Monday, September 19, 2011

And We Will Smile...

(I wrote this just as we were leaving Australia as my final aussie blog, so its a little late, and there is still more to come after this! I'm a little behind...and out of order.)

It has been one year and one day since we arrived in Melbourne, Australia. And what a year it has been.  We learned, we traveled, we discovered, and we grew as individuals and as a couple.  We enjoyed Australian ways while also missing aspects of our beloved home in the States. We made ourselves a little home here and adjusted to a new way of life for the past year. Now our bags are all packed (some even shipped!), our apartment and furniture has been sold, and we are ready to close this chapter of our lives, a chapter full of lessons in love, life, and the world.  Jaime worked really hard this year and learned so much and took wonderful care of so many patients being children and adults alike.  His year came to a close with a solid certificate of accomplishment and some really cute little thank you notes adorned with stickers and drawings from his little patients.  I have spent my time reflecting (ok maybe a little too much reflecting), but reflecting on my appreciation of all life has to offer and how I can continue to contribute to the world. 

We made friends who took care of us in the beginning and showed us the way and friends who then carried us throughout the year in their own ways.  We met people from all over the world and learned so much about all the differences and similarities that ties us all together as humans. We traveled all over a continent and beyond and experienced so much beauty and culture.  Sitting on the plane as it pulled from the gate, we remembered our initial arrival in Melbourne, Australia just one year ago, wondering and waiting for what this adventure would bring.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  And now, it is all a memory, a meaningful and beautiful memory of a year full of every possible emotion, challenge, and adventure a young couple could want.  And we were even lucky enough to be able to share our world and new experiences with friends and family.

As this chapter comes to a close, (in the writing style of one of my favorite writers), we will think about our last few days living in Australia.  We will eat at all of our favorite spots. We will joke with the local post office workers that this box, the 6th, or maybe 10th box, was seriously the last box to be shipped. We will thank our mentors and friends over beers and celebratory gifts. And friends will drop by just to give us a hug and a warm "see you later."  I will drop off the last bag of donations at our dry cleaners and she will give me a many well-wishes and a hug.  Jaime's Italian barber, the one who shouts to him from the street.."Doctor! Doctor! Come on in here!" will give us each a free haircut and a hearty hug.  We will then have our final Australian-made iced coffees (with the ice cream) and flat whites.  On our last night we will have dinner with two close friends at our favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant with Al, our jovial server, who will share new pictures of his grandson and give us a beautiful bottle of wine.  After our friends and most of the customers leave, we will stay for awhile with Al and talk about how fast the year has gone by and how much we will miss him.  Al will walk us to the door and after a huge hug, he will shoo us out as he wipes away a tear from his eye. 

As the plane departs, Jaime and I will look at each other and smile.  A warm smile, a proud smile, a smile that says, we did it.  And then we will fly the next adventure. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Beloved Wildnerness

Tassie, you have won my heart!  Full of green rolling hills and beautiful untouched beaches.  Vast natural beauty at its purest.

During our stay in Australia, we were told many times not to miss Tasmania.  A year just about flew by before we knew it, so we planned our Tasmania roadtrip for our first anniversary weekend in early June, just as winter was approaching.

Tasmania is a self-sustaining island that is just a quick hop over the treacherous waters of the Bass Strait via airplane or 8 hours via passenger/car ferry.  Despite its isolation it is still considered a state of Australia.   Tasmania was believed to have been connected to the mainland at one time many thousands of years ago before the land bridge disappeared into what we know now as the Bass Strait.  The British first settled on the island in 1803, inhabited only by Tasmanian Aboriginals.  Consistent with Australian history, the island was settled primarily by convicts and their military guards to develop agriculture and other industries, which led to development of the state and eventual decline of the Aboriginals who lived there.  Tasmania has few native animals (possom, wallaby, Tasmanian Devil) and is free from introduced predators such as dingoes, however foxes were introduced fairly recently.  Following the extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger (looked like a large dog with stripes) a century after the first White settlement, the most dangerous animal on the island is now the tiger snake (and of course in Australia you can always throw in a few spiders).

