Sunday, June 30, 2013

The End

Molly enjoys swimming in the ocean!

So this is my last post on this blog. The Keys are no longer Down Under, so it's time to bring things to a close. Here's the latest on our lives:

1. We're currently living in a hotel room in Oakland, California. It's not ideal with our dog Molly, but we get free breakfast and dinner, and we're not too far from a BART station, so we can get to San Francisco pretty easily. We're trying to make the most of our time in California, going to baseball games (A's vs. Cards today), going on hikes around the Bay Area with Molly, eating at cool restaurants, etc.

2. We bought a house in Denver, Colorado. I actually flew into and out of Denver on Friday for the closing! It wasn't our original plan upon moving back to the US, but once we saw how much renting in the San Francisco area would cost, how low the interest rates were for mortgages, how much we loved Denver when we drove through there on our way out here, and how ready we were to have a house again and have our belongings all in one place, we decided to take a look around when we were in the area. We found a house we loved in the West Wash Park area, put in an offer, and now we move in at the end of July!

3. Zack got put on a project working in Berkeley, California that lasts until at least October of 2014. This means that he'll be flying out of Denver for work on Monday morning and coming back on Thursday night. The first few years of our marriage were spent this way (with him traveling), and it sort of works for us. Plus, Zack loves California, so he'll get the best of both worlds with Cali during the week and Denver on the weekends!

Our hotel room before I unpacked the boxes.
4. We got our shipment of stuff from Australia delivered to our hotel room earlier this week. We didn't have a ton of stuff (mostly clothes), so it actually all fits in our room (including the surfboards!). It's a bit crowded, but we'll survive for a month.

5. We celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary on July 5. We're going to spend the July 4th/anniversary weekend camping at Lake Tahoe. I'm looking forward to an awesome time!

6. I'm working on organizing and posting the thousands of pictures we took on our trip throughout Asia. Some are up already, but eventually they will all be here.

We'll always look back on our time in Australia with fond memories. Deciding to move there for two years was one of the best decisions of our lives. Thanks for reading our blog and following along with our adventures. If you are ever thinking about the expat life or even just visiting any of the places we've been, feel free to contact me with questions or for suggestions.

On to our next adventure...
Our home sweet home in Denver!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What I Learned While Living in Australia

What I learned while living in Australia (along with how to knit/surf/sail/substitute teach/blog/speak Australian lingo/etc.):

America is not the best at everything.

Growing up in the United States, I had a very insulated view of our country and how it compared to others in the world. I think the general consensus among American citizens is that the USA is the greatest country in the world, and nowhere else can compete. While that may be true in some respects, I think we could learn a lot from the way other countries do certain things (and not just Australia). I don’t really want to get into the specifics of this point, but it was definitely eye-opening to realize that America is not “perfect.”

Making “couple friends” is like dating.

When Zack and I met and started dating in Denver, he became friends with some of the friends I had made when I had moved to that city and started a soccer team. Though we met a few couples over the next couple of years, we never really had to make any new friends together until we got to Australia. I had never realized how much like dating it would be. You all go out to dinner together or something on your first “date,” and try to present your best self and avoid uncomfortable topics of conversation. The girl has to like the other girl a lot, and the guy has to like the other guy a lot, and the girls and guys have to like each other too (but not too much!). As time progresses, you get more comfortable with each other and discuss more serious topics, hang out more informally, and do things together more spontaneously.  It’s a lot of work, but totally worth it for the great friendships you can create.

Traveling is not that big of a deal.

When I lived in the United States, a three-hour flight from one part of the country to another was a huge deal. That would constitute a major trip, and I wouldn’t do it too often. Now (if the price isn’t too ridiculous!), I’d hop on a flight for a weekend trip without even batting an eye. I think a lot of Americans make a huge deal out of leaving the country, or even their own state or city! After living abroad, I find traveling so much easier and wonder why I didn’t do it more often much earlier.

Anyway, those are the three major revelations I had while living abroad, along with hundreds of other little ones. Can you tell this blog is nearing an end?

This was the first American flag I saw upon landing in the United States.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tattoo Time

Before going in-does he look nervous?
For several months before leaving Australia, Zack was talking about wanting a tattoo. Now, neither of us had/have any tattoos, and I didn't think he (or I) would ever get one. I wasn't against the idea of him getting one, provided the location was inconspicuous and the design was personal and meaningful. I just didn't want him to do something he'd regret later. After much research, many vetoed ideas ("A koi fish sleeve, really dear?"), and several drafted designs, Zack had a good plan, and I accompanied him to the tattoo parlor about a week before we left the country.

