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.

—-

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.

 

Toronto in 30 Hours — How I Did it and You Can Do It Too

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TORONTO, CANADA spans 2,751 square miles and has a population of more than 5,580,000. It boasts more than 100 attractions, from museums and historic sites to restaurants and markets. With so much going on, it seems nearly impossible to truly explore the city in 30 hours. But my friend Sarah and I managed to do it — and here’s how:

OVERVIEW:

DAY 1
Getting Acquainted to the City (1 HR)
Checking into the Hostel (.5 HRS)
Buying a CityPASS (.5 HRS)
Climbing to the Top of the CN Tower (3 HRS)
Exploring Downtown Toronto (2 HRS)
Getting Dinner in Greektown (2 HRS)
Going Out at the Hostel (4 HRS)
Sleep (5 HRS)

DAY 2
Going to Casa Loma (4 HRS)
Stopping for Lunch (2 HRS)
Exploring the Royal Ontario Museum (3 HRS)
Grabbing a Quick Sushi Dinner (1 HR)
Picking up our bags at the Hostel and Heading to the Bus Terminal (2 HRS)

_________________________________________________________________________

1. GETTING TO TORONTO (16 HRS)
Sarah and I both live in the Washington, D.C. metro area, so we took the Megabus from Union Station to Toronto. We left at 8 p.m. Thursday night, anticipating our arrival in Toronto at 10 .m. Friday. We passed through Philadelphia, Penn. and Buffalo, N.Y., making stops at both before finally crossing the border. Once in Canada, we of course had to go through customs, but that was quick and painless. By that point, getting off the bus and stretching our legs was extremely welcome. Two hours after we left customs, we were in Toronto. ($73/each, round trip)

 

2. GETTING ACQUAINTED TO THE CITY (1 HR)
Having some bus troubles along the way, we finally arrived at the Toronto Bus Terminal at 12 p.m. on Friday. Famished, we first stopped to grab a bite at Druxy’s Deli. Then we headed to the ATM to take out some Canadian money and found a subway station. The Toronto subway, officially known as the Toronto Transit Commission, is refreshingly easy to navigate; there are only three lines and the stops are clearly labeled, both on the maps and at the stations. It took us about 15 minutes to get from St. Patrick’s Station to Donlands Station, which is less than a minute’s walk from the hostel. ($11/day for a 2-person subway pass)

 

3. CHECKING IN TO THE HOSTEL (.5 HRS)
We had a fantastic experience at The Only Backpacker’s Inn, which is located just on the outskirts of downtown Toronto. We stayed in a six-person mixed dorm (I could have sworn I booked an all-female dorm! It wasn’t too bad though, we didn’t see the guys much, and we kept our valuables locked in a safe). The staff was incredibly friendly and accommodating and they made us feel right at home. We stayed long enough to get our bags settled in and freshen up, and then we were off on our adventure. ($25/each for one night)


 
4. BUYING A CITYPASS (.5 HRS)
In doing our pre-trip research, Sarah found that it was highly recommended to buy a  $61 CityPASS for Toronto. The Toronto CityPASS is a booklet of admission tickets to 5 must-see tourist attractions in Toronto that saved us 43% compared to combined regular box office prices:

  1.  CN Tower: A Wonder of the Modern World (Reg. $32/each)
  2. Royal Ontario Museum: Engage the World (Reg. $12.50/each)
  3. Casa Loma: Toronto’s Majestic Castle (Reg. $24/each)
  4. Toronto Zoo: Canada’s Premier Zoo (Reg. $23/each)
  5. Ontario Science Centre: Canada’s Leading Science Center (Reg. $22/each)

The passes were valid for nine consecutive days and allowed us to skip ticket lines. We bought ours at the Royal Ontario Museum, but decided to wait until the next day to explore the museum. Instead, we took advantage of the gorgeous weather and headed to the CN Tower. ($61/each)

 

5. CLIMBING TO THE TOP OF THE CN TOWER (3 HRS)
I still get chills thinking about it – what a thrill. According to the tower’s website, the American Society of Civil Engineers classified the CN Tower as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World (the others being the Itaipu Dam on the Brazil-Paraguay border, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Panama Canal, the Chunnel under the English Channel, the North Sea Protection Works off the European coast and the Empire State Building).

