My Time Down Under: Australia

Travel

In 2015, I spent almost five months in the Southern Hemisphere, studying in Sydney. Partially because I had relatively few interactions with the very dangerous species that populate the island, I had a wonderful time there. I lived in one of the suburbs of the city, close to my university. And while my time spent studying in Sweden involved quite a bit of travel around Europe, my time in Australia was mostly spent in and around Sydney. Because now feels like as good a time as any to reminisce, I thought I’d share some about what I enjoyed while living down under.

Because I lived outside Sydney, I spent the majority of my time in that area. I truly delved into the university experience with four Sociology courses while living in a dorm near campus. My dorm experience was unlike where I had lived in the U.S. The social life was vibrant to say the least and unlike college in the U.S., where drinking for the first few years happens almost exclusively behind closed doors and at frat houses, drinking in Australia was normalized (the drinking age is 18). Instead of hiding from the R.A., we drank with the R.A. It was a mental shift, for sure. Some of my favorite memories involved long conversations with friends late at night over a game of pool or after a big event. One of the best parts of studying abroad is the people you meet.

Now I spent a surprisingly little amount of time on beaches during my time in Australia, but there’s plenty of beautiful waterfront in Sydney. Though I stopped by Manly Beach and Bondi Beach with everyone and their mother, I also enjoyed the lesser known Palm Beach and the climb up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse. My personal favorite activity was the walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach. The walk goes along the coast, giving you views of the ocean, smaller beaches, and occasionally some art to enjoy. I’ve done this walk with friends, as well as jetlagged parents. What’s nice about it is that at any point you can stop and find the closest bus or cafe to take a break. (The whole thing will take about 3 hours or so.)

Other highlights of the Sydney experience included the quirky, like Luna Park, an amusement park on the water, or Wendy’s Secret Garden, a garden built like an art piece. Taronga Zoo featured animals with breathtaking views of the Harbour, Darling Harbour featured cultural experiences and food every time we wandered through, and of course, Sydney featured the Opera House (which I never actually ventured inside) and the Harbour Bridge (which I never climbed).

But I didn’t only stay in Sydney. About halfway through my time in Australia, my parents came to visit. While jetlagged, I took them on the aforementioned Bondi to Coogee walk, but we also ventured outside New South Wales.

We took a plane to the middle of the country to visit the iconic Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. We stuck with your classic tourist adventures, but I’ll never forget a nighttime meal near Uluru with no lights and the Milky Way above my head. (Yes, I cried.) We also took a few hikes around Kata Tjuta and learned a little more about the relationship White Australia has with its Indigenous communities.

We also went South. After retraining our brains that “south” in the Southern Hemisphere meant colder, we made it to Melbourne. Five years later, my parents still reference the cute streets of Melbourne as one of the best places they’ve visited. We loved the graffiti art spread throughout the city and the alleyways turned into outdoor dining and the tram that allowed us to circle the city so easily. But we also wanted to see some of the wildlife – so we ventured down to Phillip Island for the Penguin Parade.

Despite mostly sticking to cities or tourist destinations, my parents got a trip worth the jetlag, but I wasn’t done yet. After powering through four classes’ worth of assignments, I had some free time during the exam period to explore Sydney before flying back home. With the knowledge that I might never get the chance to fly over 24 hours to Australia, I decided to hit up the ultimate bucket list item: The Great Barrier Reef.

Two friends and I travelled north to Cairns in Queensland. We had two goals – snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef and hold a koala. (There are restrictions in Australia about handling koalas, which meant that if we wanted to snuggle one, we’d have to find an appropriate place to get our cuddles.) It was relatively easy to check off our goal of visiting the Reef once we were in Cairns. We were able to not only snorkel on the Reef, but also scuba dive with guidance. I’d never snorkeled, much less scuba dived, but I have to say it was incredible. A full day was spent under the water watching fish and pointing out anemones.

