Para Para Paradise: 6 Days of Whitsundays

Joe and I were long overdue for a couple’s vacation. We realized that we haven’t gone away, just the two of us, for longer than an extended weekend since our honeymoon three years ago. We left work on Tuesday and geared up to start the celebration by watching the Coldplay concert in Melbourne. Their “Para para paradise” song sent us on our way with our pasty skin and beach bags ready for the wonders of Queensland, Australia to celebrate my 30th birthday and our first out-of-Victoria excursion together.

Colorful wristbands lit up the energy filled stadium at the Coldplay concert in Melbourne

Day 1

Our trip to the Whitsunday Islands started at Hamilton Island where we flew in just to catch a ferry to our first destination: Daydream Island. Upon our arrival, a bottle of birthday bubbly and some chocolate along with a note reading “Estas son las mañanitas…” (Joe thinks of everything) awaited us in our ocean front room overlooking the other islands nearby. Napping on a hammock is one of my favorite past times (not that I have many hammocks around my life), so luckily hammocks are easy to find along every corner of the island. Joe and I cozied up in a nice spot to watch the sun set on our first night of our much-awaited vacation. Some long legged birdies and wallabies even joined us for the fantastic view!

Arriving at the Hamilton Island Airport


Hammock time

Our sunset viewing party

Day 2

I met two sea turtles while paddle boarding in the ocean! Hard to believe our trip could get any better than this… but it does, just wait… it does! Joe went out on a kayak and I tried paddle boarding for the first time (LOVE!). While out on the water we burned some calories and saw some sea turtles come up for air. The small island had plenty of activities to go around including put-put golf, several pools, a nature hike, water sports, cricket, beach and pool lounging, and of course… hammock naps. Hammock nap No 2 happened on day 2! Elevated above the ground, feeling so light and unattached to any worries on earth, our vacation was doing exactly what it is meant to do. At least it was until a kangaroo running by at what seemed like 30mph interrupted our peacefully swaying hammock. No kangaroos or humans were harmed, but it was a close call.

Coral beach on Daydream Island

Stingrays at the live reef on Daydream Island

Sharks at the live reef on Daydream Island

Day 3

Nothing but gold skin and smiles as we boarded a “Cruise Whitsundays” boat, “Seaflight”, to the Great Barrier Reef. The cruise took 250 people out to the reef to snorkel, scuba and sightsee around the Reef World Pontoon floating just above the Great Barrier Reef. Scuba diving was the highlight of the morning while the 248 passengers departed in the mid-afternoon; leaving just Joe and I on the pontoon was the highlight of the afternoon. The ocean breeze kissed our sun drenched skin as we watched the tide drop on the reef, leaving the coral that was once below the crystal water visible above the ocean. Looking around we could see nothing but the horizon. The sun eventually met the sea and the stars shone brightly on what was a bright blue canvas throughout the day.  After the sun disappeared and the stars showed their bright lights, we had an amazing dinner in the pontoon’s underwater viewing room. Our butler babe (aka Nina) did an amazing job looking after us, cooking for us, and ensuring we had nothing to worry about during our overnight stay as the only “Reef Sleepers” that night. As a 400kg Grouper (largest boney fish in the Reef) watched us dine in style, we could not believe we were out in the middle of one of the 7 Wonders of the World. What an incredible life this is!

Cruise Whitsundays Boat

Exploring the pontoon

Ready for scuba diving!

Enjoying the view

Enjoying the sunset with the best compliments of wine, cheese, and Joe

Blue sky turns to gold as the night falls

Birthday dinner in the underwater observatory

Our friend George, the Queensland Grouper

Day 4

On our first day out at the Reef I noticed that most of the tourists didn’t look as excited as we were feeling to be out experiencing such an incredible place. Ticking off boxes is life’s way of tricking us into thinking we’re enjoying our experiences. Scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, sitting back and watching the sun set over the horizon, enjoying dinner in an under water observatory with a 400kg fish as our dinner guest, star gazing over the ocean and waking up to see the sun rise over the blue horizon, coloring all the clouds in the sky 50 shades of purple – no boxes ticked there, just memories engrained in my mind forever. The beauty and serenity out at the Reef is impressive, at least it was until the mid-morning when the cruise arrived with a new set of noisy tourists who were there to “tick off their box”.  Despite our disrupted silence out on the pontoon, we were able to escape the chatter for a quick helicopter ride to see the famous heart shaped reef.  No words can describe how surreal the experience was. All there is to see are endless miles of expansive bright turquoise reef and crystal clear water. The water is so clear you can see straight through, revealing even the stingrays hovering over the sand.  Truly incredibly natural beauty.

