01.05.19 - senior moment follow-up

Tyler has been working more hours at RaRa, which is great for our bank account but makes scheduling a bit more difficult – especially when and if I need my unpaid assistant. Without Tyler having a single full day, or even just an evening, off this week, we figured to make my “senior moment” shot finally happen we’d have to go early. That’s how we found ourselves waking up to the ringing of my alarm at 5 –side note, does anyone else have an automatic terror response when they hear the generic apple alarm noise? I DO. I’ve since changed it to quiet piano music, but because it was a new alarm it reverted to basic settings and scared me half to death – and rushing out the door to make the 6:20 ferry to Manly.

Our ride was chillier than expected, it’s finally turning to autumn here in New South Wales. There was only about 3 other people on the ferry with us, and for the first time ever we sat right up front on the outside of the boat. There were only a handful of other boats even in the water, mainly other transportation, but also a few dinghies with fishermen whose work was well underway.

30 minutes later we landed at Manly wharf, and given we were in a hurry to get in and out before Tyler had to be to work at noon, we took an uber to Tania Park. After our mishap last week, I spent a few more minutes comparing my photos and location to the map and knew this was actually the area I had been thinking of.

Despite seeing trees similar to the area I was looking for down below us on the trail, we started backtracking on the coast walk. I didn’t think the trees had been AFTER the park, and let’s remember I have a stellar memory. After about 15 minutes it became clear we were headed in the wrong direction, and turned around.

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We were essentially alone on the trail, and on a gray and windy morning it felt much more remote than I remembered it to be. The birds were chirping incessantly, my fear of all things winged becoming stronger as swooping season gets nearer. Tyler even caught a glimpse of a wallaroo scurrying across the trail.

After about fifteen minutes more of walking, we turned the corner and came face to face with the small gathering of scorched trees I had become so enamored with. We got to work quickly, having once again wasted so much time looking for the spot. I pulled my jumpsuit up under my skirt, and quickly snapped myself in. I had been nervous about snakes in the bush, but it was much shorter foliage than I remembered and it was pretty clear the only other animals out were the birds and the occasional runner. I set my camera up, pulled focus, and made Tyler act as my human shutter release. I checked the camera, put a wig on, and did the whole thing again. I wish I’d had more time, but looking at the clock we started to get nervous we wouldn’t get back to the ferry in time.

We packed up and started our walk forward on the trail. We estimated it would take us about 30 minutes – it ended up being closer to an hour. I’ve never much liked backpack style camera bags, but lately I’ve been wishing I had one just for the sake of my hip and shoulder. Sometimes when I’m walking with my kit it feels as though I’m training for some whacky kind of endurance sport.

We decided to splurge and pay the two or so dollars more for the “fast ferry”, which we have never taken before and was surprisingly, shockingly, fast. We set off with a shot and were back to Circular Quay in about 15 minutes. We jumped onto the train and headed back to Redfern, dragging our feet and swearing we’d never put off coffee until after a hike/shoot/anything again.

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25.04.19 - a senior moment at 27?

The blog has been pretty quiet these last few weeks. Since my last post I ran an 8k for Alzheimer’s research with a fellow UConn grad and Fulbrighter Nikita, visited the Opera House for the second time to see Harry Potter in Concert, and crossed a few more must see’s off my sightseeing bucket list.

But mostly I’ve just been BUSY. I’ve been shooting the most yet since starting this project, and while I was feeling uncertain about the photographs I was making when I first got here, things have definitely taken a turn for the better (you can check out the work I’m making in real time HERE). I’m much happier with what I’m making, and new ideas are coming more quickly than I can get them made. Good problems. 

I’m not sure if it’s my schedule or the constant worrying about my work that allowed this to happen - but I had a major “senior moment” last night. My plan for the evening was to return to make an image at a location I had seen along the Coogee to Bondi coast walk. Tyler and I made our way to Bondi Beach, and started following the same hike we did our first weekend here, but backwards. I felt completely confident that the spot I was thinking of wasn’t too far from the last bend in the path before you reach the beach itself. Camera gear in tow, Tyler and I began walking. Within the first fifteen minutes we crested the hill I saw so clearly in my mind - but the small grouping of trees I remembered was nowhere in sight. Tyler said perhaps I was mistaken, and he was certain the spot I was looking for was further up the path. 

So we walked some more. And then some more. One of the beauties of the coast walk is that you can see what’s to come around the bend, and even from a distance I could see the forested area I remembered was not in the distance. I was completely perplexed as I knew this was a long trek but I was SO SURE it was close to the end of the hike, and we were nearly halfway through the coast walk. What was I missing?

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I finally sat down on a bench, pulled my phone out, and scrolled to find the pictures from our first hike - and had a literal facepalm moment. 

The spot I was sure was on this hike, so confident I hadn’t even thought to look at these photos before lugging my gear to Bondi, was on our SECOND coast walk from Spit to Manly. On the north shore. 15 miles north from where we were standing. Definitely not possible to get to before sunset via public transportation on a public holiday (it was Anzac Day, similar to our Memorial Day in the US).

I pride myself on being an organized person, and especially so in my practice. I used to make spreadsheets for my photo shoots to make sure I had everything I needed and was fully prepared. I also have a decent memory, though sometimes a bit spacey as I juggle all the various projects I’m working on. But NEVER have I been so off the mark on something. I’d like to chalk it up to having been so busy the last few months that all my experiences are starting to blur together. Perhaps it’s more likely Tyler's explanation when I turned to him and again exclaimed my disbelief at what I had done - “Well Kaleigh, you are nearly 30. These things happen, and will start happening even more”. 

This is what I get for marrying someone younger than me.

We turned ourselves around and trekked back to Bondi - it’s closer to our train home, and I was really craving a swim after the unplanned 3 miles of walking. I peeled off my terribly sweaty clothes and jumped straight into the ocean. These are the days I’m secretly grateful Tyler doesn’t love swimming, because he stayed back to watch over our bags. The beach had been packed when we started our walk, but by 5:30 it was clearing out. The sunset was soft and beautiful and it was surprisingly warm out. Our afternoon had felt like a total fail, but getting to enjoy another Australian evening at the beach made it all seem worth it.

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31.03.19 - Blue Mountains National Park

Something I hadn’t fully grasped when we first moved here is how condensed the city is. As we found when we drove to Canberra, it’s pretty sleepy once you get out of Sydney proper. Many people are also surprised to learn that Sydney is pretty much surrounded by national parks. A visit to the Blue Mountains National Park has been on our priority list since day one, but thanks to a very rainy March, our plans have been pushed off for nearly a month now.

When the forecast finally called for sun on Sunday, I knew it was time to head west. What we didn’t anticipate, however, was a landslide blocking our train. While you can normally get to the Blue Mountains in about 2 hours with only one train transfer (and just over an hour by car), our journey ended up taking about 3.5 hours. We waited for a train that never came, but no announcement ever made that it was canceled, so we sat on the platform gabbing until I finally realized it had been much, much longer than the 8 minutes we were supposed to have waited. We ended up on another train, and from there had to hop on a coach bus provided to take us to yet another station which finally took us to Katoomba.

