Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Learning the Tram System

Since the past few days were a bit cold and lazy, we decided to take advantage of the amazing weather we got yesterday. We woke up around 9 and were determined to learn the tram system around here. Coming from Texas, there's not much in the form of public transportation, so the large scale of it here is a bit daunting. We purchased our Myki passes (access cards that get you onto the trams) and went into the situation with an open mind. The max you are charged per day is $7 AUD, so it's by far the most affordable way to get around. We told ourselves it was okay if we got lost and it would be a good way to explore different areas if that happened. A local suggested we download the PTV (Public Transport Victoria) App on our phones and I'm so thankful that we did - it was a game changer. You can easily put in your current location and where you're looking to go and it will tell you which tram stop to get to and which line to hop on.

Our first destination was Hosier Lane in the CBD. We had heard a bit about this street and all of the colorful graffiti surrounding it. There is quite a bit of graffiti around town, but I think it's more appreciated here as art vs. back home where we view it as trashy. We put our details into the PTV App and easily made our way into town from St. Kilda. It was around a 15-20 minute tram ride and we felt like pros after reaching our destination with no hiccups.

Here's a few shots from Hosier Lane:

After that, we walked around the CBD some more and discovered all of the little alleyways with shops and cafes.

Thanks for the reassurance!

We then decided that since we were basically tram pros, we should try and get out to our neighborhood where we will be living come the end of November. The area is called Glen Iris and it's about 5 miles southeast of the CBD. This trip took us 30 minutes and we quickly found our new apartment! We walked around the quaint area and saw a few shops and cafes where we could potentially work. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the minimum wage here is $17.29 AUD (~$12.50 USD). That calmed my mind a bit regarding some of the higher prices we've seen.

The street right outside our apartment. 

A lot of people kept mentioning Chapel Street to us, so we figured that since it was on the way back to St. Kilda, we might as well use our new tram skills and check it out. This street has a ton of clothing stores, restaurants, and bars. It reminded us a bit of South Lamar in Austin, but way more compact and closer together. There is definitely some potential for places of employment for us down the road on Chapel Street.

We got back into St. Kilda around 3pm, did some laundry and watched our new Netflix binge, Nashville, before heading out to meet up with a running group we found online. We walked across the street to the beach, found our group, and set off on a 3.5 mile run along the coast. It was amazing! Easily one of my favorite running paths I've ever been on. We are hoping to join a few more groups like that in order to meet new people and make friends (we jokingly asked a girl on the tram to be our friend)!

View of Melbourne CBD from St. Kilda beach running path

Since the weather is 77 and sunny today, we are going to have our first beach day with a picnic in the sand. Summer doesn't technically start until December 1, but we plan to take in as much beach-time while we can. We invited Brian and Sam, our friends from the hostel, over for dinner tonight. I'm thinking a good Texas chili may be in store!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Our First Day at the Beach

Wednesday morning we woke up with one thing on our mind: the beach! 

We've been here almost a week and still hadn't hit up the beach. The weather is partially to blame for that, but the other reason includes us having to be productive by getting a few things set up (bank account, cell phone, random errands). 

We woke up to a beautiful day, walked to the grocery store, bought some picnic snacks and wine, and were ready to get our tan on. 

I was surprised by how many people were out on the beach at noon on a Wednesday, but they were probably thinking the same thing about us. 

I love everything here so far except for one small thing. A really small thing. 


We met a lady in our running group and I asked what was up with all the flies? She said they come out around summertime with the northern winds and everywhere you look people are shooing them away...a term known locally as the "Melbourne Wave." They're not bad at night, if it's windy, or you're running, but they sure know how to fly right at your face. They're also a lot smaller than your typical house fly. 