Sunrise over the Reef

Coral above the water during low tide

Ready for lift off

Heart shaped reef view from the helicopter

No wonder it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World

Our amazing crew helped make the Reef Sleep trip super accessible

Day 5

The best kinds of vacation days are those filled with absolutely no commitments… and great ocean views. We checked in to our last destination of the trip: Reef View Hotel on Hamilton Island. Our room on the 14th floor dawned over breathtaking views of the Whitsunday Islands and welcomed us again with a bottle of bubbly wishing me a happy birthday (Oh that Joe!). Our lazy day on the island consisted of lounging poolside, more paddle boarding – this time mixing it up with some yoga moves balancing on the water, drinking at the swim-up bar, and an afternoon snooze on the pool chair. We ended the day laughing our socks off at each other’s ridiculousness at dinner together.

View from our balcony at the Reef View Hotel

Lounging poolside enjoying some live tunes

Delicious and laughter filled dinner at Romano’s

Day 6

Whoever said all good things must come to an end must have gone on a lot of really great vacations. We made use of every last sunshine filled moment on our last day on the islands, but doesn’t it always seem like you could use just one more day of holiday? Heading to the airport we must have looked like the long faced tourists we saw in the departure lounge upon our arrival. Our fate caught up to us and the tables had turned – now envying the pale-skin, happy-faced new island dwellers just getting off the plane that was about to take us away from the lovely sun and sea we enjoyed all week.

Can’t we just stay?

Bike, rain, and wine

We ventured out of the Melbournian box and took a short little trip out to the Yarra Valley with our bikes and buddies, Gerardo and Diana, last weekend. The Yarra Valley is about 45 minutes outside of Melbourne and is home to a beautiful country side filled with rolling hills, delicious vineyards and vast farmlands. The area serves as a much-needed escape from the bustling city and concrete jungle.

In theory, biking on a trail from winery to winery sounds like a great way to spend a weekend, but the weather and steep hill variables were not considered before making these plans. If you are considering biking the Yarra Valley bike trail, hope for sunny and dry weather and plan your wine tasting tour on a separate trip. Joe and Gerardo rode up on the train to Lilydale with Joe’s wheelchair and hand cycle while Diana and I drove up in the torrential rain with our luggage and three other bikes. As the rain kept pounding on the windshield, we questioned our intentions to bike around the valley. The warning signs didn’t scare off the boys. From the Lilydale station, they found the Warburton Trail and headed through the mud to our first stop at the Whispering Hills Cellar Door. Soaking wet and covered in mud, the adventure seeking men dried up next to the cozy wood stove chimney and we all enjoyed some incredible Persian Feta (among other yummy cheeses) and a great selection of wine. The Chardonnay is a must try at Whispering Hills! We ended evening with a warm, delicious dinner at the Innocent Bystander in Healesville. Known for their Moscato on tap, the Innocent Bystander delivers multiple gastronomic treats from the cheese room to the artisan bakery and everything in between. Be sure to check them out if you’re in the area!

Joe booked us into a bed and breakfast home to some friendly pets: mini ponies and lambs, Baaarb and Baaart! Sue and Graeme at Woodhaven Park provided a comfortable and lovely home away from home.

The second day we rode on praying the rain had made its way out of the valley.

Joe back on his bike, working on those biceps and staying dry on day 2.

Gerardo toting along Joe’s wheelchair on a questionably reliable milk crate. We’re classy down under!

It turns out that although the Warburton Trail doesn’t actually take the bikers, pedestrians, horses and pets enjoying the trail sights to the wineries’ front doors, a biking winery tour in Yarra Valley is possible… hard work, but possible. Engaging our powerful quads (and biceps), we muscled our way up steep hills to enjoy the free wine tastings the wineries have to offer (Free Alert: most things in Australia aren’t cheap, much less free, but all the wineries offer free tastings of their deliciously fermented grape juices!). The first stop was a bust with only two wines on the tasting menu, but at the second stop: Seville Estate a friendly winery dog welcomed us to wine room with a stunning valley view and big, bold award-winning wines. Home to some of the best wines I’ve had in Australia, Joe and I came home with a 2008 Shiraz and an Old Vine 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. After wetting our palettes and working up an appetite, we headed for winery No. 3 for the day.

