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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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.

 

 

 

03.02.19 – brunching and beaching

Waking up today felt especially weird - not only because I was in a foreign country, but because it marked what is probably the first “normal” weekend I’ve had since I was sixteen. I’ve worked as a waitress since I was old enough to be employable, and when I wasn’t waitressing I was either in school or had time off only to go to a specific event. I have had maybe a handful of weekends to myself to do whatever I pleased since my teenager years.

I knew another brunch was in order, and I pulled up some locations I’d saved on my map. Henry Lee’s seemed to fit the bill, and I hurried Tyler along as I had read most Sydney brunch spots will form long queues the later it gets. We walked along in the blazing sun, agreeing to stop at a pharmacy on the way home for SPF.

Henry Lee’s was tucked away in a small residential strip, the courtyard open with natural light streaming in. There was only one or two other tables sat at the time, and I realized I may have unnecessarily pressed our early arrival. We sat at a table for two near the front, and started to peruse a menu, which seemed nearly impossible to choose from. We eventually settled on a pork belly benedict and crab stuffed croissant with poached eggs and mango. To round the meal out we also shared a honeycomb affogato, which was almost too pretty to drink. Everything was absolutely phenomenal, and I know a trip back is in our very near future (especially as I saw they have on a special TIM TAM STYLE iced chocolate).

Stuffed to the brim, we headed towards home and changed into more comfortable/athletic clothing. We hopped on the train to Central Station and then onto a bus towards Coogee Beach. I was shocked at how packed full the sand and park were with people lying out tanning, until I remembered that it’s technically summer here and everyone’s making the most of the season.

Coogee Beach

Coogee Beach

We started off on the coast walk, technically running it backwards as it’s often listed as a hike from Bondi to Coogee. We’d decided we wanted to relax at Bondi after, as it’s one of the most famous Australian beaches. It took us about two hours to walk the winding path along the coast, which is paved nearly the whole way with a few sections of stairs. It was a perfect way to see the coast firsthand for the first time, even if it was the hottest I think I’ve ever felt. Everytime we rounded a corner it took my breath away, and I stopped to take a photo or video. I hadn’t brought my “actual” camera, as I knew we’d be going swimming after and I’d be leaving my things on the beach, but a second walk will have to happen soon to take even more photos.

Once we reached Bondi we switched into bathing suits and ran down to the shore. Given how warm it is out I was expecting temperate waters, but I was shocked at how icy the ocean was. It was comparable to Cape Cod waters in the summer; I’d guess about 70 degrees. We dove in anyways, happy to feel the coolness against our skin after our time in the sun. I’ve always loved the ocean, and it felt wonderful to be swimming once again.

The famous Bondi Icebergs Pool

The famous Bondi Icebergs Pool

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After sitting on the beach and attempting to drip-dry in the humid air, we threw our clothes back on over our suits and searched for the bus stop. I was confused to see only a few others waiting on the bench, as I could have sworn flocks of people seemed to be leaving the beach at the same time. We got onto the M333, and even snagged a seat together. The bus lurched forward, drove about twenty feet, rounded a corner, and stopped in front of a mass of beachgoers looking to head home as well. Not yet comfortable with our sense of direction, Tyler and I had stumbled upon an additional bus stop rather than the “correct” and more populated one. Lucky us.

Before we knew it we were home and tucking into some pasta. After a long day of walking and swimming and a big dinner, I went to bed hoping that maybe, just maybe, tonight I would finally stay asleep until morning.

 

 

02.02.19 – first visit to circular quay + sydney opera house

We spent the morning walking through Carriageworks farmers market, which is just a few blocks away from our apartment. Carriageworks houses studios and art galleries, but on Saturdays the outside stall fills to the brim with vendors selling everything from fresh vegetables to pastries to flowers. It was by far the largest farmers market I’ve ever been to. We strolled through the bustling crowds, and though we anticipated visiting just to scope it all out, we walked away with a packet of cultured butter (it tastes just like brie cheese!) some produce, and I also may have snuck in a chocolate croissant. I really enjoyed being able to walk somewhere so close by to do our shopping, and it reminded me of my weekend trips to the sant'ambrogio market in Florence.