Are you ready for this, Zack?!

When we first arrived, the guy tried to draw the design Zack was asking for and kept getting it wrong. Finally, another girl took over and drew exactly what he was looking for. After sticking the temporary tattoo drawing on his upper right back so she could trace the lines, he was ready to go. Zack said the process was really only painful at the beginning and then again at the end when the girl went back over some lines. He put in some headphones and listened to hard rock music the whole time she was working; it took about half an hour.

I actually expected the whole process to be a lot bloodier. It was more like an oozy sore, such as when you skin your knee. The girl would do a small portion of the line or shading in either black or gray ink and then wipe away the blood and extra ink smears with the rag. The tattoo gun sounded kind of like a dental drill or an electric hair clipper. It was fascinating to watch her work.

Red because it was newly finished.
The design Zack chose was the New Zealand koru symbol. This spiral shape is based on the unfurling fern frond, and it symbolizes new life, growth, strength, and peace. Our trip to New Zealand was his favorite from our time abroad, and this seemed like a good way to remember our two years in the Southern Hemisphere as well as look forward to our "new life" back in the United States. I think he made a good choice! And if I wasn't a chicken, I might have gotten a tiny little outline of Australia on my inner ankle. But I was (am) too scared of the pain!

Happily, Zack still likes his tattoo (and so do I). It's a happy reminder of the great time we had down under!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Farewell Concert

Zack LOVES Guns N' Roses. Loves them. Like Slash was sort of his idol. So when he saw that they were coming to Melbourne (unfortunately without Slash), he just had to go. So he bought the tickets as soon as they went on sale, and we had to plan our Australian leave date around this concert. But it was a fun show, and we had a good time listening to the classic songs. 

ZZ Top was the opening act, so that was pretty fun as well. I didn't realize how many songs I actually knew by them ("Legs," "Sharp Dressed Man,""Gimme All Your Lovin'," etc.).

So Zack finally got to fulfill his dream of seeing Guns N' Roses in concert, only days before we left Australia. I think the smile on his face shows that it was worth staying for!

Happy husband living out a childhood dream.
Guns N' Roses put on a great show. Axl Rose was still quite the rock star for being over fifty years old.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sayonara to Surfing in Australia

Before we left Australia, we went surfing one last time with our friends Klem and Vesna. We went to Torquay Beach, which was where we first learned to surf. The rain held off until we had our fill, and we had some decent beginner-sized waves that were good for us to practice on.
Learning to surf was one of my favorite parts of living in Australia. I never got very good at it, but I just had fun being in the water and riding the little waves.
After our final surf, we enjoyed Vesna's famous chocolate cake (with strawberries and whipped cream!) in the "comfort" of our almost-moved-out-of house in South Melbourne. Nothing like sitting on an air mattress and camp chairs!

Friday, June 7, 2013

First Impressions of the United States

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, but it's all still pretty accurate. These are my three main first impressions upon arriving back in the United States. Keep in mind, these were made after traveling throughout Asia for a few months, so they are not necessarily solely in comparison to life in Australia, but they do apply in some ways.

Indian airline ad for flight attendants
      (Some) employees treat customers like incompetent children.

First of all, it has to be said that the physical attribute qualifications for flight attendants in Asia differ dramatically from those in the United States. Check out this ad I found for flight attendants on an Indian airline. Make of this what you will, but I noticed a marked difference the minute I got on the United Airlines flight from Mumbai to Newark. Anyway, the way that some of the American flight attendants, along with the immigration desk, ticket counter, and luggage handler workers talked to the customers (especially those who weren’t American) was condescending, abrupt, and borderline rude. I know not every employee is this way, but it was something that stood out quite obviously after eight weeks of traveling in Asia.

Life with our Molly is good!

The amount of choice is overwhelming.

On our drive between Michigan and St. Louis, we stopped at Panera Bread for lunch. It was one of probably ten choices for food at one exit (which is amazing by itself). I was absolutely overwhelmed. The restaurant was huge and crowded, the menu was gigantic, and I could barely give the lady my order without having a nervous breakdown! After finally making up my mind about what I wanted to order, she asked what I wanted for a side. Then she asked if I wanted a drink. And through it all I felt rushed, as there was a crowd in line behind me. I guess I’m so used to either having hardly any choices, or choices already having been made for me (preset meals), or having plenty of time to figure it out without time-crazed Americans standing in line behind me! I think my first trip to a grocery store is going to be pretty wild. Oh, and portion sizes are HUGE here!

Visiting my sister Morgan in Santa Cruz!
      Roads are clean, empty, straight paths full of people in their “bubbles.”