At Seville Estates.

What goes up, must come down and (in the case of winery hunts on this trip)… must come up again. After a few kilometers of tough, calorie burning hills, our welcomed wine happiness started wearing off and muscle fatigue set in. Turns out that normal business hours aren’t necessarily standard in the valley, so winery 3, Ainsworth Estate, had no wine or cheese to offer us that day.

Diana and Joe owning the road (this was a nice hill).

Friendly tip: Call ahead of time to ensure tasting rooms are open (and serving food if you’re hungry).

With a 1 for 3 track record for the day we were hoping to break even with our last stop at Brimfield Winery.  We struck gold with the homey tasting room and café. Treated to a special home-made Dukkah (a delicious Egyptian spice and nut mixture) with olive oil and bread, the small family run winery provided the much-needed fuel we needed to bike back to the car and train station to begin our trip home.

Accessorizing with our helmets, we headed back after a nice, short weekend getaway.

Aussie is the new normal

We define new normals all the time, but when things like stores closing at 6pm on weeknights, saying “how you going” to greet people, and incorporating about 50 “no worries” into daily speech became more normal than not, I realized that I am home. I jump on the tram or train without hesitation (and actually know where I’m going). I don’t even look at wines from other countries on the wine lists anymore… local Aussie wine only for this lady please! Melbourne and the Aussie way are my new normal. Stress free, easy going, amazing food, city living, normal.

With a new normal set comfortably into place, I’ve also sinked in to a bit of nostalgia for the old normal. For outdoor wine nights with friends (with California wines), sunny beach walks, daily catch-ups with family (especially my drive home calls to mom), and slobbery kisses from my four-legged girls as a welcome home from work. The blog and facebook updates are also less frequent because of this normalcy. As exotic and adventurous as living down under sounds, the fact is that our day-to-day lives don’t differ much from when we were in L.A. Our lives have adopted the local culture and we’re considered… scoff… normal (but still totally rad of course). We work, eat out, grocery shop (not using the granny cart as much these days… must be learning some city living tricks of the trade), have poker nights, work out, do yoga, watch movies, check out live music venues, entertain with dinner at our place… you know, the norm. I miss miss miss all the amazing people we shared those lovely “normal” things with back in L.A., but it hardly seems like the daily activities are something to write home about… or a blog post at that (but here it is anyway).

 Dinner with me, Joe, Geoff, Vish & Emma. Mexican feast and blood orange margaritas on the menu!


Lazy dinner night with Jimmy and Colleen… wine, pizza and a very special cutie pattutie!

Did you pick up on the similar camera angle? Thank goodness for bar carts and self timers to help capture memories!

New normal or old normal, normal or not, life continues to roll on with amazing people coming in and out of it giving us exactly what we need in that moment. I miss my amigos back home more than I can describe, but love the new ones I’m making in Melbourne. We’re so lucky to have amazing people to pick up along our journey! I wish we could carry each amazing friend in our pocket like lucky pennies (or 5 cent coins for my Aussie friends) and never be so far away.

Fun fact: The lowest monetary denomination in Australia is the 5 cent coin. So if you buy something at $9.96 the change gets rounded up and you end up paying $10… although few things in Australia actually costs $10.

 

Bali or bail

The transitions out of LA, out of a job I’ve learned so much in, and out of the comforts of our cozy home opened a door of uncertainty, excitement, and sometimes fear. Nevertheless, I dove in fully with faith that things would fall into the places they were meant to be in.

With my position in LA finishing up and my future wide open, I have been thinking long and hard about what I want that future to be. I think downward dog has a part in it somehow… First stop was the group interview at lululemon last month! Part of the group interview encouraged everyone to set 10, 5, and 1 year personal, professional, and health goals (the worksheet can also be found on their website… hint, hint… Try it out! It’s life changing!). Thanks to this exercise, I was on my way to figuring out what I wanted my future life to look like. Or at least it allowed me to get started on designing the idea of that future.

In filling out the goal setting worksheet I asked myself what I love in life. What I’m passionate about. What I would do if I knew I couldn’t fail (another incredible credit to the lululemon site’s blog). This is a big question, one that we should all ask ourselves more often. What would you do with your life if failing wasn’t an option? Check out the goal coach blog post where I first read this intriguing question here.

