Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gardens Galore

Like most amazing cities, Melbourne has its fair share of public parks (which commonly contain gardens within the parks) scattered throughout the city.  I've posted some photos below.  Eventually, I'll get around to posting photos of one of my most favorite gardens in the city (The Royal Botanical Garden), but this should tide you all over for now:


Okay, this isn't actually a park or a garden, but a boulevard near Carleton Gardens.  I'm so crazy for the Victorian terrace houses here!

Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens, Carlton

The Melbourne Museum is located in the north end of the park.

Rental bikes


Domain Parklands, located south of the Yarra River
The Domain Parklands include Alexandra Gardens, Queen Victoria Gardens, Kings Domain and The Royal Botanical Gardens.

King Edward VII monument

Plaque acknowledging Aboriginal skeletal remains on the land.  


Shrine of Remembrance Memorial to the ANZACs.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Reflections from the First Three Months

As of October 14th, I have been in Australia for three months.
Some thoughts...

1. I haven't been homesick yet.  Obviously, I miss my family, friends and all my old haunts and routines; but the physically ill feeling of being away (the one where you've got a giant lump in your throat and rocks in your stomach) hasn't struck me as it has in the past.  Perhaps it won't?  I feel pretty connected to home, actually, through Skype and Facebook in particular.
We are doing fairly well here, in terms of staying social, especially considering that I don't have a ton of class time within my program to meet people and Justin works from home.  I've made a few friends at school.  Also, I gotta give huge props to our dear friend Elizabeth for being the queen of organizing fabulous get-togethers.  We've met so many great people through her... it's nice to have new friends!

2. I've got the mechanics of this city's public transportation down, even without it being listed in Google maps. For someone like me that's directionally challenged, this is an accomplishment.  It is a good feeling when you can navigate... I'm working on the bike paths next.

3. It doesn't even feel like I'm living abroad in some ways.  This place has quickly become my home (again) and it just kinda feels like this is just how things are for my life.  I realize that I haven't articulated that very well.  I guess a different way to put it is that I am so focused on the present and making the most of my time here, that I am soaking it all in and not really thinking about not living in the United States.

4. Patterns in everyday nature and weather-type stuff are now completely normalized for me.  For example, I know that if it's raining, but there's a tiniest break in the clouds, it'll probably be sunny at some point, even if only for 10 minutes.  I know that the magpies tend to do most of their singing at sunrise and sunset, but the large crows will squawk all day long.  If the weather is sunny and 60 degrees F, it'll actually feel like 75 degrees F, since the sun is so powerful here.

5. It is so lovely to have a break from the intense social and political climate in the United States.  Before I left, things appeared to be so incredibly tense and angry.  It appears that things have not improved much, surmising through my daily exposure to American, British and Australian news outlets.  Socially, in Australia, as in most Westernized nations, it is expected that people look out and care for each other.  Historically, American culture has a very individualist outlook, which I believe has shaped our national social policies, sense of social contract and civic duty.  These statements are not meant to incite anger nor ignite further debate; I am simply stating what is noticeable to me, an American expat, living in a more socialized country.

6. It's fantastic to be able to go to the doctor and not have to worry about the bill.  I have no issue discussing numbers here.  If you cannot get private health care coverage through your employer here in Australia, universal health care coverage here is subsidized by the government.  What is this figure that we pay, as I am a foreign student?  In order to insure myself and however many dependents I have, the cost is $45 per month, per family and all necessary medical and preventative treatment is 100% covered.  I went to the doctor's for a consultation last week to obtain my medication.  The total cost of the exam (which again, I won't pay for) was $35.
I was informed, however, that my insurance company would not be covering my medication.  First reaction: Panic.  Second reaction: Remembering that health care here is less expensive and to calm down.  The cost of my medication without any insurance coverage in Australia is cheaper than the cost of my medication in the United States with insurance coverage, by more than half the price..  In Australia, the medication is $3.25 per month, whereas in the U.S., the medication is $7 per month.  It's good to live in a place with affordable health care and never have to stress about medical costs.
And like my thoughts for number 5, I'm not interested in having a dialogue on this blog about American health care reform.  I am simply stating the facts as to where the differences lie between two countries.

7. The flow of traffic has become schematic for me.  (Although, I am certain that having lived in Australia and the UK before, in addition to traveling around Britain and Africa multiple times, this idea of traffic on the left becomes more normalized for me each time.)  I was watching an American movie last week and there was a scene with driving.  I thought to myself, That looks wrong seeing the cars drive on the right side of the road!  I believe this is what they call assimilation, ha ha!

8. I'm now used to not tipping.  Before any servers/former servers out there have a heart attack, know that the minimum wage here is considered livable.  I think the minimum wage is officially $15.50 per hour, but most service occupations tend to pay around $20-$23 per hour.  Justin and I used to a) feel so weird about not tipping and b) think that dining out was so expensive, until we got used to the fact that the tax is already included in the price (so a $16 veggie burger is actually $16) and that you don't tip.  It all seems much more comparable now, even though in general, Australia is a more expensive place to dine out.

