What I’ve been doing in Australia for the past 5 months

I want to say sorry for not updating y’all sooner, but I’m working on not saying sorry as much. Let’s just say, I’ve been busy!

I’m currently laying in my bed in my 6-person hostel room (mixed, so ladies and fellahs) in Cairns, the main tourist city near the Great Barrier Reef in the northern coast of Queensland, Australia. It’s raining outside, and somehow my body, adamant in acclimating to the Australian atmosphere, is freezing in 65-degree weather. But hey, what can ya do.

So, now, kids, let me fill you in on what Alexis has been doing for the past five months. Shall I start from the beginning? (Yes, Lexi, that’s the obvious choice!) Okay, then, we’ll go in chronological order.

January

I arrived on January 20, 2018, beyond excited to meet my friend Sasha and begin my Australian adventure.  She selflessly picked me up from the airport, took me to her place in Brunswick, a suburb of Melbourne to where she had recently transplanted, and gave me about two hours to freshen up before hitting the town — at 3 p.m. We ventured into the city center, celebrating my arrival with cocktail after cocktail, meeting up with more friends, and dancing into the night. My first night was both a blur and the best possible welcome to any city a nomad could receive. I slept about 18 hours the next day.

Espresso Martinis in Melbourne
Espresso martinis were welcomed after my 30-hour flight.

My first full week in Melbourne was more stressful than I had hoped it would be. I didn’t want to burden Sasha with hosting me for more than a week, so I quickly jumped on the housing boards to find long-term accommodation and house shares. Meanwhile, I was finally adjusting to working remotely and balancing a transatlantic work schedule, which was more difficult than I had envisioned.

During this week, I settled into the domestic life, joining Sasha’s gym with her and adopting a healthy, structured routine. Simultaneously, I fell in love with the little Brunswick suburb. With time running out to find an apartment of my own, I booked into a nearby hostel — literally down the block from Sasha’s — to have a place to lay my head during the continued search.

February

I moved into the Victoria Hotel, at 380 Victoria St. in Brunswick, Victoria, on February 1st. Sasha and I had visited the bar, located underneath the hostel at ground level, the night prior so I could get my grounding, and I knew I’d like it there.

Victoria Hotel Brunswick
My home for nearly five months. Courtesy of victoriahotelbrunswick.com

At first, I was soooooo intimidated. Here I had gone from living with one person in our own apartment for more than a year to sharing a room with three strangers in a hostel of 30 international people. How the hell did I fit in? Do I just go up to people and introduce myself? Do they even care? How does one even make conversation? What was my name again?

But my social anxiety was subverted by a few glasses of wine, and by the end of the first night I had met a slew of people out on the hostel balcony and stayed up until 3 a.m. enjoying my new company.

The next day I gave up my search for an apartment.

In a matter of weeks, I blossomed from thinking I would never be able to make friends again to being fully betwixt in the hostel’s social climate. I did it. I was 100% Lexi, the best and happiest version of myself. All was good.

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An afternoon in the park with my hostel mates. No, that wasn’t my beer.

I should mention here as well that during this time, I met a boy.  Well, not really a boy — a nearly 30-year-old British dude who I hit it off with. I’ll fast forward through the details, but let’s say it kicked off a whirlwind affair (just in time for Valentine’s Day) that was neither expected nor warranted — but God works in mysterious ways, amirite? We had two weeks together in the hostel before he was off to New Zealand for a few weeks, and we made plans to rendezvous in Queensland upon his return to Aus.

March

The final weeks of February and the first week of March were marked by partying, dancing, flirting, more dancing, eating, working out, and not getting nearly enough work done. I fell in love with the people at the hostel, and I was delightedly content being wrapped up in the juvenile hostel drama while also being able to step away to spend time with Sasha and her friends.

It was hard to say goodbye, even temporarily, but I jetted off to Brisbane on March 10th to visit my friend Alex for her birthday and then meet with Rob, the old Brit, a week later in the Gold Coast.

