What’s the best thing you’ve ever done?

Wistfully staring into a Greek Islands sunset, August 2016

I turned 29 a little over a week ago and already I feel like I’m hurtling at breakneck speed towards 30. So lately I’ve been thinking if I should do one of those ’30 before 30′ bucket lists. The only problem is I can’t think of 30 things I’d like to achieve or do and really, why should 30 be a cut off date?! I feel like we focus so much on the things we’d like to do and the places we want to go, we rarely pause to think about what we have achieved.

A few weeks ago I caught up with a wonderful friend from my exchange student days. As we reflected on our semester of exploring Viennese castles, scoring ridiculously good opera seats and partying far too much, we both agreed that doing a university semester abroad was one of the best things we’d ever done.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but there are things in my life that I just know were the right thing to do. That despite the risk, the financial or emotional cost, turned out to be some of the best things I’ve ever done.

Things like leaving Melbourne to move almost 3000 kilometres to Kalgoorlie; a small mining town on the edge of the West Australian desert. That place was my home for three and a half years, it gave me lifelong friends, valuable work experiences, bizarre and amazing life moments. Oh, and my relationship with Andy! This experience completely challenged and changed my perspective and I know I’m better for it.

Quitting my job and selling most of my possessions to travel the world for 16 months is an obvious best. When I sit at my desk at work, with photos from the trip plastered all over my cubicle, I still can’t quite believe Andy and I pulled it off. That we went so many places and had so many experiences.

Going back to uni after my poorly executed ‘gap year’ (read: year of boring office work and two internships) was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I’ve picked fairly grandiose examples but the small or intangible things count. I love that I’ve maintained such amazing relationships with both my parents and my siblings. I’m proud that at one point in my life, I got really damn good at making cheesecakes.

While it might seem self indulgent to sit and think about all your wins, it sure is a nice break from constantly looking forward.

So what’s the best thing you’ve ever done?

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12 things you’ll know if you’ve done a USA road trip

‘Right on red’ is genius

In the States, if it’s safe to do so you can turn right if you’re stopped at a red light. It’s kind of the equivalent of having slip lanes to turn left in Australia but you can do it at every traffic light or intersection unless there’s a sign saying not to. It saves waiting for no reason when the way is clear to turn. Love it!

Arizona

No one does the speed limit

Despite signs saying radar is being used, everybody drives at least 5-20 miles over the the speed limit. It definitely took some time to get used to this! In Australia there are speed cameras and police officers enforcing speed limits EVERYWHERE. It is almost impossible to get away with speeding so nobody does it. There are hefty fines for getting caught or you could lose your car or licence. Speed limits are definitely more of a general guide in America!

Speaking of speed limits, in some States we could barely get up to the signposted speed. We drove along a road in Montana that indicated you could do 90 miles per hour, that’s about 145km p/h! Not a comfortable travelling speed for us Aussies.

Love me a good state sign

The roads have numbers, not names 

In Australia we tend to call a road by its name; “Take the Hume Highway to Seymour”. I take the eastern freeway to work. I find it weird that Google Maps GPS even says the road number when I get directions here. But in the States we’d be told to “Take the I-5 north”. Which meant having to learn the road numbers a and Never Eat Soggy Weetbix (or which way is north, south, east or west). The only highway name I remember hearing was the Pacific Coast Highway, usually just PCH.

Utah

The excitement of seeing a state sign never wears off

Our state signs in Australia are really lame. The amount of dangerous u-turns we took across major highways to drive back and photograph the state sign was a bit nuts. The novelty never wore off for me, as you can probably tell by all the photos in this post.

Coming into Montana from Canada

Fuel prices vary wildly between states

Cheapest being in Texas (are you surprised?!), the most expensive being in environmentally conscious California.

SAMSUNG CSC

Texan roads are the most challenging 

Of the almost 30 states I’ve driven though, none of the roads quite compared to those in Texas. As they say, ‘everything is bigger in Texas!’ including the spaghetti-esque mess of roads. It’s annoying enough to miss your exit on a highway, but in Texas your exit will probably split into three separate roads which you won’t realise until it’s too late and hurtling down the wrong one. Our GPS literally could not keep up. Quite the adventure!

Texas licence plate

America is built for road tripping

Ever since those vacationing yanks set out to drive Route 66 in the 50s and 60s, the journey has become the destination. And they are well equipped for it. In Australia you often can’t risk leaving it too long to fill up with petrol in case you don’t see another service station for a few hundred kilometres. Not the case in the US. You’ll think you’re in the middle of nowhere, then suddenly there’s a gas station like a shining air-conditioned beacon on the horizon. There are also plenty of restrooms, motels and roadside attractions (see further down) along the way.

