Cruising along on the wrong side of the road is getting easier in Melbourne, but it hasn’t come without a few minor infringements. Together Will and I have racked up $900 in fines in a few short months (OK…so Will is only responsible for $150 of that). The Aussies may speak English, but their parking signs look like a foreign language. Deciphering them is half the battle.
Inability to read signs resulted in two parking tickets at $150 a pop. How a person with a clean driving history in Minnesota can rack up $600 in speeding tickets in 6 months is mind blowing. Even with using my car’s speed limiter, refraining from eating, talking and texting while driving, I still fail. I’d like to detest these fines purely because of the insanely slow speed limits (40 km/hour = 25 miles/hour), or because a 60 km/hour zone magically switches to 40 km/hour at certain times of the day. My first and second tickets were for exceeding the 40 km/hour limit in the zone that is 60 km/hour all but a few hours of the day. I have never been pulled over, but speed cameras catch me every time. I am now afraid of driving and scared to get the mail for fear of what might be waiting.
We are allowed 12 demerit points every three years, and each speeding infringement costs 1 point. Once you hit zero, your license is taken away. I’m not off to a very good start. Will is still adamant that I need to tattoo “Smarten Up” on my arm.
Knock on wood (or touch wood as they say here), we haven’t had any accidents yet. Given the skinny streets and congested traffic, that is an accomplishment. Last week was my closest call when a ladder fell off a tradey’s (construction worker’s) ute (truck) in front of me on the freeway. It was early morning and dark. I swerved and all but missed it. My rims are scratched up and a bit of yellow paint scraped off the ladder and to the underside of my car.
As if driving alone wasn’t already a giant challenge for me, I also have to park in a car elevator. I almost had a heart attack the first time I saw this. It took me about ten minutes on my first go, but now I’m down to almost 30 seconds! My neighbour often comments on my crappy parking job. I feel victorious every time I make it in there without damaging something. It takes 35 seconds to raise and lower the lift, and it’s a bonus if it’s in the down position when I get there.
Minor infringements have come at a cost. It also took six months for us to be approved for an Australian credit card. It didn’t matter that we had worked for decades in the U.S., they needed earnings history specifically in Australia. They also accused Will of lying on his application by including sales commission on top of base salary. We’re finally approved and free to spend money on all of the ridiculously expensive things in this city, like $120 tickets to see LCD Soundsystem in the cheap seats.
Speaking of music, yesterday I turned on Pandora to rock out to some LCD before the show and they announced that they will discontinue serving Australia as of July 31. It’s not like the internet here really supports streaming music, but what a bummer! Back to playing iTunes library, or get with the program and join Spotify I guess.
Oh the joys of settling in. This has been a sweet place to live, but it’s not all roses and rainbows. Winter is winter, wherever you are. Days are short and people hibernate. Sometimes you run over ladders and drive too fast. When it comes down to it in the grand scheme of life, I think my toilet paper says it best…
With that my friends, I wish you all well and send love from Melbourne. And as LCD Soundsystem reminded me last night, “Just laugh it off. It’s better than it seems.” (If you like music, the Muppets, and want to put a smile on your face, click here: Dance Yrself Clean.)
Five months have passed since we arrived at Melbourne Tullamarine airport (MEL) from Minneapolis St Paul airport (MSP), ready to start this adventure. As I write, I am heading to MEL again, crossing the Bass Strait from Tasmania to the main land, feeling pretty lucky for the experience we’ve had thus far. As Will recently said, “Wife, the world is your oyster.”
The beautiful tree-lined streets and beachside suburb of Elwood is our new home. For those familiar with 50th & France, picture it on crack, a block off the ocean, and everything triple the price. The neighborhood was swampland before developers got their hands on it, which explains the flooding we’ve had with the recent rain. Sting rays and sharks like to hang out at our beach. For two North Americans, it’s a small price to pay to live near the ocean for once in their lives!
All joking aside, this place is awesome and we feel like we’re living the dream. We have city views from one of our balconies and get the ocean breeze from the other. We’re on the third floor of our building, and have cafes, bars and shops right below us. The beach is one block away, which makes it very convenient to walk down with a glass of wine to watch the sunset. As for the sharks and sting rays, the locals tell us not to worry. I’m a little hesitant to dive in, but Will has no fear.
