Sunday, August 31, 2014


For the last few years I have been mentioning to Erik that we should head to Townsville to visit a few of my "Contiki" friends. I know I've talked about them on the blog a few times before, but in case you are a new reader, I did a Contiki tour of Europe in 2004 and fortunately I have managed to keep in touch with a few friends from that trip. Two of those guys came to America for our wedding in 2007. One of those guys who made it to our wedding lives in Townsville, a small town in North Queensland. I have been threatening to visit him and another Contiki friend basically since we moved Down Under, and a few months ago there was an airfare sale that I could not pass up, so we decided to spend our first footy-free weekend (the season just ended) in Townsville.
May 2004. Amsterdam.
Marley, center wearing the black shirt, and Joe, in the striped shirt, are the guys we were visiting!
We flew up on Friday night after work and went straight to "The Strand", or the waterfront part of Townsville. We enjoyed dinner on the water at Longboard Bar and Grill before heading to "City Lane", a new laneway in the CBD with outdoor bars and restaurants. We also walked along the main street in Townsville where many young people were out for a big night!
A store in the Townsville CBD. To be "off your tree" means you are crazy.
In the morning we hit the road to Ayr, the town where my Contiki friends grew up and where one currently lives. That friend, Marley, owns a boat and enjoys fishing and crabbing. He and Joe, our other friend, had arranged for us to spend the day on the water catching mud crabs. Erik and I are accustomed to eating Maryland blue crabs, but we had never tasted mud crab and we had never actually been out on a boat trying to catch crabs. The weather could not have been better for our day on the water. Not only did Marley catch mud crabs for us, but he used a net to catch fresh prawns (shrimp) and set up a boiling pot on the beach so that we could eat the crabs and shrimp right there on the water. It was an amazing day!
Joe waiting to pick up the next crab pot
Erik getting in on the action
Marley baiting up a crab pot
Can't remember which cape this is! Note the white dots...those are our crab pots!
Measuring the mud crab to see if it is a keeper
Erik got pretty good at holding these guys!
This one looks big enough to keep. They have to be 15cm across and you can only keep males.
A female sand crab. These are protected, so she went back in the water.
This pelican came to visit while Marley was fishing for prawns.
Docked on the beach
Our view for the feed
After 20 minutes in a boiling pot, our crabs were ready to eat!
The best part, the "nippers"
Out of the water just as the sun was setting
That night we went to watch the local rugby game, as our friend Joe is an assistant coach for the team, the Burdekin Cane Toads. Yes, the mascot is a cane toad!

In the morning we headed down the road about 15 minutes to Alva Beach, where we would check in at Yongala Dive to spend the day scuba diving! Last January when I went diving on the Great Barrier Reef with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, our guide mentioned that her favorite dive site she had ever been to was the SS Yongala shipwreck. The ship sunk in 1911 on the way from Melbourne to Cairns, but the wreck was not discovered until 1958. It has become one of the most popular shipwreck dive sites in the world, and it is known for an abundance of fish and sharks. We did not get a glimpse of any sharks on the day, but we saw TONS of fish, small and large, along with turtles, sea snakes, an eel, and two different types of rays. There are some really BIG fish at the site, grouper and maori wrasse, and also huge schools of barracuda. We saw typical fish similar to those we had seen at other dive sites, but the fish were much larger! We used our GoPro, but we don't have the special case for underwater shooting so unfortunately the footage is not great. The visions are still fresh in my memory, however, and for me the dive quickly became my favorite site of the 10 or so dives I have completed. I highly recommend diving the site with Yongala Dive. Normally you need advanced diver certification to dive below 18 meters, but at this site you can pay a little extra money for "deep dive training" (which only includes a skill or two once you enter the water on the first of two dives), which allows you to dive to 30 meters. Here is a YouTube video that helps give you an idea of what we saw down there!

