Month: October 2013

My month in Mosman draws to a close

On the up side, I have a place to live come Friday.  Actually, I was supposed to move out Thursday but my host and I were both confused on the date.  He agreed to let me stay an extra night for free since I brought back beer on Saturday after I won a six-pack at one of the last Sydney Craft Beer Week events.  Win-win.  Anyway, on Friday I’m moving to Balmain, a really cute area of town that may even have a little more to offer than Mosman (not just the fact that it has three Indian restaurants to Mosman’s 0) even though the demographic makeup is largely the same (older people and yuppie families, all white–something I hadn’t really bothered to think much about until one of my hosts in Balmain mentioned it).  I had never been before until I went to check out this spare room at a house last night, and since I got to town a little early, I decided to walk around for a bit.  I really liked what I saw, so I’m pleased that I will be living there.  I’ll be renting a room in the house of an older couple who also rent out a room to a 30-year-old French woman, so maybe not ideal, but with Balmain being so close to the city, I should be able to just jet back and forth with no problem (have I mentioned how much I love taking the ferry?  No traffic jams on the water, and the scenery is unreal).  And hey, I’ll still have a room to myself!

But all this makes me a little sad about leaving Mosman.  I had mostly gotten the hang of the bus routes around here.  I get recognized at one of the little cafes in town.  I’ll no longer have easy access to the best tiramisu I’ve ever eaten and an inexpensive sip of good bourbon (also home to the spiciest thing I’ve ever eaten).  I won’t walk by the tailoring shop on the way into town and be able to gaze at the gorgeous dresses in the window.  I can’t just catch the bus to Balmoral Beach and be there in 10 minutes (not that I’ve been there since I went the other week, but hey, it’s nice to have that option).  I’ll miss the nice IGA 15 minutes’ walk away.  Getting mail from my PO Box will require a couple hours’ field trip, although hey, mail is nice (hint hint 😉 ) and it’ll be good to have an excuse to come back to the area.

And then there’s the matter of how much I’ll miss this apartment.  Waking up to be able to see the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge from the living room window has been pretty amazing.  Plus, the view from the roof is hard to beat, especially during fireworks shows.  Also, I got to live mostly alone, although even when my host was here, it’s been fine.

Image

So Mosman, I’ll miss you.  But I’ll be sure to visit.

Can I afford to be picky?

Looking for a new place to live come November hasn’t been easy.   Places that sounded too good to be true are, people haven’t responded to my queries, 8 people live in the same apartment in a slightly-out-of-the-way part of the city and still pay $800/month…sigh.  I had thought if worse comes to worse, I could stay in a hostel for a couple of weeks.  A month in a hostel is even more expensive than living in some of these apartments, but at least I wouldn’t have to be part of a lease.  But this week I stayed in a hostel, Backpackers By the Bay, while in Airlie Beach (a town that serves as a jumping-off point for the Whitsundays or where you can drink with other people from the numerous hostels in town, and even then the nightlife was pretty quiet) and wasn’t crazy about the experience. At almost 29, I think I’m a little too old for this, although I did see “older” people staying at the hostels amongst the dozens of under-25s.  Maybe I just like having a room to myself and not having to share with other people. Maybe I like something a little…nicer.  Or I’m too picky.  Am I not adventurous enough? I mean, if I’m in a room alone, I’m not going to meet anyone else unless I go out.  Or maybe I just really hate bunk beds and don’t relish the idea of reliving the college dorm experience all over again.  (Living with people you already know and are on good terms with is completely different to living with strangers in a revolving-door situation where people leave and come in without you ever knowing when they’ll be there.)

Instead of apartment searching, I had this hostel experience in the Whitsunday Islands.    For the record, the hostel itself was fine for what it was; it was clean and no one there seemed like a terribly questionable character.  Some of the other guests said they liked it because it was more chill than others they had been to. All the people who worked there were very nice and more than happy to help you organize trips (you could even get deals booking through them) or arrange your stay around when you would be on said trips.  The islands themselves are exactly as beautiful as any pictures you may have seen online–they need no filters to pretty them up.  The water is crystal clear and waves undulate from jade green to a deep, vibrant aqua.  Whitehaven Beach is particularly beautiful with its white silica sand.  Of course, there are plenty of companies that offer cruises out there, including sailboats that you can actually spend a couple of nights on.  I chose a day trip via Whitehaven Xpress, which was surely more casual and entertaining than any of the other cruises I could have gone on (when I asked a woman working at the hostel which tour I should go on, she asked, “Do you want to make friends or be around families and old people?”). The guys on the boat were very funny, although occasionally they’d crack and let it be known that they were finding it stressful that most of the passengers that day didn’t speak English.  They would joke with (sometimes about) passengers and with each other, climb around the boat like monkeys, and generally have a good time doing all of these things while largely making it look easy and fun.