I would do more with yoga. I mean, I already practice it, I love it, it makes me feel good, keeps me centered, helps me keep in shape, lowers my anxiety and stress levels, heals my back injury, and so much more. It is the one thing that I do just for me. A practice centered around improving my life both on and off the mat. That’s why I was at the lululemon interview in the first place, wasn’t it? I want to have better life balance, I want to blend a healthy lifestyle into what I do for a living, and not just incorporate it as a side passion when I have time.

After my group interview, I was invited back for a yoga class with some team members from the store. After that, I was asked to come in for a one-on-one interview with the store manager. That interview was just a couple of days ago and… it went as best it could have gone. I was offered a job as a Key Leader! The friendly and ambitious disposition of everyone at the company is a great start to my new career (hoping to build strong friendships like the ones I had the pleasure of knowing at USC)! The decision to take the job was easy… working for the young and unique company has always been appealing to me, and now it is a reality! Nevertheless, the dramatic change in direction as a career is as nerve-wracking as it is exciting. I can’t help but think of all the time I spent dedicated to public health, of my student loan debt from graduate school, and of other prospective global health opportunities I am putting on hold to join an entirely different culture and industry.

The move from LA to Melbourne has become so much more than a world adventure. Being here has allowed me space to question how and why things don’t have to remain the same in life. We create our own change. We drive our own decisions and actions. Fear of the unknown, failure, judgment stands in the way of some on the incredible pleasures life has to offer. Fear is sometimes there to protect us from danger, but mostly it just holds us back. Removing fear from the equation opens us up to endless possibilities… Possibilities of creating what you want in your life, and letting go of things that aren’t serving you. For me, in this time, it is a new career through yoga.

With this in mind and a lululemon job in the bag (yay!!!) I keep thinking about how to take this to the next level. I’ve been considering various yoga teacher training programs and have narrowed it down to three schools. Two are in Melbourne and I would take the course over a 10-12 month period, the third is a 5-week intensive YogaWorks teacher training program in Bali. I know what you’re thinking… 5 weeks in Bali! Sounds very Eat, Pray, Love of me! And mostly just sounds like an incredible experience, but this is about more than a trip to paradise. It is about diving deeply into a practice that has helped me immensely over the years, rediscovering who I am and who I want to be (at the risk of sounding like a quarter-life crisis). If I choose the Bali program, I’m choosing what appears to be the most challenging and most intense program of the three. Intense challenges usually prove to be the most rewarding as well. But I have to ask myself if I’m ready for this step, if I’m ready to discover, and if I’m ready to be gone for 5 weeks to take on this challenge.

In these questions lies an incredible truth… I actually think that it’s Bali or bail. If I’m not ready to dive that deeply then I should question my intentions of pursuing any type of training program. If I let go of the fear, then bailing on my dream is not an option.

I can’t wait for it to unfold!

This picture was taken in January 2012 at Big Bear Lake, CA. Standing in tree just feels right! Love that Gouda made a cameo in her argyle!

Back Home

I just got home from being home… yea, it confuses me too. Leaving LA the first time was a little easier knowing I’d return in a couple of months for work. The much-anticipated trip back to Los Angeles came along quickly and walking into my office building felt like a completely natural work day… almost as if no time had passed since I left over two months ago. I went back to LA to finish up my work projects at USC. The week went by quickly with some time to see friends and catch up with colleagues (who are obviously also friends… no sense in separating the two). I soaked up the sun and then said goodbye again. Being back was both hard and reassuring. It is hard to leave friends, family again but I wanted to come back to Melbourne. Not only because Joe was here eating instant noodles for two weeks, but because this trip meant cutting off the last commitment back in LA. With work done, I could dive into my next step in Melbourne without hesitation.

California dreamin’

Feeling slightly vitamin D deficient, I soaked up as much sun as I could during the times I wasn’t in the office (while being sun smart and using sunscreen of course). Since we liquidated our lives in April, I was car-less in a city that is just starting to know the meaning of public transit, so my amazing friends lent me their convertible car for the week! As I drove down the 405 with the top down, I wondered to myself how and why I never had a convertible in LA. Will be on the must do list when we return I guess!

I wish I had more photos from my meet ups in LA, but with no camera in hand and an iPhone with no service in the states, I was at the mercy of others for picture memories for the first part of my trip. I finally invested in a nice digital camera that paid off later on!

