The shifting definition of home

What a ride we've had!  Home for just over a month we are putting a lot of what we learned traveling into practice.

We came home to an unexpected and unpleasant discovery at our house.  We found out that our tenant who had been giving us headaches the whole trip really topped the cake by renting out our house the entire time we were gone on AirBnB!  We think over 200 people came through our house and instead of keeping her lease until July as we had planned we knew that we could no longer trust her and she will be out of the house mid-January (edited update, she is out!!!!!!!!!).  This has been a really stressful reintegration to the USA, we've had to hire a lawyer and we are practicing patience, unexpected planning, and communication.  I swear talking to her is harder than communicating with others in SE Asia when there was no common language!  It's been a really stressful time and we literally couldn't have gone through this without the support of our family and friends.

We have had a bit of fun in-between negotiations between our lawyer and Molly.  I traveled down to Sacramento first thing meet my niece Emerson.  Krysti is a friend that I have called from almost every country we visited and she was on my list of people to see ASAP when home.  We had a blast hanging out with the newest member of their family.  I'm already in love with Miss Emerson and wish they didn't live so far away!

We have also spent a lot of time with family.  My brother and his girlfriend are also living with my parents right now (they are visiting from Belgium).  We've enjoyed lots of time in the kitchen with them and continuing our crossword puzzles.   

I'm not sure what the purpose of this blog is now that we are home... but will probably continue to post our future travels.  We are itching to travel some when we have an income again!  

E's Birthday!!!

Having a birthday abroad is hard.  No one else even knows your name and there's only one person you are with that both knows your name and your birthday!  No pressure...  So, after learning through last year's birthdays we were a bit more prepared with what to expect.  We planned an awesome tourist day in Sydney to splurge a little and celebrate the day. 

The morning started off with a walk through the botanical gardens on our way to the Manly Ferry.  We both loved that the city surrounded such beautiful areas for everyone to get outside and relax!

Boarding the ferry, we headed off towards Manly.  There's something about being on the ocean but it not smelling like the Pacific Northwest aroma that we are used to. 

Manly was pretty, but a bit cold and windy so we headed to a coffee shop.  I don't know why I don't have a photo, but we happened into The Showbox, a coffee shop with all things SEATTLE!  Needless to say, the coffee, the people, the food, the everything was amazing.  We chatted with the owner who had flown to Seattle for 12 days to enjoy the Soundgarden concert last February.  So fun to talk to him about our city!

Here are some photos of the beach.

Vietnamese was on order for lunch at a delicious spot by the Manly Ferry terminal.  We felt like we were in Vietnam, squatting on low tables, on the sidewalk!  Delicious food that we enjoyed before heading back to the ferry and the city.

The afternoon was spent walking around and then crossing the Harbor Bridge.  We enjoyed more gorgeous views looking back over the city. 

Winding the day down, we enjoyed champagne and the views from the rooftop deck of our AirBnB. 

For dinner we took a bus out to a suburb for delicious Lebanese food that was recommended to us by our AirBnB host.  We had SO MUCH FOOD that I'm still full, writing this post some 12 hours later!  We stuffed ourselves with delicious food and wine, and topped it off on the way home with some gelato at their favorite, Gelato Messina.  What a birthdays for, right?!  No photos to share of this part of our evening but it was much enjoyed.

The emails from friends and family at home were really special and we can't wait to continue the celebration when we are home in a few short days!

Bondi to Coogee Beach Walk

We reluctantly pulled ourselves off the beach and headed back to Sydney, via bus and train.  Arriving at our AirBnB, we dropped our bags and headed off to do the famous Bondi to Coogee Beach walk, meeting a friend we had met in Argentina in Coogee for dinner.  Days take on a new dimension with excitement when meeting a friend.  We had a reservation for dinner!  It was a beautiful walk that we so enjoyed.