By the time we stepped off the train we were starving – every one else seemed to have thought ahead and brought their lunch, and sandwich and beef jerkey and crisp fumes filled the train car and just made the situation worse. We stopped for a sandwich in the sleepy town center, and ate it as we walked towards the trails – about a mile from the station.

I commented that being there reminded me very much of being in Germany, though Tyler later argued for small town New Hampshire. It was a collection of little independent shops (most closed as it was Sunday), which gave way to streets lined with tiny houses. It was all very quaint.

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We skipped by the sign directing us to the Three Sisters and Echo Point, and bypassed the trail that seemed to head to Katoomba falls. We walked the extra distance to Scenic World, which is a strange conglomeration of amusement park and sightseeing? It seems the only really attraction is taking cable cars or railways over the valley floor and being able to access a boardwalk pathway. I was interested in seeing a sculpture exhibit in the gulley, but when we got there found out it doesn’t open for another week. We briefly considered paying the $50 a ticket to find out what Scenic World was all about, but finally came to our senses, realized that was insane, and turned back around.

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We hopped onto the Katoomba falls trailhead we had previously passed, which was hidden behind a bus stop and shockingly packed with other visitors not visible from the road. This path was also primarily covered, which made me even more suspicious of why I would pay $50 to walk on a different boardwalk nearby.

There were many different lookouts, the especially crowded Katoomba Falls photo op, and we were eventually spit out at Echo Point just past the Three Sisters. Tyler and I racked our brains for the equivalent in the states, unable to remember if it was a formation in Yosemite we were thinking of or elsewhere (it is – the Three Brothers). Despite the trail being crowded at times, there were many points where it was just Tyler and I and the rainforest. The views were spectacular, and the bright blue sky and blazing sun made for a truly perfect hiking day.

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Once we left Echo Point, Tyler and I looked over with the same expression and read each other’s minds – is it lazy of us to just head home now? We had only been “hiking” for about 2 hours. Thinking we were going to a different location, we came fairly unprepared with other planned routes to take. On top of all this, Tyler’s been fighting a wicked bought of insomnia, leaving him with slightly less energy than usual. We took one last picture and started back towards the train station, both expressing that though it seemed silly to have traveled so far, we had no regrets about how the day had gone. As I get older I become more accepting of the fact that not everything has to be difficult to be worthwhile.

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Keeping with the theme of the day, we had to wait an obnoxiously long time for the train. I was so grateful that Tyler had, in an unusual moment of thinking ahead and preparedness, suggested we bring our rain coats “just in case”. The temperature had dropped significantly, I had assumed due to elevation, and I had worn my jacket the entire day. Now, waiting for the train, I was shivering and rubbing my arms to keep warm, despite standing in direct sunlight. I was even more surprised to find it still fairly chilly when we got back to Sydney. I guess summer is finally coming to an end.

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The ride home seemed exponentially faster than the journey there, and before we knew it we were back at Redfern station. We had high hopes of stopping at Tyler’s new place of work for a Ramen dinner, but by the time we speed showered and walked back out the door they had already closed kitchen for the night. We ended up at a table at La Coppola, our favorite local pizza place, which served us well the last time we were hangry and looking for something to eat. We sat outside and shared a mind-blowing fig and burrata salad (figs are currently in season here), and each devoured our own pie.

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Afterwards, we stopped in at a bar across the street for a beer. Every time we’ve walked by it in the past we’ve said “we really have to go there for a drink sometime!” Though we were exhausted from our day of traveling by train, bus, and foot, we thought what better time than now to finally make good on our word. After delicious pizza and a good sour beer, it’s hard for a grumpy night to stay that way.

28.03.19 - trying new things: run club + flying in a crane

My plan for this post was mainly to highlight my day at the Western Sydney University Hawkesbury campus yesterday. However, the longer I thought about what a crazy day I had, and the concept of moving out of my own comfort zone - the more I thought about how far outside I was outside that zone on Wednesday night as well.

Going to a run club was a totally new experience for me. I’ve run casually for most of my young/adulthood, but never with a group. Like many things in my life, I like that running is generally a solo activity. Yet over the years my friends have sang the praises of run clubs, and that kind of good press sticks. When I started thinking about ways I might make new friends and connections while abroad, I looked into my local options.

I had initially thought I’d join a different group, but after getting to know the city a bit better I did some more research to find something closer to home, and I’m so glad I went through another round of searching. I came across Girls Run Sydney, an all female running squad who get together every Wednesday to make a loop or two around the CBD. From their Facebook it seemed like a welcoming and supportive group, and I decided that the next Wednesday I was free I’d join in.

I nearly chickened out when the time came to head out the door, afraid to put myself out there. An important element of this story is that though I run, have raced, and currently have two races on my calendar, I’m actually really, really bad at running.

Part of it is just general being out of shape. Part of it is that I’ve fallen off my training for the better part of this year as I existed in the weird transition that was post grad school/first semester teaching more than one class/preparing to move to a new country. Part of it is that I’m incredibly irresponsible when it comes to doing the proper speed work and cross training. All in all I’m a person who is really not in any place to be running, yet I keep heading out the door most nights of the week for my slow as can be jog through the park.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what my goals are for my time here in Sydney. My initial plan was to run the full Blackmores/Sydney Marathon. In assessing my goals I’ve pretty much decided that I’ll be only running the half instead. I want my focus to be not so much in just finishing the thing, as it has been in past races, but to:

1. move away from the walk/run interval system I’ve relied on in the past

2. become a stronger and faster runner

My hope in dropping the anticipated mileage is that I’ll save myself some time in training (because WOW I’m busier than I thought I’d be) and it will help keep me and my training in line with these goals.

I really thought this part of the post would be short but here I am still rambling on about how I like to run but am bad at it. All of this is meant to lead up to me saying that YES I went to run club, and YES I felt incredibly awkward, and NO I could not keep up with the badass ladies of Girls Run Sydney. I’ve always been the backest back of the packer (Tyler calls me the race caboose) so I was not at all surprised.

I loved the general attitude of the group, and was really touched when one of the pacers hung back to make sure I’d be okay. I told her to go on without me, and assured her that I’d be fine on my own despite not knowing the route yet (I got lost, but hey! it was actually worth it – I ended up behind the opera house and caught a beaut of a sunset). And despite my ‘choose your own adventure’ detour, I ended up with the group back at our original meeting point.

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What really made the night for me, and the reason I’ll be back again next Wednesday, and the Wednesday after that, is that despite not being able to keep up, I had one of the best runs and workouts since I arrived in Sydney. Just trying to keep the girls in my sights pushed me harder than my lazy brain has ever allowed me. That’s a major win in my book. Maybe by the time I leave here I’ll actually be able to keep up with the tail end of the group.

At least at run club I got to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. HIE was a different story.

I was pretty beat after only 4k, and waking up at 6 the next morning was not pretty. I nearly missed my train, spilled coffee all over myself and my camera bag, realised I forgot my book at home, and could only get a seat facing backwards on the train (after a lifetime of never being bothered by it, it now makes me sick because of course it does - it’s our main way form of transportation). Not the most promising start to the day.