We started out in the primary city of Hobart, a cute seaside town that is the gateway to the Tasman Peninsula to the West, the city of Launceston directly South, and the least inhabited East.  We spent our Saturday morning at Hobart’s famous Salamanca Market, a huge outdoor market filled with pure Tasmanian handicrafts.  It was highly recommended that we enjoy a specialty hot chocolate and jam doughnut while wandering through the market.  I had a chili hot chocolate at breakfast, which was very good, but really really spicy!  And although I was full from breakfast I had to get my warm jam doughnut.  I am not sure why I thought this jam doughnut was going to be anything different than a usual 'jelly' doughnut, but it was a specific recommendation, a must-do during my trip to Tassie.  So I got my jam doughnut, which in fact was just a warm jelly doughnut, just like at home, and afterward Jaime had to practically roll me around the market I was so full!
Hobart Marina

As some light rain rolled in, we rolled out of Hobart, over the bridge, and heading West for a pretty 2 hour drive to Coles Bay.  The drive took us along the only highway to the west and far from civilization.  There were plenty of farms and homes along the way so spread out, that most had a few hour drive to the nearest neighbor, hospital or airport.

Scenery along the way.

Apparently the kangaroos are huge here!
Once we reached the coast, we drove South before taking the small turn-off to Coles Bay.  A tiny tiny town with a  general store, 2 restaurants, a small marina, and some beautiful look-out points.  Jaime caught some great pictures of the sun setting over the bay.  We dropped into the local pub to try the Tassie made Hazard’s Ale and mingled with a few locals.  We ate at one of the local hotels that was highly recommended and lived up to its reviews.  Tasmania is known to have really great food mostly because everything is grown, raised, or caught locally and you could really tell you were eating fresh and happy food!

Do people still use phone booths?

The next morning we did our hike to up to Wineglass Bay. It is an approximate 2 hour hike round-trip up the mountain along a cleared path which wasn’t so bad, until the path turned into steps, lots and lots of steps. Once at the top, our workout had been well-worth it.

Beautiful Wineglass Bay
We took our time wandering around and then began our trip further south down the coast to the highly photographed Bay of Fires.  The Bay of Fires got its name, not from the red rocks, but from the fires that could be seen by the British ships lit up all along the coast at night.  We stayed in a sweet little cottage jutting out of the hillside with a wide view of the beautiful bay.  That night we ate right on the water at a small café that again had the best food and the best fish I have ever had.  The Blue Eye is a deep water fish native to Antartica, which is not too far from Tassie, and is caught by the local deep-sea fisherman.  It was so good, it was the only fish we ate when we got back to Melbourne.
View of the Bay from our cottage
The next morning we spent our time checking out a few of the beaches around the bay. We were the only ones out there, the sand was soft and gleaming white and the water was crystal clear.  The only footprints were ours and the little penguins that came home the night before and left for their day of fishing that morning.  We climbed the rocks and took it all in.  The air was crisp and we were amazed that we were the only people enjoying such a beautiful place.

Heading back to the car we did see one other person, a German vagabond who had set up camp just beyond the sea grass.  He, like us, loved being so free in such a beautiful place.  He lived simply in a small trailer where he built his own oven and heating system, and used a spear for fishing.   He told us stories about swimming in the ocean in the mornings and sometimes he was joined by a small passing Southern Right whale.  He had amazing video from an underwater camera.  And this is his home that he shares with only the little fairy penguins.

Reluctant to leave such a beautiful place we had to get to Launceston for our flight out that evening.  The drive by distance is about 3 hours east, but the roads winded through the rainforest and mountains, which made the drive much longer but very scenic.

More stops and scenery along the way.