We welcomed our first visitors from Canada in November. Bob and Linda Burns were here as we transitioned from hotel life in East Melbourne to apartment life in Elwood. They explored this beautiful country, endured with us as we settled in, and we all got to attend a wedding in the Macedon Ranges where a lovely Canadian-Australia couple tied the knot.
warming up by the fire
Cookaburra in the tree
Our first visitors!
It felt like Christmas when our shipment of goods arrived from the U.S., all wrapped up in boxes and paper. When Christmas did arrive, I made Tom & Jerry’s to get a taste of home, and cried listening to Christmas records as I missed it. For the Christmas Holiday we headed out to Wilson’s Prom in southeast Victoria. It’s a beautiful park with bush hiking trails and gorgeous beaches. We found a caravan (camper) to rent and relaxed in the country for a few days. We got some quality time with the owner’s dog, Shadow. Miles of beach were all to ourselves and we spent the nights soaking in the stars of the Southern Hemisphere. We did a video chat from the beach on Christmas with my family in South Dakota. They had no electricity because of an ice storm, so they were sitting by the light of flashlights and fireplace while we had crashing waves and sunshine as our background.
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We met friends in our apartment and got to bring in 2017 on an amazing part on the top floor of our building. Not bad…
My life as a stay at home wife ended in early January. I got a job with the company who moved us here, and have my husband as a colleague. My first week of work was in Tasmania for meetings, exploring the area, and checking out MONA. I get to work in our division that provides instruments and endoscopes used in surgery. On my second day I learned that one of the scopes is used in esophogectomy procedures, which is what my dad had to remove his tumor during his cancer battle. I was looking for a job where I would be selling products that make a difference in healthcare, and I found a great fit.
The MONA ferry
Exhibit at MONA
Beaches near Swansea
Will and I stayed in Tasmania for a few days after our meeting in Hobart. We ate amazing oysters and tried abalone on Bruny Island, and then spent a couple days hiking and soaking up the gorgeous Tasmanian waters near Wineglass Bay. Tasmania is said to have the cleanest air in the world (and it lacks an ozone layer) and the water is crystal clear. Although we didn’t spot any Tasmanian Devils, we saw a lot of wallabies, crazy little fishes, a giant sting ray and an echidna.
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Back in Melbourne, we watched Nadal defeat Raonic at the Australian Open (AO) men’s quarterfinals on the eve of Australia Day. The city is buzzing during the AO and it was great fun be in the middle of the action. We’ll be making it an annual event. The next day we celebrated our first Australia Day with Seattle visitors at a party with friends in our apartment. It was a perfect party spot on a large balcony with ocean and city views. The sunny and relaxed day ended at 3 am the next morning with “pissed” (means drunk in Aus slang) Americans, Canadian and Aussies.
We’ve loved the Melbourne summer, hitting up the open air markets, bike trails, beaches and balconies. I have been to Sydney three times for work training and got out for a bit of exploring.
Bush running trails
Will had a weekend conference in Lorne on The Great Ocean Road, so I tagged along. Hard to resist this scenery…
Even with both of us working, it still feels like we’re on vacation. We’re still learning to navigate the roadways and interpret the Aussie slang. We’re making new friends, and missing our old friends. Will turned one year older last week. We celebrated with a delicious dinner and at a show listening to our Minneapolis bands Brother Ali and Atmosphere.
Will got called to cover a weekend surgery in Tasmania on his birthday weekend, so I tagged along and we checked out the gorgeous gorge and quaint little downtown of Launceston.
As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, we’ve stocked up on corned beef and cabbage and are excited to host our first party. I publish this post on the 9 year anniversary of the passing of my father, Tom Collins. With that sentiment my friends, I’ll sign off with my dad’s favorite Irish Blessing: “May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.
Melodies can bring back memories, and define periods of life. Presently, “Too Much Time On My Hands” (by Styx) is one of my themes. I don’t have a job (yet) and Will and I are living in a hotel. I’ve mastered the skills of cooking in a mini kitchen with only a bread knife and one pan (mincing garlic has been interesting!) I get at least eight hours of sleep each night. Other people make our bed and clean our room. My running shoes are getting a lot of attention and my training plan on Nike Fit Club has been followed religiously. I walk an hour each way to the grocery store, multiple times a week. When I’ve run out of things to do, I find things to organize.
Mini fridge on right, sink on left. Couple cooking utensils in the cabinet!