We met Michelle in Mendoza, and ventured out of the city with her in February to do some wine tasting with her in the adorable town, Clos de Chacras.  We have stayed in touch and making plans with her was one of the first thing we did when planning our time in Sydney.  Here's a photo of us in the sweet spot we went for dinner, Coogee Pavilion.  One of the amazing things about this trip is the friends we have made around the world - we can't wait to host some in Seattle!  :)

Pearl Beach

We went from reading our books on the couch, to reading books on the beach.  And that's pretty much all we did, mix in some delicious food, cribbage, and crosswords, while we were at Pearl Beach.  Gillian and Michael were generous (again!) and offered their house for us to use as our trip winds down.  It turned out to be the perfect break we needed.

No more time was needed planning our next destination (it's HOME!) and we weren't driving so all we had to do was sit back and enjoy.  It felt like a vacation and was much enjoyed.

The Blue Mountains

Generosity was again extended our way with an offer of a house to stay in while visiting the Blue Mountains.  Beyond excited to have a bit more space than our little camper van offered, we jumped at the chance to spread out!  My mom's friends, Gillian and Michael have MADE our time in Australia (they are also the ones we stayed with in Melbourne).

We arrived to a quaint little house with a view of nothing but mountains and eucalyptus trees.  The next door neighbors, Virginia and Michael drew up a little map for us with all the top spots. 

We have spent the past 4 days exploring the area and loving the spectacular views.

The first day we visited the Three Sisters, with all the others tourists, for the photo op of these three limestone formations. 

The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters

Next we headed to the insider tip of the Sublime Point.  We were the only ones there to enjoy the spectacular view over our picnic lunch.

The view from Sublime Point

The view from Sublime Point

The afternoon was spent doing the Charles Darwin Walk.  We didn’t quite know what to expect so were blown away by a huge waterfall into the canyon after we kept deciding to “just go a bit further”.  Spectacular. 

The next day we set off for Mount Hay, to do the Lockley Pylon hike.  This walk was amazing because we were able to walk along the canyon and have gorgeous views from both sides. 

Being my mother's daughter, I couldn't help but photograph all the flowers we enjoyed.

 

This morning we walked from town to see multiple view points and the Leura Falls.  We were so blown away that such a great trail was just right outside of town!  The views were amazing in every direction and we picked a spot to return to for sunset (photos to come!). 

The Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road is known as one of the best drives in the world, and the views certainly delivered to make this true.  We enjoyed beautiful scenery, really friendly people, a lot of tourists, and some adorable koalas along the way.  Here are some of my favorite photos of the 3 days we spent cruising along the coast. 

We also saw LOTS of animals.  Here are some of those photos, including shots of a kangaroo fight we saw at one of the places we camped.  As we were going out for a nightly walk we realized we were surrounded by some 80 kangaroos!  We skipped the walk and spent our time taking photos of our surroundings and taking it all in. 

Another special experience was another spot we camped and happened to glance over as the mama koala and baby koala were making their way to another tree.  WE NEED A NEW CAMERA because ours couldn't zoom in properly to capture the cuteness we witnessed.  But at any rate, here was our shot at taking these photos. 

McLaren Vale, Day 2

With the gorgeous scenery, approachable and fun tasting room staff, and delicious wines we needed one more day in the McLaren Vale wine region.  After a great night by the beach we headed into Hugh Hamilton, one of the area's most famous wineries.  We were greeted by sheep warnings and sheep on the way to the cellar door.  The black sheep theme ran throughout his wine and other products, a brilliant use of marketing throughout everything offered at their gorgeous spot.  This 6th generation winemaking family was some of the first to plant grapes in 1837.  Our favorite wines were The Floozy, The Mongrel, and The Drama Queen.  Hugh himself even came in to meet us and offered us freshly shucked oysters.  How much better does life get?!  It was a great morning enjoying their wines and the sights from their tasting room. 

Next stop was the Alpba Box & Dice winery.  We were greeted with a hipster vibe and slowly tasted through their wines.  While the whole experience was quite different we didn’t love the wines or the ambiance as much – just not for us.  Still some fun photos and I even took some photos of their creative naming (Golden Mullet Fury) and labels!

Our last stop for the day was Angrove.  Set among beautiful wines with a huge patio to enjoy the view it was a great spot to spend some time tasting.  One of my favorite things they did was showcase the soil samples from where they grow their wine.  It was a really beautiful display.

