Back to Australia After 20 Years

Australia is so much a part of my family’s history. We lived here for a year when I was three and it feels like that was the catalyst that made me and my sister fall in love with travel. I was too young to attend school, but I remember a surprising amount about this year and I feel like despite my young age, the time here shaped who I am.

Maybe this is why my ten days in Australia felt so strangely familiar. Additionally, I saw/stayed with two good friends I had worked with in Toronto, and even though I hadn’t seen them in over a year it felt like no time had passed. Sometimes we’d be walking around Sydney and I’d have to remind myself that I wasn’t actually in Toronto, just living my everyday life.

If I had more time or more money, I’d have done more of the East Coast and some more adventurous activities, but this time around I just sponged off my friends and got a glimpse of Sydney and Melbourne – and it was enough to soak in the atmosphere and catch up with people who were there for a very formative part of my life in Toronto.

A lot of my time was spent eating and drinking – there are tons of yummy vegan restaurants I wanted to try and I’m pretty sure I checked them all off the list. The dining was especially great in Melbourne, where I was with my friend Kate and her parents and they were the most generous hosts of all time, which allowed me to try restaurants that would normally be out of my price range. In Sydney, a highlight was Bodhi, a vegan yum cha restaurant – Kate and I split a bottle of wine and several dishes and whiled away many an hour discussing all the gossip we had missed in eachother’s lives.

I was really interested to see whether I preferred Melbourne or Sydney – it kind of reminds me of the Montreal vs Toronto debate. A lot of my friends like Melbourne better and thought I would too, but it turns out Sydney really captured my heart. I loved the beaches SO much, and although I had an amazing time in Melbourne I just found there was more to actually do in Sydney.

For example, the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk was literally the only thing I knew I wanted to do in Sydney. And it was so worth it! On my first day I woke up with a fair hangover but still took the bus out to Bondi (pronounced Bond-eye) and after a mediocre and overpriced brunch I strolled down to Bronte (pronounced Bront-ee) stopping lots for pictures and journalling. I would have kept going to Coogee Beach further down the coast but I needed to go meet my friend – next time!

The other beach I headed out to see was Manly – I took the stunningly scenic ferry past the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge and to be honest, sobbed the entire time. My anxiety flared up out of nowhere and something about this ferry just reduced me to a mess. The Australian boy next to me definitely thought I was a psychopath. The ride was amazing, though, and the beach was nice – I just couldn’t enjoy it with the undercurrent of baseless panic running through me.

And how can I forget the Blue Mountains! Kate and I drove out to Scenic World for the day, which is basically a nature theme park. The drive was a bit stressful because we are both hopeless navigators (I’m known for saying things like, “it looks like up ahead there is a little turny thingy? Maybe?”) but we blasted music and sang along so loudly we gave ourselves sore throats. The park was expensive but worth it for the stunning views. I particularly enjoyed the slightly terrifying train ride down to the rainforest, which is unbelievably steep. There was also a sculpture exhibit going on, which we tried our best to appreciate (art is hard).

Brief highlights of Melbourne: we drove over to see the famous bathing boxes on Brighton Beach and yep, they were pretty! The beach would have been nice if it had been about ten degrees warmer. As I mentioned, we ate a lot of food and drank a lot of alcohol. Eventually, Kate and her family left and I had one night at a hostel. I was super nervous about getting back into solo travel but I made some friends for the hostel’s night event: Boozy Bingo! I walked up to some Welsh girls and asked to sit down and we had a wonderful night drinking way too many beers and completely forgetting about the bingo.

The next day I was deeply hungover and literally slept on a couch all day before somehow managing to catch my flight and immediately pass out. Next up – Bali!

The Ten Places I Most Want to Live

Sometimes I visit a city and absolutely adore it, but would never want to live there. Examples that come to mind are Goreme in Cappadocia (too small and remote), Dar es Salaam (too bustling, although I’d probably give it a shot), and Florence (too touristy for its size). On the other hand, there are the places that I visit, completely fall in love with, and immediately develop a burning desire to settle down and stay a while. There are so many places I haven’t been, and I bet there are hundreds of other cities that would give me this feeling, but so far here are the places topping my list for a sojourn. Realistic or not, these places are constantly in my dreams and wishes! Without further ado, here is an excessively long article detailing the ten places I most want to live.

BUDAPEST

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When I wrote about Budapest previously, I described my total lack of expectations and how quickly me and my sister realized that this was a special place. We still talk about Budapest an annoying amount, sometimes just texting each other ‘ugh I miss Budapest’ and spending a few minutes reminiscing. A girl who went to my high school also interned there for a summer, and I stalked her Instagram excessively to see her incredible photos of Budapest living. The cost of living is unbelievably cheap, the history and sights are amazing, and compared to some other places on this list its hardly touristy at all. If I ever settle in Europe, it just might be here!

VIENNA

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The instant I walked outside in Vienna I decided it was the most livable place I’d ever been. I still don’t really know what made me think this – maybe it’s just the combination of everything that makes Vienna great. It’s a little more modern than places like Budapest or Prague, but almost just as cheap. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, with my favourite architectural cities sprinkled everywhere. There’s also amazing access to the outdoors (by that I mean vineyards) when you’re basically still in the city. There are so many cultural events and a famous orchestra to indulge in, it’s got amazing transport connections, and I speak a little bit of German. It’d be much easier to learn and communicate in German than it would in something like Hungarian or Czech!!

PARIS

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So typical. Every time I think about living in Paris, I imagine myself sipping a cappuccino in a cafe while writing a book, speaking French to handsome waiters and taking evening strolls along  the Seine. I know that Parisian life is less romantic than we all make it out to be, but it’s undeniably more romantic than a lot of places. I wouldn’t want to be in Paris long-term because it has its issues too, but I think for anything under a year I would love pretending to be a Parisian. And maybe I could finally become 100% fluent in French! Honestly I don’t even feel the need to tell you the other reasons I want to live in Paris because who doesn’t have the same dream?

SHANGHAI

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Ah, Shanghai. My solo trip to China was full of firsts so I look back on the whole thing as an amazing memory and experience in my life. Shanghai is my fondest memory, though – despite the rain and my total exhaustion while I was there. Beijing was too smoggy, Datong too….everything, Xian too touristy, but Shanghai was just perfect. I obviously love big cities, and this is one of the biggest, but it’s so easy to get that small town feel in areas like the French Concession. There’s access to every amenity you could want, but you also get the feeling of being somewhere so exotic and cool. It’s VERY high up my list to learn Mandarin, and what better place? The airport can get you anywhere, the public transit system is practically flawless, the food is one of my favorite cuisines, and I really just want to walk along the Bund and see that skyline again.

BRISBANE

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This one is kind of cheating because I have already lived there. To be fair, I was 3. I have always felt a connection to Brisbane despite my foggy memories of the city; my desire to go back and revisit my childhood stomping grounds has only gotten stronger as I’ve understood more about travel. A working holiday visa for Australia is definitely on the cards for me; it’s a place full of places for me to see again and places for me to visit anew: Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania, Adelaide, Perth…the list goes on. Now it would be great if flights to Australia would stop costing like $6000. (Just kidding, you can find way better deals than that. Promise!)

BUCHAREST

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I literally stayed in Bucharest for a night solely because I had a flight out of the city the next day. I did absolutely zero research, had seen absolutely no pictures, and basically had no idea what I was getting myself into. I arrived at my randomly chosen hostel, befriended an Australian girl, went up to the rooftop bar and basically had a heart attack because it was so beautiful. On some streets, I could have sworn I was in Paris. Bucharest hosts a very unusual combination of rundown, post-Communism buildings and absolutely architecturally stunning buildings. Walking around was a treat, and the nightlife was some of the best I’ve ever seen. The area I stayed in was buzzing and I could have stayed a week. I also knew absolutely nothing about Romanian history, and my free walking tour (with a very cute guide, which is always nice) was very illuminating and really taught me a lot about the hardships this country has gone through. Our guide was probably in his 20’s, and he still had stories to share about not having electricity and free access to media – absolutely unbelievable. It’s cheap, it’s got a language I could learn (Romanian is very similar to Italian!), it’s historical and it’s beautiful. It’s got it all.

NEW YORK CITY

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And yet another very typical response. I’ve been to New York four times now, and each time I remember why I love it so much. The hustle and bustle of this city makes you feel like anything is possible and it’s got the same reasoning behind it as Paris – it’s just so easy to imagine myself living that stereotypical 20-something life here, albeit with much less money than anyone I’ve wanted to emulate on Gossip Girl or Sex and the City. Even if it’s just for a month, I’d love to see what New York living is really like – I don’t think I could afford any longer than a month!!