Big Sur

You meet some amazing locals along the way

Americans are super friendly, especially when they hear an accent. We had some great chats to the drive-thru attendants at Macdonald’s and Starbucks. “Are y’all from England?!” one of them asked when we pulled up to the window. Another time an elderly Idahoan couple invited us into their ginormous RV for a modest camping breakfast of blueberry pancakes, bacon and home fries. Delicious breakfast aside it was worth it just to see the inside of one of those things, with all the mod-cons who knows why they even bothered to leave home?!

The toll stations and turnpikes are relentless

Especially on the north east coast. I swear you stop every 50km to pay someone along the way. Pretty sure we paid about $15 to cross a bridge and then from New Jersey into New York. Luckily we always had cash! Also, the turnpike attendant might give you a sort of ticket thing that you have to hold onto and hand to the next attendant… I never quite understood it but always went into a mad panic trying to find where I’d put the ticket.

Mississippi

You’ll stop for all kinds of weird roadside attractions 

The States is really made for driving holidays. And what better way to break up a long drive than to pull over and stare at a bunch of Cadillacs mounted into the ground?! Or pose next to a giant dinosaur statue?! America has plenty of odd spots (including one in Santa Cruz, literally called ‘The Odd Spot’) which will tempt you with signs dotted along the way letting you know you’re only 50 miles… 40 miles… 30 miles… 20… miles from said attraction. By the time you get there you’re so irritated by the damn signs you just have to stop and see what it’s all about. That’s how they get you.

Cadillac Ranch in Texas

Near Dinosaur National Monument in Utah

Motels vary wildly from ‘horror movie set’ to luxury

Those aforementioned motels vary hugely in comfort. The one we stayed in in Flagstaff, Arizona was heaven. We’d just camped for something like 50 nights and then paid $50 for a motel that was modern, had great wifi and a rainfall shower. On the east coast there are two motels, one in Virginia the other in Connecticut, that will forever haunt my dreams. Actually there was another one in Mississippi that stank of cigarettes and had people open carrying their guns in the lobby… that was probably the worst!

Virginia City, Montana

Drive through coffee is regional 

First of all, having drive through coffee everywhere; what a dream. If there’s one thing I like about coffee it’s not having to get out of the car for it. Secondly, thought it was just Starbucks everywhere? Wrong! In Northern California and Oregon you’ll probably get Peet’s Coffee. On the east coast they swear Dunkin Donuts has the best coffee money can buy. And yes, there are plenty of Starbucks shops to go around. But who knew coffee was regional in the US?! Not me.

Arches National Park, Utah

There’s a reason the Great American Road Trip is such an iconic (if not slightly cliched) adventure immortalised in popular movies and songs over so many years. It’s some of the best fun you can have which is what kept us going for over 47,000km!

 

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Would you date someone shorter than you?

Taylor Swift presents a VMA to Bruno Mars onstage during the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for MTV)

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine was showing me her Tinder matches. Hunched over her phone, we poured over the photos, attempting to gauge the height of her potential suitors by comparing them to nearby landmarks and other people in the photo. She didn’t want to agree to a date, only to show up and see someone shorter in stature. Not long after that, over drinks with a group of ladies the conversation turned to online dating and the height thing came up again “I would never date a guy shorter than me!” came the responses.

I understand where some women get their height obsession from. The heteronormative world view has long told us men should be tall and strong and women should be dainty and take up as little space as possible. As a tall woman, I’ve definitely had moments of feeling ungainly. But literally, only moments! I often forget I tower over some of my friends, realising only if we happen to be stood next to each other in front of a reflective surface. “Wow! You only come up to my shoulder!” style.

I’ve never minded being taller than a romantic partner. It’s just not really a thing for me. Andy and I are exactly the same height, so when I wear heels I’m always taller. It makes me feel statuesque.

When I was a teenager my dad’s girlfriend at the time made some random comment about supermodels always being taller than their boyfriends. “You think a man with Elle Macpherson on his arm would mind being shorter?!” she remarked. I have done zero research in the field of supermodels and their height relative to their romantic partner’s (female, male or otherwise). But this always stuck with me; that tallness in women is glamorous. Sure she meant in the context of being attractive to men which is fraught with other issues but I’m sticking to the take home message of not stressing over height. It’s impossible to make yourself shorter without some fairly hideous slouching, which is frankly unacceptable. Shoulders back, heads high ladies.

Would you date someone shorter than you?