McLaren Vale Tasting

Heading out of Adelaide we got to enjoy all the benefits of camper van living – stopping where we pleased and purchasing what we need.  Our camper is now filled with mangoes, apples, and other fruits that we have been able to purchase along the road.  We also figured that since we were driving through McLaren Vale, with no obligations for the next 10 days, we should make sure to stop at at least a few wineries.  Our first stop was Ekhinda, a winery that was recommended by LivingIf.  The wines weren’t our favorite but we enjoyed talking to the tasting room staff, she was from California and it was fun to chat with another American. 

Next I got us a little lost and we ended up in Wirra Wirra.  Two hours later, after tasting through all their wines, we declared it our favorite winery visit yet.  Each vine and label has a long story, highlighting the fun that this winery has through the wine making process.  Tristan, one of the tasting room staff, even took us on a tour, letting us ring the bell and see the catapult that they bring out for winery events.  Their wines were just as delicious as fun – really affordable price points and I wanted to purchase each one.  It was fun that a wrong turn turned out to be so enjoyable. 

Our evening was spent by the beach.  Eric used the Aussie BBQ for the first time, making delicious fried rice for dinner outside.  Afterwards we headed to the beach for the sunset and on the way home I got have a fabulous talk with my brother while walking through a reserve filled with kangaroos.  How lucky are we?!

Exploring the Barossa Valley

Arriving into Adelaide we were greeted with 100+ degree temperatures and another camper van!  Gillian and Michael couldn’t bear to think of us sweating the night away in our little camper and graciously rented us a hotel room with AC.  It was amazing!  We spent the evening with their son, Edward, catching up over Vietnamese food.  It was a great night and then we got to enjoy a king sized hotel bed, prolonging camper van living for one more night.

Off we went on Saturday, camper van stocked with food, and headed to the wine region of the Barossa Valley.  Our first stop was at Rockford.  Not knowing what to expect of this wine region, we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by extremely friendly, approachable, and knowledgeable staff.  We had a blast with Joe who tasted us through all of the delicious wines at Rockford.  We ended up spending over 2 hours in their tasting room, meeting other travelers and all oohing and ahhing over the wines.

Next up we went to Torbreck, owned by an American, we were in search of wines we could find at home.  We enjoyed learning about the German roots in the Barossa Valley from one of the staff whose family has lived in the Barossa Valley for generations.  The grapes they use for their wines come from vines that are 174 years old, and the youngest are 102 years old!  They source 50% of their wine and grow the other 50%.

 

Our last winery of the day was Whistler Wines.  We heard it was a laid back spot with lots of events going on and we were greeted to just such an atmosphere.  We had a great time tasting through their wines and enjoying their different labels. 

Our final stop was Maggie Beer, an institution in the Barossa Valley, with lots of samples of their delicious products.  We had multiple samples of the chocolate and caramel sauces – delicious!  She is known for her Quince Paste and also pate, coming from these gorgeous animals.

Our evening was spent at the town Oval, camping on the grass watching a cricket match.  Such an enjoyable day!

The next day we started our morning at Penfolds – wanting to try some wines we know we can find in the US.  We were told time and time again there are too many rules, regulations, and costs to exporting wines, so most of what we taste we won’t be able to share with you when we are back.  At any rate, we enjoyed the tasting at Penfolds.  They had nice wines and it was fun to taste so many Shiraz wines next to each other.  Eric loved the fortified wines, making him miss our friend Jesse and the Port they always enjoy together.

Our next stop was at Yalumba.  At this point I have to fess up that we have been drinking mostly boxed wine since the Roses left us in New Zealand.  We have been splurging on a bottle here and there, but the box wine selection is so vast (and affordable) that we have mostly been refilling our GoVino’s from the little spigot.  At any rate, Yalumba is one of the boxed wines that we have been enjoying so we decided to see what else they have to offer.  We loved the setting – gorgeous buildings set among beautiful plantings.  The wines were just as appealing, really approachable and all were yummy.  It was a great stop.

Next we headed to the Adelaide Hills, walking along the quaint streets trying to resist the urge to purchase anything. 