TRIESTE

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This is also cheating. However, I only lived in Trieste for about a month and a half, and I’d like to experience actually living in my own apartment rather than feeling constantly uncomfortable in my au pair house and dreading the next day of work. Side note, I can’t believe I still haven’t written about au pairing! I’ve just added it to my to do list. My friend Pam, who blogs in Italian and English, lives in a gorgeous apartment in downtown Trieste and her life is basically what I would want to do next time. But about Trieste itself – what a shock this city was to me. When my au pair family said they were moving there I googled the location, thought, “Oh! Near Slovenia and Croatia! Ok cool!”, said yes, and then proceeded to move there. Trieste deftly combines Italian, Slovenian and Croatian influences into one melting pot of incredible coffee, a gorgeous main square, and the nicest people in Italy. This is where I learned Italian and the base I used to explore Venice, Verona, Ljubljana and more. Best of all – there’s only ever a fraction of the tourists that crowd the rest of Italy!

PRAGUE

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I have just noticed an interesting trend…four of these destinations (Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest are in Eastern Europe, or maybe Central depending on where you draw the line. I’d also consider Trieste pretty Eastern European. I had no idea I had even been to that many places in Central/Eastern Europe, much less that I wanted to live there!! Anyway, so Prague. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may remember the numerous disasters that befell me on my January 2015 trip to Prague. It still shocks me that I’m able to look back on Prague so fondly, considering that I felt like I was going to die, but I guess that really says something about the city. Honestly, my main reason for wanting to live in Prague is pretty stupid. There’s the cheap cost of living, great transit, same good connections as Vienna, beautiful architecture….but what I’m really interested in is the fact that it’s a winter wonderland. I may complain about winter every single day that I’m cold, but as a Canadian I’ll take shivering in my parka over sweating in my shorts any day. It sadly didn’t snow when I was in Prague, but it was still magical, and I’d love to spend the winter revelling in the magical feeling of Prague in winter. (Told you it was dumb).

ZANZIBAR

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Ah, Zanzibar. I spent 2 days in Stone Town and 3 days in Kendwa at the end of my recent trip to Tanzania. When I was little, I thought that Zanzibar was a made-up place because the name was so exotic and it sounded so cool (maybe also because I was stupid). However, Zanzibar is absolutely real and absolutely perfect. Kendwa was legitimately paradise. There are not enough positive words in the English language to describe how perfect the water is. I swam, lay on the beach, went to a full moon party, tried scuba diving, watched sunsets, and basically died over how great life was. I am too high-strung to live on an island paradise for long, but I can’t imagine anything better than settling down on Zanzibar (maybe even in Kendwa?) for a few months. I would get so tan and so happy. To quote my Instagram caption from the following photo, “Messy hair, messy heart, messy life, but it’s okay cause I’m in paradise.” I can’t think of anything that better sums up how I felt on this incredible island with so much culture to offer alongside its beauty.

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That Time We Lived in Australia

When I was home briefly last weekend, I took the time to flip through some old family photo albums. We have a bookshelf that’s partially dedicated to all of our memories, but there’s a specific cupboard where we keep the pictures from that time we lived in Australia. Three full albums of road trips, holidays, visitors and one from our jaunt to incredible New Zealand. I was three (and turned four) when we lived in Oz, and you would think that I wouldn’t remember very much. But there are all these flashes of vague things from my childhood, very nondescript, that I recognized from pictures in Australia. My childish brain didn’t choose to remember a lot of the important things, but things like an adventure playground, a bouncy castle, and jumping on a trampoline….those are cemented in my mind.

That’s not to say I don’t remember the important things: I remember building an Uluru (Ayers Rock) replica of sand just outside our cabin in Alice Springs. I remember being too scared to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef so I splashed around a little pool on our boat. I remember hanging our stockings on Christmas, not at the home I was used to in Canada but in a place that felt so much like home. I remember running wild on Caloundra Beach with sparklers on New Year’s Eve.

The most important thing this trip gave me, though, wasn’t a memory, but a lifestyle. Even when I didn’t really understand what the fact that we had lived in Australia meant, I just understood that travel is what my family did and what I wanted to do. I travelled more with my family growing up, and as soon as I was old enough and had my own money, I started travelling alone – kicking it off with a solo trip to China. Moving abroad for a year as a kid affected the whole way I live my life: if my parents could pick up their children, jobs and lives and do this, why couldn’t I do it as a teenager with no real attachments?

I’m forever thankful to my parents for fostering the spirit of travel in me and showing me that I can go anywhere I want to go – although I’m sure my parents would have rather I skipped going to Morocco alone. I’m also thankful that my dad is such an amazing photographer and took all of these incredible shots for me to remember this life-changing year. I’ve uploaded all the pictures I chose to scan to my Facebook page – there’s something magical about the way old film pictures turn out when they’re scanned, so I couldn’t resist posting them all! Here’s a selection of my favorites – head here for more.

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