The train ride to campus was about an hour and a half, and I was grateful that the faculty member I was meeting had sent directions explaining which stop to get off at and the where the campus shuttle would need to take me. The shuttle driver was also incredibly helpful and brought me right to the building I needed to be at. My day was definitely taking a turn for the better.

If you saw my Instagram post you’ll likely already know that I was expecting to get a general tour/overview of the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment while visiting. However, when I met with Doctor Paul Rymer, one of his first questions for me was “how are you with heights?”

To be honest, I’m not sure what my answer to that question is. I think I’m fine with heights, but am generally afraid of injury and death? And there seems to be a slightly increased likelihood of one of those things happening when height increases. But at the same time, was I really going to let my general anxiety and fears stop me from jumping on an opportunity that may not be available to me again? Of course the answer is no. So my answer for Doctor Rymer was, “heights? I’m fine with heights”.

So that’s how I ended up in a harness, tethered to a yellow box lifted by a crane, nearly one hundred feet in the air. I was above one of the six rings of the EucFACE experiment, which is looking at the effects of increased CO2 on native forests. Three of the rings are pumped with carbon dioxide to mimic the expected levels of 2050, while the other three act as controls.

Being up in the air wasn’t as scary as I’d anticipated, partly because I didn’t stop shooting until we were back on the ground and it kept me focused. I didn’t move around the box all that much, and when I did it felt like trying to walk across a rocking ship. It was a beautiful day, and we kept raising to move through the ring, and then lowering back down so the researchers I was accompanying could cut off and mark branch samples. All in all I think we were only up for a total of ten minutes.

Once safely back on the ground, Doctor Rymer took me into one of the other rings on foot to get an up close look. In each ring there’s a variety of measurements being taken and simultaneous experiments looking at factors affected by the increased CO2, ranging from manual rainfall collection to video monitoring of potential tree flowering. There were complex recording devices next to repurposed laundry baskets for catching leaf drop-off and debris. Just the type of strange human/nature/tech juxtapositions I love!

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By the time we finished up at EucFACE, it had already been two hours, and both Doctor Rymer and I were late for our next meetings. I spent the afternoon chatting with a lovely Fulbright scholar, Vicky, who is based at Hawkesbury and who I had met at orientation in Canberra. She’s a Phd student at WSU and headed to the states in the fall to take on her own research project. After we finished up I jumped on my train home. I was quite thankful again for the shuttle driver, who told me to get off on a different stop than I’d gotten on to make sure I made the next train to the city (the trains out west do NOT run as frequently as I’m used to in the CBD) and I settled in for the ride back home again. By the time I made it back I was exhausted, dehydrated, and sunburned. It seems crazy to say, seeing as though I’m on a non-traditional, work from home schedule, but TGIF.

27.03.19 - on work, truly in progress

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On Saturday it will be two months since I arrived in Australia, and a month and half officially working on the project that brought me here. It’s been a hectic and full first few weeks, combining work and meeting days with sightseeing, and some days spent just figuring out how to get through the basics in this new place.

For the last few years I’ve relied on the phrase “finding my footing” when talking about making new work, and it’s more accurate than ever here. I’ve started shooting at the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney, PlantBank in Mt. Annan, and will head out to the Hawkesbury WSU campus tomorrow to see their climate research facilities. I’m loving this aspect of my research, and right now I’m casting a wide net and shooting from a more observational perspective. As time goes on, I’ll get into more detail and maybe start focusing in on certain areas that have caught my attention for one reason or another.

I felt in a really good place in photographing towards the end of graduate school, and now that I’m shooting more consistently again, I find myself even more critical of what I’m making and how I’m doing. I’m not sure if it’s where I’m at in my career, the freshness of the project, or the weird internal pressure of being a Fulbright scholar, but most of what I’ve made so far has left me rather disappointed in myself. Last week was the worst week yet since arriving, and I started to irrationally feel like maybe I’d never figure this out and be able to make anything worthwhile during this precious time I have.

The only thoughts running through my head:

Two months here, and nothing much to show for it.

Not even nine months left.

The clock is ticking.

This mentality was then compounded by the guilt of knowing I have this amazing opportunity, which I shouldn’t be wasting it feeling sorry for myself. It was a rough week, if I’m being totally honest. I feel incredibly grateful that I have a support system in my life, and new guidance here in Australia, that helped pull me from the funk and to charge forward. Chatting through my ideas with Tyler, getting back into a productive writing routine, and meeting with my amazing advisor at WSU, and starting to visit the art + design library to sit with my favourite photographers all helped to snap me back to my typical (ie: happier) reality.

So I don’t love what I’ve made so far. But it’s not time wasted. It’s the first step of many, many more, that may (and likely will) last far past the deadline of my scholarship. Failing for the first few weeks has given me clarity and I’m moving forward shooting with a better sense of what I want this narrative to be and for these images to look like. I can’t rely on how I was shooting a year ago, and though trying new things is a bit scary, it’s also incredibly exciting and a new challenge to tackle.

The purpose this post really serves is this – to explain why the WIP section of this website has been (and honestly, continues to be) lacklustre and a bit empty. But I have, and will continue, to post both the successes and the images that fall flat. I think it’s necessary to keep this space honest and true to my experience. Not everything is perfect, even in the most perfect of scenarios. But it will get better (and let’s cross our fingers the work does, too).

01.03.19 – tidbinbilla nature reserve

Our last stop in Canberra was the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.

Yes, I failed to say it correctly the entire time I was there.

Two of my new friends/colleagues joined us on the journey, as it came up in conversation the night before that we’d be headed out that way and just so happened to be the only ones with a car. We ended up spending the day together, the majority of it hiking on looped trail through the main nature reserve. We were all a bit drained from the last few days, and definitely not moving at top speed like we normally would. There was also so much more wildlife to see than expected, which slowed us down, but for arguably the best reason.

We walked through a koala breeding area, and just like at the zoo they were mostly sleeping. We did see a few of them move when we circled back, but that was also because many of them happened to be taking a bathroom break at that time. There was one especially chubby one in the back, but we’re still unsure if he/she had a beer belly or was carrying a baby. Either way, they were somewhere between the cutest thing I’ve ever seen and something I might have nightmares about.

On the main trail we saw:

potoroos (they kind of look like a giant rat)

wallabies (look like baby Roos)

one or two platypuses (very difficult to see in the water, they only surface for a minute or two)

a carnivorous duck (his name was Ripper)

two black swans

more birds than I could keep track of.

The real treat of the day was a field full of fifty plus eastern grey kangaroos, officially negating my kangaroo death toll. It was a magical experience getting to be so close to them and watch them interact with one another.

Though we had hoped to maybe do one more trail, we just didn’t have the energy to muscle through it. We took a drive up to the Canberra Deep Space Communication Centre, where the antennae used to transmit images of the first steps on the moon (as well as many other historic moments in space!) to the rest of the world are located. We didn’t get a chance to go back into the facility, but after seeing how beautiful the surrounding area was I’m thinking we may have to go back anyways.