Dinner with the group! Some much-needed Mexican food and Margaritas!

Work trip to the Getty Museum during our tour of LA where I played tour guide to a group from around the Pacific.

Cutest ever (missed your Ry!) excited about their boxing Australian kangaroos.

The last frontier

Bring back state-side, I was able to get some much needed family time in (both with the Guintu and the Flores clans). My brother has lived in Alaska for the last two years and I am embarrassed to say that this was my first time up for a visit. The long over due trip took my parents, Tia Alicia, and I up to the beautiful last frontier.

The climate is harsh, the landscape is rugged, but South East Alaska it is an undeniably beautiful part of our country. With bald eagles nestled in the trees as if they were ordinary birds, salmon fishermen geared up in their Xtra Tuffs (the must have rain boot in Alaska… or gummies as they are referred to here in Melbourne), and black bears roaming the paved streets of town, Ketchikan has a lot to offer the nature obsessed. The vast rainforest reproduces on top of itself and the snowcapped mountains are the perfect backdrop to the picturesque town. It was an absolutely incredible place to spend time with family and take in all that the area has to offer.

  

Beautiful Bald Eagles in the Alaskan wild.

Grown Bald Eagle (left), adolescent bald eagle (right) waiting for salmon scraps near dusk.

Alaskan staple, Xtra Tuff rain boots. If you want to make a fashion statement then you’d wear yours with a cute dress!

An incredible sighting of a black bear with her two cubs on our first night in Alaska!

  

A visit to the Totem Bright State Historical Park full with a clan house and amazing historic art.

Ketchikan, Alaska is a port to many Alaskan cruises. But this special family treatment is hard to come by.

My bearded Alaskan brother was the perfect guide (and fishing buddy to my dad) for our Alaskan adventure. Pictured here with my awesome parents and me. My aunt, cousins and friends also helped make the trip an incredible memory! Thanks for taking the time to feed us delicious food and showing us your beautiful part of the state!

 

Land of Luon

Those who know me know of my lululemon passion, obsession really. Naturally, upon arriving I scoped our the lululemon scene in the city and was happy to find that a store was conveniently situated right next door to my gym. One day after a workout, I made a quick visit to the store to indulge in a strictly viewing pleasure. In my usual workout attire, I walked in head to toe luon and one of the friendly faces in the store greeted me by asking, “Do you work at lululemon? or are you just a big fan.” My response, “No, I don’t work here, but I wish I did.”  Little did I know that was as easy as it was to open the door… just know what you want, ask for it and you will create change in your life.

I’m on my way to my lululemon group interview! I’m so excited for this! I’ve been dreaming about this opportunity for months. As soon as I knew I’d be leaving behind my University job, I knew my next career step would take me in a different direction. I hope it’s headed to a land of luon! The company is so current. A seamless blend of functional clothes that make you look and feel hot and a creative culture that embodies design thinking mentality to empower and motivate their community. I’ve been a part of the lululemon community for a couple of years now and never looked back. The company stands for so much more than yoga pants… It pushes the boundaries of meritocracy and empowers their employees to pursue goals beyond the company. Hope this is the start of something great!

Diving and danger in Queensland

From Sydney, Amy and I flew to Cairns (pronounced cans). Word of advice while traveling within Australia… JetStar is an inexpensive no frills airline (similar to Southwest Airlines in the States) but don’t expect it to run on time or get on with free luggage. Apparently you need to pre-book your luggage when you book your flight while traveling within Australia to avoid excessive baggage fees (and you’ll have to stay within the strict weight limit as well). One domestic travel aspect that works in a light traveler’s favor is that there are no liquid restrictions on domestic flights, but aerosols need to have a cap, otherwise they will get tossed (R.I.P. foaming sunless tanner).

After an incident at security (may or may not have had anything to do with Amy being scanned for explosives…twice) and a flight delay due to an airport fire in Cairns, we arrived at the much awaited Great Barrier Reef! Well, to the Cairns airport at least. We flew into Cairns and took a shuttle from the airport to Port Douglas (about 1.5 hours north), where all the boat departures and most area tours are based. Port Douglas is a cute beach town with no traffic lights and a main strip of restaurants and bars that entertain both locals and tourists at night. The area was not filled with the white sandy beaches I was expecting to relax on. The ocean water was a murky home to crocodiles and jellyfish. To experience the aqua blue waters you would expect to see, you have to travel about 2 hours by boat out to the Great Barrier Reef. The sights above and below water are more than words (or pictures) can eloquently express.