Brisbane was a blast. Though I was working during the days, I spent the evening and weekends with Alex and her mom and boyfriend. I went to a Rugby game, walked around the local market, went out dancing, walked her dog, and celebrated Alex’s birthday at a quirky arcade bar.

Then, I was off to the Gold Coast to meet Rob for his birthday. We spent the first few days celebrating his 30th while also attending his skate competition. Yeah, like professional skateboarding, y’all. It was all new to me. Then, we went back to Brisbane together where we spent our days getting work done in the library and the evenings exploring the bars and restaurants of the humid, industrial, culturally ambiguous city.

Following Brisbane, we headed up to the Sunshine Coast where we stayed a few days in Mooloolaba and visited with Rob’s friend to see the beautiful town of Noosa. Then slowly, we worked our way back down to Brisbane, then back to the Gold Coast, then flew back to Melbourne on Easter Sunday, March 30th.

Side note: Think that spending this much time with one person is a little overwhelming? Well, it gets better.

April

Upon arrival back to our hostel in Brunswick, we were offered not just a private room at the hostel, but a fully furnished studio apartment for the same price as the dorms. Hesitant at first to move in together, we accepted the offer on a trial basis and settled into our new home.

We quickly grew to like our little abode and agreed to stay there for a few weeks. Away from the bustle of the hostel but still close enough to be involved on our time, April for me was a period of creative productivity. I worked on my music, homed my photography skills, caught up on my freelance work, and did some writing.

Rob was granted some time off from his job toward the end of April, and we took that opportunity to go on a road trip to the Great Ocean Road and Grampians National Park. I’ll share a separate post on those at some point, but I’ll say that the views were utterly spectacular and I cannot wait to go back.

The trip was a testing one for us, but also a bonding opportunity, and we navigated our budding relationship much like the winding road before us: with extreme caution for most of it and careless acceleration for the rest.

I’ll reluctantly mention that in the midst of this, a conflict in my social circle turned a blissful period into an uncertain one, which I share only because it’s a part of this story and it lays the groundwork for some of the movement I’ve made since.

May

Early in May, Rob and I made a second trip to the Great Ocean Road, visiting and photographing the sights we missed the first time. It was cold now, finally entering winter, and clouds began taking over the blue skies.

Following our trip, the rest of the month was filled with more creative production (we released a music video for a song I wrote and he produced!), long walks in the winter rain, Netflix and wine and homecooked dinners. Yet again I found myself enthralled in this domestic lifestyle amid my international adventure.

At this time, the hostel was getting quieter and quieter as the long-term guests began traveling to warmer lands or finding work and settling into local house shares. Between the domiciliary lifestyle, the interpersonal conflict that lead to isolation, and a withering social scene at the hostel, I started to feel those same horrible feelings of loneliness that had plagued me in LA and whispered awful things in my head.

It was time for a change.

On the 31st of May, Rob got a call back from a company where he had applied for a factory job. On our working holiday visas, we’re required to do 88 days of “regional” work to qualify for a second-year extension. He was offered the job, which was in the middle of nowhere, about eight hours outside of Melbourne, and started in a week.

Knowing I wasn’t going with him, I spent some time that night doing some research and then booked a one-way flight to Cairns.

June

The first five days of June were filled with scrambling to pack up our apartment, sort out our belongings, and say goodbye to our friends at the hostel. Rob was off to work as a potato sorter for three months in a barren town of 1,400, while I was off to start a new chapter in a tropical paradise. It would be an adventure for both of us.

I arrived in Cairns on June 5.  After a day of falling in love with the weather, the shore and the people, I decided to stay and find work here to fulfill my own 88-day requirement. A dozen applications and a few good interviews later, I was offered a job on the photography staff at the Cairns Aquarium.

Staff Photo
A shot of my beautiful new family, the aquarium photography staff.

And thus, here I am now. I’ve been with the aquarium staff for two weeks now, loving every second of it. I’m staying at a new hostel, and while it offers a more vivacious social scene, it’s less homely, and I have been too busy now with work to really get invested in the people. We’ll see how this story plays out, but regardless of my actual dwelling spot, it looks like I’ll be in Cairns for the next few months. More music, photos, and stories to come hopefully.