One we hit the surface, we saw humpback whales playing near the boat. According to our skipper, it was a mom and a calf, probably 2-3 days old. We also saw another whale on the way back to shore, as it is migratory and calving season for the whales. Those sightings just topped off an awesome day of diving!
The tides are crazy, so we ended up having to make a few trips back to the boat to carry things to shore.
That night we set out to find a cane fire. Sugar cane farming is the livelihood of many people in North Queensland, and that night you could see piles of smoke coming from various cane farms. Joe got us pretty close to a fire so that we could see, hear, and smell the cane burning. Apparently there are lots of snakes and wild pigs amongst the cane fields, so the fire gets rid of those pests. After the burn off, the next step is harvesting, and we drove by the plant in Ayr where cane is harvested after it is burned.
One of several cane fires we saw that evening
After another amazing meal from the sea (Marley fed us delicious grilled fish that he had caught earlier in the week), we headed back to Townsville for the night to rest up for our Monday adventure, Magnetic Island.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

3 Years in Oz

On Friday, August 15th, we celebrated our 3 year anniversary of living in Australia. We reminisced about arriving at the airport and walking outside to colder and cloudier weather than we expected. We also thought back to our taxi ride to the house where we would live for our first month in Melbourne, where the driver actually got lost and could not find the house. Sometimes that day seems much longer than 3 years ago, given how settled we have become in this country. It also seems like ages ago that I wrote about our 2 year anniversary of living Down Under, where I revealed how we ended up in Melbourne in the first place.

I read a blog post last week from another American expat who listed some things that she thought of when she arrived in Australia, and it inspired me to come up with my own list. Here some things I thought to myself (or out loud!) during our first few months of living abroad:

1. That is NOT bacon, it's ham!
We have since discovered "streaky bacon", which is more like American bacon.
2. A hotel doesn't actually have rooms?
You will only find a bar/restaurant inside this "hotel"!
3. How can it possibly be so cold in the house?
4. An entree is just an appetizer...and it costs how much?!
"Mains" (or "entrees" in America) would be listed next on the menu
5. There is a Target! (Followed by disappointment that Target is NOT nearly the same as the US Target)
6. What is a milk bar?
A milk bar
7. What is the difference between a pot, a schooner, and a pint?
Note that a "pitcher" is called a jug!
8. Why is there barbeque sauce on my pizza?
9. An eraser is called a "rubber"?!
10. The mall closes at 5:30pm?
These are typical shopping centre hours. A lot of times they open at 9am or later and some are open till 9pm on Friday in addition to being open late on Thursday.
11. The grocery store closes at 8pm?
12. What is rocket and why it is on my sandwich?
Commonly known as arugula in America
13. I have to walk into the gas station (servo) to pay for my "petrol"?!
14. Tea = dinner. Tea = a mid morning break for snacks. Which one is it?
15. I can't just order a "coffee"?
It was so, so confusing in the beginning. Now I have learned to embrace the coffee choices!
16. What is beetroot and why is it on everything?
17. What is a serviette?
18. Why is there a lemon in that Corona?
19. Which button do I push on the toilet to make it flush?
A fabulous idea that more Americans should adopt!
20. Sultanas are raisins, rockmelon is cantaloupe, capsicum are peppers, coriander is cilantro, biscuits are cookies, scones are biscuits, lollies are candies, crisps are potato chips, and chips are french fries?!
21. Pies have meat in them, and they are not eaten for dessert?
It actually tastes better than it looks!
22. What is a sausage roll?
23. A baby (bub) sleeps in a cot, rides in a pram, and wears nappies while sucking on a dummy?!
24. I have to put money in the cart (trolley) at the grocery store in order to use it?
Better make sure you have a $1 or $2 coin for grocery shopping.
25. Why does my beer cost $10?
Note the diagram above that shows the size of the $10 beer, which is equal to about 12 oz. On a more positive note, there is no paying tax or tip on top of this price.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Birds in Buildings

My Australian friends seem surprised when I explain that it is unusual for birds to be found inside buildings in America. Unless my memory is a complete failure, I'm pretty sure it is not common to see birds inside places such as schools, shopping malls, and grocery stores in the US. We are not talking about "open air" buildings either...these are structures that are not exposed to the outdoors with the exception of doors and windows that generally remain closed.

Birds frequently visit the school building where I work. I suspect that birds get into the building when doors and/or windows are opened, and from there they decide to stay. I have thought perhaps that this has something to do with the fact that a lot of buildings in Australia do not have screens on the windows.
This bird made it into an office that is inside of another office!
A bird on the indoor running track, which is right next to the school cafe area, called the "canteen".
In our local mall ("shopping centre" in Australian English), there are heaps of birds. There is a tree inside the mall that I am sure is home to more than one bird.
Inside our local shopping centre. Lots of bird noises come from that tree.
These two birds were just walking in and out of the shopping centre using the automated doors!
I often seen birds in the grocery store (which is inside the shopping centre), flying above the aisles. I have been trying for weeks to take a picture as proof, but the birds fly away quickly! Today there was a bird on the ground in the nut, seed, and dried fruit aisle, but just as I got my phone out to take a picture, he walked under the shelves. The amazing thing is that no one seems fazed by the birds in the grocery store!
The bird was right in the middle of the aisle, I swear!
When we lived in America, Erik and I once had a bird make a nest in our clothes dryer vent, but that was as close as we came to having an encounter with birds inside buildings. American friends, surely I am not forgetting birds in buildings? Please correct me if I am wrong!

