Parents.

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I’ve really struggled to find the words for a post about my parents’ visit last month, which is why I really haven’t written anything lately. (I’ve also been behind on my school work for weeks, so there’s that!) I think despondent is the best word to describe how I’ve been feeling. They were here for several weeks (my mom stayed on for a bonus stay after my dad went back to work) and it was non-stop fun. We explored the Northern Beaches (where Donnie and I live), ate amazing food in the city, went kayaking and hiking, drank countess flat whites, rode lots of ferries, ate our fill of bacon and egg rolls and TimTams, walked across the Harbour Bridge, went snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, rode camels in the desert at Uluru, and cuddled koalas in Brisbane. It’s been a definite adjustment going back to “real life” since they left.

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My parents are veteran travellers, and completely to blame for my travel obsession, so they wasted no time jumping straight into Aussie life and soaking up all this unbelievable continent has to offer.

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I realized that my parents have shared in some part of literally all of my life experiences. They were there while I was growing up (obviously), moved me into countless dorms and housing while I was going to college in Evansville, visited me in England while I was studying abroad, moved me to Tulsa, visited my first-ever chaotic class of kindergarteners, moved me back to Nashville, let me move back in with them before I got married, and spent time in Donnie’s and my first home just hanging out, watching movies, eating dinner, and helping me garden. They’ve shared in every single stage of my life, emotionally supporting me, but also physically sharing in all of my spaces.

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They make the effort to show up, whether in a classroom in Oklahoma or a castle in the UK– they always manage to be there for me. And now, Australia feels so much more real to me since they’ve trekked thousands of miles across the world to share in this new space. Part of me didn’t feel like this experience was fully concrete until they spent time here and understood the places I described, the food I ate, and where I spent my time. I don’t mean this in a co-dependent or needy way, it’s more that things just feel a bit brighter and more meaningful now that my parents understand my environment on a different level.

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One of the hardest parts of moving to Sydney has been leaving family and friends. I get lonely sometimes, which isn’t fun to talk about, but it’s true. Talking and staying in touch is a particular challenge, especially when most people tend to put the responsibility on us to reach out. I am particularly grateful that my mom and dad make the time to call, whether for casual chats or long catch-ups, it means a lot. And now they understand the exact path I’m on when I say I’m walking to the bus, or what my apartment looks like, or how gorgeous the ocean is on a given day. There’s a privilege in being truly known, and I really can’t explain how grateful I am that my parents continue to make it a priority to know me and Donnie, specifically at this point in our lives.

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While I’m feeling a distinct void since my parents have come and gone that I hadn’t felt before, I also feel much more grounded having shared this new home with them. Donnie and I are constantly revisiting the adventures we had together and laughing over the ridiculous things that happened. Maybe I’m getting old and sentimental, but memories are so precious to me these days. (It’s really nothing new. I’ve been a sentimental mess since I can remember.) Now that I’ve worked through my emotions on their trip in general, I can’t wait to share more of the details from our travels across the land down under! (And maybe they are already talking of a return trip, which I fully support.)

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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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Koala Heaven

The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is one of the most peaceful, happy places I’ve ever visited. The Sanctuary was our top priority for our weekend in Brisbane, and we couldn’t have asked for a better day: sunny, nice breeze, high-70s (I’m still just not getting the whole Celsius thing.) Lone Pine is about an hour bus ride from Brisbane CBD and we were lucky to get on the bus first, because it was quickly packed with (mostly) tourists heading to the land of koalas.

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The Sanctuary is very spacious and shaded by so much greenery, you really feel as though you were in the forest, encountering these animals in the wild. They have giant Cockatoos and laughing Kookaburras right at the entrance, although both have become commonplace to us, it’s kind of like seeing a deer at a zoo in the States. (Cockatoos are pretty, but they make the most awful screeches you’ve ever heard!) We also saw some “flying foxes” (actually bats) and a few other Aussie birds.

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The Dingos were going out for a walk when we arrived. They really look just like domestic dogs, and we were able to pet them– even if Donnie was a little scared to until a two-year old jumped right in. We obviously couldn’t resist a few Dingo quotes: “Maybe the Dingo ate your baby” (Elaine on Seinfeld) and “alligators, dingo babies” (Kevin on The Office) our favorites. (I had to watch the clip of Kevin’s Aussie accent again just now. Do  yourself a favor and watch it.)

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One of the highlights of the Sanctuary was actually seeing a duckbill platypus! Usually these guys are hibernating or hiding, so we had yet to see one at any of the other zoos we’ve visited. This platypus was swimming up a storm, and so weird looking! Donnie decided it looks like a cross between an alligator and a beaver, which I think is pretty spot on. He was a lot smaller than I expected, and impossible to photograph!