We had an unbelievably gorgeous ride through the mountains back to the center of Canberra, most of the winding roads lined with Kangaroos having dinner. After dropping everyone off, Tyler and I made our way slightly back out of the city to our hotel for the night. It was definitely not as wonderful as the Little National, but at this point we were so beat that we didn’t even care. Any bed would have sufficed. We also loved that our kangaroo theme was continuing on, as the field beside the hotel was chock full of them. A wallaby was even perched on the pool deck in back of the hotel, which was honestly kind of terrifying to see in the dark (it stayed perfectly still and only followed us with its eyes…like a possessed gargoyle).

We woke up bright and early the next morning to get back on the road. We had planned our trip pretty poorly, and had to leave by 8 to get the car back before enterprise closed. Next time we’ll definitely be getting an extra day, though to be honest I’m not sure we could have made it through a second day of walking and sightseeing.

As we passed back into Sydney I felt the instant sense of knowing we were almost home. I love traveling and exploring, but after the busyness of the week I was looking forward to a hot shower, relaxing on the couch, and delivery pizza. And I can confirm that though it sounds bizarre, prawn as a topping is in fact, delicious.

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27/28.02.19 – fulbright orientation + gala

This one is hard to write, because the last two days have been so hectic and full and invigorating, but simultaneously exhausting and draining. There’s so much to say, but I think it’s been more difficult to put into words than anything I’ve done in Australia to date.

The Fulbright orientation and gala are done and dusted, and I have the same emotional response as I did after prom or graduation. A bunch of us scholars stayed out at the pub until 2am last night (WAYYYYY past my old lady bedtime) and it felt like it was because of that similar sense of just not wanting it all to be over.

The people I spent the last two days with were inspirational beyond words, each and every single one of them superstars in their own fields and doing things so unique and specific and important. Even the casual “fun facts” everybody shared at the very start of orientation blew me away – there were musicians and elite athletes, “condomologists” and interpretive dancers, and even someone who had shaken hands with an octopus.

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Every minute that wasn’t spent in a session or hearing from alums was filled with endless chatter, scholars talking to one another excitingly about their research and what they were doing in Australia or America. Though there was only a handful of Americans in the room, there were easily 70-80 Australian scholars who will be on their way to the states sometime next year. We’re part of the largest Australian-American cohort in history, but will be beat out by next year’s, as they’ll be adding 50 additional awards into the mix thanks to a generous private donation.

Being surrounded by 100 other professionals meant I had to go pretty far out of my comfort zone. Even though I spend a lot of my time in my practice and in life talking to people, I still felt very, very awkward walking right up to strangers, saying hello, and starting a conversation out of nowhere. Other people seemed to be experts at it. I’m incredibly thankful for the few new friends I made who came up to me first and eased that transition.

The big event was our visit to Parliament House for the Fulbright gala, which was similarly filled with conversation and just a generally amazing time. I was fairly nervous leading up to it, but once I got in front of my poster and shook a few hands it was smooth sailing. I even managed to nab two business cards of phenomenal contacts without even having to ask for them. I was told by a scientist that she was “speechless and humbled” that I was taking on the work that I am. I didn’t fall climbing up the stairs, crossing, or descending from the stage as I received my certificate, and I even got to meet the second ever female astronaut to command a space shuttle mission. I got to meet some of the faculty from WSU, who welcomed me as though I was there to stay.

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I’m an emotional person, and I felt on the verge of tears as I listened to the keynote speaker, Pam Melroy, recall her experiences looking down at the “pale blue dot” from space. Colonel Melroy was the second woman to ever command a space shuttle mission. She urged us to come together as a crew, to treat this planet as our own shuttle. I couldn’t help but look around at everyone in the room, some I had gotten to know fairly well, and some who I hadn’t had the pleasure to meet yet. But all of us were there with one common purpose - to work hard and achieve great things. But beyond that, and maybe even more importantly, to share not only those findings but also our personal, intimate, nonacademic, human experiences with the world as well.

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I have this overwhelming sense of stress and fear that I won’t do enough while I’m here, that the work might not be the greatest I’ve ever made or even make that big of difference. But the last few days with the other scholars, alum, and inspirational leaders has helped me to see that our work doesn’t necessarily have a deadline, and my project isn’t over when my grant period ends. At the risk of sounding like a summer camp cliché, I know that I’ll have these connections forever. I thought my Fulbright was the journey, but I’m seeing now that it’s just the first step.

25.02.19/26.02.19 - canberra recap pt. 1

We woke up bright and early Monday morning to pick up our car from enterprise and get on the road to Canberra. Only once on the train I realized I was fairly sure I didn’t pack my single professional blazer, despite having set it out the night before. Looking back, I’d say that was a pretty good first indicator of how the rest of our day would go.

Getting the car was easy enough, and though a friend had suggested we take some time to do a bit of “parking lot driving”, Tyler felt confident he could get behind the left side wheel and get going. We pulled out into Potts Point, a fairly bustling section of Sydney, and I immediately started to sweat. Tyler nearly side swiped a parked car (though he very confidently said he didn’t). We accidentally drove down a one way road. A word to the wise – Google maps does not work while driving here. Not something you necessarily want to learn while driving abroad for the first time (it’s worked adequately for walking thus far!). I didn’t have waze downloaded on my phone, so while that happened we just tried not to drive onto the right side of the road.

We finally did get out of the CBD and onto the highway, and for that I am very grateful. Those were some of the most stressful minutes of my life. Once we were on the M5, and then onto the M31, it was smooth sailing. One road pretty much straight to Canberra!

We stopped at McDonald’s along the way, an American standard road trip pit stop. Though they do call it “Macca’s” here, it’s essentially the same. I don’t even really like to eat it back home, but we had to see for ourselves how it compared. Honestly the biggest difference is that they had MACAROONS for sale at the bakery. Fancy McDonalds.

Once you get out of Sydney the landscape turns rural surprisingly quickly. Skyscrapers and office buildings are replaced with gum trees and fields of cows. It reminds me of farmland back home, but with significantly shorter trees and dryer overall. As we neared Canberra saw our first kangaroo, but sadly it was road kill on the side of the highway. We were completely shocked at how many we saw that day - fourteen in total. We also saw some sort of gigantic…deer? We’re still not sure what exactly it was, but it was massive.

We checked into our hotel just outside of Canberra proper, a strange but comfortable enough “budget” hotel. We went to a nearby brewery for dinner, and if you follow me on facebook you’ll know that ended with eight beers for the two of us due to a wicked Monday night deal and considerably lenient liquor laws compared to back home. The only thing better than the food and free beer was the fact that a gelato messina was just around the corner.

Tyler and I decided to spend the next day at the National Zoo and Aquarium. We really can’t get enough of the wildlife. On our way we passed five live kangaroos, though they were quite far off in the distance. I was happy about this – the further from the road the better.

The zoo was eerily quiet, I’d imagine because it was a weekday, but I have to imagine also because of the location. We had been warned of this, but it does seem like quite the sleepy city. From what I’ve told the majority of residents work for the governemt. The streets were ghostly quiet in comparison to Sydney, and there was hardly any nightlife.