Sunday, August 3, 2014


Seeing the sunrise means the LONG flight is soon coming to an end!
Last month I was fortunate to be able to take a trip back to our homeland! I had a work-related conference, so school paid for some of my trip, which made the journey more economical. I spent 4 days in Indianapolis before heading to Maryland to hang out with my family and a few friends. I got to spend the last 24 hours of my trip with another friend in LA. Over the course of my 2 week holiday, I tried to take advantage of my favorite things about "home". Here's a list of things that Australia just cannot provide.

1. Chipotle. Always at the top of my list! Australia has tried to mimic Chipotle with a chain called Guzman y Gomez, but it is not the same. Along with Chipotle, I indulged in Mexican food a few times. We have tried numerous Mexican restaurants in Oz, but none compare to good Mexican restaurants in the States.
A burrito bowl. Chicken, rice, black beans, corn, salsa, sour cream, cheese, lettuce. YUM!
A less expensive (and more delicious!) margarita
Fish tacos at a Mexican restaurant in Redondo Beach
2. Wegmans. An amazing grocery shopping experience. Of course Australia has fresh food markets that can definitely compete with Wegmans, but it's nice to have fresh produce and groceries all in the same store. Plus the checkout people are so friendly, and they provided me with coupons!

3. Maryland crabs. A summer tradition. Washed down with Yuengling, of course!

4. Ocean City, Maryland. Another summer tradition. My "summer home" for 3 years during college.
Beach access on 39th street, where my parents own a condo.
Not a bad spot for a quick workout.
The Ocean City boardwalk, a great place for people watching!

There was a tropical storm off the coast while I was there, attracting lots of surfers.
5. Jimmy John's. Love the "unwich", what a great idea!

6. Embassy Suites. A hotel chain with huge rooms, full cooked to order breakfast, and free happy hour?! Why would you stay anywhere else?

7. Five Guys. A great burger!

8. Seacrets. I don't think there is a bar like this in the world. Chairs and rafts in the water and sneakily potent drinks. This is a recipe for disaster but also makes for amazing people watching!
THE drink to have at Seacrets. A "pain in de ass". It WILL sneak up on you!
Tables and chairs in the bay is a great way to spend the day!
9. Cheap booze. A margarita in Melbourne will usually set you back about $16. Free margaritas at the hotel happy hour taste just as good, if not better. A delicious margarita at a Mexican restaurant might cost about $6 in America.

Homeless people with a sense of humor in Indianapolis
10. My dad's French toast. I've never tasted better!
No matter how hard we try, Erik and I cannot replicate "Steve's French toast".
While it was awesome to be reunited with these places and "things", the best part about being back in the States was spending time with family and friends.
Mom! This was taken at Kountry Kafe in Westminster. They have the BEST tuna melt!
Tandi and I on the Hermosa Beach pier.
My adorable nephew, Bryce! He has already mastered the "selfie"!

Mo and I at Seacrets
My flight back to Melbourne ended up getting delayed by a few hours, so once I checked my bags, I spent some time outside the terminal breathing in my last moments of warm summer air. Once in the airport, there is no fresh air access for about 20 hours on this trip, so I stayed outside as long as I could! It is always a bit emotional going into the terminal knowing that I am about to leave American soil and fly to the other side of the world, but this time I was excited to head back to Oz to see Erik, who was back in Melbourne working. We are lucky to live in an era where air travel is relatively affordable, and each time Erik and I travel, whether back to our "home" or to another part of the world, we feel fortunate that we have those opportunities. Until next time, America!

The flying 'roo! 
The Tom Bradley International terminal at LAX has just undergone an upgrade, so I enjoyed checking out the new surroundings once I finally went inside the terminal.
A 16 hour flight is always made more comfortable by a good meal and a hefty glass of wine. I love that Qantas gives out the whole bottle rather than just pouring a glass. This beef curry was one of the best airline dishes I've ever had, though I realize it does not look that appetizing in the photo!
Back over Australia on a clear winter day. Almost back "home".