A love letter to Manly

Great news, friends: We found an apartment! We will be moving in this weekend, so there will be plenty of photos and blog posts about that new adventure soon. We are so excited to have found a place that was actually within our budget and met several other important criteria, but all those fun details are coming soon. Because of our impending move, it is now time to say goodbye to our temporary home of Manly.

Manly is one of the loveliest places I’ve ever experienced. It is idyllic here– perfect beaches, delicious restaurants, transport at your doorstep. We have enjoyed our time here more than I even realized until I started thinking about leaving. I also have an interesting connection to Manly now, because it is here that I decided to love Australia.


Let’s get super honest here for a moment: Our first week in Australia was hellacious for me. I glossed over it at the time, because I was too raw and fragile to deal with it in the moment. I was on a new prescription that had me nauseated around the clock. I woke up in the hottest, muggiest, worst smelling accommodations (in a very “first world problem” sense) and spent my days sweating, reading, throwing up, and counting down until Donnie got home from work. I was homesick in a very physical way and I cried. A lot. I remember thinking, “This is the worst mistake I’ve ever made. And it is my fault that we’re here.”

It was a rough start.

Then we moved into Quest Manly, and my love affair with Australia began to slowly develop. We moved into a lovely, clean, air conditioned room on the waterfront of Manly Wharf. I figured out my medication was causing my nausea and quickly stopped taking it, feeling immeasurably better almost immediately. I also started getting out and exploring my new home, spending my days on the beach, walking the Corso, riding the bus to the mall and shops. I was an active participant in life again, and it felt great. I put forth some effort and Australia responded with crystal clear water, silky sand, and delectable pizzas, Thai stirfries, and Swiss ice cream.

Please enjoy this photo walk through my dear and lovely Manly.


There are two main beaches in Manly: the famous Manly Beach and the not-so-famous Manly Cove. Manly Beach is usually teeming with sunbathers and surfers, especially on the weekends. Below is a photo from a random weekday, so the crowds are considerably smaller, though still present. It’s a really great place to sit with an after-dinner ice cream and watch surfers or kite-surfers as the sun sets.


Manly Cove, on the other hand, is usually quiet, private, and my personal favorite. The water is calm and completely clear, and there are usually several large fish just swimming around your feet, which was quite the surprise the first time I ventured into the icy waves.


There is a paved walking path all the way around Manly Beach, that reaches over to the secluded Shelley Beach.



Connecting Manly Beach and Manly Wharf/Cove is the tree-lined Corso. The Corso is home to numerous restaurants, stores, tourist shops, and chemists. There are usually several street performers singing or playing instruments and a bustling, lively, pretty-touristy vibe.



Donnie and I tried many of the restaurants Manly has to offer, because life still feels somewhat like a vacation and why not. Out of all of the culinary delights surrounding us, we developed a couple favorite spots.

For Thai, it’s got to be Mortar and Pestle. We tried three different Thai places, but nothing beats the chicken and cashew nut stirfry or red beef curry at M&P. We always snag an outside table, and sometimes also indulge in a pitcher of red sangria.


For pizza, there is somewhat of a tie. For traditional, wood-fired margherita pizza, we don’t look anywhere except Da Vita.


But when we’re in a more adventurous mood, the Tandoori Chicken Pizza at The Ivanhoe is unbelievable. Interesting fact: a “hotel” here actually means bar, so there are sadly no rooms at the Ivanhoe. Until the late 1980s, pubs or taverns were required to also provide accommodation by Australian law, even though most just focused on the drinks, thus the “hotel” title. Even though the laws have changed, and most pubs or bars do not provide rooms, the naming convention stuck.


And for an apres-dinner treat, the swiss chocolate (Donnie’s fave) or cappuccino (my fave) ice cream at Movenpick cannot be topped.


Manly is bursting with life and light and ocean breezes, and it really helped bring me back to myself. While I’m reluctant to leave this little slice of heaven, I’m really ready to have a “home” and feel fully settled. Luckily, when the craving for Mortar and Pestle hits (as it undoubtedly will) The Corso is only a 20 minute bus ride from our new place, which is somewhat of a relief, because my love affair with this little beach town is far from over.