Walking into the zoo felt eerily similar to the opening of Jurrasic Park, we were both a little taken aback. But the remainder of our afternoon was relaxing and beautiful, and it was refreshing to not have to fight for space to see any of the animals. Sometimes it was so quiet I was freaked out. What if that ostrich decided to not just stalk me behind the fence but instead JUMP OVER the VERY SHORT fence? Were there even any employees around to help me? Unnecessary anxiety aside, we got to see many Australian native species up close, as well as some exotic creatures as well.

After our trip to the zoo we checked into where we’d stay for the next few day, the Little National Hotel. It was easily one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed at. Anywhere that has automatic blackout blinds feels INCREDIBLY fancy to me.

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After freshening up we went back out into Canberra, and over to the National Gallery. Though I should say the National Portrait Gallery, then the National Gallery. We had a planned excursion to the Portrait Gallery for the next day but somehow ended up in the museum, in a PORTRAIT EXHIBITION, before we realized our mistake. We probably looked a little mad, walking into the museum only to leave a few minutes later, but I didn’t want to ruin our next day’s itinerary.

We walked across the road to the National Gallery and spent an hour or so there instead. It was amazing, and I was most impressed by the variety and layout of work. I’m always appreciate of museums which take a non-traditional approach to hanging and space, and avoid seperation by discipline. The majority of aboriginal art was kept together, but everything else was divided by concept or a linking idea rather than medium.

For dinner we had subpar ramen, but the savior of the evening was a take home container of gelato eaten in our fancy cloud of a hotel bed as the automatic blinds closed us in for the night.

23/24.02.19 – being grumpy and walking it off

First things first – there’s a ramen place nearby and it’s so good we went TWICE this week. Shout out to RaRa for making us deliriously happy.

And also, YES, we do actually eat at home. I’ve gotten quite a few questions about this, and I actually still cook A LOT. It’s just not as aesthetic or cool or picture worthy. For example, Saturday night I tried really hard to make my mom’s fried fish recipe. It was great, though not as great as hers. Tyler loves the common fish here - barramundi – so much so he has seriously mentioned getting a tattoo of it. It’s just a normal flaky white fish. Sometimes I don’t understand that kid.

Last night we made quesadillas, which were not the best/not the worst. They don’t seem to have anything resembling Mexican cheese here. We used “tasty” cheese, which seems to be a white cheddar? Maybe? It just wasn’t the same. I miss that sweet fiesta blend from back home.

So we do cook - it’s just not that amazing. We’ve been trying to avoid buying unnecessary ingredients, and generally working pretty low budget. We’re living that fixed income lifestyle!

Speaking of limited money, Saturday we went to see the David Goldblatt retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Though the main museum collection is free, this exhibition requires a ticket. Tyler and I seriously contemplated not going, or just me going and him doing something else (seriously, we’re becoming SO FRUGAL), but we eventually decided to just go for it and both get a ticket and THANK GOD WE DID. It was a beautiful exhibition, and while Goldblatt is most well known for his black + white work documenting apartheid, I was amazed by his work made between South Africa and Western Australia of asbestos mining. It was completely in my wheelhouse and area of interest, the prints were huge and beautiful and maybe I need to try printing on rag? I left invigorated and ready to make some work! Tyler and I turned to each other as we left and commented on how thankful we were to have decided to just bite the bullet and both go.

Sunday 24 Feb – we very nearly did not leave the house today. It was cloudy and intermittently raining. We’ve had pretty miserable weather here for the last three days or so, and after weeks of sunshine and clear blue skies it’s put us both in the most foul of moods. Being in Sydney when it rains somehow feels even worse than back home – I feel this incredible sense of guilt if we don’t go out, like when you’re on vacation and can’t go to the beach or see the sights. It’s still hard for me to remember that this place is HOME, and that it’s okay to take a day to stay indoors and read, do research, or god forbid, watch television.

By the time we rolled out of bed and got ourselves together it was nearly noon. I then started playing the mental strategic planning game, attempting to figure out if any of the ideas I had were actually doable in the weather AND knowing we had already lost half our day. I know this is quite a common issue, but being as controlling and neurotic as I am, I can’t stand going anywhere of interest without enough time to actually do everything I want in that place. I don’t ever want an adventure to be cut short. Even if I know we can go back in the near future! This is why I generally overplan any trip we take. I really need to learn how to relax…but 27 years and counting, I’m still this way.

So I cut the Blue Mountains day trip off the list, and started brainstorming a different hike we might take that’s slightly closer. I remembered seeing another coast walk when looking into our Coogee trek, and did what was probably my shortest research yet (I’d say under 5 minutes). Grumpy and getting close to going to bed at 1pm, I dragged Tyler off the couch, and we headed out into the gloomy streets to find our bus to Spit.

It started raining as we walked to the bus station, and the bus we planned to take never showed up. When the next bus did, it stopped at a stall down the road instead of the one we were standing at, so we ran full speed to get on…just to have it also stop at where we had been prior. I felt motion sick on the way (which hardly ever happens to me) and bit down all my nails out of nervousness as we crossed what felt like the longest bridge I’ve ever been on. I was not in the best of moods when we finally hopped off the bus, and was even more concerned when I saw the entrance to the walk was…under a bridge? I half expected a troll to come out and ask us to pay some fee. Or at the very least, a strung out vagrant looking for bus fare. Isn’t this a place my parents warned me NOT to go to?

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The bridge underpass was a brief section leading to the actual trail. Within minutes we had started onto the coast walk, and as soon as we got onto the path the sun came out and our spirits lifted. The Spit to Manly route was much more of a “hike” than the Coogee to Bondi walk, and most of it was uphill and on stairs (either added wooden or cut into the rock). It was hard to stay grumpy when we were back doing one of our favorite activities, and finally into some nice weather. We saw a bearded dragon (we think?) and a variety of native flora. I appreciated that this trail had quite a few signs pointing out what plants we might see along the way, though it had far fewer signs directing us where to go on the trail itself.

There were beautiful lookouts, especially once we entered into Sydney Harbor National Park. There’s also a section along the path where you can see Aboriginal engravings in the rock. I was especially drawn to a path jutting off into a strange forest of black trees. The afternoon light was beautiful, and it was strange to be in a totally new environment above the tree line, but still beside the ocean. We passed through Fairlight Beach, which we learned is home to a small group of Little Penguins. I think we may have missed their breeding season, but I’m hoping to maybe catch them in the evening before we head back to the states.

The entire last leg of our walk I went on and on about how excited I was to get into the water for a swim. So naturally, as we rounded the bend into Manly cove it began to rain again. We walked along the Corso towards the beach anyways, and though it remained cloudy, the shower ended. It was definitely one of the colder swims I’ve had since arriving to Australia – I’d guess at 5pm the water was warmer than the air. I jumped into the rolling waves among the surfers, the tide stronger than ever. A frigid wave crashed over me, and I could have just as easily been at Nauset beach. And for the briefest of seconds, this New England girl felt back home.