While traveling in Asia, one of my favorite things was driving (being driven) through the cities and countryside. Though the “roads” were often in terrible shape and the safety of them and/or our vehicle was questionable at times, this was where I saw the heart of the country. Everyone seems to live near the road, and people gather outside to sell things, play games, wash clothes or dishes, sit with friends, or just watch the world go by. Besides the people, the sides of the road are full of colorful trash, animals, and signs of life.

In stark contrast, the roads in the United States are long stretches of perfect cement paths with pristine green grass along the sides. When there are houses within view, no human is to be seen.  Instead of open-air modes of transportation like scooters, tractors, motorcycles, rickshaws, or tuk tuks, everyone in America is in his or her own enclosed car. Nobody interacts with anyone else, and driving just seems kind of lifeless and sterile.

Reading back over these, I realize that they sound a bit negative. I don't mean for them to sound that way; these things just stood out the most. A few more entries to come!
This was our home in Colorado before moving to Australia. We stopped by while driving through!

Monday, June 3, 2013

What I'll Miss About Living in Australia

So I've got a few more entries to add to this blog before it's finished. I'll get them all posted before the end of June. Here's the first one summing up our experience abroad:

What I'll miss about living in Australia...

      Being special

In Australia, I was unique. My accent was a conversation starter, my name was unheard of, and people wanted to know about my life in America and how I ended up in the Land Down Under. While substitute teaching, I had a built-in time killer just by letting the kids ask questions about my home country! In the United States, I’m just another everyday citizen with the same story as everyone else.

The wide range of activities

Melbourne has everything…festivals, sporting events, concerts, outdoor activities, great restaurants, markets, theatre performances, celebrity visits, clubs, and more. I realize that this is something that could probably be said about many large cities in the United States, but it’s especially cool when you’re in a different country. For example, I went to cricket and footy games, I saw Cadel Evans and Queen Elizabeth II, I ordered awesome chai lattes and kangaroo fillet at restaurants, and I went surfing on the weekends.

    Living in the moment

We knew we were only going to be in Australia for a limited amount of time, so we took advantage of every opportunity we could to make the most of it. When you live in your home country, you often get complacent and don’t even visit the awesome places right around you. Australians often told us that we had seen more of the country than they had. There weren’t many weekends when we sat around the house doing nothing. Not that there’s anything wrong with “doing nothing,” but I loved that our calendar was full of fun times with friends and trips to places near and far.

There are tons of other things I'll miss (great friends we made, the accent, amazing markets, the beach, etc.), but the three above are the ones that really stand out. More to come!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Back in the USA!

Reunited after two years!
We made it to Michigan today after an amazing eight weeks of travel on our way back from Australia. We're so tired, but we're enjoying my mom's meals and being reunited with our dog Molly. Eventually I'll have some final post about Australia and what our time there meant to us and such, but right now I need to do some laundry and get some sleep!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Australian Animals at Healesville Sanctuary

This is one last post about my time with my parents and aunt and uncle. When they came back through Melbourne after their time in New Zealand, we had a day to enjoy some Australian sights. Our first stop was Brighton Beach for "morning tea." I bought them various flavored macaroons from the market and brought along some strawberry lemonade.
Speaking of the market, I brought them all to the South Melbourne Market first thing in the morning and made them go pick out and buy their own meat item for lunch. They had fun navigating the crowds, seeing Australian items for sale (lamb and kangaroo), and trying out their knowledge of the metric system and Australian currency!

After morning tea, we drove out near Healesville Sanctuary and I cooked up a BBQ lunch while my family took a short hike in the park. The flies were insane and prevented us from even sitting down while eating, but we made it work. Then it was off to Healesville Sanctuary, where you can see all of the Australian animals in one place.

We started our visit with the bird show. They flew all around our heads while we learned facts about them.

The best part was when this eagle spotted a wild version of itself high up in the sky. Well, the wild one spotted this one too, and ended up swooping down incredibly close. We almost got to witness an attack; you could tell the handler guy was kind of freaking out!

Sleepy dingo.

After the bird show, we walked around the other exhibits, checking out several Australian animals. I've included a few of my favorite pictures for you to enjoy: a dingo, emu, lyrebird, red kangaroo, koala, pelican, colorful bird of some sort, Tasmanian devil, and kookaburra.

It's hard to believe that we won't be living in the land of these animals much longer. The shipping company came today and packed up all our things to send to California. We rented a car and made one trip to the op shop and two trips to the rubbish collection place. We're down to just one large backpack and one daypack for ten weeks of survival. This is getting really real!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

White Night Wonders

A few weekends ago, Melbourne hosted an all-night extravaganza in the CBD called White Night. There were musical performances, art exhibitions, light shows, and all sorts of random cool things going on throughout the night. We went downtown to check it out, and it didn't disappoint.

Flinders Street Station was all lit up and looked awesome. There were various bands and performances taking place in front of the steps. Federation Square was busy too; at one point Zack was even learning to hip-hop dance in the middle of it!
This was one of the art sculptures at the National Gallery of Victoria. It was a tower of cascading suds! Throughout the night, as various portions fell and people swatted at the parts they could reach, this "living" sculpture changed, and that was exactly the point. I wonder what it looked like in the morning!
My favorite part was the lighting they did on the fronts of some of the cool buildings. My least favorite part was the crowd. This was White Night's first year, and I don't think Melbourne anticipated how popular it would be. The streets were literally packed with people; it got to the point where you couldn't even get from one side to the other. After a few hours of exploring some of the things going on and fighting the crowds, we walked home, satisfied that we had gotten a good taste of this neat cultural event. I hope (for the sake of those who live here-since I won't much longer) that Melbourne makes White Night a yearly event!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Our Big Announcement About Leaving Australia

Yep, this is the post where I actually admit that we are leaving Australia. And not later this year, or next month, or something logical and normal like that. We are flying out on March 20th, which is only five days away. Yes, we are insane! Actually, we've been working on this for about a month now, but all of the actual details are finally getting finalized.

Here is the deal. Zack's official start date back in the United States is June 3. We wanted to do some more traveling before heading back, so he is taking a leave of absence, and we are traveling for eight weeks. Where? Well, after much deliberation and reworking of itineraries several times, here is the final plan:

-Philippines: Boracay (beach time) and Donsol (swim with whale sharks)
-Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hanoi (including Halong Bay)
-Laos: Luang Prabang
-Cambodia: Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) and Phnom Penh
-Thailand: Bangkok
-India: Golden Triangle-Delhi/Agra/Jaipur
-Nepal: Kathmandu, trek the Himalayas (deciding between Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit)
-India: Goa (beach time with my friend Ameeta)
-United States: Michigan (pick up our dog and Jeep and see my family), St. Louis (see Zack's family), San Francisco (move in)

Yes, we are moving to San Francisco, California! We love Colorado and plan on moving back there in a couple of years to settle long-term, but we're not ready to "settle" quite yet. Zack has always wanted to live in California, and I'm excited about living near my sister in Santa Cruz and exploring a new part of the country. We think it will be an easy transition to move there from Melbourne, and now seems like a good time to give it a try.

So that's our big announcement. I've been pretty bad about keeping up with the blog lately, as life has been crazy with organizing this move and huge trip, but I'll get in a few more entries before we go. I won't be blogging about our travels, mainly because I'm honestly kind of sick of keeping up with this blog and partly because it will be difficult and annoying to find internet access in most locations, but also because I really only started and maintained this blog as a record of our expat time in Australia for ourselves (I was just lucky enough to have readers!). So once we leave, keeping up with "Keys Down Under" won't make much sense. I will, however, take PLENTY of pictures, and those will be on my Shutterfly site when we return.

So, this isn't goodbye quite yet, but it's a warning of an almost-goodbye. Yikes-so much to do! Back to packing...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Colonial Tramcar Restaurant

After their time in New Zealand, my mom, dad, aunt, and uncle flew back through Melbourne for a couple of days before heading home to Michigan. Zack and I treated them to a night at/on the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant, something we've been wanting to tick off our Melbourne bucket list for awhile.

The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant is exactly what it sounds like. They've refurbished old tramcars and turned them into a fancy, moving restaurant. It's pretty neat. We did the Thursday night late dinner seating, so we had a five course meal with unlimited drinks and got to travel down to St Kilda and through the CBD before ending up back in Southbank after a few hours.
Kangaroo fillet was one of the five courses!

The food was good, but not amazing. It was cool how they served uniquely Australian dishes, like kangaroo and barramundi and panna cotta.
Thumbs up for Frangelico!

Our waiter was hilarious. He was an Italian guy who would break into song randomly while serving us, and he was very eager to keep our wine and drink glasses very full. He even introduced me to Frangelico, a delicious Italian liqueur that tastes like liquid Nutella!

Overall, I'd say the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant is a great touristy thing to do just once, especially if you've got visitors in town and you can all have fun together. It's not cheap, but you can get your money's worth with drinks and realizing that you're paying for food, entertainment, and a tour of the city!
The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant was pretty cool.