Koala Poop

Koalas are hilarious animals– with their fluffy ears and weird noses and squishy old man faces, I was looking forward to seeing them more than almost anything in Australia. Donnie and I decided to visit the Sydney Wildlife Park in Darling Harbour to visit with these cuties, as well as heaps of other Aussie-native wildlife. We took the (slow) ferry to Circular Quay, hopped on the train, rode a few stops, and then walked about 20 minutes through Darling Harbour to the park.

We hadn’t ridden the trains yet, but were pleased at how easy the lines were to navigate and especially how clean and cool the trains were. They are also two stories, which is kind of fun and also keeps the cars from getting super crowded.

Darling Harbour is named after a former governor of New South Wales, Ralph Darling, who changed the original name “Cockle Bay” to Darling Harbor to honor, well, himself, in the 1820s. It was an absolutely beautiful day and the Harbour was decorated with hearts from the recent Mardi Gras celebration.


We bought tickets to the Wildlife Park, and paid $25 extra for a “koala encounter” and photo op with the cute little furry guys. Inside, there were all sorts of Australian animals including: lizards, pythons, wallabies, kangaroos, the most massive crocodile I’ve ever seen, bilbies (also known as rabbit-eared bandicoots), a cassowary (giant emu-like bird that can run at speeds up to 30 mph), and of course, the koalas.


This little wallaby was staying out of the heat and just chilling.


The cassowary is a rather endangered species, very rare to find in the wild as they are few in number and also very wary of humans. You may notice this bird resembles the bird character “Kevin” from the movie Up. I felt like this one was about to come running at me.


Rex, the resident croc, was huge and terrifying, but really enjoying the sun.IMG_2846.JPG

This little guy, a bilby, was so cute, but very difficult to photograph as he was in a really dark habitat. These little bandicoots are nocturnal, and share their habitat with adorable field mice who ran around too fast to capture at all. IMG_2856.JPG

Donnie hated this python– but I’ve never seen a snake just hanging around like this! Hopefully we never actually cross paths with one of these in the bush.


At the very top, or end, of the park is the koala enclosure. This zoo has 5 koalas, the oldest of whom is 9. We learned that koalas sleep for an average of twenty hours a day, and spend the other 4 hours eating. They also have a large, flat plate in their rears that allows them to sit or wedge down in tree branches for long periods of time without falling out.

We also learned that efficiency really isn’t something Aussies are too keen on. When we purchased our tickets before entering the zoo, we paid for our koala experience. The lady told us to take our receipt to the koala kiosk to arrange our encounter. When we got to the koala exhibit, the zookeeper told us to stand in the concession queue in order to get an armband so we could enter the koala exhibit. We stood in the line for a few minutes, while several tourists tried to order, until a different worker told us to go to the kiosk inside to get help. We walked up to the kiosk where we saw a sign that informed us the till was currently closed, and we should get help at the concession stand. A guy walked up, we explained that we just needed arm bands, and he told us to meet him by the concession window. We walked back out, but he never came out or showed back up, so we got back at the end of the original line and waited another 10 minutes or so. When we finally got to the till, the man just popped out a wristband and marked off our receipt to show that we had paid. Why couldn’t they do that when we paid in the first place? No clue.

When we finally had our wristband, we walked up to the koala enclosure and the keeper let us in for our meet and greet with the little fuzz balls. Almost immediately we were ushered back out, because it was now time for the keeper talk and we needed to wait until that was over. We thought we would never get to meet them! We actually learned a lot from the talk which was very interesting, and we did finally get to go into the enclosure for our koala face to face.


While balancing precariously on tall step stools to get closer to Erica, our photo op koala, the keeper giggled from behind her camera and said to me, “Don’t look now, mate, but you’ve got some koala poo on you.” Umm… I definitely looked. Thankfully, koala poop is hard like an acorn and brushed off with no incident. However, as Donnie was taking his individual picture, he got bombarded with poo pellets. Apparently Erica wasn’t too keen on us interrupting her nap for our photos.


