The Great Ocean Road

I finally got the chance to travel outside of the Melbourne area this month! It was honestly becoming really frustrating before we left. I got to see so many cool things before the semester started (see koala selfies and the like), but as soon as school began I just felt trapped. Everyone – including me – was too busy getting things under control to leave on any kind of real trip. But occasionally I still saw other exchange students making it out to other cities and areas, Sydney, Brisbane, and even as far north as Townsville and the Great Barrier Reef. I really felt like I was doing the exchange student thing wrong, just staying in the area around my exchange university all the time. But early in September I finally got the chance to get away from Monash and road trip the Great Ocean Road, one of the most visited tourist routes in Australia. Honestly it was really touristy, but so beautiful. We drove along the coast for two full days, stopping at lookouts and beaches along the way.

Bells Beach

We also got to see some awesome wildlife on the way, although sadly some critters weren’t interested in posing for any pictures.

Portuguese Man O’ War Jellyfish, these things were all over some of the beaches near the Apostles.

Our Koala buddy, not giving a hoot.

It was pretty cold and windy on our trip, and we even got rained on a few times, but we still got to see some really amazing sights, including a rainforest-like climate in the middle of the temperate southern hills, and just some really incredible lookouts.

Surreal tropical forest on the cold, rainy southern coast.

Teddy’s Lookout

The most well-known place we stopped at was the Twelve Apostles, a series of pillar-like land forms that stand out in the ocean a few hundred meters off shore. They each stand about as high as the cliffs that back the beaches, but they’re slightly misnamed now. When colonial settlers came across them there were still twelve, but over the last couple hundred years several have fallen, leaving only eight after the most recent collapse in 2005.

Just some of the Apostles. They’re scattered over several miles along the southern shore, so we had to drive to see each cluster of them.

We also took a break on the beach by our first Apostles stop to get some crazy group photos.

The most cliché photo I’d ever taken up to that point.

No, I don’t want to admit how many times we attempted this.

My favorite stop along the way was probably Thunder Cave, although the cave itself wasn’t my favorite. It is a cave worn into a gorge that creates a booming noise as the water comes surging through the gorge and crashes into the cave. It made for an impressive display of nature, but I think the looking down the gorge itself out into the open sea was my favorite view on the trip.

Thunder Cave

The view beyond (sadly, photo does not do it justice)

It was an awesome experience traveling with people I’ve met since I got here, and the short three day trip was a great warm up into longer trips further into Australia. I can’t wait to for my next journey.

 

 

Our very mature driver and copilot at our first meal break.

Side note: I was reminded on this trip of how much freedom is given by having a car. We could hardly bear to part with the tiny compact sedan that had us crammed hip to hip for hours each day.

Quite literally hugging the car behind. I dare say a few tears may have fallen shortly after this photo was taken.

Australia Post 4

I’m sure this sounds totally stereotypical and cliché, but I can’t believe how long I’ve been here already. It’s been a while since I’ve had time to write, but I realized when August hit that I’d already been here a month (that second rent bill was a pretty firm reminder). Now the two months mark is just a couple days away.

 

I’m not just marveling at “time flying” or anything like that, I’m startled because this feels so different than my last trip abroad. Last summer I spent only 5 weeks abroad in Italy, and as much as I loved my experience there, by the time a month had passed I was very ready to go home. I knew I would miss the beautiful ancient city centers and Tuscan landscape (I started missing the crepes and gelato before I even got on the plane to leave), but I was tired of living abroad the way I was in Italy. I was sharing a room in a bed and breakfast with two other girls most of the time I was there, and when I was traveling I was stuck hauling everything I’d brought with me – which was far too much. As the month wore on, all the little things started to get to me, the heat and humidity and lack of air conditioning in my accommodation (and in most buildings), the half mile hike to the nearest place I could do laundry, and just the general stress that I associated with living in extremely temporary circumstances – for example, we had almost no storage furniture, so we were all living out of our suitcases and one small wardrobe.

 

Now, I’m complaining a lot about Italy, but I want to point out that everything there was intended only for a month, and it served me fine for that long. And there were a lot of nice things that I’m skipping over because they’re not part of the point I’m trying to make here. Going back to Australia, I was surprised when I realized I’d hit the one month mark because I didn’t feel remotely like I had after spending a month in Italy. Where Italy left me stressed and travel weary after a month, here in Australia I actually feel at home, and I think it has everything to do with the differences in how I’m living here and for how long. My accommodation is much more comfortable here. I have my own room in an apartment, my clothes are all stored in a closet, and the laundry is just downstairs. I have space in my room to make it my own, and I did so with a few small purchases from Ikea. There is a sense of permanence to what I’ve created in my room, even though I’ll only be here for one semester, and also because I’ll be here for an entire semester. And on top of that, I’ve built relationships here, and a routine that works for me. I’ve learned the public transit system and become familiar with the main city as well as the suburbs I live in and go to school in. I’m anchored in Australia by the people I’ve met here and the places I’ve become familiar with. In Italy, I never really got out of the OU bubble. It’s just too hard to escape it in Arezzo. The people I became close to were all returning to OU as well, so the only attachment I felt to Italy because of them was the memories we’d made. So, while I loved going there, I was never really more anchored than a tourist, and it’s hard to enjoy living as a tourist forever – at least, it is when you make the mistakes I did (see previous posts on overpacking and such).