The main draw of Lone Pine, for us anyway, is that is one of the few places in Australia where you can actually cuddle a koala! The koalas are protected and closely monitored– each koala is only allowed to be cuddled for 30 minutes a day, and they are very serious about switching them out when their time is up. Unfortunately for us, our koala was on the very end of his shift and did not really want to be cuddled. We persevered and got some terrible pictures, but holding the little guy was an experience I won’t forget. You basically are told to “be a tree” and keep your hands locked and low, not moving even if the koala decides to move.

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When it was Donnie’s turn, our little guy actually tried to climb him! Their claws are incredibly sharp, so Donnie had a few scratches on his shoulders and some holes in his shirt by the end of it! I think Mr. Koala was ready to go back to nap time.

After cuddling our antsy koala friend, we headed over to the kangaroo and emu enclosure. There are dozens of kangaroos and several emus who just hang out and wander around the large open area, and visitors are permitted to walk among the animals. You can even feed the kangaroos if you buy food in the visitor center.

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We spent some time just walking around, soaking up the glorious sunshine, and watching these fascinating animals hop around and lay down for their naps. We even saw an emu running full speed down the hill toward the entrance gate, which was terrifying. Giant birds not my favorite.

There are several animal encounters and animal shows on daily, and we were happy to catch two: the birds of prey and the sheepdog show. The birds of prey show was fantastic! They bring out different birds, or have them fly up from a trainer down the hill, and you get to see them in action– diving for food, soaring, and, if you’re me, hitting you in the face with their wings as they fly right past you!

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The most impressive bird was the peregrine falcon who can dive at speeds up to 400km/hr and kills its prey on impact. Apparently these falcons even lurk around in cities in Australia because of the abundance of pigeons! The keeper giving the talk was really great. She told us about the different birds’ personalities and temperaments, and was very engaging and entertaining.

After the bird show, we walked across the paddock to the sheep enclosure. Here we got to see a Border Collie and an Australian Kelpie herd the sheep. They were so cute, and so good at their job! The sheep would try to run away, especially two cheeky sheep who kept trying to sneak off, but the pups would circle back and get them every time. They moved the herd through an obstacle course and down into the pen. If you wanted to stay after, they did a demonstration shearing the sheep as well.

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By mid-afternoon we had visited all of the animals, cuddled (and been wounded by) a koala, been hit in the face by a flying owl, and seen an impressive sheepdog show. It was time to head back into Brisbane, but we truly loved our time at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the highlight of our trip! If you find yourself in Brisbane, the Sanctuary should be at the top of your list!

 

Adventures in Brissy

One doesn’t tend to hear amazing things about the city of Brisbane (pronounced “Briz-bin.”)  Capital of Queensland, an inland area situated on a bend in the Brisbane River, Brissy is the third largest city in Australia. This was about all I knew about Brisbane before venturing northward for a visit over Anzac Day weekend. However, after a short time in the riverside town, I came to respect and enjoy what Brisbane had to offer.

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Donnie and I left early Saturday morning to catch a Tigerair flight from Sydney. Tigerair is budget airline here, much like EasyJet (SleazyJet) or RyanAir in Europe. I was impressed with how quickly the boarding and take-off process was completed, and we did not have any issues with the airline, despite hearing some horror stories from other travelers. After a quick 1:10 flight, we landed in sunny (and much warmer) Brisbane.

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Thanks to TripAdvisor reviews, we booked our weekend stay at the Meriton Serviced Apartments. The room was large, modern, clean, and very reasonably priced at $150 AUD per night. Bonus: We also had a partial river view.

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After a quick bite at Guilty Rogue (where I had the best veggie/goat cheese/pesto sandwich ever) we headed down to the North Quay pier to jump on the CityHopper. I really appreciated how much effort the city has put into making their city accessible. The CityHopper is a ferry that’s free to ride (hop-on, hop-off style) up and down the river. They also have city-wide free wifi! We rode the full circuit on the CityHopper, which was a great way to get a feel for Brisbane, and some great views of the skyline.

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After an hour or so on the river, we were ready to explore some more of the city and also take a little siesta since we got up super early for our flight. After resting up, we headed back to the river and headed down to nearby Hamilton to visit the Eat Street Markets.

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The Eat Street Markets is a food market that is only open on Friday and Saturday nights (plus some Sunday afternoons in the winter) and features foods from around the world. The market is built out of shipping containers in an abandoned container wharf– kind of like stationary food trucks. After disembarking the CityCat, we took a leisurely 10 minute walk along the lighted riverside path before arriving at the Markets.