If you look closely, you can see the impending poo headed for Donnie.


We left rather giddy after getting to meet the koalas up close and personal. Sadly, you aren’t allowed to touch them because it is illegal in New South Wales. I’ve researched and found a place in Queensland where you can pay to “cuddle” a koala, but they are kept on a very strict schedule with every third day off, and only 30 minutes of cuddling per koala each day. I think I could handle those working hours.

And something fun to round out this post– follow me over on Snapchat (add me: Ems1187) for fun, in the moment Australia updates! Thanks to my bestie D.W. for recommending I improve my social media presence.



I Say Duvet, You Say Doona

Anytime you visit a new country, there are bound to be differences both big and small. I remember having to learn to ask for still water across Europe, as the go-to was sparkling. In England, chips means fries and crisps are American chips. In Prague, you buy a ticket for the metro, but there isn’t anywhere to scan or show your ticket. (Or, if you’re me, you just don’t buy tickets and ride for free until you are headed to the airport and are detained by security and have your passport taken away… but that’s another story.) In Australia, a duvet is called a doona, which makes me laugh every time. Even in English-speaking countries there are many different customs, words, and methods of operating. And to that end, Australia is fascinating.

The following is a list of some of the major differences we’ve experienced between Aussie life and living in the US.

  1. “Instant Gratification” is not a priority.

Things move a bit slower down under. Almost all shops are only open from 9 am to 5 or 5:30 pm. For anyone with a job, this means you do your shopping on the weekend or on “late night” shopping day, which is Thursday in New South Wales. There are commercials boasting the fastest car repair time of “probably within 3 days IF you live in a capital city.” Delivery lead time on an online order averages 2-3 weeks, and then only if you are in Sydney or Melbourne. Suffice it to say that Amazon PrimeNow is not a thing here.

2. Bacon is not bacon.

Bacon, one of Donnie’s favorite foods, sadly does not really exist in Oz. What they call bacon is actually much more like ham, and “streaky bacon” which is more typical American bacon is not cured, so the flavor and texture are very different. You can see Aussie “bacon” compared to American bacon.

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3. No one expects the worst from you.

Shops are not designed with “theft-prevention” in mind. The groceries are mostly self checkout, but alarms don’t go off if you move the bags of scanned items off the sensor. You only pay for gas after you fill up. One of Donnie’s friends asked a clerk if anyone ever stole gas, to which the man replied, “Why would anyone steal petrol, mate?” You tap on and off when riding public transport, but at times someone will forget their Opal card or won’t be able to find it, and the driver will wave them on with a “Don’t worry, mate!”

4. Meals are meant to be enjoyed.

In America, where servers are paid mostly by tips, it’s crucial to get as many patrons in and out of your section each night. Lingering is discouraged, and you get dirty looks for hanging around after your meal is finished. Here, everyone expects a meal to last for an hour and a half or longer. No one brings a check to your table unless you specifically ask for it, but they will continue to supply you endlessly with carafes of water and/or wine. Once, when trying to get a table in a crowded restaurant that had several reserved tables, the host told us we could have a table if we could possibly be done in an hour and fifteen minutes. We’re slowly but surely learning to take our time, and meals are much more enjoyable at a slowed pace.


There are also hundreds of small new words and systems that we are still learning each day.

The letter Z (zee) is pronounced “Zed” as in: The Sydney Swans aren’t playing their games at ANZ (A-N-Zed) stadium this year. Don’t call it ANZ  (A-N-Zee) or everyone will laugh at you.

Ketchup is “tomato sauce” and tomato sauce (like on a pizza) is “tomato base.”

Mayonnaise is on everything (if you know me, you understand the horror) and also frequently paired with “aioli” which is really just more mayo with garlic in it.

Coffee is a whole different experience. No drip coffee, but you can order a “long black” a “flat white” or any number of lattes and cappuccinos. Aussies take their coffee seriously and do not even consider American coffee to be the same substance. It also costs roughly $4.50 for a tiny cup, but is more powerful (and delicious) than any Starbucks I’ve ever had.

