Going "Home"?

Now that we've been back in Sydney for a couple of weeks, it almost feels like our holiday to the States never even happened.  The build-up to the trip was intense - creating packing lists, buying souvenirs and generally worrying too much about what it would be like being back.  I've heard a lot of ex-pats talk about their first trip back and there seems to be an almost unanimous agreement that it is a very big deal.  There are a lot of emotional issues inside of that first visit - do you still fit in, are you homesick for your original home, are you homesick for your ex-pat home etc....

I can't lie - I was so nervous...  I was excited to see my family again; but I was mostly afraid of going back, realising that I missed it too much and then coming back to Australia completely miserable and homesick.  I have been lucky up to this point on the homesickness front - not that it hasn't happened; but that it seems to happen infrequently and be very low-grade when it does.

Anyway, the visit was great... There was lots that felt weird and lots that we seemed to just fall right back in to.  Being back in the States did make me realise how much I had been missing; but hadn't admitted to myself.  I really miss driving...  I love that we use public transport here; but I miss the ease of getting places easily, quickly and on my own timetable.  I also miss the ease of driving - I've driven here; but it has not been a fun experience...  Being on the wrong side of the car throws off what little spatial understanding I have and both of my driving experiences here have left me shaken and teary as I narrowly avoid being side swiped the whole time. So, while we were back on our holiday, I was finding any excuse possible to drive - it just was so effortless and enjoyable.

I also missed the prices and the ease of shopping - it's easier to drive to stores, they are bigger, it's cheaper and the customer service is unparalleled.  So yeah, I miss those things a lot...

I was really looking forward to eating certain types of food that I missed and that part was very disappointing to me.  Nothing tasted quite like I remembered and nothing tasted as good as the food here in Sydney.  Except burgers....  They were amazing and promptly reminded me why I don't order burgers here in Australia - they just can't quite seem to get them right.

Anyway, the last two nights before we left to come back to Australia, I got really really homesick.  Crying myself to sleep homesick - which is exactly what happened to me when we originally moved here.  It passed, and by the time we left for the airport on our last day, I was only looking forward to coming back here to Sydney.  Isn't that interesting?  Crying for one home and yet looking forward to returning to your other home...

I guess if I learned anything from this trip, it's that you can have two homes and you can love them both so much that you can miss each one when you are gone from it.  I learned that Sydney has become my home over this past year and that, regardless of my "ishews", I don't want to leave it.

Coming out of customs and into the Sydney airport proper are these banners.  One says, "Welcome to Sydney" and that's the one I was excited to see when we moved here.  Look more closely though, and you will see that they next one says "Gday, Welcome Home".  That's the one that I was most excited to see on this trip because I felt like it had finally come true for me.

If you look more closely, you will see a Christmas tree as well, which is a dead give-away to the fact that this is actually not my picture.  I stole it from the interwebs because I never have enough hands free to actually snap a picture at any time during a trip - let along a 26 hour, 4 layover trip.

The upshot of all this is:  I love my family, I love the US and I miss all of them all the time. I also love Sydney, I love my husband and I love our life here - so parting from one to go back to the other isn't as hard as I thought it would be.

Great Ocean Road - or - Warning! Longest Post Ever!

Now that I’ve spouted off about nothing much of value over the last couple of posts, I suppose I should treat you all with some beautiful pictures from the Great Ocean Road to thank you for your patience!

We left Melbourne in the afternoon and I had hoped to arrive at our lodging in Apollo Bay before nightfall; but, considering the amount of times I had Joe pull over so I could take pictures of the incredible coastline stretching away into the distance, I am shocked that we got there before midnight.  I am always so nervous about booking accommodations here in Australia – there doesn’t seem to be the same “truth in advertising” as there is in the States.  Also, instead of chain hotel/motels where you can expect a predictable experience, mostly you find independently run places where you’re not quite sure what to expect. 

Our accommodations in Apollo Bay were really quite beautiful and I recommend them without any reservation – we stayed at “Captains at the Bay” and our room had, not only a lovely dual-headed shower, but a gigantic soaking tub (and let me tell you, there was nothing better than a glass of wine and a good book while soaking in said tub).  After we got settled, we headed down to the main drag in town for some dinner – very expensive food (a la most tourist traps) and not very good quality; but we were tired and hungry and thankful for what we got.