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Winter Weekend: Mount Hotham

Winding our way up to Mt Hotham it quickly became clear we were in a very different snow situation compared with Falls Creek the previous day. Snow was falling, the wind was howling and visibility wasn’t great. I was excited!

Frosty!

But also driving very cautiously…

We stopped to take a photo of the Hotham sign and my phone said it was -4 degrees. Not sure how accurate that is but it certainly felt below freezing. And hard to keep one’s eyes open…

Didn’t even need chains, thanks All Wheel Drive, whatever you are!

We drove through Hotham to Dinner Plain where the weather was much nicer.

But much less snowy, so we bought a Hotham resort pass online and headed back for lunch.

The view was great!

The food, pretty average.

Back outside conditions were still frigid.

I braved the cold in a bizarre small-down-jacket-over-a-large-wool-coat outfit:

With proper shoes and socks on! Who’d have thought my hiking boots would ever come in handy again?! We found a protected slope perfect for busting out the free toboggans we had been given.

My beanie is one of Carrie’s Beanies for Brain Cancer, they raise much needed funds for research to find a cure for the horrendous disease that is brain cancer.

Sadly, I lost our toboggan race.

Andy built a snowman (I didn’t have waterproof gloves on!) and I photographed it as if I’d helped:

#proud

Andy tried a toboggan/snowboard hybrid sport:

It ended as well as you can imagine:

We finished our afternoon with a snowy walk:

Crunch

Walking in a winter wonderland

And then began the somewhat tedious drive home.

A magical day.

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Winter Weekend: Bright and Falls Creek

A few weekends ago, Andy and I packed our winter woolies and headed to Bright, a small town at the base of some of Victoria’s most popular mountains. It was early in the Australian snow season (it’s a real thing, I promise!) so we didn’t have plans to ski but hoped we’d see a bit of the white stuff. We weren’t disappointed.

We stayed at this AirBnb which was really just a motel room but it did have a spa and a fireplace; both essential for a winter mini break. Bright is very picturesque, surrounded by pine covered mountains with low cloud drifting in and out all day. Not all the shops and restaurants were open yet but we still ate very well.

Bright

I highly recommend Ginger Baker for breakfast. They’ve managed to create the perfect cold weather al fresco dining scenario with wood fires to keep you nice and toasty.

I had the potato rosti with cured salmon, spinach, hollandaise sauce & poached eggs

After breakfast we dropped into the visitor’s centre to find out the best way to head up into the mountains. The woman who helped us was beyond charming, in fact, everyone single person we spoke to in Bright was absolutely lovely. She informed us that we’d need a resort pass to head up to Falls Creek which would allow us to park and take a free chairlift into the village bowl. Seeing as it was already late morning, we bought an afternoon resort pass which was only $20 to enter after 1pm.

It’s mandatory to carry snow chains on Victorian mountains during the winter months so we dropped into the Shell petrol station to pick some up. Again, the man who served us was super friendly, he gave us a discount on the chains, sold Andy a pair of $50 gloves for $20 and lent us two toboggans for free! I wonder if everyone is this nice at the end of the snow season?!

The drive from Bright to Falls Creek is about an hour and a half. It’s not that far but it’s super windy. I skied a few times at Falls Creek as a child, so I was going out of my mind with excitement on the way up.

This was the view from the car park:

The snow was pretty patchy, but it was still beautiful. After getting the chairlift up to the village bowl we took ourselves off on a short hike.

I’m not sure what the trail was called, we just headed uphill and away from the village.

It’s funny, I’ve seen snow before and lots more of it, but I still couldn’t shake the excitement. Cold weather is so much more bearable when everything is dusted with snow.

As you can see I wore my best snow shoes.

Appropriate

I copped a bit of flack on social media, but my ankles weren’t at all cold! Especially compared to my nose and cheeks.

On we walked.

By the time we started to head back it was snowing quite a lot.

Which was great in my non-waterproof wool coat!

Loving it

Snowing!

Feeling a bit soggy, we decided to warm up at the Falls Creek Hotel.

We had the entire place to ourselves! Unthinkable during the peak season.

The bar tender whipped up a couple of hot chocolates laced with Baileys. It was delicious! And rather strong.

Hot chocolate hitting the spot

Eventually we got the chairlift back down to try and avoid the bad weather on the drive back.

My 100th attempt at getting a decent chairlift selfie

We emerged below the clouds and the sun was out at Mt Beauty.

