Monday, September 29, 2014

The Stacester is Gone

My friend Stacey who was visiting this weekend has hopped on her train back to Paris, and although it was a short trip it was super fun. The first day we didn't do much, I picked her up at the train station and brought her back to the apartment where we chatted, had some lunch and tea and then went out to walk around the center a bit before coming back and making dinner.

On day two though we got her a rental bike and spent the day zooming around and seeing the sites. She's never had Ikea meatballs, so we biked the 40 minutes to Ikea (which is also a pretty ride through fields/farms and canals) and got some lunch. Since Ikea is on the outskirts of Delft we went into the city for a bit to show her the square and churches.

From Delft we biked to the beach via home to grab a towel to brush sand off and a bottle of wine. Despite it being a gorgeous day the beach wasn't packed, so we waded into the freezing water before settling on the sand and enjoying some cups of wine. (Yes, cups, we didn't want glasses to break.) Since we weren't actually sure if drinking on the beach was legal we were inconspicuous with the bottle of wine sitting in my bag.

The sun was bright and really warm so between the view, weather and wine it was a nice end to the day.

We biked back to the apartment and made our dinner but also mapped our route to see how far we had biked: 25 miles. Whew! No wonder we were so tired. We stayed up and chatted for a while but then turned in for an early night since we had to be up early and were tired from our miles of biking.

It was a great weekend and now the countdown to Australia begins: 25 days.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Fireworks on the Mind

I know my last post was about fireworks as well, but who doesn't love fireworks? This year we're thinking of maybe going to Sydney on New Year's Eve to watch the NYE fireworks. I got excited by this idea so I went to their official website for the event and found that they release a list of the best (free) vantage points to watch the fireworks throughout the city. This is released in November and you can sign up to be the first to receive it. Done and done.

In other news about traveling, we were searching flights to different places from Melbourne last night to see what the prices are like since we want to do a lot of traveling while we're there. Luckily we have tons of Avios (the British Airways miles currency) and it's a great thing to use for routes where the cash price is more expensive.

However, with airlines such as Tigerair, Jetstar and even AirAsia, you can get some really cheap fares from Melbourne so between that and Avios we have tons of options. We also found that flights to Bali are not that expensive, and spending a few days there would be awesome.

I'm hoping to go to New Zealand, Kuala Lumpur, Cambodia and lots of other places throughout Asia. Of course in the past I've looked at flights from either Europe or the US which by default costs much more, but seeing as Australia is much closer to these places I'm hoping to be able to get some cheaper fares or redeem Avios to get there.

I'm getting more and more excited by the day for all of these new places I'm going to see half a world away.

Lastly, I am getting my friend from the train station this morning and I am beyond excited to be reunited with her. Even though I'll be leaving Europe, she still has a year of French adventures ahead of her. You can follow those adventures here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fireworks or an Invasion?

This afternoon we were sitting on the couch and started to hear loud cracks that I at first thought were thunder because of the storms we've been having. We knew it sounded like fireworks, but it was only 6:30 p.m. and still daylight out so why on earth would there be fireworks? When it persisted we joked it was the Russians invading (highly unlikely, but, you know, it was daylight out).

So I took to Twitter and searched "fireworks The Hague" and up popped this tweet mentioning daylight fireworks (weirdest concept ever) with a link to a story. I clicked on the story and discovered these fireworks were an opening to an art festival and learned it was "a spectaulair (yes, spelled like that) daylight fireworks show...a deafening rhythmic firework show... the first one of this scale in the Netherlands."

Alas, not an invasion from the Russians, just an unconventional use of fireworks. And I couldn't even see any. I Googled daylight fireworks and I got a dismal selection of pictures, basically not even a thing.

Anyway, on another note I'm extremely excited because one of my friends from Miami is an au pair in France and is visiting The Hague this weekend! Although not the most riveting city ever, I know we'll have a fantastic time and I'm so glad we get this opportunity to reunite before I leave for Australia. 

Let the fun commence! (Soon that is.) 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Spring Cleaning... in Fall

First of all, happy fall! I love fall, with the crisp weather, crunchy leaves, bright colors, cute boots, sweaters, scarves and pumpkin spice lattes. However, sadly, this year my fall will be cut short and my winter will not exist. This does make me very sad, but I'm so excited to spend one day of fall in my favorite place ever of the season... Miami University!

During my one week at home in the US, I booked flights using miles to spend the day at Miami where I'm going to catch up with some of my friends and for a fifth year in a row get to spend some time in Oxford in fall. Oxford is beautiful in the fall and everyone agrees.

I think you'll agree too.

I guess since my fall will be short I'll just have to make up for it in a week. I'm going to drink my weight in pumpkin spice lattes, jump in piles of leaves and hope it's cold enough to wear some boots and cute sweaters. Being able to use my new scarf from Thailand at least once would be nice too.

Now onto the spring fall cleaning. Last night we went through all these papers, documents and just stuff to try and consolidate down to what we really needed and wanted. You know how it builds, stacks of papers on shelves, desks, in boxes; you convince yourself you need it when in reality you don't, nor do you even look at it. It was those sorts of things we tried to get rid of.

We spent the night sorting, scanning, tearing and saving. Some stuff was sad to let go of, but why do we really need 20 KLM boarding passes between us. Or various metro or train tickets from different cities. When it came down to stuff like that we kept one or two of each thing, the odd cool route in terms of boarding passes, and tossed the rest.

We got rid of old receipts, documents we'd kept from various refunds, duplicate copies of our many documents and much more. My philosophy for both this and my parents while they turn my bedroom at home into a guest room is I'll say what I want to keep and then toss the rest. If I don't remember I have it, I won't miss it when it's gone.

We managed to consolidate down to just a couple of folders and a small selection of travel-related mementos. This is extremely important because as we get closer to moving we're going to be busy repainting the walls in the apartment and sorting through other stuff, but also because if we didn't sort through it now, when it came to packing we'd think we'd need to bring it all with us (we're moving after all). And we certainly don't need a whole other suitcase just filled with junk.

We've still got a lot of other stuff to sort through and try to consolidate, but it's certainly a good start. My jobs for my one month of fall: enjoy every second of it while it lasts and get rid of my useless crap. This is only the beginning.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Banks, Taxes and Koalas

As a few days pass after the granting of the visa, doing the research and booking the flights I find myself not obsessively reading about Australia or Melbourne anymore, which is good because I've still got one month here and I should make the most of it.

This past weekend was International Open Doors Day in The Hague, so many international organizations opened their doors to the public free of charge and allowed us mere mortals to roam the halls, see presentations, and more importantly, acquire endless useless but free stuff. You had to register online for a specific place at a specific time so we registered to go to the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia). We got to go into a courtroom, hear a presentation about ICTY, wander about and I picked up many random flyers, brochures and bookmarks that I'll probably never look at again. (Don't we all.)

That's the ICTY from the outside-- it was a gorgeous day as well so it made the bike ride there part of the fun experience.

Now, back to Australia, since that's what this blog is about. (I said I wasn't obsessing, not done.) The other day I got really excited because I looked up Melbourne's public library and discovered it was free. Free, you say, but a public library is always free. That's where you're wrong. In The Hague you have to pay for a membership to the library (it's not a lot, about €20 per year), but it's the principle. Lucky for me, when I got my welcome letter to The Hague from the mayor it included a flyer saying if I presented it at the library with a valid ID I could get a one year membership for free.

Needless to say though, I was happy to discover it's not the same in Melbourne and as soon as we're settled I am marching myself straight there and getting a membership. It's also great because the library has about half a dozen branches all through Melbourne and into some of the further neighborhoods of the city as well, so I won't even have to go far.

There's still quite a bit of planning to do before we leave, but we've got a whole month to sort it all out. One thing is a bank account. Of course to work in Australia you'll need a bank account to get paid, and apart from anything else you need to have an account that actually has the right currency in it. I did some research on bank accounts and found a couple of banks offer both a free account and the ability to apply before you arrive. If you choose that option you can then pick up your card from a specific branch upon arrival.

I sorted through these and read some reviews of each bank to see if there were any hidden fees or anything we should know, and we decided we will probably apply for an NAB (National Australia Bank) account. You get a choice of a black or pink card, but seeing as the pink card looks like something Barbie would carry around I don't think either of us are going to want that.

Another important thing that needs to be sorted out is the tax file number (TFN), which essentially is a unique number given to you for tax purposes that you also need in order to get paid. You can also apply for this ahead of time, but the catch is that you need an Australian address to have the paperwork mailed to you. We're thinking of the best thing to do for that. They say it takes up to 28 days to process it and mail you your number, however, you have a 30-day grace period once you start working to provide an employer with a TFN, so even if we don't apply ahead of time it's not extremely time sensitive.

There's still a good amount to be done before we head off to Australia and I don't feel nervous or apprehensive, just extremely excited. Although I imagine I will as we get closer to leaving, but even then I don't think any emotion will trump my excitement to get on a plane, fly halfway across the world and start this adventure.

Now to end this post here's a picture of some adorable koalas at Melbourne Zoo, just because. And because I intend to meet them.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Flights are Booked

Since both visas have been granted and we now know where we want to be we figured we would nail down the timeline and the flights. Since you cross the international date line the flight leaves on Saturday but arrives on Monday-- that will certainly be a weird feeling.

Flights out of the US to Australia were quite a bit cheaper than out of Europe so on October 17th we're flying back to DC to visit my family before heading off. This worked out well for us because we had booked some flights to the US (from Europe) for Christmas a couple of months back which now we have no use for, but since that itinerary had so many schedule changes we convinced Delta to essentially give us a voucher for the amount we paid for the Christmas flights that paid entirely for this trip instead. Thus, canceling the Christmas trip at no cost to us! Even better, this itinerary was slightly cheaper so we have an additional $24 of credit to use on Delta. Woohoo!

We then got a great deal on to Melbourne with a youth fare (up to 26). Usually STA Travel isn't a travel agent we'd normally book through, we don't like them for various reasons and if given the option we'd prefer to book through the airline itself, but with such a good deal it's hard to turn that away.

So now we have a lovely itinerary that is going to start at 6 a.m. on Saturday Oct. 25th and will get us into Melbourne at 1:15 p.m. on October 27th. We will fly from DC-New York, New York-Los Angeles, Los Angeles-Brisbane, and then finally Brisbane-Melbourne. Lots of stops and lots of layovers but airports are fun and since Michael and I both have status on Delta we get lounge access so honestly I'm rather looking forward to it!

It's really exciting to have everything finalized for the trip over and I'm totally counting down the days. 35 days and 14 hours... not to be precise or anything.

A very trivial and dorky but exciting thing about my trip to Australia is that I now have a new line on my map of places I've flown to. It's through this website called and you input your flight details and it draws a line between two pins for each journey and you can view a map that shows all the flights you've inputed over time.

It's really exciting. I can tell you're judging me, who gets excited over a line, but I am and I'm not ashamed!

There are still quite a few things to sort out before we go but the most important things are done: visas and flights. I can't wait to start this incredible journey and share it with you all!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Australian Adventure

Hello! As some of you may already know, at the end of October I will be leaving The Netherlands and flying on to spend about a year in Australia on a working holiday visa. So here I will explain what that is, what planning we'll be doing ahead of time, and hopefully be able to share with you my many adventures down under!

First thing's first, let me explain the URL of this blog. Some of you probably know this, but I LOVE koalas. I spent about 20 minutes last night watching YouTube videos of koalas and then followed it with searching where I can go in Australia to hold one. (There are quite a few places and I intend to go to them all.) They're cuddly, adorable, and basically the cutest thing on the planet.

koala gif photo: Koala koala.gif

I rest my case.

Most other URLs I was going to use were already taken and since I love koalas I figured why the heck not, because I intend to do lots of hanging with koalas when I'm down in Australia. While koalas are not the primary (or really any main) reason for my decision to go to Australia it certainly doesn't hurt.

Now what's a working holiday visa you may ask? It's when a participating country grants you a visa to spend 12 months in that country living and working wherever you please, essentially working to support your year-long holiday in said country. There are no restrictions on the types of jobs you can hold while on this visa, but you aren't allowed to work for the same employer for more than 6 months. This visa also grants you multiple entry so you can do as much or as little traveling as you please.

On Monday night I fired off my application and the waiting began. They say it takes up to 6 days (which is still super quick) but other places said it took about 48 hours. You can imagine my disappointment when Michael was notified of his acceptance Wednesday morning and I had nothing. Luckily though, mine went through at 12:40 a.m. Thursday (not that I was obsessing or anything...) so now we're both set to go!

The first thing we had to decide was what city to go to. We picked out Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane as our options and started our research. We looked at flights, what worked best for connections and what was cheapest, researched each city's job market, looked at what public transport was like, and finally, accommodation.

Now, the Australians price apartments per week. I didn't know this at first and most websites don't specify where you initially see the price since it's the norm, so you can imagine my horror when I discover the $450 prices I was seeing were PER WEEK and not per MONTH. Holy crap. I won't put you through the agony that followed. Eventually I was able to figure out what kinds of places you can get for reasonable prices and get a better handle on each city's norm.

You also have to keep in mind that Australia's economy is booming, and even the minimum wage is crazy high. You're talking about $20 per hour for a waitressing job. So while the prices seem insanely high, they are, but not so bad when you'll be earning Australian wages as well. Thank god for that.

Initially we decided on Sydney. The flights were cheapest there (although not by much), it's the most popular city in Australia, has good public transport, tons of options for jobs, and all cities are expensive so why not. However, with some more research into housing and speaking to some Australians we know, it became clear Sydney was not a good option. Simply, it's far too expensive.

Eventually, we found Melbourne was going to be the best option once we weighed all factors. More specifically, an area called St. Kilda. St. Kilda is only about 15 minutes outside of the Central Business District, close to the beach, and more importantly, has affordable housing options.

Most people who do a working holiday book about a week in a hostel or hotel when they arrive and use that week to locally scope out accommodation and jobs. About a week before we leave we intend to search online for some viable options for accommodation and make a list and upon arrival start calling those people and searching through local ads. We will do what others have done before us and spend about a week in a hostel or hotel while we search. During this time we will also be dropping résumés off at every place we see.

It sounds crazy I know, but I take comfort in knowing hundreds of thousands of people before me have done this and the advice I come across in various blogs is it's "not as hard as you think." So while it may sound risky and feels scary at times to just show up somewhere you've never been before and sort your life out, it's an adventure. And that's what this is all about.