 

Upon getting back to Sydney on Thursday, I figured I needed to really devote myself to looking for a new place to live.  I’ve looked at several reputable housesitting websites after reading about this idea on some travel blogs, but a lot of the assignments are short-term and I don’t really want to be moving every week.  I’ve also given thought to roaming around the country a little more, but I don’t know where I would store my giant suitcase while doing so.  I’ve gotten advice from a couple of locals and expats about where to live and where not to live in Sydney, so hopefully soon I’ll be cozying up in a decent place in a fun part of town where I live with cool roommates and not paying a ton of money to do so.  I guess we’ll see what happens.

Until next time.

Things I Wish I’d Thought About More Thoroughly

  • My camera:  I’ve had it for 4.5 years.  It’s lived a good life and has served me well.  I use it maybe once a year now, when I go on trips.  I probably haven’t used it since I went to Colorado in October of last year.  And you know what?  It still has a full charge.  But it seems that I left my camera’s cord at home, so once it runs out of juice, I have no way of recharging it. I made this same mistake while on vacation in Utah two years ago, leaving me with only my phone, which leads me to my next point…
  • iPhone insurance:  I haven’t done much research on this since my cell service was suspended the other week, but I’m not sure my travel insurance would cover my iPhone if (gasp!) something should happen to it.  If something did go awry, whatever insurance Verizon offers wouldn’t do me much good since A) my service is suspended and B) I’m on another continent.  And if you read the AppleCare fine print, once you take your covered Apple products out of the country, AppleCare may cease to be useful to you.  So even if I had bought AppleCare for my iPhone, it probably wouldn’t do me any good here.  So I need to insure my iPhone because I use it all. the. time.  Google Maps and iMessage have become indispensable.  I actually use Instagram sometimes for this blog and post pictures and statuses directly to Facebook from my phone.  If something happens to my phone, buying an unlocked one from the Apple store is going to cost me at least several hundred dollars.  Plus I’d have to get a new SIM card.
  • A duffel bag:  Mom and I even had this conversation in the days before I left.  I said that I didn’t need a duffel bag because my backpack would suffice.  But it doesn’t.  It’s hard to stuff clothes into a backpack that’s made for smaller, slimmer things like schoolbooks and electronics.  So today I bought a duffel bag from Lululemon (just saying that makes me cringe a little) because it was walking distance from my current apartment and I didn’t have time to find a cheaper bag somewhere else.  (If you’re curious, I ended up buying a variant of this gem, which I’ll probably review later.  Mine is different in color, maybe owing to the fact that Australian stores carry different color things.  I was fine with the fact that the lining in mine wasn’t paisley.  Bleh.)
  • Jackets:  I only brought one sweater (and I do love this sweater; dark gray goes with everything, right?) and my lovely purple North Face jacket.  I brought no other jackets to vary outfits depending on the weather or whatever look I might want to go for.  Fashion never has been my thing really, but I’d like to be able to at least try a little, and I’ve deprived myself of that chance.

I think that’s all the kvetching for now.  I can’t complain but so much, because tomorrow I’m leaving for the Whitsunday Islands, home to white sand beaches and crystal-clear water.  Looking forward to my trip, as I’ve never been.  While there, my internet may be limited, so I’ll give a full report once I’m back in Sydney.  Until then…

What I’ve Been Up To

Tuesday last week I was able to watch a Freedom of Entry military parade through Mosman (part of the International Fleet Review).  The parade was short, but it was really cool to see a few hundred people (many of them schoolchildren) turn out, many of them applauding the servicemembers.  That evening, I was uber-touristy and went to Madame Tussauds and the Sydney Tower.  I had arranged to go to Madame Tussauds first and then head to the Sydney Tower so I could be there during sunset.

The tower wasn’t far from touristy Darling Harbour.  On the way there, I happened by the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), a large mall in a gorgeous historical building.  I’m going to have to take a tour of it at some point.