Scuba Diving in the Great Barrier Reef

After a lifelong dream of experiencing the land under the sea (did the Little Mermaid soundtrack play in your head too?), I finally got to scuba dive for the first time! Not certified? Don’t fret, you can dive through an introductory open water course. I felt a little more prepared since Joe and I went through an intro pool dive five years ago when he was in the rehab hospital in Denver. The pool intro definitely prepared me for what to expect in the open ocean. However, most in our group had never strapped on scuba gear before. On the ride out to the reef, a scuba instructor carefully explained the breathing technique, hand signals, and ear equalizing to the group.

I highly recommend taking the Poseidon Reef Snorkeling and Dive tour. I went on three introductory dives on my first time out! My first time down I was purely concentrated on three things: breathing in, breathing out, and not losing the scuba instructor. I’m not sure why I thought if I took my eyes off of him I might get lost in the great ocean. The next two times down I was really able to take it all in. Sitting on the ocean floor, getting kissed on the goggles by a big orange fish, and touching a purple clam the size of our bulldog, Gouda (oh, how I miss those girls), was surreal. Next up, scuba certification!

I didn’t get any pictures of my dives, but just imagine the beauty under here:

The Daintree Rainforest

Just about 40 minutes north of Port Douglas you can explore the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest rainforest in the world where the tropical plants grow straight out to the Australian shore. The Daintree is home to some pretty impressive species of plants and animals, including some crazy venomous snakes, cantaloupe-sized spiders, and killer birds.

As our tour guide described how almost everything that lived in the forest could cause possible human death, Amy and I kept guard out for lurking spider webs and thorny plant vines swinging overhead. What we didn’t expect was to encounter a rare and endangered prehistoric flightless bird called a Cassowary. As we strayed from our tour group to listen in on interesting forest facts other tour guides were sharing with their groups, a gigantic animal resembling a turkey, but with a blue head and dinosaur feet jumped out in front of us on the trail! “A cassowary!” I shouted. I only knew about this bird because about 15 minutes prior, our guide pointed out a Cassowary Plum, a seed that grows in the rainforest only after being digested and excreted by the Cassowary bird. The seed is toxic to any other animal that eats it, but the Cassowary bird and the Cassowary Plum have this interesting symbiotic relationship going that allows both of them to benefit off each other. The bird came and went, and our group missed it, walking ahead of us eager to get back in the car. A different tour guide, panicked by the surprise appearance of the bird, warned his group to stay away from the bird since they have been known to attack by jumping on people until they puncture the person’s jugular with their deathly claws if they feel threatened. We got to see it (and get a good picture)!

  

The Daintree is filled with Jurassic-age species of plants, gravity defying vines, and other interesting mosses and fungi:

  

  

The rain started to come down as we explored, but only a few drops of water hit our heads since the dense, multi-layered canopy was acting as a natural umbrella from the rain.

While lunch was on the barbie, Amy and I ventured out in a canoe down the river by ourselves. I’d like to say that we braved grand rapids (although we were the only two in the group who made it out of the small wading lagoon into the river), wrestled crocs, and fished for our lunch, but the ride was pretty uneventful… well, except for that large Eastern Water Dragon that plopped in the water in front of our canoe. Before heading out for our official river boat tour, I picked up a rainforest rock for my nephew, Tyler, who is fascinated by geology.

To wrap up our time in the Daintree Rainforest, we headed on a river boat and set out to see the mangroves and some Aussie crocs! We spotted 5 – 2 males and 3 females! Since it is the beginning of winter here, the crocs are pretty sedentary. They come in from the ocean and practically hibernate on the mudbanks. The mangrove-lined river displayed an intricate web of mangrove roots, home to spawning fish before they head out to sea. We were on the river at low tide, so we were able to really appreciate the shallow rooted trees.

  

We ended the forest tour with a stop by the famous Floravilla Ice Cream Factory, a biodynamic, organic and very tasty ice cream treasure in Daintree. It was a great way to rattle our taste buds and cool off with flavors like black sapote, pumpkin cinnamon, rhubarb, goji berry, avocado, and chili chocolate.

And then it was time to say goodbye… to beautiful Queensland and my friend. My first Aussie exploration would not have been as memorable without a partner in crime. Amy, thanks for being our first visitor and for being the best crazy repeller, dessert eating, spider killing, dolphin stealing travel buddy I could have asked for!