The next day we continued on the drive with the intent of doing some sightseeing and getting more fabulous pictures.  One of my goals was to visit the Otway light station as I had seen some beautiful pictures of it online when I was researching our trip and I was not about to miss any of the sights on this drive…  It was slow going again, as I had Joe pulling off every few turn-offs for incredible photo opportunities.  We turned down the long long drive that led to the light station and started noticing cars that had been hastily pulled over on the side of the narrow road with their occupants standing by them pointing cameras up into the trees.  It was looking like something very interesting was going on... 
This time it was Joe who wanted to stop as he wisely said “there is obviously something cool going on and I would like to see it”.  I couldn't argue with that point so over we pulled and were treated to trees full of koalas.  I've seen them at Taronga Zoo; but that was nothing compared to seeing them in the wild - just hanging out in the trees.  Before we left for the trip, I got a recommendation from a co-worker about a place on the GOR where you could go to see koalas.  We had bypassed it the night before on our drive in as it was getting late; and so I had intentions of stopping to see them on our way back to Melbourne on Tuesday - it was really cool that we no longer needed to cause we were getting our own little koala experience right here without an extra trip for it!  Most of them, predictably, were sleeping so they just looked like large bumps on the branches.  There was one very active one that was eating (see above) and I attempted to take a video of it with my camera.  I was holding the camera over my head though so it came out shaky and not very good quality...  Oh well.  They were completely adorable and it was hard to rip ourselves away.  I could have spent the whole afternoon just sitting on the car and watching them.   

The light station was also worth it – it was so beautiful that it almost hurt.  Up against that crazy deep blue sky, the white of the lighthouse was blinding; but still set off by the red railing at the top.  I could have sat and taken pictures of it all day.  There was a little snack hut attached to a visitor's centre; and, outside of it, shielded from the wind by a lean-to made of tarps and sticks, was a grizzled old man singing old sea shanties.  Yep.  As if the experience was not cool enough by itself, the soundtrack of sea songs being sung in the background took this to a whole new level.  Joe and I walked down to the lighthouse itself and climbed up to the top.  I don’t feel like I can even describe the experience well enough to do it justice.  The view was crazy – water forever, cliffs below and waves smashing into foam far far below us.  The wind was so strong that it felt like you actually needed to hold on the railing for fear of being blown away.  We stayed up there far longer than was prudent and came down chilled and hungry.  Luckily, the car had been parked in the sun so we settled into the warmth with a snack and away we went again….

We knew that we wanted to see the 12 Apostles and considering that we were about half-way there, we decided to press on and see them that same day (Really, in this sentence, the 4 times I say "we" - I mean "I").  

We had gone to the store before embarking on our journey that morning and had gotten the provisions for a picnic lunch so we had supplies to last us through the rest of the afternoon.  We drove and drove, again through a landscape that was incredible in its beauty and reached the vicinity of the 12 Apostles hungry and worried about the increasing lateness of the hour.  We couldn’t find a place with picnic tables etc… for us to have our late lunch so we pressed on – finally stopping at a look-out for something called The Gorge…   We walked out to it, hoping to find picnic tables; but instead found some beautiful angry ocean, rain and a squall blowing in.  We ran back to the car, popped open the food and had an excellent picnic dinner in the car while the storm passed quickly overhead.  

After that we drove around a bit, trying in vain to see the 12 Apostles – little did I know that we needed to go to the visitor centre, park and then take a stroll out to the lookout point.  We finally figured it out after much turning around and frustration – mostly on the part of Joe who was the poor driver for the entire trip.  We got there, got settled, got some coffees and started down the path to the lookout.  We purposefully tried not to look at the rock formations till we got to the very end of the lookout point and then turned around together to take them in.  I can’t decide which was better – seeing them for myself or watching Joe see them.  I had been talking about them for days and he really didn't understand what the draw was.  When I started researching the trip, I saw picture after picture of them and so knew what we were in for.  He hadn't actually seen them yet even in picture form so getting to see his face while he took in the view was pretty amazing. 

While we were on the furthest lookout point, I happened to glance down and see that there was an echidna right on the other side of the fence from me.  Of course at the time, I thought it was a porcupine or hedgehog – I had to Google it later that night to find out what I had actually taken a picture of!  We slowly moved along the paths leading from lookout area to lookout area, taking pictures of these rock beauties from every angle imaginable.  We realised as we neared the end of the viewing area that if we waited for 15 minutes or so we would get to see the sun set on them.  There wasn’t even a decision to be made – we found a good viewing spot and settled in with about a thousand other people. 

Not to drag this otherwise upbeat post down - But I have to say, holidays are hard for me…  They became really difficult after my dad died, got even harder after my mom died and, now that we are on the other side of the world from our families, they start to feel like looming black clouds when they begin approaching.  I especially struggle with holidays that my parents really loved – Easter, Memorial Day and Christmas.  I was struggling a little on this trip because I was missing Easter back in the States - it's such a huge holiday in my family that it is hard to even explain without doing it an injustice.  So here we were - we happened to be standing on the edge of this huge country, in another hemisphere, all by ourselves watching the sun set on the most beautiful thing I had ever seen – On Easter Sunday….  It was perfect, it was sad, it was inspiring and incredible.  I only wish that I were able to share these experiences with my Mom and Dad.  My Dad especially would have loved that sight...  I know it was beautiful enough to make me cry and I think it would have done the same for him.

We shook off the deep emotion that that sunset had laid on us (much as recounting the story has laid some deep emotion on this post) and headed back to the car.