A clock in the QVB
A clock in the QVB

On Wednesday last week, I went to the suburb of Chatswood to see what I might find at the mall there.  The answer was a really large and confusing mall similar to those in America in that it did not have much that I cared for or would even use.  I did find that department store Myer not only had out their Christmas stuff (which involved snow and glitter–don’t they have any tropically-themed Christmas decorations here?) but was also having a fantastic book sale.  I had to tear myself away before I bought too much.

Friday I went to nearby Balmoral Beach and discovered that it was even more gorgeous (and much larger) than Clifton Gardens on Chowder Bay.

Sunday I took the ferry downtown and wandered around The Rocks, a historical part of town that is now home to a lot of bars and restaurants.  It so happened that there was a market where a large number of vendors were selling clothes, jewelry, and crafts.  After fortifying myself at Pancakes on the Rocks (where there are many  ways of making pancakes even more unhealthy than they already are), I decided to walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which enabled me to get pictures like this one:

The bridge is not as long as you’d think:  It’s only 3,770 feet long.  There was another market happening in Kirribilli, just over the bridge.  I also happened to discover a bar that shows baseball, which surprised me, although on Monday I discovered that select NFL games are aired here on cable.

Tuesday night I wandered around Hyde Park during the Night Noodle Markets sponsored by the Sydney Morning Herald.  A ton of restaurants (almost exclusively Asian) set up shop here to sell small tastes or entire plates.  There were also several beer and wine gardens, too.  I was glad my host told me about this–otherwise I might not have known.  The setup was gorgeous.

IMG_2453

I’ve spent a fair amount of today assessing which bank would be the best to go with and figuring out how to open a PO box here. Sounds like fun, right? Until next time…

That just happened: The story of the spiciest thing I’ve ever eaten

For dinner, I went to Quattro Formaggi, a gourmet food mart with sit-down dinner service (not to be confused with this Quattro Formaggi–mm, I do miss their pizza).  This happened because I got takeout from here Saturday night, and knowing it was good, I checked out their full menu the other day.  I found that A) they have a burger on the menu; B) they serve bourbon whiskey (no, I still don’t know the difference between the two); and bonus, they serve breakfast all day (a lot of places around here seem to do that; I heartily approve and wish that more places in the States would follow suit).

The waitress asked me if I wanted ice in my bourbon (according to the menu, it was Basil Hayden’s, which I’d heard was good–very smooth and enjoyable).  Sure.  When I ordered the burger, she also asked me if I was fine with the relish that came on the burger.  Sure, why not?  It’s relish, like you’d have on American hot dogs…right?

The manager came by and politely asked if I would cede my table to a couple who had just arrived, as the table had actually been reserved but hadn’t been marked as such.  (It was busy enough when I got there that it was the only immediately available seat that I saw, and it had only just been vacated as I walked in.)  He promised me a glass of wine in return.

The bourbon came and I was disappointed to find that it was full of the small spherical pieces of ice that melt quickly,  resulting in a watered-down drink.  C’est la vie.  The burger came and it was large.  There was lots of “rocket” (arugula…not sure who thought up that inventive name) and green salad-y stuff happening.  Plus, the burger bun was that kind of bread that is light and outwardly crispy to the extent that when you touch it, much less bite into it, it explodes and shoots EVERYWHERE like confetti.  I looked at it and thought biting into the burger would be a challenge.  As I took the first bite, I sort of laughed for a brief moment as millions of fragments of bun shot everywhere.  And then I registered the horseradish.*  And the peppers.  OH NO.  My sinuses felt the heat within at most two seconds.  So much horseradish.  Could I even finish this burger?  My eyes watered a little.  I took a second bite.  Still painful, my sinuses searing.  Did anyone even notice how miserable I must have looked?  I mean, the manager was at most two feet behind me as he spoke to the two women sitting to my left.  I had the bright idea of scraping off the “relish,” which was really just peppers.  (I have no idea what kind they were, but suffice to say, I am fearful of being in the same room as a ghost chili.)  This did nothing to alleviate the excessive horseradish, but at least the spiciness was diminished to the point where I didn’t feel like I was going to die.  Sadly, I wasn’t even left with the pleasant afterburn that I associate with spicy food.  (I think the burger itself was good, but for obvious reasons, I don’t really remember.)
The manager came by and asked me if I preferred red or white wine (red) and came back with it pretty quickly.  I was glad to know he hadn’t forgotten about it, as the place was loud and busy with not enough waitstaff to handle the crowd without running around like headless chickens.  The wine was fruity with just a hint of spice to it–very enjoyable.
My original waitress asked how I was doing and I ordered some tiramisu.  I didn’t need it to cool me off, but it just sounded good, and I was very glad I had ordered it.  It arrived in a stemless wine glass, which I didn’t expect.  I also didn’t expect it to be so airy with such a light coffee flavor.  Best tiramisu I’ve ever had?  Maybe.  (Will this small amount of coffee and the two drinks I had at dinner keep me from sleeping well tonight?  Likely.)