We ended up in Launceston with not much time to check out the small town but we were able to see the popular Cradle Mountain.  The weekend flew by and we took our quick 45 minute flight back to Melbourne refreshed from being in such a beautiful, clean, and simple place.  Tassie is a gem with so much beauty waiting to be discovered and enjoyed, we easily could have spent a few weeks exploring this place that seems like a whole other world!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Oz (Nostalgia) Files

Portable Sushi

Sushi hand rolls can be seen displayed in shop front windows atleast 2-3 times on each city street without fail.  The first time we ate at the excellent little Japanese dive by our apartment during our first week in Melbourne, we each ordered a sushi roll and a some other things.  After ordering we were told it was cash only so I sat down and Jaime ran to get some cash.  The sushi rolls came out on a plate in a whole roll, just as they were in the window where I picked it out.  Of course I thought to myself, how am I supposed to eat this?  So naturally I took the rolls up to the counter and politely asked if they could cut them for me.  When Jaime returned, I told him not to worry, as I had taken care of the giant sushi roll issue.  However, lucky for me, Jaime has been to Japan and was able to help further my cultural food education by explaining that you are actually supposed to eat it whole.  You just hold the roll in your hand and bite into it like a sandwich.  Soon after learning this exciting new information I tried my first sushi roll on-the-go. I was hooked! It has been my favorite fast food…it can be lunch or dinner, a quick snack any time of day, a post-workout treat, eaten in the café or while walking down the street.  You can get tuna (if you get there early), salmon, eel, prawns, crab, seaweed, white rice or brown rice and even sashimi.  They give them in a little bag that you wrap around the roll and a little portable soy sauce that you can put on top. Everyone likes them and rolls are usually made every hour.  I once had a little 4 year old behind me in line with his dad chanting “Sushi roll! Sushi roll!” (My kind of kid..chanting always conveys excitement).  I was very impressed, I didn’t have my first sushi roll until I was 19! But I have made up for lost time enjoying my conveniently portable sushi during my year in Melbourne and will be looking forward to adding sushi-making to my (really long) project list after returning home.

On the Asian food note, switching to Chinese, tonight we had one last dumpling dinner at our favorite place in Chinatown. Soup dumplings were also a whole new exciting world of deliciousness for me.  They come steaming hot in the bamboo box and you pick them up with your chopsticks and put it on your spoon and top it with  ginger soaked in soy sauce.  Bite off the top and suck out the warm broth and then eat the rest of the delicious dumpling.  They are so good and its so easy to find them here that I have a feeling Jaime might go a little crazy with my incessant chanting when we can’t find them at home. “Dumplings! Dumplings!”   

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Oz (Nostalgia) Files

The amazing and mysterious Flat White!

I am definitely going to miss the dominant café culture of Australia, which provides amongst other things, the best coffee we have ever had. (Visitors agreed!).  However, I am not going to miss the coffee nearly as much as Jaime will.  He is completely in love.  I actually think he would stay in Australia so he would not have to leave the coffee.  We are not totally sure of the exact secret as to why Australia and Melbourne in particular, has the best coffee, but they do and they are proud of it!  They never serve drip coffee here, just espresso.  Every coffee is freshly ground and made to order and at that perfect drink-on-the-spot temperature and some cafes even make their own espresso blends with beans from around the world.  Jaime loves his flat whites so much that he has been talking about getting a professional grinder and coffee-maker like the ones they use in the cafes.   As I began to realize he was serious about this ‘investment’ we made a deal that he/we would take a barista course in order to learn the secrets of how to make this amazing coffee like the Aussies.  So we took a morning barista course, where we actually came out with a certificate that would allow us to get a job if we wanted, so we knew this was the real thing.  We made every type of coffee possible and learned that the flat white is not that different from the latte, its just less of the ‘silky cream’ and more of the milk, all of which results in layers when the milk is properly steamed.  We also learned that one of the main factors of making good coffee is the amount of water pressure used by your machine during the brewing process (and of course how good you are at coffee art).  Which means that Jaime will have to get his professional machine, now that he is a professional barista with the certificate to prove it!  Its gonna take some practice to perfect the flat white, but we’re bringing em home!  