Look out on top of Mount Alexandra in the Daintree Rainforest

Sydney, sunny and delicious

Homesickness struck during my first trip away from our new home in Australia. Sydney reminded me so much of Los Angeles. The sunny weather, the beautiful beaches, and the endless supply of fun and active things to do made our time in Sydney pretty amazing.

We stayed near the Darling Harbour, a central and convenient location to most things in the city. Unlike Melbourne, Sydney’s public transport didn’t seem very popular (remind you of L.A.?), so the central location made it easy to get around the main areas of town. You can also find the best lunch deal in Sydney (and questionably in all of Australia) at Darling Harbour… A main (entrées here are actually appetizers and mains are their entrée), wine, coffee or dessert, and a nice view for $20!

The Sydney Harbour and view of the Sydney Opera House

Pictures you have seen of the Sydney Opera House don’t do it justice. It is an architectural marvel! I didn’t get to do the indoor tour, but Amy recommended it as a must! The multi-venue performance arts center was designed in 1957 by a Danish architect, Jørn Utzon, and finished in 1973, ten years late and more than fourteen times over budget, costing a total of $102 million.

  

  

Sydney Botanical Gardens

The Sydney Botanical Gardens is an incredible place to see some of the impressive birds of Australia. A walk (or healthy jog) through the gardens unveils Rainbow Lorikeets (see it hiding in the tree?), Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, flying foxes (aka bats), other wildlife and native Australian plants. I wanted to take a cockatoo home with me!

  

Taronga Zoo

Besides the great Harbour views on the ferry ride out to the Taronga Zoo, our trip out to the zoo fulfilled our need to see Australian wildlife (even if it was outside of the wild). My highlights: koalas, wallabies, (lazy) kangaroos, and cute meerkats.

  

  

Sunset bike ride at Manly Beach

We hopped on a ferry to Manly Beach, a fun surfing town across the Sydney Harbour. We arrived close to sunset and rented bikes near the ferry port and took off to bike along the coast into one of the national forests and then down to Shelly Beach.

Dine and drink musts

Manly Wines: On the Esplanade with a beach view. Don’t go without ordering the stuffed mushrooms, squid, bikini salad (prawns, beets, zucchini, and blood oranges)!

Ms. G’s: in Pott’s Point this modern Asian fusion restaurant is worth the nearly 2-hour wait! I don’t think they take reservations, so make your way up to their bar area for a cocktail or two while you wait for oen of the best dinners of your life (bold?). You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but order the Stoner’s Delight for dessert if you want to blow your brain with flavors that confuse your taste buds into thinking you are in food heaven.

Tio’s: A dark and hip tequila bar with free “spicy” popcorn… although our bag seemed to be missing the kick.

Baxter: An underground spot with 360 different types of whiskey! Vintage trendy scene.

The Ivy: Awesome vibe with cool décor by the same owners as Ms. G’s. An indoor/outdoor bar filled with beautiful people.

A trip back to this city is definitely in order!

The Great Road to the Ocean

We moved in to our apartment and not a moment too soon… Amy, one of my best buds and roomies from Notre Dame, made the trip down under to visit and win our first visitor award! Our first adventure together took us just outside of Melbourne down the Great Ocean Road. Our day-trip destination: Twelve Apostles, a collection of eight (not twelve as the name would lead you to believe) limestone rock stacks just offshore in the state of Victoria along the Great Ocean Road.

The Great Ocean Road is indeed great… once you finally reach the ocean. As Joe as our navigator (I drove again!), we headed out of the city with an expectation of driving along the beautiful southern Aussie coast to the Twelve Apostles.  The drive to the Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road took about 5.5 hours on a windy freeway in the rain. We were excited to see the sign, “Welcome to the Great Ocean Road” but dismayed to wait another 45 minutes before actually catching a glimpse of the great ocean.  We came to a consensus that the freeway might be more appropriately named the Great Road to the Ocean for the portion that takes you through a beautifully lush rain forest before hitting the coast. Well worth it nonetheless.

  

The Twelve Apostles are quite a breathtaking sight. Eight large limestone rocks stand in the middle of the ocean as if they were art pieces placed there by a designer. Harsh weather conditions eroded the limestone off the coast to form caves that eventually became arches, which then collapsed and left impressive rock formations standing up to 45 meters high (there’s that metric system again… about 150 feet).