Anyhow, we weren't about to let a few small flies hold us back. We fully partook in getting our Aussie glow on and enjoyed every minute of it. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Exploring the Melbourne Suburbs

Well, we've almost been out of the States a week now and are getting a pretty good idea of life here and the layout of the city. I left off on Friday evening, where we met up with Korie's friend for drinks. Our walking tour guide suggested a neighborhood a bit north of the city called Fitzroy, so we got ready and walked about 15 minutes there (there is a bunch of public transportation, but we still haven't been brave enough to try and figure it out...I'm sure it's easier than it seems. Getting familiar with it is on our list to do this week). Since we had a few appetizers earlier in the evening, we weren't too hungry for dinner but felt like a snack was needed. We stumbled across a restaurant called Smith & Daughters. After quickly browsing the menu, we learned we were in a Spanish-style vegan restaurant. Not initially what we planned, but we ordered some mushrooms and were pleasantly surprised. The tour guide suggested a bar called Naked for Satan, which is supposed to have some of the best views of the Melbourne skyline. It was definitely an interesting crowd to say the least. Picture the biggest hipster you've seen in Austin and multiply that by a lot. I definitely stood out in my cowboy boots! We went upstairs to check out the skyline and quickly decided that it wasn't really our scene. We then took a cab back to the CBD and checked out a bar called E55. That was an interesting crowd as well. Completely opposite and mainly college-aged kids. At the end of it all, we just decided to call it a night and ended up talking to our new hostel roommate from Dublin before going to bed. 

The next morning, we walked a block over to the Queen Victoria Market. It's a huge farmers market with tons of fresh produce at really great prices. I guess what we spend in alcohol, we can make up for in buying cheap fruit and veggies. Once we grabbed breakfast, we called an Uber to take us down to St. Kilda for the next 10 days. The Melbourne Cup starts this week (similar to our Kentucky Derby...but a bigger deal) so prices at the hostel went up to about $50/person a night. We figured, if we are going to pay that much, we might as well find a room on AirBnB so we can have a private space with our own bathroom. We are now in St. Kilda (about 5 miles south of the CBD), right on the beach, and paying less than the hostel. 

Luna Park

After our less than spectacular experiences with the bar options the night before, we set out on Acland Street near our apartment, in hopes that it would be more our crowd. Thankfully, we were right and pleasantly surprised! We fit in much better and it felt more like a Cali/beachy vibe. While the drinks were still somewhat expensive, it was a tad more affordable ($16 for a glass of wine and a Fireball shot...great combo) and we decided that since it was a more enjoyable crowd, to let lose and have a great Saturday night. We did and it ended up with some late night McDonalds (and no, they do not have a dollar menu). 

Even though the weather was amazing, Sunday was a very lazy day. I think the mix of jet lag finally catching up with us, not sleeping well in the hostel, and drinking quite a bit the night before were the culprit in us sleeping until 2pm. We eventually got up and went for a run on the beach with an early sushi dinner. We opted for a Netflix and chill night and were asleep by 10pm. 

A nice restaurant on the beach

Sunset after sushi

That brings us to today! We woke up around 9 to a cool 55 degrees, Facetimed with some family and friends, grabbed some groceries and went on a 5 mile run around the area. It's a very weird feeling not having a job and not technically being on vacation. I'm used to taking one to two week trips and trying to squeeze in as much as possible in that time period. But adjusting to the idea of living here is a whole other mindset that will take some getting used to. We will be in St. Kilda until Nov. 3rd...then it's off to New Zealand and Fiji! 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Our First Few Days in Australia

We made it! We are alive and well and loving Melbourne so far. Since we've had quite a few people asking, I figured we should check in and share our experience over the past few days. 

Before we flew over to Melbourne, we spent a day and night in LA. We rented a cute bedroom off AirBnB and went out to dinner in West Hollywood. The next morning, we took a cycling class and then Korie's boyfriend gave us a little tour of LA until it was time to head to the airport. Our flight didn't leave until 10:30pm, so we got there with plenty of time. 

Initially, we were dreading the 16 hour flight from LA to Melbourne. However, it actually wasn't as bad as we thought. Since it was nighttime, it was easy for us to fall asleep right away on the plane. Next thing we knew, 8 hours had already passed. We spent the rest of the flight watching inflight movies & TV shows. I believe the pilot actually took off an hour or two, because I was surprised to find that we landed almost an hour earlier than scheduled. 