Shoe organization & suitcase dresser
I wander the streets of Melbourne making discoveries of creepy street art and Minnesota Vikings jerseys in hipster neighborhoods.
and head to my favorite running trails along the river at Yarra Bend Park. It is this park that introduced me to Collingwood Children’s Farm, Dight Falls, and the Blue Tongued Skink. The name of the farm would lead me to believe they farm children, kind of like the “Wine Farm” we discovered in Israel, but not so. I thought I had nearly escaped death by a poisonous reptile until Will read that the skink is a friendly garden critter that eats bugs, and they are sold as house pets.
Blue Tongued Skink on the running trail
Animals at Collingwood Children’s Farm
Stranded boats at Dight Falls
House hunting lead me to the beach neighborhood of St Kilda. To my delight I found penguins hiding in the rocks at the end of the St Kilda Pier (see the little nose poking through) and impressive Aussie stacked boat storage.
Penguin poking his head out of the rocks on St Kilda pier
View from St Kilda Pier
Boat Storage near St Kilda
We researched several housing options, and considered places with city views (top picture below), but opted for an apartment a bit further south in Elwood that has two balconies, is a short walk to the beach (bottom picture below), and a quick jog to the penguins on the pier. We sold almost all of our belongings before we left Minnesota, so we’ve been on the market for furniture, bedding, electronics, etc. To our surprise we also need to buy a fridge and a washer. Our apartment (like most rental properties) doesn’t come furnished with those appliances. We don’t have space for a dryer, so a clothesline on the balcony will suffice. We have one parking spot in a stacker garage, so we’ll lower another person’s car below the ground to back our car out. The bike storage room will house our bikes when they arrive in a couple weeks. We move in November 30th and are very excited!
View from an apartment inspection
Walking through The Botanical Gardens
Our new neighborhood
We’re enjoying our last couple weeks of hotel living in the heart of the city. We’ve made some friends down at the pool, and have soaked in the “hot tub” that unfortunately doesn’t get much warmer than about 70 degrees Farenheit. Across the street, we get the lights of the Melbourne Cricket Grounds (MCG). We’ve spotted wildlife in the city. There was the owl that swooped in and perched above us near the MCG,
Enjoying our home at the Mantra for a little while longer
Living in the heart of this city has been lovely
MCG at night
Happy kid playing in the pool
Owl on a line
and the possums and bats active as all get out in Fitzroy Gardens. It took us a while to realize that the sound of the leaves rustling was not wind, but bats scurrying around the branches above. The possums got so close I thought they were going to bite me. Luckily we haven’t encountered a drop bear yet.
Tree rats of Aus
Keep your distance…
Will has jumped into life as a trauma sales rep. His days are busy and he is in surgery until late night from time to time. I keep our life organized. I have been filling out paperwork for insurance, banking, utilities, housing, etc. Most forms ask that I state my occupation. I no longer get to click the option as “Employed, Full Time.” However, I don’t need to check the box next to “Unemployed” since “Stay At Home Wife” is an option. Who knew. I like this occupation. Unfortunately I don’t get paid, so I continue to shop the local Op Shops for clothing and accessories. I scored big time at the Salvos Op Shop recently. Two business outfits, dress coat, casual outfit, dress and Prada purse for $78 USD.
I get to see my new friend Anastasia (Ana) often. Ana moved to Melbourne from Greece 19 years ago. Her parents and grandmother are still in Greece, but she hasn’t been back since arriving in Australia. She has a husband and two daughters a bubbly personality. She loves good coffee and offers great advice on shopping for things around the city, job search, and life in general. I love my conversations with Ana, and she lets me help make the bed. She doesn’t really get a choice in this friendship since she’s assigned to clean our room, but I consider her one of my best friends in Melbourne!
Ana and I don’t get into politics, but almost everyone else I encounter wants to as soon as they pick up my accent. I appreciate the opportunity to look at the U.S. and the world from a totally different perspective. It is coincidental that our visa term and the next presidential term are both four years. Here are Australian comics and American-inspired furniture I’ve run across (and a globe I want for Christmas).
Not sure what this is all about
I had the opportunity to participate in the Australian Remembrance Day at the Shrine of Remembrance. At 11 am on the 11th of November each year, a ray of light shines through a small window at the top of the building and shines on the stone in the center of the building that says, “Greater Love Has No Man.” Lucky for me it was a clear day and the light was radiant.