In great Australian fashion, extreme hazard signs warn visitors of the dangers of unstable cliffs and falling to your death (they’re big on public safety here). I promise to blog on Aussie warning signs in the near future!

Our way back to Melbourne was not as great as our way out. We took the back road through the farmlands of Victoria. The cows and sheep seem happier here for some reason… must be all the lush grass and no cage thing they have going for them. A quicker way to make it back for another great dinner in the city.

Our bags are packed, we’re ready to go (again)!

You thought finding an apartment in NYC (well, no I’ve never had to, but I’ve heard nightmares) or LA was hard. Forget the hopeful hunt for a pet friendly place or reasonable lease terms… We just wanted a roof over our heads! And preferably before our first visitor arrives (can’t wait for Amy to get here)! Apparently finding the combination of a wheelchair accessible apartment (or house) close to an accessible tram stop with accessible trams in a desirable inner-city location was just as hard as it sounds like it would be. Melbourne is working hard on improving the accessibility of the public transit, but the city is still in transition so you can find stops that have been updated with platforms for access but not all of them will have low-floor trams (trams with no steps). We looked all over the inner suburbs… St. Kilda, funky style close to the beach; Albert Park, quiet, cute and quaint (reminded me of Pasadena if it were right on the coast); Fitzroy, trendy and has great cafes and nightlife; South Yarra, nice shopping and fancy cars (some might call it L.A.’s equivalent to Beverly Hills); and the CBD (the central business district, or downtown), close to Joe’s office but right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city.

We weren’t being picky, but the challenge here is that there are so many renters and few available properties. Jumping from suburb to suburb in hopes of finding “the one” was a great way to learn my way around the city! The pressure was on to find and move into a place to call home before getting kicked out of our company sponsored hotel (luckily the nice people at Joe’s company extended our stay for an extra four days until we got things sorted out). Some were great but totally not wheelchair friendly, others were wheelchair friendly but nowhere near an accessible tram or train stop, big fancy buildings with small apartments, or small buildings with dingy old apartments… you name it, I saw it! I wish I had a few words of wisdom for people looking to move to Melbourne, but apparently this is just one of those things that you put up with to live in a great city. The Domain website was a saving grace though… it has most all the property listings in the city and surrounding areas!

When you know, you know… we found a place! After finding an apartment you think you might like to live in, you have to apply, wait a week, and hope that the owner likes your application. We saw the place on a Thursday and wondered if we’d have to endure another Saturday of frantic 15-minute inspections. After applying, we heard from the real estate representative the next day who said that he still hadn’t heard from the owners and that we would likely not make our Tuesday move in day (the original day we were slated to check-out of the hotel). He said, “Things move slower here in the colonies.” Something that we’ve come to understand very quickly. He also gave us hope by saying, “Continue searching, but don’t sign anything unless you talk to me”. He couldn’t tell us that he thought our application would go through, or that he would put in a good word for us with the owners, but he made it as clear as possible that we should expect to be moving into the place soon enough.

What a sign of relief! Our application was accepted and we got the keys to our new city apartment (it only took 8 days from the time we saw it and applied to having the keys in hand)! And all we had do was sign four copies of a 50 page document with about 320 pictures (literally) of the pre-move-in state of the unit! They are not messing around here! With every initial and signature, I felt like I was signing my life away (reminiscent of our mortgage signing day).

  

This time the move isn’t so far… about 500 meters to be exact (yes, I’m making the switch over to metric… 0.31 miles for my standard system users) and it only took three trips down the hill from our hotel (home for 18 days) with a luggage cart full of our stuff to move into our new place.

Besides the interesting smells in the hallway and the chatter of business professionals outside my window enjoying happy hour drinks at one of the oldest pubs in Melbourne, the Mitre Tavern, the apartment is glorious! It is spacious and filled with light! I think it might actually be larger than the cute bungalow we left behind in Pasadena. The historic building, built in 1925 (coincidently the same year our house was built), was renovated 10 years ago into modern industrial apartments. The two bedroom, one bath, and tiny kitchen apartment will soon be home to many memories and design experiments. Can’t wait!

Here are some “before” pics of the empty space:

  

  

  

I’ll be furnishing and decorating in the weeks and months to come. I’m feeling a modern, vintage, industrial vibe in the space. It’s a blank canvas ready for some flair. Stay tuned for some “after” shots!