Loving Melbourne

Lucky us.  We have left camper van living for what has turned into 5 luxurious nights in one of my moms friend's houses in Melbourne.  No longer do we have to worry about where we are going to park the camper van to sleep or where we can take a shower.  We have more room than we have had since May and even wifi internet (also a first since May!).  Life is good!  Gillian and Michael have spoiled us with delicious foods and wines and been so generous to open up their house to us.  I don't think I've ever been so grateful for a place to stay, a bed to sleep in, and a shower to use.  

Our beautiful bed

Our beautiful bed

We have spent our time soaking up the energy that this great city has to offer.  The first day we spent stopping to work on crosswords throughout the cities parks and people watching.  We also got to enjoy a performance from a cirque-du-soleil performer on the streets, him balancing on a 15 foot pole and still having the energy to put down Americans.  This is an international city with just about every personality on display.

Yesterday was the Melbourne Cup, dubbed The Race that Stops the Nation.  Melbourians are granted the day off for horse racing and betting.  We spent the morning wine tasting and lunching with Gillian and Michael and then headed to Federation Square to watch the race with thousands of others.  It was fun to be caught up in a city with so many people!

The afternoon was spent watching those that were at the races stumble back into the city, high heels in hand, and hats a little off kilter after all the drinking.  It was quite the experience and we felt so lucky to be here for the races, even if our budget couldn't allow us to go to the actual race.

We have really learned the value of friendships from this trip - from the work that it takes to make new friends on the road, to how much we miss our friends at home.  Getting to stay with a family friend that knows our history and that of Seattle's makes it so easy to converse and so many stories to share.  Deepening family friendships is also really special.

We just feel so fortunate.  This was just the break we needed before jumping into our last camper van and enjoying our last 3 weeks on the road!

Art?

What is art?  Meaning many things to different people it's hard to come to a definition that would encompass the thoughts and ideas of everyone.  We found this to be certainly true at Mona (Museum of New and Old Art), the art museum in Hobart, filled with the eccentric collection of David Walsh.  David Walsh, a millionaire by way of gambling, made a space that to us was just as interesting at the artwork inside.  There's a camo caterman that leaves from Hobart and from there things just get weird.  After walking across Walsh's personal tennis court you decend 3 flights of circular stairs into the sandstone galleries.  I've divided our photos into the artwork and then into the space. 

The Artwork:

To us, the space was just as cool as the artwork. 

Definitely a memorable experience!  We enjoyed our time in the space and getting to discuss between us what we view art as. 

What do you think?  Does any of this count as art?

Narawntapu National Park

Wow.  We couldn't quite find the right spot for the night until we remembered our dear friends Leah and Jesse had loved Narawntapu National Park and we drove straight there to see if the wildlife was all that they had said. 

We loved our time at the National Park.  We spent hours distracted by the wildlife on display over nightly glasses of wine.  We got in a gorgeous hike.  But mostly we just spent our time watching all the animals that surrounded us.  It was like getting to sleep in a zoo.  How lucky are we!?

The Bay of Fires

We have spent the last few days off the grid exploring the Bay of Fires.  The water was so pretty I swore when I first saw it.  When is water ever that pretty?!  And to top it off, we had the white sand beaches to ourselves.  Life doesn't get any better (well, penguins would have made it better, but you can't have everything).  

We did have the pleasure of these animals' company.  They entertained us for hours - all the hopping and scuffing off.  Can you identify the wallaby, forest kangaroo, wombat, and echidna.  Did you know the echidna is a mammal that lays eggs?!  

The hike that made me cry

Selecting the photos for this post I had to pause at the beauty that this hike possessed.  It was hard to remember why I had been so shaken - shaken enough to cry and hesitate if I could make it.  But this hike was tough.  It was mentally one of the hardest I have done as we were walking straight up granite slabs with no protection what so ever.  I was on all fours on the way up, trying to focus on each step and not looking at the drop off if I were to fall.  To top all of this off, Eric spotted a snake on the route and if you've ever seen me around a snake you know nothing good can come from it.  Not to mention they are all poisonous in Tazzy!  Rain was in the forecast and I knew this would become the slip-n-slide of death if water fell.

At any rate, my cheerleader Eric helped me make it to the top and it was worth the tears.  The view was stunning and we enjoyed some chocolate rewards before I very, very slowly scooted down the mountain on my butt!