So… What’s New?

After 6 months in the Land Down Under, it feels like time for a bit of a check-in. The time has flown and a lot has changed, so a little reflection seems appropriate. The following are six ways in which our lives have experienced major changes, transformations, or adjustments.

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Public transportation (or a major lesson in patience and an active lifestyle.)

Donnie and I haven’t bought a car at this point. Aside from being terrified of driving on the wrong side of the road, navigating roundabouts, and learning new road rules, depending on public transportation has improved our lives in several ways. We are a lot more active on a regular basis. Going to school involves a 20 minute walk to the bus, a ten minute walk to class, a 10 minute walk back to the bus, and a 20 minute walk home. Just going about my daily business usually requires anywhere from 45-90 minutes of walking, which really adds up.  Relying on the bus and trains also requires us to operate on a schedule– we have to be ready to go at a specific time in order to catch your ride. Buses are late (especially the 136) and you have to be able to create back-up plans to get to work or school on time, which always keeps things interesting. We also have plenty of time to read and listen to podcasts while someone else worries about the transportation, which takes an unbelievable amount of stress out of the day.

 

Cooking at home (or the solution to money and health problems.)

After downgrading from a large, gorgeous kitchen full of my dream cabinets, walk-in pantry, and more storage than I could fill to a tiny space of basically one counter and a miniature stove/oven, I was somehow inspired to start cooking regularly. Hah. I would say cooking (almost) every meal at home has been the biggest change, with the best impact, in our lives here. It’s so basic, so simple, but has allowed us to save money for travel (priorities) and made losing weight feel so manageable. We eat real food, and never feel deprived, which is almost like magic. Now that I have class three nights a week, Donnie has taken over the weeknight cooking, and is surprisingly talented! He is the best grill master, so we tend to take advantage of those skills as well. I plan a menu each week, order our groceries online, and they arrive weekly– easy as! (This is a common phrase here, by the way.)

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Exploring a new place (or not just watching Netflix all day.)

Back in Nashville, we had gotten stuck in a pretty serious rut. We loved our new house and were so content to just be home with our little pup that we became pretty boring. We got out every now and then, and of course we still saw friends and family, but overall we were homebodies getting old before our time. Moving to an exciting, new city makes it so much easier to get out of the house and do some exploring in our new town. Whether we take the ferry into the city, hike up to a gorgeous lighthouse and view, cheer at an AFL game (go Swans!), indulge in Yum Cha, have a pint at a new pub, or just relax at the beach, we are consistently going somewhere or doing something new. We also spend considerably more time outside, which makes my soul happy.

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Communicating (or thank goodness for FaceTime Audio.)

Communicating with friends and family has become slightly more complicated, thanks to the physical distance and the 15-17 hour time difference (depending on daylight savings.) I can’t just randomly decide I want to talk to someone and pick up the phone to call. Thanks to FaceTime Audio, and the ubiquity of the iPhone, I can actually talk to people (for free!) without having to be on the camera, like with FaceTime or Skype. We use those as well, but it’s nice to be able to have a regular “phone call.” Communication has become much more deliberate and planned– dates and times picked out that will work for both parties. Planning a time to talk to my best friend becomes a conversation like this, “OK so you are available on Thursday morning? Me, too! Wait, but my Thursday morning is your Wednesday afternoon and evening. OK so if you can talk between 4 and 5 pm on Friday? Your Friday of my Friday? I’ll call you at 6:30 am on my Saturday.” Just a little complicated.

With this more deliberate, focused communication, I’ve learned that I really value the time I have to talk with my people. We Skype with Donnie’s parents on scattered Sunday mornings, which is time we now look forward to and save up stories during the week to tell during these chats. It’s a different kind of “visiting” than we used to do, when we could just sit down on the couch or pick up the phone and randomly call, but it’s also more meaningful. You really appreciate the friends who take the time and effort to stay in touch when it isn’t simple and straightforward. Even getting a text message from someone I haven’t heard from in while is exciting. And real mail? Getting a card or a letter is like Christmas!

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Marriage (or we haven’t killed each other yet!)