Small window at the top of The Shrine
Beam of light shining on the stone at 11 am on 11/11
I feel fortunate to be able to spend so much time exploring Melbourne. With all of this extra time, I’ve made some pretty awesome discoveries. Walking through a park I found a Casio watch on the ground, identical to the one my dad used to wear. It sounds the same alarm that played from his every day at 5:50 pm to remind him to get home for dinner. When he was remodeling our house the watch fell off his wrist and down inside the wall between our kitchen and family room. He wasn’t able to retrieve it, so we heard that alarm chirping inside the wall for years until the watch finally died.
Another great find at Salvos was a book titled, “Such is Life” by Tom Collins. My dad’s name was Tom Collins. He didn’t put up with whining, and accepted the good and the bad with a positive attitude. The title of the book reminds me of his outlook. I opened the book to read the first line and laughed at how much it reminds me of me, “UNEMPLOYED at last!”
Last week we woke up to two hot air balloons outside our window. Back in 2001, my dad and I took a hot air balloon ride in Australia. He has been gone since 2008, but with these random discoveries I like to think he’s floating around Australia, letting me know he’s still here.
My dad has this watch, and I found it on the ground in a park
Found this book at the Salvos Op Shop
The music list in my mind also keeps playing “Breathing Underwater” by one of my favorite Canadian bands, Metric. As I sat by the ocean on Philip Island over the weekend, watching my husband playing in the waves, dozing off to the sound of crashing waves, smelling the ocean air, feeling the breeze on my skin and sand in my toes, and spotting penguins along gorgeous seaside boardwalks, I couldn’t stop replaying the lyric, “Is this my life? Am I breathing underwater?”
This marks our third week living in Australia. Typically after two weeks on a travel adventure, it’s time to go home and get back to work. I have to get used to the fact that this extended “vacation” is my life. Yesterday I was out exploring parks and neighborhoods and I was surprised by the number of people speaking with Australian accents. Then I remembered, I am in Australia. I guess that’s a good sign that this is already feeling like home.
A friend here told me that living is pretty easy in Australia. The weather is nice, work life balance is a priority, people are polite & pleasant, parks are plentiful and violence is low. There was a national news story this week about a Quantas airline pilot retiring after flying for 50 years. They recognized him and showed he and his wife happy to sail off into retirement. Cute. There was also a story about a king brown snake crawling up into a couple’s car engine. Terrifying. Point being, these are not national news stories I am accustomed to hearing. But don’t worry, there is no shortage of coverage on the U.S. election. Bizarre.
I’ve been getting to know Melbourne by putting in a lot of miles (or rather, kilometers) on foot. A suburb here is what we’d call a neighborhood back home. Each one has a unique vibe. By wandering around the burbs I can quickly tell if it’s a place I want to live. I’d be happy living in many of them, but so far South Melbourne has my heart because I found an “Op Shop,” or thrift store. After window shopping for several days and being sticker shocked by nearly everything, I rounded up a bag full of treasures for $52 USD at the Op Shop.
On a jog through another burb, I passed a friendly road worker standing outside his truck. I caught a familiar tune playing from his vehicle. My Happiness, by Australian band Powderfinger, is a song I discovered 15 years ago when I studied in Australia. I’ve listened to the song a million times, so it’s carved in my memory. The lyrics bring new meaning to me now. They sing, “If it ever starts sinking in, must be when you pack up and go.” Our life was awesome in Minneapolis, but our sense of adventure got the best of us. Our comfort and familiarity with everything started sinking in, so we knew it was time to pack up and go chase new experiences. Now that we’re here, that excitement is back. I’ll ride this out until it starts sinking in, and then see what’s next.
Another lyric brings emotion: “How can I do this to you right now? You’re over there when I need you here.” While most aspects of this move have been positive, one part breaks my heart. One week after we left Minnesota my friend’s dad died. I didn’t get to go to the funeral, hug her and show her that I care. I’ll never forget the phone call I received from her after my dad died, yet I’m absent in her time of sadness. I knew these things were bound to happen, but I really didn’t expect a tragedy to happen so soon.
I have chosen a life I love, but hate it when that choice feels selfish. Another dear friend was in the middle of cancer treatments when I left. I wish I could visit her and bring her soup and goodies. She was one of our rocks when my dad was fighting cancer, but now I don’t get to return that favor. I just sit here on the other side of the world, hoping she can feel my love from afar.
I feel sad for my friends, and selfish for not being there. Then I focus on how I formed my life choices and am reassured in the decision I made. The pure fact that I don’t know what’s coming up ahead is reason enough to be here. If I live as long as my dad did, I’m already 2/3 of the way through my life. I better get my living in.