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So just like that, it’s been five crazy, character-building, life-altering months in this land they call Down Under.

My roommates have turned off the lights now which means it’s time for bed, so I’ll end here for the night

I want to say more on this reflection, but honestly, it’s all happening so quickly I don’t think I’ve really had time to process how drastically life has changed since I hopped on that plane five months ago. I just know that everything happens for a reason and I’m on the path I’m meant to be on. I’ll reflect later.

 

Melbourne: It’s pronounced “Melbin,” not “Melborn”

So, for my whole life, I’ve always pronounced Melbourne as Mel-born. Maybe it’s an American thing, or maybe I’ve just been uneducated on the subject for 22 years. After arriving in Melbourne though, I quickly learned that the city is pronounced Mel-bin. It really makes no sense to me, but I can’t say much about it coming from a culture that pronounces food and good with completely different vowel sounds.

The morning after Sasha’s party, we woke early for another busy day ahead. One of the guests had accidentally made off with my phone that night, so Sasha’s gorgeous friends Jeremy and Nadine drove me to that friend’s place to retrieve it. On the way, they gave me a tour of the outskirts of Bendigo, and even stopped to show me the local university and student residences.

Because I was still dying to see a kangaroo, they even took me to a bush (meaning wooded area) where a pack/heard/gaggle of them dwell. We parked the car and walked into their domain and I got to see real, wild kangaroos for the very first time. So cute. And the joeys? Forgetaboutit.

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Those two dropped me back off at Sasha’s parents’, who live nearby, where I had brekkie with the fam and caught up since the last time we’d seen each other in New York. Sasha’s adorable mom give me Vegemite to try and I’ve got to be honest, I hated it. So salty and brown and thick and…uhh, just not my thing. But I’m happy I tried it!

I would have loved to spend more time with Sasha’s folks, but we had to rush to the train station to catch an express to Melbourne. Sasha’s boyfriend had prepared a group outing to the footy (Australian football, quite distinct from American football and European/Latin football a.k.a soccer), and we needed to get good seats.

The two-hour train ride through the country flew by quickly, and before I knew it, we were pulling up to Melbourne’s train station. The stadium was a short walk away. We stopped to get food first, and drop off our bags at the hostel where Sasha and I were staying the night, then headed to the stadium.

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Aussie football  is intense. It has the aggressiveness of rugby and American football (lots of running into each other and tackling), the cardio of soccer (dedicated sprints from one end of the field to the other), and the past-paced nature and high scoring frequency of basketball.   The fans reminded me of any other sports fans: loud, passionate, spirited. Lots of drinks were passed around ring the game and it seems like Aussies like stadium food just as much as Americans do.  I had a great time, but halfway through the jet lag really hit me and I felt completely exhausted.

Sasha and I bid adieu to her comrades and made our way back to the hostel for sleep. On the way we popped by a few Melbourne landmarks including the beautiful Flinders Street Station and lively Federation Square, and open area with seats and a big LED screen for public media broadcasts.

(Sorry for the suuuper crappy photos, but I’m including them here anyway.)

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Overall, my first impressions of Melbourne were all good. The city reminded me of Chicago or Portland, maybe (two cities I’ve never been to, so really this is all speculation) in that it is big city element with tall skyscrapers and people in suits with briefcases, but mixed throughout is art and very down-to-earth type people. It’s the kind of city that feels expansive, but at the same time feels like you could run into someone you know any minute.

On day one in Melbin, I didn’t experience enough to make a full diagnosis of my feelings toward the city, but Sasha and I had a big day ahead the next day and I couldn’t wait to see more.

Hellooooooo from Bendigo!

Greetings from the other side of the world!

Initial thoughts — it doesn’t feel like I’m on the other side of the world.

Australia is so westernized that it feels like I’m in a U.S. city I’ve just never visited before but people talk funny and drive on the wrong side of the road. Oz in a nutshell.