20.02.19 thru 23.02.19 - an abridged update

So I’ve been a bit MIA, and for that I sincerely apologize. I left off having gone to the Taronga Zoo, and the few weeks between then and now have been nothing short of a whirlwind. In my actual Fulbright proposal I suggested I’d update this blog DAILY, which blows my mind now that I’ve been posting here for about a month. I have more respect for full time bloggers than ever before. I promise now that I’m back from Canberra I’ll be posting more frequently (mainly because sitting down to do these recaps is STRESSFUL, and I forget things). I’m honestly not one to forgo sleep for work, and while that probably makes me the worst fake tortured artist type you’ve ever met, I think it’s very necessary for my sanity and wellbeing. So I’ll try my best.

Back to the important stuff…

On Friday I visited the Royal Botanic Garden here in Sydney for the second time - but the first with my trusty mentor and guide, Dr. Brett Summerell - and got to see the herbarium and plant pathology buildings. It’s still quite surreal entering into these spaces, both because I never imagined I’d actually be here, but also because they’re such incredible facilities that I think most people would be unlikely to find themselves in.

The herbarium is being moved out to PlantBank in Mt. Annan, so most of the room where it was previously held has been emptied out to make room for a conveyor belt scanner setup for digitization of EVERYTHING from the herbarium prior to moving. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing that process in motion.

Dr. Summerell took me through each collection, and pulled out samples ranging from recently collected to something from the time of the Cook expedition of ‘New Holland’. I was particularly struck by a large seaweed sample (pictured below), kept in a flat file similar to those artists use for storing work. The process of flattening seaweed is akin to that of paper marbling – the seaweed is floated on top of water and the paper is scooped below it, so that once laid out the sample will dry totally flattened to the paper. I’m hoping that I may get the chance to see this in action.

Or maybe I’ll go rogue and try it myself.

The plant pathology building was fantastic and my brain started buzzing with ideas and shots to be taken. I’ve been working pretty slowly thus far, taking a few images here and there but primarily with my phone. Once I return from Canberra I’ll truly get down to business and break out my “real” camera. There are containers of plants being tested for various diseases, Petri dishes full of mold, and as always some technology that is still a total mystery to me.

As we said goodbye, Dr. Summerell pointed out one of the many gardens in the RBG and explained that it is actually the site where agriculture was first attempted in Australia. How incredible is that? In the end the settlers were fairly unsuccessful growing in the region, thanks to proximity to the water and generally unsuitable farming conditions.  

Afterwards I took some time to explore the area surrounding the garden, stopping by Mrs. Macquarie's chair and scoping out a different view of the harbour. And no, I’m still not over the view of the Opera House.

 

 

17.02.19 – taronga zoo

Taronga Zoo has been one of the main bullet points on our ever-growing “to do” list – because it’s an amazing place, I had already looked into it (as I’m hoping to raise $$ for them when I run the Sydney Marathon!) and very excitingly because Tyler’s parents gifted us tickets to visit for our birthday’s this year.

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We took the ferry from Circular Quay, and just a few minutes later we were docked across the harbor. Though we had anticipated doing the “wild ropes” course Tyler’s parents gifted us, we looked at the time, the height of the sun in the sky, and at each other, and decided maybe we’d wait until next time. It was a good thing we did, because we ended up spending the entire afternoon exploring and seeing all the animals (and it was HOT). Our trip definitely would have been cut short had we done the extra excursion. Now we have a great excuse to go back again soon.

We trekked all over the zoo, seeing the seals, gorillas, chimpanzees, giraffes, meerkats, elephants, and of course the koalas. Seeing a koala has been something of a dream for me ever since we found out we’d be moving here. I was totally enamored with them; though they are so unbelievably cute and slow moving they almost appear animatronic.

I also made a new friend – A very hungry wombat.

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We also saw a number of kangaroo and wallabies, which especially caught me off guard as they were just out in the open (as were the emus!) and hopping right past us. A very surreal moment.

We also got to see some of the nocturnal animals – bilbies, platypuses, echidnas, many species of bats, and even a few desert hopping mice. These were all amazing to see, but I’d be lying if I said being in the dark with some of the creepy crawly critters didn’t freak me out just a little.

We spent over three hours checking out each and every animal on view, taking pictures and reading up on where they come from (most are from Australia!) and are already looking forward to visiting again. We were totally exhausted by the time we got back on the ferry, happy to be heading home and out of the sun.

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PS. We had pizza for dinner. We found a tiny place near the train station that does traditional Italian wood fired pies. Only 5 tables (my favorite kind of place) and it was delicious. Another great find.

16.02.19 – another day, another garden

Tyler and I started off today at one of the #1 brunch spots in Sydney – Bills. The entire street was lined with guests waiting to be sat, pretty much what I expected for 10 o’clock on a Saturday.

We were there quite specifically for the ricotta pancakes, served with honeycomb butter and fresh banana. I had been told these just might be the best ricotta pancakes ever by a customer at Parkside a few months back, and had mentally bookmarked it for once we arrived. I was curious to see what Tyler would go for, not usually being a sweet breakfast person, and was both surprised and relieved when he also ordered the pancakes. As our waiter so aptly put it, no one was going to have food envy this morning (and more importantly, I wasn’t going to have to share).

Sharing wouldn’t have been an issue if it had come down to it, because these were by far the fattest, fluffiest, richest pancakes I have ever had. I’d say they were encroaching on soufflé territory. By our third pancake, we were both audibly groaning because we were just that stuffed. For what was probably the first time in my entire life I left some scraps on the plate because I just couldn’t finish. Next time we’ll definitely be splitting.

And because I know all our Parkside customers will want to know how these stack up - Tyler felt our own blueberry lemon ricotta are a superior hotcake, while I felt it may be somewhat of a tie.

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After brunch we decided to check out the Royal Botanic Garden, which I was especially excited for as they were having a tomato festival this weekend. It’s also comical because while I love tomatoes, my husband has unfortunately developed a tomato allergy (brought on by consuming them only). Though we missed the big events like tomato lunch and the tomato competition, I was able to snag some beautiful heirlooms to bring home for breakfast tomorrow. We also had the chance to check out the current Plants with Bite exhibit – a show of all carnivorous species. I have a feeling we missed some of the sights to see in the garden, but I will luckily be back next week to explore some more and see what facilities are available to photograph.

On our way home we stopped at town hall and did a bit of shopping – we’ve been going through clothes like crazy because it’s so warm out and we are sweaty humans. I’m also considering buying something new to wear for the gala I’ll be attending in Canberra. Though I brought a few nicer dresses with me, I’m starting to get nervous about my options, as the event is at Parliament House!

 We did find a few casual things, but were ready to head home nearly as soon as we got there. It was a total madhouse in all of the stores we went into, and after our day in the sun we were both more than ready for some peace and quiet in the air-conditioning.

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15.02.19 – day one at Australian PlantBank

I woke up early after a less than restful night’s sleep – much like the first day of school I had some pre-visit jitters keeping me up. I was off to the PlantBank for the first time, one of the sole reasons I’m in this country! Though it is a part of the Royal Botanic Gardens, I was heading west to Mount Annan, where the newer branch of the gardens calls home.

The train ride was easy enough, and once again I’m so so thankful to have chosen an apartment so close to a major station without even realizing it. Just one transfer and about 40 minutes of reading later and I was there. The station is connected to yet another enormous mall. The Australians sure do love their one-stop shopping.

Brett Summerell, my main point of contact at PlantBank, had very kindly offered to pick me up and bring me over to the facility. We stopped for coffee and finally had a chance to chat face to face after what has now been a year and a half of email communication. Brett is a Fulbrighter himself, having a distinguished chair position which brought him to Kansas State last year.

It was a whirlwind day, moving through the facility and surrounding grounds over a few hours time. I did only a small amount of shooting, choosing to mainly survey what my options currently are. I’m incredibly thankful to have access to such a phenomenal resource, and for everyone thus far to have been so welcoming and open to my working there. I saw everything from their drying facility to the nursery, the actual collection storage as well as seed cleaning in action. I have a feeling I’ll have plenty to photograph over the coming months.

(You can see what I’m working on under the WIP tab!)

I was also able to tour the surrounding gardens. The PlantBank building sits on 100 acres of land, with much of the area surrounding it filled with native Australian plants. Surrounding this space a bit further out is the Cumberland Plain Woodland, a critically endangered landscape, which the RBG is working on restoring and conserving. Plenty of Australian wildlife call the area home, and though I was only able to see a few birds today, I’m hoping one day soon I’ll get to see a grey kangaroo hopping through the tall grasses.

After just a few hours of exploring and note taking, I was completely beat. I find when I’m in the midst of a project I get drained pretty easily, even if I haven’t done much more than “think” most of the day. I hopped back on the train around 3, and was home just about an hour later. Though I felt as though I could have gone to bed just then (and actually did fall asleep a few times reading on the couch) Tyler helped me stay up by watching a travel food series on Viceland (Dead Set on Life, our current favorite). After a bit of rest, we dragged ourselves the single block to our local pub for fish & chips, chicken schnitty (schnitzel), and a couple of pints. The bar was packed with locals watching rugby and footy on the televisions and sharing jugs (pitchers) in the back beer garden. Tyler and I squished at a high top near the window, the late afternoon sun streaming in and warming us just the perfect amount. Being the sentimental woman I am, I couldn’t help but to feel so grateful for this moment, and took a mental picture of where I was in that time and space to remember forever. Sleepy and full, my mind spinning with new ideas, sat next to the man I love, our beautiful little home just visible through the open window beside me. What a life.

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11.02.19 + 12.02.19 - quick update

Monday:

I successfully rode the bus on my own for the first time.

Only missed my intended stop by 1, as I didn’t realize I had to signal to get off.

Felt very much like a country mouse in the city in that moment (which is hilarious because I am NOT from the country but...we also don’t really use the bus in CT and I rarely did in Boston either...).

Spent 3 hours chatting with my Fulbright supervisor/mentor/point of contact over coffee.

She’s brilliant and I’m feeling very grateful to have randomly come across her in the WSU directory.

And for her to have agreed to work with me after a cold email and basically no background info provided.

BTW I’m a “practice based researcher” now, thank you very much (HOW COOL IS THAT TITLE).

Pulled the risky move of having TWO flat whites but somehow survived.

Tuesday:

Spent the morning on the phone with my other contact (from the PlantBank) - everyone here is so NICE and generous I can’t get over it.

Did some computer work/emails (some things never change).

Figured out where our local post office is and held up the line because I have no idea what I’m doing and eventually the nice woman behind the counter had to say “uhm excuse me ma’am could you please move to the desk back there to fill those out?” and now I’m just like everyone I’ve ever rolled my eyes at in the post office and I am ashamed.

It was 97 so we decided to head towards Bondi for lunch + an afternoon swim.

Soft shell crab burger @ Speedo’s Cafe = 9/10

View from Speedo’s Counter 10,0000/10

The sand was unbearably burning hot, but the water was so so refreshing and exactly what we needed today.

Watched a bunch of small children learn how to surf, which was better than any TV show I’ve ever seen.

I think the entire city was at Bondi by the time we packed up to head home. 

Stopped by Fishbowl for a quick dinner - chipotle but make it poke? A dish called the “lil umami”? I’m sold. Had the OG bowl which was FANTASTIC.

Only incurred minor sunburns from our time in the sand today. I’ll call it a success.



10.02.19 - Manly Ferry

A fairly slow Sunday…

We ate brunch (obviously). Despite having never before been a “breakfast person”, pretty much all we eat now is breakfast foods. I’m dreaming about the day I take the American breakfast scene by storm by bringing the intensity of Aussie brunch there. I honestly don’t think y’all are ready.

The usual eggy things plus mushroom chips. MUSHROOM. CHIPS.

The usual eggy things plus mushroom chips. MUSHROOM. CHIPS.

Afterwards we took the Manly Ferry across the harbor to Manly Beach. Having not been on a boat in a while it was a bit unnerving, but the views across the water were beautiful and quickly made us forget the unending rocking of the ferry. Also, because of Opal Card weekly caps, the 30 minute journey only cost me 24 cents (the ride home was FREE).

Once you disembark at Manly Wharf, it’s just a short walk down the road to Manly Beach, which much like Bondi, was blanketed in groups of sun worshipers. The ocean was much rougher here, with most of the shoreline dotted by surfers beyond the break.

Tyler and I found an open patch and spent the next few hours rotating between sunbathing and reapplying SPF. We both got our first sunburns this week and didn’t want to end up even more crispy.

It was in the 70’s here today, so we actually found ourselves fairly comfortable in the sun for a long stretch of time. I only found myself drawn away from the sand because of my inescapable desire to be in the water and swimming, not because of the intense heat like we’ve faced the last few weeks.

The surf at Manly is incredibly strong, and the soundtrack to our day was the lifeguard’s constant reprimanding of beachgoers for swimming anywhere beyond the 10 foot area marked with flags (okay, maybe it was also the sound of the group of American college students sat in front of us, complaining about SO’s back home and drinking sauvignon blanc straight from the box). There were signs all along the beach which illustrated and stated “Do Not Swim - Dangerous Waters”. Even the “safe” section had quite a pull, and I’m thankful we were there when guards were on duty. A few brave souls did make their way out into the rough tides as soon as the guards took down their markers for the day and packed up to head home. The water was refreshing and a warmer than Bondi, though I’m not sure it’s worth braving the riptide for me personally.

We stopped at Four Pines Brewery on our way back to the ferry, only just across the street from the harbor. Tyler and I shared some chips and pints, and a taster of their current tap special “pickle juice sour”. I wouldn’t say it was an everyday kind of drink, but could definitely see it going really well with a burger.

We climbed back aboard the ferry, our skin still warm from the sun, and watched the sun disappear behind the coastline as we sailed back home again.

