A Year in Review

One year ago today, Donnie and I got off our 17 hour Qantas flight with absolutely no idea what to expect. All I really remember from that first day was feeling super hot (it was -1C/30F the day we left Nashville and 36 C/96.8F the day we arrived in Sydney) and somewhat disoriented. We stayed in a hellacious granny flat for the first week we were here (you can revisit my recount of that lovely experience here) and it honestly took longer than I expected to really settle in to life Down Under. But after a year here, I have found Australia to be a wild, amazing place that I deeply love. I could write loads of serious insights into how different life is and how things have changed, but instead I thought we’d keep it light and fun with a few “Top 5” (or other random number) lists of different things we’ve experienced since February 14, 2016. Enjoy!

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Top 5 Weirdest Things We’ve Learned to Say

1. Chockers (pronounced “Chockahs”): full up, crowded

For example, “Aw mate, I tried to get us a table at Beach Burrito but it was chockers.”

2. How you going?: How are you? (Never answer with actual directions, like “Oh I’m going to the shops.”)

How you going mate?”  “Yeah, good!”

3. She’ll be right: it’s OK

As in, “Are you worried about layoffs at your company?” “Yeah nah, she’ll be right.”

4. Flat out like a lizard drinking: super busy

“How you going mate?” “I’m flat out like a lizard drinking!”

5. Easy as/Sweet as/Aussie as: various uses

“Just ring up Donnie and ask him.” “Easy as!”

“I got two tickets to the rugby match.” “Sweet as!”

“I chucked two snags on the barbecue.” “Ah, Aussie as!”

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Top 7 Trips We’ve Taken

1. Bali, Indonesia

2. Alaska

3. South Pacific Islands

4. San Diego/Nashville

5. The Blue Mountains

6. Brisbane

7. Melbourne

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Top 4 Weirdest Aussie Sports

1. Cricket

2. Aussie Rules Football

3. Rugby

4. Netball

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Top 6 Things We Miss from America

1. Lucy, the greatest little black pup

2. Central AC/heat

3.. Mexican food

4.. Trader Joe’s

5. Chick-Fil-A

6. Amazon (not even asking for Prime, just regular old Amazon)

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Top 6 Foods Australia Does Better Than the US

1. Coffee (Neither of us has ever been a coffee snob, but after getting used to coffee here it’s almost impossible to go back.)

2. Chocolate (specifically Cadbury, though it is still not quite on par with the UK’s Cadbury which is the all-time greatest)

3. Thai

4. Pizza

5. Chips (as in fries. Also chicken salt is the greatest invention.)

6. TimTams (also known as the greatest biscuit ever made)

7. Hot Cross Buns

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Top 2 Scariest Aussie Animals (spoiler alert: neither is a spider or a snake)

1. Magpies (You haven’t experienced true terror until one of these giant birds dive bombs your head and rips your hair from your head.)

2. Cockroaches (As if the giant gross bugs aren’t bad enough- they fly!)

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Top 7 Fave Aussie Experiences

 1. Diving into giant waves over and over and over.

2. Eating fish and chips on the beach.

3. Sausage sizzle.

4. Climbing the Harbour Bridge.

5. Cuddling a koala (which was more like trying not to get clawed to death and less like cuddling.)

6. Seeing a koala in the wild.

7. Watching a movie at the outdoor cinema on the harbour (and an incredible bonus Chinese New Year fireworks show!)

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It’s been a pretty unbelievable year. We are so grateful to our family and friends who make the time to stay in touch and keep up with us, even with the time difference and distance challenges. Cheers to a fabulous year of adventure and a whole new year to come!

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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!