Debit cards are all “pay pass” here which means you simply tap the card on the reader and your transaction is complete. This is awesome. Not as awesome- money comes in 1 and 2 dollar coins, 50 cent coins that are enormous, and 5, 10, 20, and 50 dollar bills. We’ve had to condition ourselves not to toss out coins like we did at home, because you typically are actually holding several dollars. Tax is included in all pricing, so totals come to nice round figures.

Sandwich toppings are very different. Sydneysiders love beetroot, carrots, avo (avocado), rocket, and mayonnaise on everything.

Celsius is hard to get used to. Temperatures currently range from 26 to 32 (79-90 degrees Fahrenheit) on most days. I thoroughly confused someone when I told them we were happy to leave winter and the 30-degree temps at home.

It’s fun learning so many new things, and also confusing at times, but we’re already starting to fit in a bit better already.




House Hunters Down Under

We have officially begun our home search! The housing market in Sydney is quite competitive, with apartments on the market for only a few hours in many cases. We are fortunate that Dell hooked us up with a relocation consultant who is helping us, along with a real estate consultant, to narrow down a list of properties that fit our wish list. If you’ve ever watched House Hunters, you know how crazy people can be about a house search: “We want 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, light granite that isn’t too sparkly, hardwood floors laid on a diagonal, and a northern exposure (whatever that means.) Also, our budget is $125,000.”

We fancy ourselves more practical, and came up with the following list of priorities:

  1. Air conditioning. (Central air isn’t even really an option, but after a week of no-AC in the granny flat, we desperately need some kind of aircon.)
  2. Short walk to the beach.
  3. 2 bedrooms. (We want everyone to come visit!)

That’s really all we’re after. It’s a very different process than when we were building our first house this time two years ago and I was stressed out over the specific tiles for our kitchen backsplash and finding the perfect hand-scraped hardwood.

We are specifically searching for properties in what’s called the “Northern Beaches” of Sydney. Across the harbour from the CBD (central business district– this is what they call downtown or the city centre) the Northern Beaches run from Manly (where we are living now) all the way up to Palm Beach.

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Donnie currently rides the bus to work, so we don’t want to be too far from his office in the more inland neighborhood of Frenchs Forest. We’ve focused our search mostly in Freshwater, Dee Why, and Collaroy, because they are somewhat reasonably priced and have great beach access.

According to the law here, a resident must physically visit a property before being allowed to lease it. The way most people accomplish this is to attend an “inspection” that is held for 15 or 30 minutes and generally quite crowded. Because we are working with an independent consultant, we are able to schedule private showings.

On Thursday, Donnie and I met up with our consultant to tackle 9 apartment inspections between 1:30 and 4:30. We generally had about 10 minutes to look around and ask any questions. Several agents asked if we were shipping our refrigerator or washing machine from home. Honestly, our fridge wouldn’t even fit in the entire kitchen in several of the places we viewed, and the space for the washing machine is generally about two feet. Needless to say, our American appliances wouldn’t begin to fit. It’s hard to remember all the different places, so Donnie took very detailed notes.


After an exhausting day of searching, we’re excited to narrow down our list to two places we really like. Now comes the fun part– applying!

Applying to lease an apartment in Australia is infinitely more complicated than applying for a mortgage in America. We each had to fill out an online application for each place we were interested in, and then attach heaps of documents. They have a “100 point” identification process that requires each applicant to provide documents (each worth different point amounts) to total at least 100. You are given higher prioritization the greater points you can provide. We used driver’s licenses, passports, 457 work visa, proof of benefits, bank statements from our Aussie and US accounts, 3 utility bills, references from our realtor, mortgage statements, and our marriage certificate to establish our points. It was somewhat overwhelming, and not made any easier by our super slow and intermittent internet access.

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After several hours, we finally completed our applications! Now we just wait and cross our fingers that someone wants to give us a home. Stay tuned for updates!