09.02.19 - it’s museum time


After a somewhat relaxed week - lots of coffee, sorting out my Australian bank account, getting this blog up and running! and many episodes of ‘It’s Suppertime’ watched - Tyler and I decided to go big for our Saturday in the city. We started off at a cafe that has been at the top of my list for many months, Edition Coffee Roasters. 

Edition is a Scandinavian/Japanese inspired cafe whose aesthetic is pretty much ‘all black everything’. Tyler and I were nervous there would be a wait, as we may have gotten a tiny bit lost on our way, but were pleased to find they had space available at their 4 seat bar. Though they later offered us a seat at a table, we were more than happy at our seats, as we were directly in front of the kitchen and could watch the chefs at work.

We started off with the miso banana bread with yuzu curd and, I’m sorry mom, but I never want to eat regular old banana bread again. We shared a phenomenal dish of crispy sunny side up eggs with chili oil and puffed grains, and added kombu rice into the mix at the chefs suggestion. It was like the best fried rice I’ve ever had, perfectly rich and salty with just enough heat. Tyler ordered the kingfish sashimi which was fresh and a great interlude before the REAL reason we were at edition, the Japanese soufflé pancake. It takes 20 minutes to prepare - each is made to order, towering at least eight inches high when it comes out from the oven and finished with a sweetened cream cheese and mango. Tyler and I devoured it with the ferocity of two people who have never tasted food before. There will definitely be many more visits to Edition in the future, especially seeing as the menu changes seasonally.

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We had been planning to only visit the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, but found the Powerhouse Museum right across the street from brunch. After a quick google search I found it was highly recommended and currently had a special Star Wars exhibit on view - a no brainer.

We started at the Star Wars exhibit which was absolutely incredible - original sketches, puppets, costumes and props from the movies were all on display. It was also an interactive exhibition, each guest being given a headset for an audio tour and a wristband which you used along the way to develop a Star Wars character based on your own personality traits. At each station we were asked a series of questions, each adding to our identity in the universe. In Tyler’s words, “the coolest, most accurate BuzzFeed quiz of all time”. 

We also explored the rest of the museum, which houses applied arts, technological artifacts, and other scientific subject matter. I was especially drawn to a life on Mars working laboratory, currently in use by local scientists and university students. They also had a fantastic exhibit covering climate change in Australia - I’ll definitely be back to spend even more time in that one. I found Tyler exploring the space exhibit, with a zero gravity simulation and a variety of spacecrafts and suits. We made a quick run through the remaining rooms, and then decided we better be on our way if we wanted to fit in the Museum of Contemporary Art.

We’re finding it easier and easier to get around here using public transport, partly because it’s just so easy using the rail system here. We hopped on a train to Circular Quay, and a few minutes later the Opera House came into view. We headed in the opposite direction towards the steps of the museum, buzzing with people. 

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The museum is free, but currently has a special photo exhibition on the work of David Goldblatt which does require tickets to be purchased. We decided to just view the main collection today, as it’s recommended you have 2-3 hours to view the Goldblatt exhibition and watch the accompanying film (we only got to the museum one hour prior to close!)

Tyler and I have a habit of flying through art museums - beelining for what interests us and spending more time with those while bypassing things which immediately fall flat. We spent time with some aboriginal bark painting which was a real treat and probably my favorite of today. We’re looking forward to going back for the photo exhibition, as well as one opening in March titled “After Nature”. 

We made a quick stop at the town hall Woolworth’s for groceries - our first and last experience there, as it was absolutely WILD. We were trying to save time by stopping at the shops on the way home, but the busyness of the downtown area combined with four different levels of grocery store was too confusing for us to handle. We’re perfectly happy making our 15 minuet walks to our local shops from now on!

We ate dinner in tonight and tried to relax after our busy day. I grabbed a falafel from our local stop (their homemade chili sauce is the best) and Tyler had his first Australian scotch fillet (a ribeye with the bone removed). Afterwards we couldn’t help but head back out to grab some gelato from my new favorite spot, gelato blue (dairy free - good for my tummy and the planet). It had cooled down quite a lot and for once I wasn’t sweating uncontrollably. We enjoyed our stroll, noting how the longer we’re here the closer everything feels, and the more comfortable we’re becoming in our new home down under. 

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05.02.19 - world record yum cha + sydney fish market

 

The Lunar New Year is being celebrated in full force in Sydney, with a variety of activities and parades taking place among the highly decorated city. When perusing the list of various festivities we might attend, one event in particular jumped out at me as it wasn’t the typical tour or dragon dance performance, and seemed an unusual yet memorable experience. I registered online, and marked my calendar to be at Tumbalong Park on Tuesday morning.

We woke up earlier than usual (well, Tyler did. I’m still not in a normal sleep pattern yet) and boarded the train. We walked towards the park and could see a line of people already formed along a barricaded stage. We were all there to take part in attempting to beat a Guinness World Record – to eat together in the largest collective yum cha/dim sum breakfast in history.

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We made our way through the gates and found our seats. The tables were set up with elaborate red tablecloths and Chinese lanterns, and I was amazed to see they even had put out cloth napkins. Then the waiting began. It took over an hour for everyone to make their way in and find their seats, and another hour or so for the food to be handed out and rules explained. There was quite a lot of pomp and circumstance involved, with a slew of workers milling about to ensure no one ate early or incorrectly to jeopardize the official count. Tyler and I just kept looking over at one another and laughing – this was definitely not the time commitment we had expected. After a few more minutes in the burning sun, our official countdown began, and a few minutes after eleven we helped to break the world record! We received a small token as proof, and are somewhere in the back of the photograph that should eventually make its way to the printed world record book.

After waiting patiently for our dumplings (which were delicious, but not nearly enough for a full breakfast/lunch) we decided we were starving and seeing as we were vaguely in the vicinity, decided to head over to the Sydney fish market as it had both somewhere to eat and also ticked another must-see place off our Sydney list.

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Similarly to Circular Quay, I was amazed at how packed the fish market was (on a Tuesday!) and decided all of the tourists in Sydney must hide out in just these two locations. We walked into the market, the scent thick and my sandals slipping on the slick concrete floor. The amount of people and fish was completely overwhelming. There were countless mollusks and squid, giant sections of swordfish and whole salmon, buffets of prepared lunches and sushi of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps we had picked the wrong place for someone as indecisive as myself to have lunch.

We eventually settled on raw oysters (not as good as the opera bar!), a mix of fried things and prawns from Nicholas Seafood, and grilled eel over rice. We’d go back in later for a piece of salmon for dinner. We tried to find a seat at the many picnic tables beside the water, but each was filled with a family devouring overflowing plates of seafood and shooing away seagulls. We actually saw one tricky bird swoop down and steal a piece of sashimi straight from a woman’s hand. Australian ibis waddled around the docks, trying to grab whatever crumbs they could – I’ve learned that they are sometimes fittingly called “bin chickens” here.

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We settled on a bench in the park across the road, stupidly forgetting to grab napkins on our way out and making an absolute mess. I think I still have sweet chili sauce on my phone. To an onlooker, our entire lunch must have appeared as a scene from Alfred Hitchock’s The Birds, the seagulls surrounding us, inching closer and closer. The eel was worth it.