I knew that moving to Sydney meant leaving a lot of my favorite people. I also knew that Donnie would be my only friend (for a while) and that we would be relying on each other in a different way once we got here. What I didn’t expect is that our marriage would benefit so much from this move. It seems counterintuitive, but our marriage feels easier, lighter, and more joyful in the six months we’ve been here. There is absolutely a “honeymoon” effect to thank for some of that, but it also goes deeper. Because we are the only physical support system for each other, we seem to be a bit more careful with our words and actions– we are more intentional about how we take care of the other. Moving to Australia wasn’t pure magic. Donnie still doesn’t really know how to properly wash a dish or turn the water off while brushing his teeth, and these things still annoy me. I still get super annoyed if he asks me more than two questions within the first 30 minutes I come home and I’m entirely too judgmental about the way Donnie washes the dishes, or really cleans anything. We still have our faults. We still argue. We still get upset, annoyed, or hurt. But there is also this understanding that we really need each other, magnified by the physical distance between us and the “safety” of home, and this realization helps us both be a little more selfless and a bit more understanding.

Life is also really fun, and we are much more active, which keeps us both much happier. This is a simple, but powerful, lesson that we’ve resolved to keep a priority wherever we live in the future.

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Travel (or what feeds our souls.) 

One of the biggest perks to moving to Australia, for me, was being centered in a completely different spot on the globe, which opened up new worlds for nearby traveling. We absolutely loved our first foray into south east Asia (see my post on Finding Bliss in Bali) and we’ve had fun exploring Australia and the South Pacific. Donnie and I travel really well together, with the exception of the actual airport experience, where I usually have zero patience and Donnie overthinks everything and I may or may not sulk/pout/or get super annoyed. But once we’re beyond the airport, we have similar travel styles and enjoy experiencing new places in many of the same ways. I am obsessed with planning trips and Donnie is really good at green-lighting my harebrained ideas. Planning and daydreaming about future trips keeps life exciting. Traveling with a partner requires both people to sacrifice and prioritize the other, while sharing the excitement, beauty, and awe of new places or vistas or experiences with someone else can magnify and increase the joy. I firmly believe that traveling with your significant other challenges you to develop better communication skills/habits while also creating the unique bond that only experiencing something new together can create.

I start feeling trapped or claustrophobic if I’ve been in one place for too long, and Donnie not only understands this, but proactively makes sure we’ve got travel plans in the works and prioritizes our travel needs by budgeting his holiday time as well as our finances. I was scared of getting married for a long time, because it felt like “settling down” and I wasn’t really into that. Luckily, I’ve found that just because you’ve “settled” into the comfort of a committed relationship, it doesn’t mean you have to be “stuck” in anything. Relationships are living, breathing things, and you get to create a relationship that supports both of you, however that may look. For us, traveling is a big piece of that support, and we’ve found a good groove here “down under.”

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Finding Bliss in Bali

This blog post is ridiculously late, but I started my master’s program the week after our trip and I’ve been crazy busy with reading, preparing presentations, and translating Old English. School is incredible. I promise an updated post on the whole experience soon! But for now, let’s dive into the absolutely lovely adventure that was Bali.

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We arrived in Denpasar really late, and were immediately hit by an overwhelming wave of intense heat and humidity. Thankfully our hotel provided cold towels and bottled water with our driver. We stayed at the Kayon Resort just outside of Ubud, which is about an hour from the airport, nestled snugly in the jungle. We arrived at our resort around 1:00 am, but the staff on site quickly had us situated in our room, and had even prepared sandwiches for us since the kitchen was closed.

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We were immediately impressed with the service and our gorgeous room. Despite numerous conversations about not drinking or using the water, Donnie almost immediately brushed his teeth with water straight out of the tap. Yikes! Luckily, he was just fine. 

Our first morning dawned sunny and hot. We headed straight for the restaurant, Kepitu, for our included breakfast. Donnie went with the American breakfast option: juice, fruit, eggs, bacon, sausage, and a bread basket. I was more adventurous with the local option: jackfruit and pineapple and then a number of mysterious dishes that were delicious and exotic, and even a breakfast-dessert of sticky rice pudding with shaved coconut. Yum! 

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After breakfast we posted up by the gorgeous, refreshingly cool pool. We enjoyed some cocktails, lots of sun, a few dips in the pool, and an overall idyllic day. 

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Our next day was much more adventurous! We set up a private driver with our hotel and planned a day of visiting temples, rice terraces, a coffee plantation, and an active volcano- Mt. Batur. Our driver was super nice and told us a lot about Bali and his experience living on the island. One of the most interesting things we talked about were family support structures and how traditional homes are built to accommodate several generations living together. 

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The area around Ubud is beautiful. We went out early to see Mt. Batur and a large rice terrace before the clouds moved in and obstructed the views. Both landscapes were picturesque. 

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We stopped by a coffee plantation to do some coffee and tea tasting after visiting the volcano. They grew all number of plants and fruit and coffee and we really enjoyed exploring and learning about the coffee-making process. They still grind and roast the coffee by hand, in small, 1 kg batches! My favorites were the coconut coffee and the ginger tea, while Donnie preferred the vanilla coffee and the lemongrass tea. A really knowledgeable lady took us around, taught us about the different crops, and led our tasting. 