Okay, well there are a few more differences than that. Here are my initial observations:

  1. Drive-thru bottle-os are a thing. These are open-air liquor stores where people can pull up, tell the teller what they want, then pick up the order and pay. Alcohol on demand. Not a common occurrence in the States!
  2. Shoes = optional.
  3. Some people are very friendly. Some people are very weird.
  4.  Some people are strikingly beautiful. Some people are very weird.
  5. There are distinct Aussie accents based on geographical regions. Generally, the more country, the thicker the accent.
  6. Most houses are one story. No upstairs, no basement. A second level is a commodity for the well-to-do.
  7. It’s hot. Even in the winter.

Does that paint enough of a picture? Probably not but that’s okay. That’s what photos are for!

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I arrived at the Melbourne airport Friday night where my beautiful friend Sasha picked me up from and drove us two hours back to her house. Unfortunately it was too dark  to see much off the highway on the way, though I was yearning to see some kangaroos.

Sasha lives in a quaint city outside Melbourne called Bendigo. At first glance, it seemed very similar to small-town (well, mid-sized-town) America: a bustling Main Street, plenty of mom and pop shops and cafés, a local park, bars, theaters, pharmacies, etc., and then residential areas surrounding downtown. Sasha lives in a spacious one-story home with a big back yard. Though she lives with roommates, she still has two spare guest bedrooms — enough for me and my stuff!

I passed out early that night after a quick take-out dinner, but I needed to sleep off the jet lag to prepare for the days ahead. It still didn’t feel like I was in another country that first night, but I knew the realization would sink in shortly.

The next day, Sasha was preparing to have guests over for her birthday party that night. I got a chance to see everyday Bendigo as she and I ran around town running errands and picking up goodies. We went to a shopping mall where I got a party dress and cute shoes (the first of many pairs of shoes), then to a Walmart-type store for party decorations and a punch bowl, then to the chemist to pick up a prescription, then to a discount store for party lights.

Meanwhile, we stopped to get lunch with Sasha’s darling friends Jeremy and Nadine at an eclectic, hippyish café in downtown. I got my first Australian cappuccino — delish — and had a go at the Aussie version of nachos.

Later we headed back to Sasha’s to prepare for the night’s festivities. Slowly her friends trickled in and one-by-one I got to meet the gorgeous Aussie youth. (Wait that sounds weird — they’re not children, just, like, young adults you know?)   And as the bottles popped, we got more and more in the party spirit and had an awesome time. I even taught her friends good ‘ol American Flip Cup 😉

Photos courtesy of Sasha and her friends.

Later we headed a bar that is pretty much a staple for the kids in Bendigo and I got my first Australian night out. Turns out, partying in Oz is not much different from  partying in the U.S. Who would thunk?

We stayed out for a few hours but headed home before it got too, too late. After a busy day and eventful night, I finally felt like I was in Australia. But just, the western part….

Needless to say, I slept well.

Guest Post: How to Spend 6 Weeks on Australia’s East Coast and See it All!

close upThis week, hear from an awesome blogger who took three months off from work to travel throughout Australia. Jessica from Turquoise Compass is a teacher at heart, but her true passion is traveling (especially to turquoise beaches), adventure, and trying new things. She has been to 17 countries and she is ready to see more. She has completed more than a hundred items on her bucket and encourages others to live life to the fullest, while taking advantage of every opportunity that comes. As you can tell, this hyperactive traveler loves visiting beautiful turquoise destinations.

How to Spend 6 Weeks on Australia’s East Coast and See it All!
Queensland
Coolangatta, Gold Coast

It is hard to believe that I have been in Australia for over two months now. The time is flying by. With only two more weeks, my time in Australia is quickly coming to an end. My first 6 weeks were spent on the spectacular East Coast. I traveled from New South Whales, through the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, and all the way up to Northern Queensland. How can I sum up my first 6 weeks in Australia in just one blog post? I am not sure that I can, but I will try. The East Coast gave me my first impressions of Australia, while allowing me countless opportunities to check off items on my bucket list. The East Coast was a dream come true. Continue reading Guest Post: How to Spend 6 Weeks on Australia’s East Coast and See it All!