 

I guess what I’m discovering is that living in a place like you’ll be there for a month is an entirely different and to me, less fun experience than living in a place like you’ll be there for a semester. A semester is long enough to justify building some roots and getting a few comforting touches for yourself, and it’s long enough to really begin to feel invested in where you are. I’m a lot more attached to my place in Australia now than I ever was to Italy, and it’s largely because I came here with the attitude that I would be here for a good long while, and because there was no OU bubble to hide in. I guess my take away here is that my mentality and the arrangements I make for myself have a big impact on how I feel as time goes on while I travel, and I’ll need to remember that the next time I decide to go abroad.

Aussie Food Review

So since food is like 80% of what I think about anyway, I figured I’d try writing a post on food here in Australia, so here goes.

Random Australian Food Item No. 1: Vegemite
There’s a very interesting obsession with vegemite here that I would liken to an American southerner’s obsession with calf fries: whether you’ve actually had them or not, you know exactly how weird they are, but you feel a strange connection to them anyway, maybe because of a shared regional origin or something. Australian attitudes toward vegemite are similar. So first off, what is the stuff? Vegemite. Sounds like it’s made of vegetables, and maybe mites. Or maybe it’s what Popeye the Sailor would eat, mighty vegetables? Spinach? Nope. It’s yeast. And frankly, it’s plain weird. Even Australians will tell you to use extreme caution when eating this stuff, and I mean every single one of the dozen or so Aussies who has asked me if I’ve tried vegemite has said this. It’s made to be eaten as a spread on a piece of bread or toast, but no one ever does it right the first time. They pile it on like peanut butter and Nutella, and then they throw up. You’re supposed to put the thinnest layer you possibly can on a piece of bread, then scrape half of that off. And that still might be too much. And to help hide even more of the salty, meaty, beer-like taste (it is made of yeast after all) you’re supposed to put a thick layer of butter on that bread first (this also makes it easier to remove more vegemite when you inevitably use too much). Honestly, as little as you’re supposed to use at a time I don’t understand how people actually go through an entire jar in a lifetime. But it’s supposed to be a big source of vitamins, all the jars say “vitamin B” on the front, so I can see the interest in training little kids to like it.
     Rating: Try it once, because it’s so very Australian you really can’t say you came and didn’t try it. But if you care at all about your taste buds definitely use caution.

 

(pic stolen from the internet)

 

Random Australian Food Item No. 2: Tim Tams
I always heard about Tim Tams on the internet and never understood why some people were so obsessed with them – the attitude here is similar to that directed at Twinkies in the US. Now I’m starting to. They’re literally everywhere, in all kinds of flavors. I think I can sort of compare them to Oreos, in the variety of flavors that exist and in the fact that they’re both made of chocolate cookie-cracker-things with some kind of creamy, sugary filling. In the case of TimTams, they’re both filled with and dipped in (usually) chocolate. And they’re amazing. They’re at every social event that has snacks, and they’re always the first thing to go. Also like Oreos, the packages never have enough of them. Ever. The residence hall I’m in often supplies a single package of them at social events, and while we have a pretty small hall and an even smaller turnout at social events, those Tim Tams never make it around the room a second time. If you don’t get one on the first pass they’re gone.
     Rating: Yes. Try them. Love them. Don’t keep them in the house if you don’t plan to eat an entire package in two days or less. (so yeah, Australian Oreos)

The deliciousness captured
Typical store display, they’ll dedicate half an aisle to these things