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Afterwards we walked back to the Broadway Shopping Center and picked up some more things we found we needed for the apartment - an extra blanket, bath towels, moisturizer, chocolate caramel koalas. You know, the essentials.

For lunch we snacked on our first slice of vegemite toast – which is also likely to be our last slice as well. We both agree we’re not fans.

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For Christmas this year, Tyler surprised me with tickets to see a ballet at the opera house, and the performance also happened to fall on our dating anniversary. We put on the nicest clothes we packed and made our way to Redfern Station for the first time, a five minute walk down the road. We had already picked up Opal Cards (which FYI, are the best public transport system I’ve ever encountered) the day before from a shady convenience store. I was nervous as mine wasn’t actively showing a balance on the app, and was relieved to see the green screen flash that my card had been accepted. The gate slid open to let me through to the trains, and we made our way down to platform seven and waited for ours to take us to Circular Quay (pronounced key).

The ride over is only about 10 minutes, and I was amazed by how relatively empty the train cars were for a weekend. In fact, everywhere we had been in Sydney thus far had been rather quiet, and I was starting to wonder where everyone in the city was. When we got off the train at Circular Quay I had my answer.

As soon as we stepped foot outside the station we were surrounded by mobs of people, locals making their way through and tourists stopping in the middle of traffic to take a selfie. The CBD (central business district) is currently decorated for the Lunar New Year, and this was causing especially large backups as everyone waited to take a photo with their corresponding Chinese zodiac balloon.

As we rounded the corner the harbor bridge came fully into view. A few more steps and the opera house was also in our sights. It was hard to comprehend that I was witnessing one of the most iconic views in the world.  

Tyler and I walked over to the Opera House, stopping along the way to play tourist and take our own photos. I was amazed how enormous and beautiful the building truly is. We picked up our tickets from the box office, and made our way to the Opera Bar to kill some time before the show. We clinked our glasses of champagne to six years together and to this amazing adventure, and then ate a few local oysters while looking out over the harbor. I had been curious about the molluscs of the pacific, and they were without a doubt the best I’ve ever had.

We took a few more photos in from of the opera house and found our way to the theater and our seats near the front (nice work, Tyler). The performance was an hour long contemporary piece based on Neil Hilborn’s poem, “OCD”. Performed by L-E-V Dance company of Israel, the ballet was more intense than I expected, the music at once coming on so loud I jumped in my seat. Nonetheless we were both transfixed, as was everyone else in the room, and I was startled when the curtain fell and realized the show was over and that the full performance had elapsed.

After the show we went to Golden Century for dinner, a restaurant I had bookmarked long ago after seeing David Chang mentioning it as his favorite spot in Sydney. We shared the famed Pippies in XO Sauce, but the real winner of the night was Peking Duck for Tyler and Prawn Dumplings for me. More than anything we loved watching all the various sea life in the tanks which lined the windows. Every few minutes a waiter would run over, pull a net down, and scoop out some other prehistoric looking creature. We made a mental note to come back another time for dim sum, and headed out into the night, feeling satisfied with our meals and the perfection of our quintessential Sydney tourist experience.

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observations + curiosities

Just an FYI – I do keep track of these and google most all of them. This is more than anything a record of the differences I’ve noted thus far.

 

We took out our first Australian money, and marveled at the differences between it and our comparatively ugly US currency (America, I love you, but let’s get more color in our wallets!) However I’m still perplexed – why is the Australian two-dollar coin smaller than the one-dollar coin? And the 50-cent piece even bigger?

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Is there a secret signal to let waiters know you’re ready for the check?

Ditto to find out where you’re actually meant to pay? So far most places don’t have a register, just a hidden iPad. 

Everyone here is friendly, but not in a way that is over the top or uncomfortable. I’d say it’s just more genuine. When we go for coffee we are normally asked what our plans are for the day, where we’re from, how we’re doing etc. Small talk that turns into an actual conversation seems to be the norm.

Tyler and I have started a “no worries” count because we’ve heard it so frequently. While in America this phrase can sometimes have an almost condescending tone, here it seems more similar to “you’re welcome”.

Why does it appear that none of the locals sweat? I am drenched as soon as I walk out the door. But most everyone here seems fresh faced and pit-stain free. Unfair.

As a follow up to that - back home I was an every other day showerer. Now I’m a twice a day showerer.