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Oz (Nostalgia) Files

The Vino Connection

Australia has an incredible passion for wine. Every region has atleast one beloved and well-known wine valley that people will travel across the continent to have a holiday in the vineyard.  We have beautiful wine in the US as well but the passion for wine doesn’t seem to be as widespread, likely due to the difference in geography. The US has so many States without wine and just more States in general while in Australia each of the 7 States has a popular wine valley the may be the most identifying factor of the region.  Every restaurant all across the continent has a carefully and proudly selected wine list that they almost expect you to want to drink.  You can drink wine at most cafes, even the ‘healthy burger’ fast food joints, and just about every venue movie theater, museums, sporting events, etc…You name it, they have wine. And if you ask, all places will give you a tasting to be sure you find a glass of wine you will definitely enjoy. Everyone loves to learn and talk about wine and whether drinking it casually or elegantly, it seems to be a strong thread connecting the people of an entire continent, with a common passion for a simple pleasure.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Buggies Away!

Hamilton Island is a fabulous little patch of land that is part of the chain of islands that makes up the Whitsundays. Hamilton Island is known as the “Great Barrier Reef” island as it provides snorkeling just off its beaches as well as a gateway to the deeper outer reefs in the area of the Whitsundays. There are a few ways you can reach the Whitsundays. You can fly into Airlie Beach which is on the mainland and take a ferry to any of the islands or you can fly right into Hamilton Island and ferry anywhere else you would like to go. We flew into Hamilton Island and although it was a little overcast through the clouds you could get a glimpse of the green islands sitting in sparkling blue water. It was very exciting! Upon arrival to the small island airport, all of the hotels are awaiting your arrival to take you to your accommodation via buggy (golf cart) or small van. Car hire here is actually Buggy rental as this is the primary mode of transportation on the island. Ah, simplicity!

We arrived at the Reef View Hotel, which had the most amazing views of the surrounding islands. Our first day was somewhat cloudy and rainy but by the next afternoon the sun was shining for the remainder of our stay. We rented our buggy and toured around the little island checking out all the tiny roads and passing by peoples homes, some with really  ‘high class’, buggies parked in their small driveways.  Everyone on the island was extremely friendly and they had shuttle buses running throughout the island all day so when you didn’t have a buggy you could walk or take a shuttle bus anywhere you wanted to go. The weather cleared up perfectly for us to enjoy a beautiful island sunset at One Tree Hill where from 4pm on they set up a small bar for sunset cocktails on the cliff.
Views from our hotel room

Our buggy for the day

Sunset Cocktails

The next morning we took a fabulous day tour to the reef and Whitehaven Beach. Our catamaran, On The Edge, was fast and comfortable with a great crew and a small group, which made it a really great day. We first stopped at one of the outer reefs where we snorkeled through the chilly water. (I couldn’t feel my hands!) We did see lots of soft coral, which I hadn’t seen before and Jaime spotted our first reef shark and manta ray!

We then made our way to Whitehaven Beach, the third most beautiful beach in the world! It was really stunning. The sand was so soft and white and the water was so clear! We had a few hours to just lounge and enjoy the beach. We played a little footy ball and walked through the water checking out the schools of fish swimming by. One little fish was very curious and if I wiggled my toes he would make his way over and come in for a quick nibble. I have never seen a fish do that! He did it over and over again. I tried to get him to nibble Jaime but I think he may have liked the flash of my nail polish.  We took turns riding in the dingy to get back to our boat and leisurely sailed back to the port.

 That night we played some island mini-golf  (I was kicking Jaime’s butt but then we decided that the last hole was for all the beans and the world champion title which I lost to Jaime’s only hole-in-one for the night!) and then took a walk down to the marina for dinner. Sitting outside on the patio we noticed a little visitor coming in sniffing around for scraps. From far away it looked like one of those cute little Bandicoots that you rarely ever see! But once it got up close we realized it was a really rough and mangy looking Australian possum. We continued on with our dinner but I did put my feet up on the chair next to me.  Later that night I randomly discovered my expert skills at Angry Birds on Jaime’s ipad. I'm an addict. 
Bandicoot-what I thought I saw
Australian Possum-our actual dinner guest

The next day we had some time to lay by the pool and explore low-tide at the beach where we saw tons of marine life particularly hermit crabs and a feisty little sand crab that nipped my heel!  We were sad to leave such a relaxing and beautiful place. We wished we had more time to explore the other islands as the Whitsundays are another easily accessible gem in Australia! A place to enjoy so much natural beauty and get re-accustomed to that laid-back “Island Time”.

To view all the photos from Hamilton Island follow this link: