Monday, October 26, 2015

Back in the US

I kept meaning to write a new post but I kept putting it off because we're still just trying to adjust back to this time zone and decompressing a bit. We were exhausted when we arrived so overall we've been sleeping relatively normally since we arrived that night, but I'm still struggling to get to bed before 2 a.m.

Luckily everything (I think, as far as I'm aware) survived the journey, including my breakable koala, Colin. He traveled wrapped in a sweatshirt and surrounded by soft items so I was hoping he'd be ok and he was! He was the first thing I checked when we opened the suitcases when we arrived. We've done better than when we went over last October because two mugs broke and a packet of bread pudding was cut open and was all over the box of kitchen stuff. So I'm pleased with how we've done this time.

It's certainly weird being back in the US where things are quite so cheap (cheap beer again!) and strangely, it's weird seeing squirrels again. I never thought about it much, but they don't have them in Australia so seeing them again has been weird!

Since we've been back we've done some errands, been to the Air and Space Museum downtown to see this Living in the Age of Airplanes movie we've been waiting for for months, had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory (Michael was counting down the days) and I had dinner and saw a movie with my friend who I haven't seen in a year and a half so that was fun.

On Wednesday we leave for Dallas and Cancun, so I'm really looking forward to that. In Dallas we're going to see my roommate from Brussels and we're going to a rodeo that Michael found so that's going to be fun. I haven't been to a rodeo in I don't even know how long so it will certainly be interesting! Everything is booked for the trip and we come back the following Thursday, and I feel like this has come around so quickly. It feels like we were just looking at these flights yesterday (it was really months ago!) but just in general it feels really weird to not be in Australia/Melbourne anymore.

I'm sure more things will become more normal, but I believe it'll still take a bit more time.

Now I just need to go drink some more coffee because I've hit my late afternoon jetlag wall.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

At the Airport

We moved out today and it was incredibly sad. It was a very busy day and we were hoping to get out by about 3, but we ended up leaving about 5. The rest of the items were picked up early this afternoon and then we spent hours cleaning and just getting rid of everything. We donated a lot of stuff to the op shop (including a lot of things I actually bought off of them before!) and gave the rest of our food to the meal program for Sacred Heart (the same organization as the op shop) so they did very well out of us today and the past couple of days.

Packing, as usual, was stressful as we tried to fit in everything we could into the suitcases and still be under the weight limit. Eventually we finished though and returned out keys to the rental company and made our way to the airport where we're staying tonight. We went to a lookout by the airport where we know there are tons of kangaroos and saw a bunch as a last Australian send off.

I'm glad we've rented a car for this trip because it was much nicer to have complete control over stuff. We ended up getting a small SUV and as it was everything barely fit!

Last night we had dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant and then walked home along the beach. It was a hot day and a warm evening so we went and waded in the water for a bit, but then it started to rain so we headed home.



Unfortunately while moving out today it rained a lot, but overall we didn't get too wet and our luggage is fine so I can't complain too much.

This will be my last post from Australia, but I'll be sure to keep writing so don't stop reading!

This has been an amazing year and we've done so much stuff and seen so many awesome things. Although it's so so hard to leave, I wouldn't trade this experience for anything and who knows, maybe one day we'll be back.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Preparing to Leave

Over the past couple of days we've been doing as much packing and selling we can and I think we've done pretty good overall. Pretty much everything is packed except for the clothes we've been wearing and the few last minute things we still are using and we've sold pretty much everything except the sofa and washing machine. A lot of things were picked up today and the essential things we have agreements to be picked up either Tuesday evening or early Wednesday (we're staying at the airport that night). Although we haven't got amazing prices on some stuff, overall we've done really well and have actually managed to sell a few items for more than we paid for them!

We've also been trying to get in stuff we want to do (or again) before we leave. Luna Park, the amusement park down the road from us, has a "roller coaster" called the Great Scenic Railway and Luna Park is just on the water and you (presumably) get really great views of the city as well, and we've been wanting to do it so we went last night only to discover it wasn't running. Then tried again this morning and it still wasn't running... It's not looking like we'll be able to but perhaps we'll try again tomorrow. I do hope we can because I think it would be really nice.

Luna Park's entrance, scary I know

After our failed Luna Park attempt last night we walked along St. Kilda Pier and had lovely views of the city and went to see the penguins again. We've been a few times but this time we totally lucked out and saw more than we ever have at once. I didn't get many great photos because they only come back from the ocean after dark and there aren't many lights in that area (because the penguins live there) but I did get a few crappy photos of the city and penguins.


A penguin hiding under the rock

This one was walking along the sand

Some of the penguins were babies and were very furry and adorable. We even saw one walking along the boardwalk, which we hadn't seen before. It was a very successful night, even though we didn't get to do the Scenic Railway.

Today was my last day at the op shop volunteering and it was so sad. I'm still going to pop in a couple of times before we go, but it was hard to leave knowing that was the last time I'd ever work there since I've had such a great time with them all since I started at the beginning of December. Of course things had to be eventful for my departure, with a crazy lady shouting at me when I insinuated she may have stolen something (which she did) and some other drama. It was all fun though and I even came away with a few pieces of jewelry, for the last time. Michelle, the manager, refused to let me pay for them, no matter how hard I tried to persuade her, saying they were my going away present. I'm very happy with my two bracelets and necklace!



It's been a sad few days but we're going to try to make the most of the time we have left. Tomorrow night I'm having dinner with my friend Emma and then Tuesday night we're going to our favorite Indian restaurant for dinner and then move out on Wednesday. I'm not sure what our exact plans are for the next few days but I'll be sure to let you all know what we end up doing in our last days.

To end this post, here's a picture of a gorgeous sunset I took last night out of our living room window. I will definitely miss this apartment, that's for sure. Not because it makes sunsets (obviously), but because it's super nice and these floor-to-ceiling windows are awesome.


Friday, October 16, 2015

Last Things

We're trying to fit everything we can into our last week so yesterday we went to go see the Martian (which was great), had some drinks on Southbank (our favorite area of the city), had dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant and then sat by the river for a bit. It was a nice night but definitely sad.

Today, Saturday and Sunday I'm in the op shop and it's really sad to have to say goodbye to everyone. They're all so wonderful and it's been a great place that's made my time here so much better. I feel like the time has flown by and I don't even know where it's gone! 

We've at least made some headway on selling our furniture and so far just the sofa and washing machine (as far as big items go) need to be sold. I'm hoping we'll be able to sell them soon though, because we need to get rid of them. Overall though we're doing alright because we've sold a few things for more than we ever paid for them, so a slight profit! 

Our new suitcases arrived the other day and were very pleased with them! They're Qantas (the Australian airline) branded so in a way they're a souvenir. They're not the largest or cheapest, but they're super lightweight and nice looking. We got 3: one carry on size, a medium size and a large one.

The carry on one

We're pretty much all packed except for the clothes we've been wearing the past week and some random things and toiletries. 

I still can't believe how quickly the time has gone and it's hard to accept we're moving out next Wednesday and leaving next Thursday. I'll be sure to post a few more times before we go! 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Starting to Pack

Excuse me while I take a moment to cry to myself about how we're leaving in a little over a week. I can't believe it's been almost a year since we moved here and I'm so sad to be leaving Melbourne, Australia, and the wonderful friends I've made here, but alas our time has come. Recently a few friends asked me if they thought coming was worth it since leaving is so hard, but my answer is always the same. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything because I've met some wonderful people, grown to learn and love a new city and country and I've traveled to more places, done and seen more than I could have even imagined. It's been so amazing so it's hard to process that we're leaving so soon, but I'm trying.

We just need to tackle packing and selling our furniture and stuff now. We've begun listing some items for sale and have had some interest, but nothing super concrete yet. Today we did a mock pack of everything. As I mentioned before, we're buying new suitcases (we ordered them yesterday) so we will have 3 big suitcases, one medium one and 2 carry ons. We have two of the big ones (that we brought over) and one medium that we're replacing, but for the purposes of our mock pack we used it since it's the same size as its replacement. Then the new big one will be the same size as one we already have so once we packed it, we removed everything and re-packed it with what was left just to see how we were doing on space.

Packing

As it turns out we're actually doing quite well on space and weight. We pretty much packed everything we could possibly think of wanting, barring a few things drying after a wash and some toiletries. So I think we're actually in pretty good shape and it's a relief to not necessarily have to worry about whether it will all fit now. We even packed strategically so that one whole suitcase containing 2 giant vacuum bags doesn't need to be opened opened again and then we numbered the rest of the vacuum bags and wrote down what things we took out of what bag for the interim until we leave so we can replicate the whole thing again. Possibly overkill, but I'd rather do that and have no drama before we leave.

We did cull a ton of clothes though, which was good because we got rid of them because we never wear them, and it gave us a bit more space and room in the suitcases. It was two whole trash bags full of clothes, which I then took and donated to the op shop!

On the tram on the way to the op shop with the clothes

We even have some space to take a few decoration-like things and we made sure we could find a space for Colin (my Christmas koala I bought when we moved here). We've found a nice safe space for him among soft items and wrapped in a sweatshirt. He also fits Moomin inside so it's not just empty space. Thanks Colin.

Colin providing a space for Moomin

This next week I'm at the op shop on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and possibly Tuesday where afterward the amazing managers want to take me out to dinner. Then the rest of the week we want to fit in some of our favorite restaurants and bars and places to see one last time.

We go to the airport on Wednesday and are staying at a hotel there and then will fly out on Thursday the 22nd. I still can't believe it. I'll be sure to post as much as I can before we leave, but this blog won't end then because I'm sure I'll still have stuff to say! Plus we've got some exciting trips coming up when we're in the US like Cancun so I'll need it for then!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

New Zealand

We're back from New Zealand and I'm realizing now just how many photos and things I have to share. I'll do my best to not swamp you with words and photos and to keep things relatively short by going over mainly the highlights. We flew out of Melbourne on an awful redeye that arrived at 6 a.m. into Christchurch. The flight was only 3 hours so by the time we arrived we were so tired we ended up falling back asleep at the hotel until about 11. Once we finally started the day we wandered about Christchurch a bit and realized just how much destruction was caused by the earthquake almost 5 years. It's not just the church but everything. Buildings are just totally vacant, some areas of the city just rubble and there's the constant sound of construction everywhere you go.



Some stairs in the middle of rubble

However, the city is beautiful and we had perfect weather. We spend most of our second day just walking around the botanic gardens and parks and then went to the Air Force Museum.

A watermill and a magnolia tree

Called the big green chair-- it's huge and quite cool

Some sculpture thing meant to be wheat

The river and a bridge

Sitting by the river in the Botanic Gardens

The Air Force Museum was a lot of fun and we got to sit in the cockpit of a plane, which both Michael and I enjoyed. Christchurch also had all of these construction work sheep. Instead of cones they used these sheep and I totally loved them.


The day after we were taking the train from Christchurch to Picton, which is just on the tip of the South Island, and then were taking the ferry across the channel to Wellington, on the North Island. The train was such a great idea because we had absolutely gorgeous views of lakes, rivers, the ocean, rolling hills and incredibly impressive snow covered mountains. The best part about the train was that it had a viewing carriage, so a carriage at the back didn't have any windows so you could get some great photos and views.



The ocean 

The Kaikoura Ranges and the town of Kaikoura

Kaikoura Ranges again



Once we arrived in Picton we had an incredibly easy transfer to the ferry and set off for Wellington. The ferry also had spectacular views and we sat at the back of the ship with a wall of windows and had some beers the few hours across the channel.

Picton nestled in the mountains




Then as we got closer to Wellington we had some pretty great views of it from the water.

Arriving into Wellington

When we arrived into Wellington it was cold and grey and insanely windy. It took a while before we could get off the ferry because the wind was so strong they couldn't get it close enough to dock. This was the only less than perfect weather we had the whole trip though, so who can complain.

Wellington was really great and we both wish we'd booked more time there than we did. The city is really cool and has a great vibe to it and we had some delicious food. Since we arrived into Wellington quite late we didn't do much except go out to dinner, but the next day we took a tour of Parliament (the beehive) and that was really cool. We weren't allowed to take anything with us (no photos at all) so I can't show you any, but the tour was interested, lasted an hour and we learned a fair bit.

The Beehive

After that we wanted to do the cable car, but when we got there the line was so insanely long we thought there was no point. The cable car takes you up to the botanic gardens where there's a cable car museum and fantastic views. Instead we decided to walk up. Oh man, those hills. I felt like I was in San Francisco, the hills were brutal. It wasn't far, just steep, so we were pretty glad to have finally arrived.

This doesn't totally emphasize just how steep they were, but you get the idea

It was totally worth it though because the views were spectacular and the line for the cable car was almost non-existent at that end so we got to take it down.



Before taking the cable car back down we did walk around the gardens and it was beautiful, although hilly, and they had a whole section dedicated to just tulips (my favorite flower) in literally any color you could imagine. White, red, yellow, orange, purple, frilly, it was crazy but really nice.





After Wellington we rented a car and made our way up to Auckland via Taupo and Rotorua. Taupo is a very volcanic region of New Zealand and one of those volcanos, Mount Ngauruhoe, was Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings, so I was pretty excited to see it in person. We spent a day driving a route around the bottom of the volcanos (Mount Ngauruhoe and it's mother volcano Mount Tongariro).

Mount Tongariro

Mount Tongariro, there's a lot of skiing there

Mount Tongariro

Lake Taupo with the two volcanos in the background, the smaller one
being mount Doom/Mount Ngauruhoe

Nearby Mount Tongariro was also the waterfall that was used in Lord of the Rings when Gollum goes fishing and goes back and forth between evil and good. I really like LOTR so seeing these things was pretty exciting!


The drive from Taupo to Rotorua was a really nice one and we stopped off and saw Huka Falls, which is some pretty impressive rapids that fall off an edge into a river.



Once you leave Taupo and get closer to Rotorua there are lots of hot springs and geothermal pools, rather than volcanic activity. We walked through a park and saw tons of hot springs, went to see some incredible falls called Okere Falls, and some caves, and then we went to this place called Orakei Korako, which is an island of hot springs and geysers and fun stuff like that. It also has a cave and the whole place is insanely impressive.

Steam coming off of a lake

Lake Rotorua

Okere Falls

Steps leading down to a cave in Okere Falls

A pool of water at Okere Falls

Also at Okere Falls

Orakei Korako, all caused by the hot springs

Mud pools in Orakei Korako

I think this one was called the cauldron in Orakei Korako

View of the water and mainland at Orakei Korako

We read online somewhere, nothing official, that you could see a few glow worms at Okere Falls at night so we decided to take our chances and went back after dark and were so pleased to discover all of the glow worms practically illuminating the trails. It was super cool to see and because there were no lights for miles the stars were incredible and we were able to see the Milky Way and the southern cross (which can only be seen in the southern hemisphere). I know the following photos of the glow worms are hard to make out, but they're there!



The day we left Rotorua we went somewhere called Hamurana Springs, which has some of the clearest water I have ever seen (with some really cool blue bits). It also has a redwood forest and I've always wanted to see redwoods so I was really excited to finally be able to. They really are huge trees, that's for sure.

Me and a redwood

See how incredibly clear the water is? 

More clear water

Some redwoods

More redwoods

After Rotorua we drove up to Auckland where we stayed one more night before heading home. I'll be honest, we didn't do a whole lot in Auckland except wander around a bit and go see the black sand beaches, but it was still fun. I have to say the black sand was really impressive, although it only looks its blackest when its wet.

Auckland city

The Sky Tower (which apparently you can bungee jump
off of

Aotea Square

Black sand beaches

Black sand beaches

I think this post is long enough now, I apologize for how long it is and don't blame you if you didn't make it all the way to the end here, but the trip was a ton of fun and I'm so glad we finally got to go. Although we're nearing our time to leave, we've had so many great trips and this is definitely one of them. Thanks New Zealand!