And as a follow up to that – I got a cute shorter haircut before we left, but now it’s completely out of control thanks to the humidity. Girls who live in humid climates, please advise.

There are birds in the street here that I would never think of as “normal” birds – like the Australian ibis. Cockatoos rest on the telephone lines just like pigeons back home.

However, there’s so much foliage along the streets that I often can’t see the birds I can hear. I’ve been listening to bird calls online to try and identify more.

Following the crosswalk signal is still a must for us, because it’s hard to figure out who’s driving when. If it’s an especially quiet road we’ll make a run for it, but larger streets we obey the signal (even if my inner New Englander is screaming GO!) 

Most times these crosswalks are a double whammy – you have to cross over to the opposite side of the street and THEN across to the side you want to be on. There is frequently not a crosswalk where you want or expect one to be because of the different traffic patterns. 

One more note on crosswalks – the signal makes a wild laser sound when it starts, which Tyler loves and now mimics each and every time we’re out. 

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How much does gas actually cost? The price I see is in the three digits so it can’t possibly be per liter…right?

The Sydney food scene is beyond anything I’ve experienced thus far in my life. ESPECIALLY BRUNCH.

Australian coffee blows all other coffee I’ve ever had out of the water. All hail the long black and flat white!

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01.02.19 - move in day

We wake up early to go down the road for coffee and croissants. The television in the café is showing footage of an American car crash, and then the local traffic update comes on, broadcast from a helicopter. One of the news stories is covering the fact that Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” is the top hit in Australia thanks to their current tour, and I start to wonder if maybe a friend from back home was right is saying sometimes Australia seems a few years behind the US.

On second thought, maybe they just appreciate iconic pop culture more than we do. No one loves a cheesy throwback more than me.

We pack up our bags and head down to wait for our car to arrive (how did we ever live without Uber?!) and realize too late that Tyler definitely should not have ordered it from his phone, which does not yet have an Australian sim and is essentially unusable outside of WiFi. We keep our eyes peeled for the car but never see it. After 10 minutes we decide to call a different car. Lesson learned.

It’s about ten minutes to our new apartment, and we’re already infatuated with the neighborhood. We meet the owner of the unit, Chris, and she runs through the layout of the building and how everything works. It’s perfect for the two of us and has a beautiful kitchen which I always appreciate. There’s a variety of plants on the patio, so I must try my best to keep them alive while we’re here.

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We say goodbye to Chris, and Tyler immediately unpacks his suitcase. I Skype my family and give them the tour, all of the strangers walking past glaring at me as I excitedly take my phone outside to show my parents the park which is only just across the road. I had only seen a few pictures of the apartment online, and really only looked at the map to see where we’d be in relation to where I’ll be working and major landmarks. How lucky we ended up in such a perfect area.

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After finishing unpacking Tyler and I realize we’re absolutely starving, and walk one block over to the local kebab shop. We both have fond memories of eating kebab during our time in Italy, and have never been able to find anything similar back home. When we walk in we’re the only patrons there and we quickly order our sandwiches, but within minutes a steady stream of university students flood the small shop (Sydney Uni is only a few blocks away). We were completely amazed by the man behind the counter as he tackled the orders from the mass of people before him, each interaction with a smile or joke. We got our sandwiches and walked upstairs to sit and eat, noting each table had a box of tissues on it. I remember Kebab so spicy in Italy it did make me cry, so I assumed they were for runny noses and weepy eyes. Tyler ordered the beef kebab and I the falafel, and each were equally incredible and transported us right back to Florence.  

We spent the rest of the afternoon checking out our local grocery store (another Coles inside an even larger mall style shopping center) and picking up the necessities. It’s about a 10-minute walk to a busier area of town with most any shop you’d need and a variety of restaurants and cafes. We are already in love with how easy it is to get around here and how nice it is to walk to our errands.

We decided to eat in for the first time tonight in our new apartment – Tyler opted for a kangaroo steak (I don’t think I’ll ever be trying it) and I picked up salmon. It’s strange to have already started “normal” life here in our new little home, but I have a feeling we’ll be quite used to it in no time.

A sign just down the road from where we live - I’m taking it as an omen of good things to come.

A sign just down the road from where we live - I’m taking it as an omen of good things to come.