In order to check off the second part of our trip’s to-do list, we traveled by bus to Palm Cove. We stopped at a wildlife zoo and saw all the animals we’d happily avoided for most of our time in Australia, we held koalas (mine was named Violet and she was a sweetheart), and then we grabbed a snack while we waited for the bus home. But we realized we had way too much time to kill, so we did the only logical thing: Paddle boarding. We found a shack along the water where a kind man helped up suit up to paddle board. In retrospect, the crocodile sighting sign just down the beach should have been a deterrent, as well as the man’s warning about “stinger season“. However, we went for it and had no animal encounters on the water.

Despite warnings about crocodiles and sharks and spiders and snakes and dingos and drop bears, I managed to survive down under with only a few sunburns and plenty of memories. Here’s to hoping I make it back down there soon!

Cities Worth A Wander

london, Travel, Uncategorized

The United States is not particularly conducive to walking about. Yes, you could point out that I have made posts about wandering Georgetown and Old Town, and you could try to convince me that New York city is walkable, but the perferred mode of transportation here is not by foot – we prefer our cars. And don’t get me wrong – there’s something to be said about driving hours at a time with constantly changing scenery and your favorite music playing on the radio. But it doesn’t have quite the same experience as wandering down streets and stumbling upon little spots of sunshine and history.

Unlike the U.S., where our cities were built with straight lines and strategic planning, Europe is a great place for wandering. European cities contain thousands of years of adapting and expanding with the practicalities of day-to-day life with no straight lines in sight. (For instance, when someone in Europe asked how far a store is, telling them it is four blocks away means nothing.) Through my travels, my feet have carried me through many a strange alley and up plenty of subtle hills, fulfilling my monthly step count in just a few hours. And I truly enjoy the experience of getting just a little bit lost and having to work your way back to a landmark or pulling out a good ole fashioned map to check street signs.

The city I think of the most when I speak about walking is Venice. Because of the canals and the narrow streets, there’s next to no chance for a car to get you from point A to point B. Your feet are your best option (and we won’t speak about the super expensive gondola rides every tourist seems to want to take). I loved my time in Venice, because I felt like a little kid again, walking down streets, into courtyards, and generally getting lost. The best part: once you hit the water, you know you only have two options to get back home – left or right.

Sweden in general is not particularly compact, but the historic section of Stockholm is really wonderful. Gamla Stan is a small island connected to the rest Stockholm but a series of bridges, but it feels like a completely different place. Whereas most of modern Stockholm is, well, modern, Gamla Stan (literally Old Town) is not; instead, Gamla Stan is a series of smaller streets, which all kind of look alike, but each have their own personality. In the center of the island is the Nobel Museum, from which you can head any direction and find cute streets that will lead you back to the edges of the island (similar in many ways to Venice, but without the overly expensive gondolas). Bonus shoutout to Malmö and Gothenburg for also being really wonderful to wander.

If you’re a big fan of canals, let you tell you about Amsterdam. Like Venice, Amsterdam is a city of canals, but unlike Venice, they’re a little larger. One of my favorite parts about my time in Amsterdam was wandering from my hostel towards the more central parts of the city. Every time I’d cross a bridge, I had to stop myself from taking thousands of those perfect Instagram shots. And once you get past the bridge, you’re faced with a cute line of buildings with someone biking by with a basket full of groceries. The entire city is a dang postcard.

London is a wonderful city for a thousand reasons, one of which is its walkability. I loved exploring its various neighborhoods, hunting for Wisteria in Kensington or exploring the classic look of Notting Hill. Now don’t get me wrong, London also has great public transportation. But just like with all of these places, when you’re walking through London, you get to spot the little things you might have missed, like a historic plaque about who lived in a home or a little pocket garden tucked away behind a fence. These kind of little sparks of personality are hard to catch when you’re in a car or on the second level of a bus.

Now, maybe you’re not in Europe or not able to get there quite as easily. Well, I have a spot for you: Melbourne, Australia. I loved my time in Australia, but if you have to ask my mom about the best part, there is a strong chance she’d say Melbourne. Despite being on the other side of the planet, Melbourne has a lot of the personality of a smaller European city. There’s the compactness of its central city, its alleyways filled with graffiti art, and its general walkability.

Basically, what I’m saying is I miss wandering through European cities. Did I miss a lot of good ones? Yes, yes I did. Will I be heading back as soon as possible to get lost a few more times? Yes, yes I will. Maybe, we’ll run into each other…