9. I still can't wrap my brain around the fact that it's autumn in the northern hemisphere.  I'm seeing all these lovely family pictures of Americans on Facebook, with kids playing in the leaves and everything and all I can think is It's finally starting to warm up and it appears to be light for most of the day!  My birthday is in three weeks and I keep forgetting (NOT because I'm getting older... ha ha!) but because for all my life, I've celebrated my birthday in the fall.  I most definitely cannot wait to see what Christmas in the middle of summer will be like!

10. My accent is not changing, but certain words that come out of my mouth are, without meaning to. Some words come out sounding funny, like they are a hybrid of American and Australian accents.  Some expressions seem natural after hearing them so much.  Most popular (other than no worries)? You're alright, reckon, ta, Good on you and How you going?  I know that when I return to the States, I'll probably end up sounding a little strange to some, using all this Aussie lingo.  I'll just view it as an opportunity to educate others.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Book Lists

So, when I travel/live abroad, I tend to read more.  While travelling, I read more because I'm on vacation.  While living abroad, I probably read more because I am typically poorer. (Remember when we had our own Oprah's Book Club while living in the UK, Justin?  The Rules: 1. Books had to have the Oprah logo on the cover. 2. Books either had to be free or less than one GBP from Oxfam.)

Anyway, in my travel journals, I always write down what books I read while away.  I really have no idea exactly why I do this, although I suspect it may have something to do with me liking to make lists.  I never think to do this at home.

Here's a list of books I've read while here, from July 2011 to the present date. The list is probably really more for me than anyone else, but I don't mind giving everyone a peek.  The list is only comprised of non-school literature.

1. Bad Haircut by Tom Perotta
2. Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler
3. High on Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips
4. Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
5. Mukiwa by Peter Godwin
6. Last Resort: A Memoir by Douglas Rogers
6. New Moon by Stephanie Meyer
7. Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
8. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I can't stay away from the sea

I love living near the ocean.  Love it! Love it! Love it!
From where I live, I can hop on the 112 tram and be to the city beach in St Kilda in 50 minutes.  If I want to go a little further out, I can grab the metro train and I have several choices of beaches outside of the city.  The city of Melbourne sits on Port Phillip Bay and the cool thing is that I can grab a train from the city going southwest, south or southeast to get to the beach, taking between 1 hour to 1 hour and a half. I think in the summer, I'll plan to transport my bike with me on the metro train and bike along the boardwalk.
This past weekend, we ended up hitting the beaches further south than the trains go.  We picked up our car share Yaris and headed out of town!

First Stop: Rosebud
Rosebud, like Melbourne, is on Port Phillip Bay.  We basically followed the coastline from Melbourne to get here.
Rosebud had this funny wooden sculptures of their famous citizens around town.

The fuzzy-looking cake to the left is called a Lamington.  It's a spongy white cake, covered in chocolate sauce and coconut sprinkles.

Beach bathing houses along the shore 

One of my favorite trees to encounter out in the bush

Soft sand by the ocean is the best.  I don't care how cold it is, whenever I am by the sea with such lovely sand, I have to take off my shoes.  After walking around for half an hour, it always feels like my feet just had a massage.

This Rhodesian Ridgeback was swimming all over the place, much to the delight of the child onlookers... and people like myself.

Second stop: Sorrento
Sorrento is located near the tip of the peninsula.  It's still on the Port Phillip Bay side.  You can take a ferry to Queenscliff on the other side of the bay if you want to.  Ten years ago, my roommate Veronica and I visited Sorrento once or twice.  I don't remember it having such a "commercialized" feel to it though.

Veronica and I had breakfast here a couple of times.  The name of the restaurant is called "Buckley's Chance."  This is an Australian expression.  If you've got Buckley's chance, it means you have little to no chance.

The Continental Hotel overlooks the bay.  An old, elegant hotel by the water of the same name, this place reminded me of the Continental Hotel in Tangiers (Morocco). 

This is fairly common sight: the drive-up bottle shop (liquor store).

Disturbingly, this sign appeared at every bar around town that had pokies (slot machines, not to confuse the word with the American term meaning "jails!").  Also, we went into one bar with a breathalyzer machine right by the exit. 

At the end of the first day, we ended up staying at a small motel in Rye.  We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant in town which was pretty decent.  They played Pearl Jam's Ten album during our dinner, which I really appreciated.  I think Justin probably did too.
On Sunday, we drove to Mornington Peninsula National Park, which is on the southern tip of the peninsula, facing the Bass Strait.  There is no admission fee for the park, which is pretty awesome.  We took a nearly five hour round-trip hike from the car park to Bushranger Bay.
We spent most of the time exploring along the shore, which is breathtakingly beautiful. MPNP is one of those places you visit and you feel so very lucky.  While we walked along, I couldn't stop thinking about how if this place was the last thing I ever saw in my life, I would be content.  I hope everyone reading this has seen (or will see) something in nature so amazing that it brings tears to their eyes.  It is such an incredible feeling that brings about so much joy and peace.

Jumping for joy at the thought of a long hike

Looking out towards Bushranger Bay

Looking out towards Cape Schanck
We'll do this hike next time.

The end of the hike!

At the end of the hike, we had dinner in Mornington, then headed back to Melbourne.  I can't wait until we head back to the peninsula again.  We are so blessed that it is close enough for a day trip.  The  great outdoors is amazing!