I wasn’t sure when a waiter or waitress would walk by again, and I saw the manager at the cash register, so I decided to just go over and pay there.  I mentioned that I had the burger (he did seem to appreciate my opinion that it was painfully hot), the wonderful tiramisu and the bourbon.  (“You didn’t have bourbon?”  Yeah, I did.  “My kind of girl.”)  I must have asked about the wine and was surprised to find out that it was a Sangiovese since I don’t normally like Italian wine; he said it was an Italian grape grown in Australia.

In other news, tomorrow I move to my host’s apartment since he is going out of town for a couple of weeks.  This is an upgrade. I had tea with him one day last week and was able to assess his rather minimalist apartment as being nicer than the one I’m currently staying in.  The one I’m in now is nice but a little old-fashioned in its decor and furnishings (I do love the blue and white bathroom though).

I’ll fill you all in later on things I’ve done this week.  For now, I need sleep.  Until next time…

*In my defense, the menu said “mustard,” and it looked like mustard.

Day 7: The post where I show my math skills

I decided that one night this week I want to go to the Sydney Tower and Madame Tussauds (probably the closest I’ll ever get to meeting Hugh Jackman) and was checking out prices online.  Both venues (as well as others) appear to be operated by the same company, so they offer bundle “deals.”  The one for Sydney Tower and Madame Tussauds is $54.  However, I was curious if the deal was cheaper than me booking on my own.

If you go to Madame Tussauds and buy you ticket on the spot, it’s $38.  However, if you book your tickets online for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. (closing time is at 8), tickets are only $26!  Booking tickets online for Sydney Tower is cheapest at $18.20 if you go between 9 a.m. (opening time) and 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. until the last entry at 9:30 (it closes at 10:30).  So for the two tickets, it’s $42.20, a savings of $11.80!  Not a huge difference, but every little bit helps, right?

Saturday night was the big fireworks show that was part of the International Fleet Review.  Earlier in the day, I had discovered the rooftop view from my apartment building.  The daytime view was excellent, but seeing the fireworks display from up there was astounding.  The fireworks were going off from at least six different points on the harbour, with smaller displays shooting off from the boats on the water.

Yesterday I went downtown to wander around the Royal Botanic Gardens, which are adjacent to the Opera House, something I didn’t know until yesterday.  I took the ferry from Mosman to Circular Quay (after waiting 45 minutes for one) and wandered around the park for a while, admiring the gardens and the view of the ships in the harbour.  Fortunately, I managed to only get slightly sunburned.

Last night was the National Rugby League Grand Final between the Sydney Roosters and the Manly Sea Eagles (FYI, Manly is a beach in Sydney).  This was a big deal; it was all over the news.  I tried watching some of the game just to see what all the fuss was about; it just struck me as pretty lawless and violent.  American football is pretty violent, but last night I saw things that the NFL would not approve of.  Come to find out, there are actual rules.  (Am I going to read them all?  Certainly not.)

Today was Australian Labour Day, so it was a long weekend.  I celebrated by running to the grocery store (twice), doing laundry, and eating a whole pack of dark chocolate Tim Tams.

That’s all for now.  Until next time…

Day 6: A Meandering Discourse on Various Topics

I am at least a little sad that I don’t have access to these things while in Australia.  In no particular order:

  • SiriusXM (specifically Madison, Richard Blade, 1st Wave, Alt Nation and SiriusXM U)
  • View of DC from Metro’s Yellow Line
  • 9:30 Club…it’s been way too long since I’ve been there.  Bands and concert attendees alike LOVE this place, and for good reason.
  • Merriweather Post Pavillion.  I wasn’t sure I liked outdoor venues until I came here.  Operated by the same people behind the 9:30 Club, so maybe that has something to do with it.
  • My friends and family (duh)
  • FrozenYo’s coconut frozen yogurt
  • SweetFrog
  • DC itself
  • Lavender Moon Cupcakery’s triple Belgian chocolate…seriously the best cupcake ever.
  • BGR The Burger Joint’s turkey burger
  • My favorite yoga teacher from the gym at work
  • Watching NFL football (Go Packers!).  Football was my Sunday afternoon activity of choice in the fall and winter.  But when the games air in America, it’s already Monday morning in Australia.
  • Being in the loop about sports and DC sports teams (Go Capitals!).  I’ll even miss the way the DC sports teams who make it to the playoffs choke every year without fail.  Sigh.  (I swear they’re cursed.)
  • My car
  • Rustico’s carrot hummus and lamb ragout