An amazing view near the town of Mt Beauty

That evening we stuffed ourselves with appetisers and craft beers at the Bright Brewery, another great local establishment. Little did we know there was a lot more snow in our future…

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Four ways I’m embracing winter 

Dressing warmly has me hot under the collar 😉

I haven’t had a proper winter in a long time. I lived in the land of perpetual sunshine for three and a half years (Western Australia) and then chased summer around the world for a year and a half. As a result I am totally embracing the cooler weather this year. The foggy mornings, endless cups of tea, the chilly sunsets (why is it the clouds go the most insane colours in winter?!), snuggling up under 3 layers atop an electric blanket. It’s magic.

Along with Canberra and Hobart, Melbourne is one of the colder capital cities in Australia. Our weather is famous for being changeable and people love to complain about the seemingly endless winter. Here’s how I’m embracing the cold season:

Starting the day right 

I love porridge and I feel like it gets a bad wrap! My mum calls it ‘wallpaper paste’. I’ve had porridge for breakfast every morning for about a month now, I either have it with banana, cinnamon, a drop of vanilla essence and some desiccated coconut or I grate a pink lady apple into it and add cinnamon. It’s like apple pie for breakfast. It keeps me full for ages and warms me up from the inside out.

Dressing the part 

When I lived in Kalgoorlie, which is slightly colder than the rest of Western Aus, my Perth friends would put on a synthetic jumper and a pleather jacket and complain about the cold. Haha! Investing in natural fibres like wool, down, leather and fur (if you’re into that) is the way to go. I bought three 100% Merino wool sweaters from Uniqlo for $40 each and have had them on high rotation. They are so soft and warm; I got two turtle necks in white and black plus a maroon crew neck. They go with everything. I also purchased this 100% wool coat from Sportsgirl in anticipation of single digit forecasts.

I don’t know who was it who said ‘there is no bad weather, only bad clothes’ but it’s so true! Having plenty of tights, thermals and decent socks makes getting dressed in winter so much easier.

My what a warm neck you have!

Soups, soups, soups (and maybe a slow cooker) 

Pumpkin and sweet potato soup

I haven’t hit the slow cooker yet but I’ve been making soups like a madwoman. I mostly just throw a load of veggies (onion, garlic, carrots, celery, sometimes sweet potato and spinach or whatever is in the crisper) into a huge pot and add liquid vegetable stock and maybe a tin of crushed tomatoes. Then I might add a tin of lentils and a bunch of Moroccan spices or a tin of kidney beans and Mexican spices. When the veggies are soft and the soup has cooled a bit I put it through the blender in batches. I’ve added chopped up cooked chicken and pork leftover from a roast to add in for protein. I now eat soup for most lunches and dinners and have a freezer full of it! So cheap, tasty, warm and healthy.

Winter mini breaks

I have two winter mini breaks planned over the next few months. One to Bright which is at the foot of the Victorian high country and a base for hitting the ski fields. And a second to Hobart, Tasmania. Seeing snow makes me feel very affectionately towards winter! Even a light dusting is cosy and romantic. I can’t wait for open fireplaces and snowy walks. Although, I’ll never forget the time I had to move house, on a tram, during a snow storm in Vienna… that was less romantic!

Is it cold where you live?

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Life lately

Well, well, well. I seems such a long time since I’ve blogged consistently. To think I managed to blog more often when lived in a remote mining town AND when I was on the road contending with abysmal wifi is somewhat shameful. Life hey? It’s either busier or I don’t have a handle on time management. A bit of both probably.

So what’s been happening? Well a couple of weekends ago I flew over to Perth to celebrate the engagement of these two:

Bec and Scottie, whom you may remember from Rome or from when we lived together in an adorable cottage with a white picket fence. Bec’s parents hosted the party at their house and absolutely no effort was spared in putting together this spectacular evening. Bec’s mum painstakingly put together all of the decorations; everything from the floral wreaths to the lighting configurations to the forest of white trees lining the pool. It looked wonderful.

Bec and I

It was a major Kalgoorlie catch up and so good to see everyone and get up to speed on two years of gossip.

As per usual we burnt up the dance floor into the miniscule hours and spent Sunday a little worse for wear. Totally worth it!

So many laughs

It’s amazing to think back to how young we were when we all met in Kalgoorlie in our first graduate journo jobs, figuring out life and love in the dusty Goldfields. Not these guys are gettin’ hitched!

I also saw my old community theatre friends and had an amazing evening with them over cheese platters, pizza and sparkling wine. Wish I’d remembered to bring my proper camera out!

What else? It’s getting very chilly here in Melbourne which I’m loving. I’ve been working a lot which I’m not loving. I have a few mini breaks coming up which will be wonderful. I’ve been binging hard on Orange is the New Black (so weird to think we watched the last season in London!) and Master of None, are you watching? And eating a lot of soup!