I need to keep that focus, and remember why I am here. Every now and then, when I hesitate to venture outside because it’s whipping wind and raining, I let loneliness take over. I think about my mom, family, the solid network of friends that became our family, my job, the great people I worked with and the sweet city we lived in. I’ll devolve into a pity party (even though my mom always told me that no one wants to come to my pity party). Fortunately I don’t get too far down, because Will comes home and tells me to “Smarten Up.” I think he’s grown tired of telling me this, since he’s asked me to tattoo it on my arm.
So I venture out. Somehow going on a walk, even in the dark, wind and rain, is a perfect way to clear the mind and feel grateful. The air is fresh, the crows sing a different tune here, the sights are new, and I have legs that will carry me wherever I want to go. It seems like the more I walk, the happier I become…as long as I look the right way before crossing the road, and bring a plastic bag to protect my phone when it starts to rain.
Well friends, thanks for dropping by to read about life in Oz. Here are some pictures of places I discovered this week.
Bright & Lovely
Flowers in the Royal Botanical Gardens
Flowers in the Royal Botanical Gardens
Our representation in the Royal Botanical Gardens. Nice grass Americas..
Life has felt pretty charmed these days. Just a few months ago I was traveling through Israel with my mom and my husband, Will. After swimming in the Jordan River, Will had a phone interview for a job in Australia. At that time it seemed like a really cool idea, but far from reality. A month and a half later, while we were visiting family in Canada on the 4th of July, Will received a job offer. Now here I sit, in Melbourne, Australia, reflecting on what a crazy, awesome journey this has been. Although the move happened rather quickly, this is an experience we had been longing for. When Will and I made the decision not to purchase and run my family business, the primary reason was that we wanted long term, international experiences. It took four years from the time we made that business decision to getting here, and it was worth the wait.
To want an experience is one thing, the preparation and fare wells are another. The home we shared in Minneapolis was only 800 square feet. I didn’t think there would be that much to pack up, sell, or get rid of. It was more of a process than I had expected. As I’d look at some of our possessions I’d realize the emotional attachments I had associated with them, and I had to let that go. A few cherished items were shipped or are stored with family & friends, but the majority of items were sold. Throughout the process I tried to remind myself that joy is not in things, it is in us.
Missing the people we said fare well to is a difficult part of this transition. We are missing the births of babies, kids growing up, friends enduring cancer treatments, and sharing life in general with those we love. We care deeply for those close to us, but we have chosen this path. Although my heart yearns for those I love, I still know that being here was the right decision.
So as I reflect on the past few months, I feel grateful for life, experiences and adventures. I am excited for the future. I’ll close with a modified quote from a card Will gave me several years ago, “This is our world. Shape it or someone else will.”
Some photos from the last weeks in Minneapolis and first days in Melbourne.
I recently returned from a trip to the Middle East. I traveled with my husband and mother around Israel and into Jordan for two weeks. Now that we’re back, the first question people typically ask is, “Did you feel safe?” Sure, I’d think about past events and the emotional and religious charge that the region has. However, people get murdered in my home city of Minneapolis as well. So did I feel safe? Absolutely. One should always be aware of their surroundings no matter where they are. We were, and we enjoyed beauty, lovely people and an amazing experience.
Before heading off on our adventure, several people would ask why I would ever want to go to the Middle East. The question would catch me off guard. I felt fortunate, privileged and lucky to be able to travel to this part of the world. That question became the joke of our trip. As we strolled along the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv watching the sunset, ate delicious meals of hummus, falafel and tabouli, floated in the Dead Sea, hiked through the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, and wandered through the Old City of Jerusalem, with a laugh we’d ask one another, “Why would anyone ever want to come here?”
We encountered educated people along the way, all who spoke fluent English. It made me feel inferior that the only Hebrew words I knew were “Shalom” (hello/good bye) and “Toda” (thank you), and I knew nothing in Arabic. Visiting this place made me want to learn more. Prior to departing I read Thomas Friedman’s, From Beirut to Jerusalem, to get a bit of background on the history and politics. We also read Douglas Duckett’s wonderful travel guide from Trip Advisor and planned the majority of the trip based off his guide. While there, we hooked up with terrific tour guides: Zabu in Masada and Madeleine Lavine in Jerusalem. While my knowledge of this place grew, I now want to learn more. I gained an appreciation and fascination with this part of the world. It heightened my hunger for exploration. It reminded me how lucky I am to live the life I live. So why would anyone ever want to travel to this place? I think the better question is, why would they not?