Things I Love So Far

  • AirBNB has served me well so far, and this apartment is no exception.  I have the place to myself, which is nice.  I can see the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge from my living room window.  I have a small balcony.  My host is pretty cool.  Bus stops are plentiful and easy to get to.  Taronga Zoo is maybe 20 minutes’ walk from here.  There are beaches nearby, also reachable by bus.  Did I mention the rooftop view is insane?
  • Mosman itself is a really cute, walkable suburb.  There are a few things I recognize (Nando’s Peri Peri, Lululemon), as well as a chocolate shop, cute cafes and coffee shops everywhere (although most of them close after lunch), promising restaurants, yoga and barre studios, and a lot of upscale clothing stores I can’t afford.
  • Sydney is just a beautiful city.  I can admire it from my living room and I can get there in maybe half an hour without difficulty. Like DC,  I think there must be something interesting happening there all the time.
  • My Amaysim Unlimited SIM card and plan.  Buying a SIM card meant I didn’t have to get a new phone.  I get 4 GB of data for $40 a month and unlimited calling.  I was really glad my host recommended this to me!
  • Google Maps and Apple’s FaceTime and iMessage have become invaluable to me.  I didn’t have steady WiFi or phone access for a couple of days and thus I was very leery of wandering too far from the apartment since I had no Google Maps to tell me what bus to hop on or which way to walk.  And while I recognize that you can learn a lot by getting lost (did that a fair amount of that in Northern Virginia), Google Maps has saved me at least twice from accidentally wandering in the opposite direction of my destination.  I’ve used FaceTime at least four times this week to talk to my parents and friends, and it’s been wonderful.  I’m so glad that so many of my people from back home have Apple products so we can text and video chat for free!
  • I got to see one of Sydney’s famous fireworks shows last night!  They don’t skimp on these things.

Potential Concerns

Australia’s fire season last year was really awful.  Before its official beginning on October 1 this year, there were 60 fires in New South Wales alone.  Summer 2012 was also terribly hot here.  September 2013 was the hottest on record for the area.  What will summer 2013 be like?

Transportation seemed really expensive for the bus and ferry trips I’ve taken so far.  I purchased a quarterly pass good for all ferries, buses and trains.  It was $654.  It’s for unlimited use, so I better damn well get my money’s worth.   If you use this five days a week, yeah, it’s probably a good deal, but I haven’t done too much exploring so far.  I had to order this pass online because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to buy it at a storefront.  Until I get it in the mail (this coming Thursday–how long could it take to send a pass in the mail?), I’ve been getting individual passes for each roundtrip.  A roundtrip bus ride to downtown Sydney was $9.20, and it was roughly half an hour each way.  This is expensive by DC standards; as I recall, the bus rides I took were maybe a couple bucks each.  Today I took the ferry (partially because the International Fleet Review is happening and I wanted to see the boats up close) and the cheapest option to do so was a day pass.  $22.  Plus, transportation is really confusing; they just changed the system so that MyMulti1 passes are no longer good for ferries.  I purchased the MyMulti3 because it was good for everything–I haven’t figured out what my primary modes of transportation will be or where I’ll be going regularly.  Also, why don’t they have a SmartCard equivalent here?  WMATA’s SmartCards allow people to put a certain amount of money on their cards beforehand; plus, they’re more durable than tickets and they’re good for all trains and buses.  They’re also widely available at stores and Metro stations.  The Opal card has only just become available, but it’s not good for all “zones” or all modes of transport.  For my purposes, it wouldn’t do me much good as I have yet to take a train and have only ventured downtown twice.

When I got here on Monday, Sydney was 14 hours ahead of America’s east coast.  Last night, (most of) Australia sprang forward an hour.  In a few weeks, America will fall back, widening the gap to 16 hours, presenting an even greater challenge to communication between me and all my friends and family back home.

That’s all for now.  I hope to get back here tomorrow to talk more about the International Fleet Review and the fireworks display in Sydney last night!