I was nervous about the long drive back to Apollo Bay in the dark; but Joe handled the night driving with ease.  There were hardly any other cars on the road so the journey was quick and painless.  Back to our room to change and then out again for dinner.  Again, lots of money for so-so food; but who the heck cares when you spent your day looking at the things we saw.  We went back to our room for coffee, tea, Jack Daniels and some cookies to round out the day on an upswing.  Joe turned on the TV and we stumbled across a program on ANZAC Day.  It was sad and sobering so it maybe wasn't the best end for an emotional day; but it was incredible interesting and I'm glad we saw it.

ANZAC day was the next day and we decided to spend the whole of it in Apollo Bay.  We read, sat on the beach for hours, ate fish and chips, napped and generally had the first “non-running around day” of the whole vacation.  It was perfect and I’m glad we decided to rest up a bit.  Tuesday morning it was up and out the door so that we could get back to Melbourne in time to return the car and head to the airport for our flight home.

It was a great holiday and my feeling is that, if you are living in Australia, you should go do this drive. Absolutely.

What Not to Blog....

I was going to start this post out with a comment about “Unbloggable Ishews”; but then I realised that none of you would have any idea what I meant.  The reason for that is that you probably don’t read this incredible blog (unless you are my sister Julie who recommended it to me) by Suse over at “Pea Soup”.  You should read her – she’s funny and inspiring and reading her posts is a highlight to my blogroll.  Anyway, she occasionally will mention “unbloggable ishews” in reference to problems that cannot be aired like the usual post content. 

I feel that way a lot – it’s rewarding having readers; but I wonder sometimes how much nicer it would be to have a “diary” instead of a “blog”.  Not only do I have lots of these ishews… I have them across different facets of my life.  Sometimes when Joe and I fight (which to be fair, is very infrequent and usually small) I am so tempted to log on here and pour my heart out with my indignity and righteousness…. (yikes!  That would be a miserable entry, no?)  In those moments, I am reminded of the movie “Julie and Julia” where Julie and her husband get into a fight, he storms off and leaves her with a yelled “And don’t blog about this fight!”.  Too true, too true…. 

Another huge “ishew” that I had never even considered when I started this blog was not really being able to talk about the differences between countries and the hardships of settling into a new culture.  Don’t get me wrong, no one minds a cutesy little post where I compare the currency of both countries or posts about the different types of food here etc….  But those entries that I write about the negative aspects of being in this country (or moving to a new country in general) seem to spark an insane negative knee-jerk reaction from Australian natives and ex-pats alike.  In a way, this could be a positive I suppose.  No one wants to read a complaining rant about Australian customer service (or lack thereof) or a teary entry about how homesickness can hit you in the gut sometimes so hard that you are left bent double and gasping – trying to regain your equilibrium.  I’m sad for them though – those entries that will never see the light of day on this blog – the really honest (and maybe slightly scary) ones.

I have to consider my audience so carefully.  I don’t know if anyone at work reads my blog; but I’m sure some do  - so I can never post about my “ishews” at work.  Really, when you pare down my list of things that are unacceptable subject topics there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot left to air my voice on.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I have started posting so little?  Well, along with the fact that my life is super boring!

Enough introspection!  Onwards and Upwards as they say....

Our First Visitors!!

Sunday was Father’s Day in America but not in Australia – a fact that I had forgotten until I went to the newsagent to buy a card for my Father in Law and realised that they didn’t have any…. Oops!  Needless to say, I felt a bit stupid considering we had just returned home from the States where I easily could have purchased a card and even left it at my in-laws house to be opened on the appropriate day.  Obviously, I spent far too much time in the States shopping and not enough time strategising for Father’s Day.   Sunday was a quiet day for us since we had just had a group of people over the night before and stayed up really late.  It’s full on winter here now so we snuggled up on the couch and watched some movies.  I’m working on a counted cross stitch and I’ve just realised that I’m actually getting very close to being finished with it…  Sunday I took the opportunity to knock a huge bit of it out.  I’m hoping to finish it in the next couple of months and so have it ready to give to my Mother in Law for Christmas.  Then it is on to the next project!  I used to know how to knit and crochet quite well so I am thinking about starting that back up?  Or perhaps I will finish the other unfinished cross stitch projects I have on the go at the moment…

Speaking of Christmas and my in-laws – I just booked plan tickets for Joe’s parents to com visit us for 5 weeks over Christmas!!!  I am so excited!!  They will be our first visitors here and we have decided to do a New Zealand cruise with them while they are here.  I found a great deal on a 12 day cruise that departs from Aukland and gets us back into Sydney on Christmas Eve.  There are so many things that I want to show them – the NYE fireworks from our windows, picnics on the reserve, the Botanical gardens etc….  December should be a very full month!  In early January they are going to go up to the Great Barrier Reef for a few days and then they will be headed back for the States on the 11th.  Have I mentioned that I can’t wait??