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After our caffeine boost, we set off for the temples. The first temple we visited was the Gunung Kawi, an impressive collection of temples etched into the mountainside. You really have to work for the views here, as there are over 300 stairs down (not too bad) and then back up (exhausting.) We had our own sarongs and sashes to wear, as appropriate dress is required to visit temples in the area.

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When we parked at Mount Kawi there were dozens of vendors selling gorgeous sarongs and other goods. One woman struck up a conversation with me and I ended up promising to come see her to buy something from her when we got back. She sold me a lovely teal sarong and a t-shirt for Donnie, that ended up being so small I’m not sure it would fit my 8 year old niece! Oops.

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Tirta Empul was up next on our itinerary. This “holy water” temple is a popular place for pilgrims seeking temple blessings. There is a natural spring that provides for the blessing ceremonies which are open to all people of all faiths. I was surprised to learn that many of the temples in Bali are not for a specific religion. This was my favorite place we visited! 

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The temples really surprised me with the peace and calm that was just infused in the atmosphere. The physical structures were impressive, and the sense of history was obvious. We also stopped in at Goa Gajah– the “elephant” temple. Despite the cool name, this temple was less impressive than the other two, and there were sadly no elephants to be found. By the end of the day we were drenched in sweat, but so thankful for the privilege of experiencing a little bit of Bali. 

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One night at the Kayon we were excited to partake in a cultural dinner featuring traditional Balinese dancers from the local community. The menu was all traditional Balinese food, which consisted of fall-off-the-bone amazing pork, some soup that was amazing, and these delicious little desserts that were kind of jello-like, but also very chewy. Most of the dances were ceremonial, except for the last man who choreographed and performed his own dance. 

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Ubud, where we stayed, is known as an artist’s retreat, and you may be familiar with the town from Liz Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. The town is a busy little center of art, yoga, the most amazing food, markets, and lots of scooters. We really enjoyed shopping in the market– browsing handcrafted wooden sculptures, braided bracelets, and the iconic elephant pants while haggling for the best prices. (Donnie is really good at negotiating, while I am absolutely terrible and ready to pay whatever anyone tells me right away.) Thanks to my friend, Megan, who spent considerable time in Bali, I knew to order Mie Goring. This dish, how do I even describe it? Noodles, prawns, chicken, spices, and fried egg, all piled together to form a piping hot plate of heaven.

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We also visited the town’s famous Monkey Forest. Now, I had quite the dilemma about visiting this place. The monkeys are wild, not kept in the forest or trapped in any way. However, tourists flock here to take pictures with the monkeys and feed them bananas in order to lure them onto their backs, laps, and heads.

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The monkeys can be aggressive, as monkeys are, and dumb tourists end up with cuts, bites, and other injuries. The monkeys will also steal from visitors, taking water bottles, keys, and anything else they can grab. My desire to see a monkey in the wild, and the promise of some really cool pictures, convinced me to stop in for a visit. We were careful to not leave anything out for the monkeys to grab, and we did not attempt to pet a monkey, feed one, or get dangerously in contact. Not super proud that we contributed to this attraction, but to be honest, it was really cool and I loved walking around observing these cheeky little guys. If you are ever in Ubud and want to visit, just don’t be an idiot!

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My hair was huge for the entire duration of our trip. Donnie laughed just watching it grow while we sat outside for dinner. We ended up with an extra day in Bali, due to a Jetstar flight issue that delayed us a full 24 hours, but it absolutely poured all day so we stayed in our hotel room and read on the balcony. We spent our extra night in Kuta, the beach town right next to the airport, and it was an entirely different world from Ubud. Kuta was super crowded, loud, and reminded me a lot of Panama City Beach– not my cup of tea. 

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Overall, we were quite enamored with Bali. The jungle is much quieter and calmer than Denpasar and Kuta. The Kayon, where we stayed, was luxurious and perfect. I love small, boutique hotels, and the Kayon fit the bill with 18 rooms spread across the property and the best service I’ve ever experienced. We met so many kind people, and I was really taken with the temples all around Ubud. The best part of visiting Bali from Australia is that it’s an easy, direct 5.5-hour flight! Much easier than the 30+ hours it takes from the States. We’ve celebrated each anniversary in a new place: our honeymoon on the beach, our first anniversary in London, and our second in the jungles of Bali. Can’t wait to see where we end up celebrating next year. 

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Happy two years of being married to the best guy I know!