OH! And this biggest update is that I am now blonde.

What’s news with you?

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What’s your food philosophy?

Tucking into dinner in Naxos, Greek Islands

That was the first question on a list I was given by Liz from I Spy Plum Pie when asked to feature in the Foodie Files segment of her blog. I was kind of stumped. I’m not someone who only eats organic, locally sourced produce. I don’t kneel at the altar of paleo or gluten free living. Do I even have a food philosophy?! Turns out I do, and you can read my answer here.

What dictates what you eat? Time? Flavour? Where you live? Health benefits? Money? I remember hearing from a woman on a podcast who was amazed at the variety of foods the chefs at her college could make, even if it was just spaghetti or mince meat tacos. The reason? Her family had eaten chicken for dinner every single night of her childhood. She just thought that’s what everyone did!

When you’re fortunate enough that daily food is a given and not a luxury, it’s interesting to think about why you eat what you do.

Even if it’s a burger in a bikini in Bali.

Extravagant

Your thoughts?

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My top 8 blue water travel destinations

Some people love mountains, others a quaint countryside. Some are fascinated by volcanoes or find ultimate paradise in the mist of a thundering waterfall. Me? I love blue water. Especially the kind you can snorkel in. Here are my top 8 best blue water locations around the world:

Savai’i, Samoa

I visited Samoa in 2013 when my sister lived there. After I arrived by plane on the mainland we took a ferry to the smaller island of Savai’i. It was my first (and only!) experience on a South Pacific island and it was magic. So many of the beaches in Samoa were completely deserted, it was bizarre and wonderful. I’ll definitely be back in the region one day.

Crete, Greek Islands

I knew I would love the Greek Islands and Crete didn’t let me down. The water is that deep rich blue, different to what you find around tropical islands. I probably swam more there than in my entire life.

Coral Bay, Western Australia

Andy took me to Coral Bay for my birthday after we’d been together about 6 months (way to set the bar high early!). The water is extremely clear and the Ningaloo Reef provides some of the best snorkelling in Australia.

Caye Caulker, Belize

Kayaking near the Split

I don’t think I’ll ever be over this small island off the coast of Belize. When someone asks me where my favourite place is from our 16 month long trip I always say Caye Caulker (and Mexico). The snorkel trip we did there was probably the best day of my life to date! I have a large framed photo of the turtle below on my desk at work.

Snorkelling in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve off Caye Caulker

Dhermi, Albania

Dhermi

So blue. So cheap. Friendly locals. What’s not to love?

Floating

Banff, Canada

Moraine Lake

A controversial entry, given all my other blue water destinations are warm and involve swimming, but the glaciers in Banff give the lakes the most incredible blue colour. It almost doesn’t look real. I actually think Moraine Lake is even more spectacular than Lake Louise.

The Archipelago of San Bernando, Colombia

The Archipelago of San Bernardo is a set of nine coastal coral islands and one artificial island belonging to and governed by Colombia, located in the Gulf of Morrosquillo in the Caribbean Sea. We stayed in the most incredible floating tree house hostel there, surrounded on all sides by the most beautiful water.

Esperance, Western Australia

This was meant to be a list of 7… but then I remembered one of my most beloved places on this green earth. There’s a reason I look 25 trips to Esperance over the three and a half years I lived in the region. It has the most beautiful, secluded beaches I’ve ever experienced. So often I’ve been the only one on the sand (save for a few friendly local kangaroos). It’s a long drive there but so worth the journey.

Got any blue water destinations you can recommend? What do you look for in a travel destination?

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East Africa is calling

Full photo credit to my sister Sarah for these beauties

My sister took these photos in Rwanda. That’s where she lives, with her man Nady in Kigali. I’ve just had 5 weeks of leave approved so in September/October that’s where I’m heading. To see animals, to climb volcanoes, swim in lakes, stand on white sand beaches and spend time with some of my favourite people. I can’t wait!

We’ll hopefully get to see not only Rwanda, but Tanzania (hence the white sand beaches), Uganda, Kenya and the DRC. I’ve never been on the African continent so this is extra exciting. If you have any travel tips or advice please let me know. I’m excited to blog all our adventures. But for now I’ll be saving money, hibernating all winter, updating my passport which has run out of pages (!), pretending to do a bit of research (I’ll be relying heavily on Sarah to show us around) and staring at dreamy photos like these.

A close encounter in Akagera National Park, Eastern Rwanda

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