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We arrived around 7:30 pm on Saturday evening to find the place absolutely packed with visitors. There was a live band playing, twinkling lights everywhere, and heavenly smells coming from every direction. We made a full lap, which was quite a feat considering the crowds, before deciding on an appetizer of Chinese dumplings and a pork bun, a main of taco salad/quesadillas, and a dessert of the most sinful little fried delights called “honey puffs.” I’ve never seen honey puffs in the States, although if they do exist or you should ever come across them, indulge immediately. Traditionally Greek (called Loukoumades) honey puffs are deep fried mini balls of dough, coated in honey, and in our case, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzled in Nutella. Heaven in a styrofoam bowl.

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After our international feast, we walked around to people watch and soak up the atmosphere. Even though it was difficult to navigate the crowds, everyone seemed to be having a fabulous time, eating, drinking, and enjoying the lovely night. I was grateful for the 15 minute walk to our bus stop when it was time to leave, although we probably needed more than a mile to walk off those kilojoules.

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Sunday morning we woke up very excited to venture to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is in Fig Tree Pocket, about an hour bus ride from the CBD, and we were lucky to get a seat on the packed bus. Apparently everyone was dying to cuddle a koala!

Lone Pine was founded in 1927 with two koalas named Jack and Jill, and is now the world’s largest koala sanctuary with over 30 koalas currently in residence. There are also all kinds of other Aussie-native animals, including kangaroos, emus, dingos, parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras, sheep, raptors, and a duckbill platypus. We were thrilled to see a duckbill platypus swimming around in his exhibit as they are almost always burrowed away and impossible to see. I’ll post a Lone Pine-specific blog later this week, but for now, how cute are these little guys?

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After returning to Brisbane, we grabbed some pizza at Communal Bar and Eats. The prosciutto and parmesan was perfectly salty, savory, and cheesy.

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We walked around the Queen Street Mall, which had some fun stores, although as the receptionist at our hotel told us, “It doesn’t really compare to shopping in Sydney, and definitely not to anything in the States, so you might just skip it…”

Once it was dark, it was time for a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane and a pre-dinner sparkling drink. Much like the London Eye, but on a much smaller scale, the Wheel of Brisbane is a ferris wheel located on the banks of the Brisbane River. The cars are enclosed, air conditioned, and private, which is a nice difference from the giant, crowded London Eye cars. (Also, Donnie didn’t knock down a little kid and make him cry like he did on the Eye, so that was a win!) The wheel makes several full rotations while a recording describes points of interest. We enjoyed the views and the drinks!

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We loved Brisbane at night. The temperature was a perfect mid-20 degrees (low 70s) and the lights from the buildings and bridges reflected beautifully in the river. It was also so quiet and calm– quite a difference from Sydney.

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After our ride on the Wheel, we headed to dinner. We grabbed a table at Ole, a tapas and Spanish restaurant on the Southbank. Once we had glasses of red sangria in hand and melt in your mouth buñuelos de queso on the table, we relaxed and noticed the gorgeous wooden ceiling. Almost all restaurants in Brisbane are either outside or open air, since the weather is typically warm year round, which reminds me of San Diego. The service was good but not rushed (it never seems to be hurried anywhere here so far) and we really enjoyed the beautiful night, almost as much as we enjoyed our seafood paella.

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Monday dawned sunny and windy, mostly pleasant weather for Anzac Day, a national holiday here that commemorates the Australians and New Zealanders who served (and died) in war, much like Memorial Day in the States. We lined up with the crowds to watch the parade, full of service men and women, drum corps, and bands. It was difficult to get a good photo, but fun to watch!

After the parade, we attempted to take a bus to Mt. Coot-Tha. I say attempted because it was quite the journey. Due to the Anzac Day parade, several bus stops were temporarily relocated, even though no two sources seemed to agree on the new locations. After traversing dozens of blocks, waiting, seeing our bus zoom past, and one minor argument (it can get a bit stressful trying to figure out complicated transit when no one has a cellphone with any battery power left…) we finally made it on the 471 and headed out of town and up, up, up, to the Mt. Coot-Tha lookout.

The views were definitely worth the transportation disaster.

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Once we made it back to the CBD, it was time for a quick stop at the Treasury Casino (where we won $11– yeah!) before we had to gather our bags from our hotel and jump on a train to the airport. Brisbane turned out to have a lot more to offer than we originally expected, and the city was (almost always) very easy to navigate. I’d give Brissy a 7 out of 10 for overall experience, and definitely recommend it as a place to visit if you are going to be in Australia for a while.