After skipping the ticket lines, Sarah and I went through a brief security check and got in line for the evaluator. We queued for an hour and finally rode the glass elevator up 1,136 ft (346 m) to the LookOut Level. The views of the cityscape, the Toronto Islands and the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport on Lake Ontario were breathtaking. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a light lunch and some red rosé at Horizon’s Restaurant.  We ended our visit with a stop at the CN Tower gift shop. (Tower cost covered by CityPass, $15/each for lunch, $15/each at the gift shop)

 
6. EXPLORING DOWNTOWN TORONTO (2 HRS)
After the tower, we had some spectacular maple lattés at Second Cup Café. With our fresh energy boost, we walked around for a while taking pictures and searching for souvenirs. Finally we made our trek back to the hostel. (About $30/each)

 

7. SITTING DOWN FOR DINNER IN GREEKTOWN (2 HRS)
Our hostel was in a part of Toronto called Greektown. The streets were lined with Greek restaurants and shops, and naturally, Greek people. We stumbled upon Pan, a magnificent, candle-lit restaurant featuring authentic, gourmet Greek food and walls lined with wine bottles. The food was exquisite and there was even a live band and a belly dancer. I have to say it was one of the best meals I’ve had. ($35/each)

 
8. GOING OUT AT THE HOSTEL (4 HRS)
Back at The Only Backpacker’s Inn, we relaxed a bit and hung out in the common area with the other young, broke travelers. Then we all went downstairs to The Only Cafe, an awesome local bar on the below the hostel with over 200 beers from around the world. I’ll spare the details of the night, but let’s just say we had a rootin’ tootin’ good time. Cheers to the Maple Leaf.

 

9. SLEEEEEEEEEEEEP (6 HRS)



10. GOING TO CASA LOMA (4 HRS)
We had an incredible breakfast at the hostel, then headed north via the subway to Casa Loma, Toronto’s majestic castle. The castle allows you to “step back in time to a period of European elegance and splendour.” As Canada’s foremost castle, it is the former home of Canadian financier Sir Henry Pellatt and complete with decorated suites, secret passages, an 800-foot tunnel, towers, stables and a garden that we weren’t able to see because it is winter. Both the inside and outside we simply stunning and, as a princess in training, I felt right at home. (Cost covered by CityPass)

 
11. STOPPING FOR LUNCH (2 HRS)
When in Canada, one must eat at least once at Tim Horton’s. So we did. Then we went to Starbucks for some more maple coffee and to charge our iPhones.

 

12. EXPLORING THE ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM (3 HRS)
Last stop on the trip was the Royal Ontario Museum. Again, we got to skip the lines and go straight to the entrance. The museum has four floors of world history and cultural exhibits, divided into eight categories: fashion and textiles, Earth and space, ancient cultures, biodiversity, fossils and evolution, contemporary culture, Canada, and world art and culture. Tired from the previous day’s events, we only stayed a few hours, though I’m sure anyone could spend the entire day there. We still had a chance to see hundreds of ancient artifacts, fossils and works of art from around the world.

 

13. GRABBING A QUICK SUSHI DINNER (1HR)
We seriously ate well during this trip. After we left the museum, we headed back to Greektown for our last meal in Toronto. Craving sushi, we stopped at Casa Sushi, a nifty sushi place with more than 100 items on the menu. Sarah got several different rolls, and I got a huge vegetarian platter and a mojito for less than $16. The food was fantastic, the service was eh, but overall great bang for our buck. (about $20/each)


 

14. PICKING UP OUR BAGS AT THE HOSTEL AND HEADING TO THE BUS TERMINAL (2 HRS)
We headed back to the hostel after dinner to pick up our bags and be on our way. Having about an hour to spare, though, we decided to grab one last drink at The Only Cafe. It was the best possible way the end our amazing trip. Afterward, we headed to the terminal and were (kind of) first ones in line, destined for the front seats of the double-decker bus. The ride home went a little more smoothly since we were too exhausted to care about the tight space, and after 14 hours, we were back in D.C.

REVIEW

There ya have it: Toronto in 30 hours, excluding travel time to and from the City. Though we didn’t hit all of the attractions covered by the CityPASS, we still saved a few bucks with it.  If I could have done anything differently, I would have tried to squeeze in the Science Center on the second day, but we were just too tired for that. Oh well, it’s just an incentive to go back.

*Updated 3/35/2014