Our first Aussie sunrise

We arrived at the airport around 8am on Thursday, easily went through customs and quickly found our driver to take us to our hostel. Since it was too early to check in, we dropped off our luggage, freshened up, grabbed coffee and set out to walk around the CBD (central business district...what we would call "downtown"). We came across a river tour and decided to hop on that to get a lay of the land and learn a bit about the area. It was about an hour long and very informative. 

After the river tour, we walked around the Southbank and docks area where we sat down to enjoy some much needed lunch. A lot of the prices around the area seemed high, but considering the location and the fact that they don't add tax or tip, it's really not that much different than a nice lunch back home. Plus, it seems like many places add a beer or glass of wine with a meal for their lunch specials. We both ordered a lunch dish (which were very big portions) with a glass of wine and paid $20 AUD each (approx. $15 USD). Not bad after doing the math and comparisons, but at first glance, it can seem a bit daunting. 

Lunch view on the Southbank

Once lunch was finished, it was close to 2pm and we were able to check into our hostel. We walked into our 6-bed dorm room and were greeted by the sound of sweet sweet country music! Our roommate, Brian, was from Seattle and we immediately hit it off. Soon after our introductions, his friend Sam from Manchester, England came by. They played some card games while Korie and I took an amazing 3 hour nap.

Once we woke up and showered, Rob from Germany joined in and we all played a few drinking games in our room before heading out. While most meals are similar in price to the U.S., the one thing that is NOT is their alcohol! They charge about $10-12 AUD for one beer, $12-18 AUD for a mixed drink and around $7-9 AUD for a glass of wine. Obviously, we've already decided that wine will 100% be our drink of choice. Brian introduced us to what they like to call "Goon" (think Franzia/boxed wine). It's really cheap and tastes like it, but it's better than paying those high prices when going out. After a few games, we walked 2 blocks to a local bar. Since it was Thursday, it wasn't too busy, so we grabbed a table and had great conversation. We were in bed by 1:30 and woke up around 9:30 the next morning, so all in all jet lag hasn't been too terrible.

Friday morning, we woke up to have an orientation with the Australian Backpackers Agency we hired to help us set up our bank accounts, tax numbers, cell phones, etc. It was very helpful and left us feeling much less stressed about all of it (I highly suggest getting an organization like them to help if you ever find yourself in a similar situation). After we finished being productive, Korie came across a free walking tour. The guide was great and really filled us in on some basic Australian history. Around 4pm, we met up with an Australian lady that Korie had on one of her tours in the U.S. this past summer. Her daughter joined us and we grilled them for more information about the city over wine and appetizers. 

Since I don't want this post to go on for too long, I'll end here and continue with Friday night and where we are now next time. It's a little more exciting, I promise! 

FYI - everyone loves my cowboy boots! 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What I'm Taking to Australia

It's almost here! In 4 short days, I will be leaving the good ol' U.S of A. and starting off on our Australian adventure. If you missed my initial post regarding our trip, you can check out the Q&A here.

I covered most of the basic questions in that post, but one of the newer questions I've been getting is, "What are you taking?"

The short answer: One large checked bag. One carry-on size bag. A backpack.

The long answer....

Since their seasons are opposite of ours, when we arrive, it will be the beginning of summer. That means I don't have to deal with packing bulky winter clothes & boots (for now) and can fit more summery, light clothes in my bags. If I do decide to stay over there when their winter begins in June, I will either buy some clothes there or have my mom bring a few winter pieces over with her when she comes to visit around that time.

The big theme around this trip is "downsizing" and hopefully living a simpler life. I'm taking a handful of shirts & tanks, 3 pairs of jeans, 4 pairs of shorts, a couple of summery dresses, 3 light jackets, lots of bathing suits, workout clothes, PJs, and only 6 pairs of shoes. That doesn't sound like a whole lot, but when you throw in toiletries, hair supplies, make-up, a laptop, and other random little things, it doesn't leave a ton of space. I'm thinking I may actually need to re-pack a bit and make a few cuts or invest in a vacuum-sealed space saver bag.

I think that covers the bulk of what's going with me. If anyone has must-haves or suggestions from taking similar trips, please share!