Random Australian Food Item No. 3: Kangaroo Meat
You had to know that one was coming. Not reviewing kangaroo meat would be like going to Oklahoma and never having beef. I tried kangaroo meat at a food truck in the Queen Victoria Night Market in Melbourne. The truck offered crocodile burgers on squid ink buns, emu sausages with grilled veg on top, and kangaroo burgers on beet root buns. Upon questioning the saleswoman, I learned that yes, it was real squid ink, and no, it added no flavor to the bun, it just dyed it black and made it look both cool and slightly disturbing (ever looked at an ink-black burger bun? It’s unsettling). It was the same for the beet root, so I ordered my kangaroo burger, figuring I’d come back to try the croc and squid another time (hopefully next week). The ‘Roo meat, as the cook called it, was similar to beef in texture, although I imagine most ground red meat is similar in texture. The flavor was nothing particularly strange either, it just tasted like meat, maybe similar to beef, but again that could have had to do with it being ground. However, it was very well cooked. That burger was downright delicious, and unlike most well cooked beef, it really wanted to crumble apart in chunks. I was warned not to try to cook it myself first or I would never want to try it again, and I can see why now. The ‘Roo patty I tried was amazing, better than most beef burgers I’ve had, but I could tell by the texture that it would be easy to mess up if you didn’t know what you were doing. The way it crumbled, it was almost verging on gritty, and I suspect a poor or even mediocre kangaroo patty would be pretty dry and gristly. Luckily, I got a really, really well cooked burger, so hopefully my luck holds for future kangaroo meat trials.
Rating: Definitely try it, but be smart about where you go. Queen Vic Night Market seems to be a good place.

‘Roo Burger and Emu Sausage in all their delicious glory

Bonus Australian Food Item: Emu Sausage
Bonus because I didn’t really eat the whole thing. My friend ordered it at the same place I got my ‘roo burger, so I only had a bite and don’t feel justified in giving a full review. My one bite tasted pretty typical of sausage to me, I honestly couldn’t tell much of a difference, except that the skin they used to hold the sausage together was so thin and so similar in texture to the meat of the sausage that I almost couldn’t tell it was there. But again, superbly cooked sausage. Maybe I’m just reviewing this food truck more than I am the kinds of meat, but so be it.
     Emu Sausage Rating: Worth trying, I would buy myself one to get a proper try, given another chance.
     Queen Vic Market Strange Meats Food Truck Rating: A+, definitely go there for all your weird meat cravings.

Getting Ready for Australia

As I prepare to go abroad in July, I continue to be surprised by how much I have to do, how hard it actually is to go abroad, how fast my departure date is approaching… going abroad is just one huge exciting mess. And a ton of (usually really minor) stuff always goes wrong.

How much I have to do:

Course equation requests. Language placement tests. Choose Australian insurance. Order a Visa. Order plug adapters. Buy a plane ticket. Sort out housing in Monash. The list goes on and on (and on and on…). I’m surprised people ever actually make it abroad, I keep getting hung up on this eternally long “to do” list (and I actually really like “to do” lists). It feels like I will spend the next year trying to check all of these boxes just so I can go abroad, and this is just what is required of me by OU and Monash. It doesn’t even include all the things I have to purchase/do to function in Australia once I get there (see: plug adaptors, unlocking bank card/credit card for international use, figuring out cell phone service…). But I’ve done this before (with slightly less red tape thanks to it being an OU program) and I made it then, and other people have made it abroad before. I know it all gets sorted out and eventually I get on the plane and arrive, and that’s what it’s all about. I just hope I don’t lose my head before then!

Things that go wrong:

For example: last time I went abroad I way overpacked with all the wrong clothes. And I had more information about where I was going than I do this time. I also had various little issues with hotels and taxis and communication… the list always goes on and on.

I’m trying to minimize the number of those mistakes for this trip, but I’m realizing (thankfully before I leave this time) that stuff is just going to happen. Maybe this time I won’t haul 30 lbs of clothes I won’t wear across an ocean, but something else will go wrong. Maybe I won’t have warm enough stuff for cold nights, or dry enough clothes for the rainy season. Maybe my taxi ride from the airport to my hotel won’t cost 90 euros this time, but it’ll take me hours to find it. Or it will take me to the wrong place first.

I’m not trying to be pessimistic or predict everything that will go wrong, my point is just that things are always going to happen. No one can prepare for every contingency, but, at least for “Type A” people like me, it’s really hard not to try. And that was how I wound up hauling 30 unnecessary lbs of unbearably hot dress clothes and uncomfortable shoes around the Italian train system for a week of my last study abroad (in addition to the other 30 lbs of junk with varying degrees of usefulness in my suitcase). I swore not to do that again, but because I’m a faithful believer in Murphy’s Law, I know I’ll just make another mistake instead. And that’s fine. If I can lug a 60 lb suitcase up and down multiple flights of stairs and down cobblestone streets and still have a good time in Italy, then I can handle whatever goes wrong with Australia and still have a good time. Big perk I’m seeing to semester long study abroad: guaranteed “home base” to store most stuff at so I can take light bags on weekend trips (see: no more hauling 60 lb suitcase).

How fast my departure date is approaching:

Too fast. Not fast enough. It seems forever away, then I turn around and it’s May, and I leave two months from Saturday when I swear it was four months away a minute ago. It seems forever away through a mound of paperwork and purchases and phone calls to make, but then I clear another hurdle and it looks a lot closer. It’s one crazy psychological roller coaster that’s going to come to a screeching halt when my plane finally touches down in Melbourne. Then a whole new roller coaster starts.