch we went to Greenwell Point for oysters. There are several stands were you can buy oysters shucked and served with lemon. And we’re told that there are people just on the side of the road selling them too. We did see some signs, but apparently they were sold out. It’s a popular attraction, so go early if you want oysters.

southcoast-nsw-17-of-25There are lots of fishing boats around, and that attracts one of my favorite birds. I got such a kick out of this greedy guy. All that mess he’s swallowing looks painful, doesn’t it?

southcoast-nsw-19-of-25Next up, we visited Currarong to find the shipwreck. At the beginning of the trail we found this obsidian black river. Somebody told us that it’s the tannin from the tea trees that turns the water black.

southcoast-nsw-21-of-25At the end of the trail we found the shipwreck. On a stormy night of March 27, 1928 the S.S. Merimbula ran aground at Whale Point. The next morning, the fourteen passengers and 35 crew members rowed safely ashore. These are the remains that have washed up here.

southcoast-nsw-23-of-25Following Lighthouse Road down to the southern tip of the Currarong peninsula we found Point Perpendicular Lightstation. For awhile we were the only people there. It was so quiet, the only sounds coming from the wind and sea and gulls. The late afternoon sun was glorious.

Finally, it was time to go search out some dinner. Nowra is the nearest town of any size and most likely to have a few restaurants to choose from. We learned something about Christmas week in Australia. Everything is closed. Well, not quite everything. We did find an Indian restaurant that hit the spot.

southcoast-nsw-25-of-25On the final day of our holiday, we thought we’d make one last side journey on our way home. We drove over the twisty windy roads of Cambewarra Range to arrive at Kangaroo Valley. We had brought along a little picnic and stopped to dine beside this peaceful river.

This Christmas, we’re heading south again. This time we’ll have home base at Batemans Bay, and take some short trips from there. I’ll try real hard not to wait another year before I post pics!

Happy holidays to all!

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Blue Mountains Road Trip

blue-mountains-2-of-20After almost two years down here in Australia, we finally made the very short trip to the amazingly beautiful Blue Mountains. What we were waiting for, I do not know. We set the tone for our holiday away by having a leisurely morning before we jumped in the vehicle and headed west.

Our first stop was in the village of Wentworth Falls. A friend had recommended that we absolutely needed to stop at Conditorei Patisserie Schwarz. Oh. My. Goodness. That was very good advice. We had a lovely lunch consisting of the Aussie staple food, meat pie, and Schwarz’s soup of the day, which was I believe Hungarian Goulash. I’m not certain, but I am certain it was all delicious. Before we left, of course, we had to buy pastries for the road!

Feeling chockers (very full!) we got back on the road, but not for long. We took a little jaunt to visit the actual water fall of Wentworth Falls. I’m not going to lie, I’ve seen bigger, much bigger waterfalls, but it was stunning scenery. I didn’t realize just how much I’ve missed the mountains.

blue-mountains-4-of-20The bird life in the Blue Mountains was extraordinary.

blue-mountains-5-of-20Continuing on, we came to the Three Sisters rock formation. According to a version of Aboriginal legend, the three sisters of the Katoomba tribe, living in this valley, fell in love with three brothers from the wrong tribe. A battle ensued and the girls were turned to stone for their protection. Unfortunately, the witchdoctor who did the deed died before he could turn them back into girls.

blue-mountains-9-of-20We found another glorious view at Govetts Leap near Blackheath. You can’t really tell from this photo… well maybe a little bit. Look over to the far left. See that bit of yellow? Great swaths of this color filled the valleys and hillsides. It was almost like taking an autumn leaf-peeping drive in Utah.

hedgehog-fabricI couldn’t resist stopping at Blackheath Haberdashery & Fabric. Really, I just love any place that has haberdashery in the name! I did find this super cute Japanese fabric by Sevenberry. I also took a quick peek in the House of Wool; they had a sweet collection of yarn.

blue-mountains-16-of-20As evening drew near, we arrived at our destination, Jenolan Caves and the Cave House hotel. The accommodation was built in 1897 by architect Walter Liberty Vernon, in Federation Arts and Crafts style. The simple, yet comfortable rooms are decorated to be reminiscent of the late Victorian, early Edwardian era. No TV. No wi-fi. It was wonderful. We had more delicious food in the grand dining room at Chisolm’s restaurant in the hotel.

blue-mountains-13-of-20After dinner, the young woman at the front desk urged us to walk down to the Blue Lake, so named because of the light refraction caused by dissolving particles of limestone. While strolling along we were treated with a sighting of the resident platypus. A perfect ending to a perfect day!

blue-mountains-19-of-20The next day we started off with more yummy food! The dining room served up a huge buffet, with sausages, bacon, beans and toast, yogurt, fruit, muslii, and of course coffee, tea, orange juice, and milk. Oh and there were even pastries, but I had been spoiled by Schwarz’s the day before.

After another lazy morning, we took our cave tour. They have several different caves you can tour, all for different fitness levels and adventure seeking levels. We viewed Chifley Cave, a very moderate choice.

blue-mountains-20-of-20My favorite formations in the cave were what they named “shawls”, these bits that look like fabric draped across the way. The other highlight for me was the precocious little boy who chatted up our guide and was full of witty remarks.

Apparently this is where I stopped taking photos, with the Nikon anyway. I was in such a state of relaxation, that it just did not occur to me. We left Jenolan and headed northwest to Bathurst to stock up on provisions for the rest of the weekend to be spent in a cozy little cabin that we found on AirBnB.

All in all it was a heavenly weekend full of rest, de-stressing, and reconnecting . And best of all, now that we know just how quick and easy a trip it is up to the Blue Mountains, our plan is to make many an escape up there on hot and humid summer weekends! There are so very many more sights to see and little villages to explore!

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