Happy One-Year Graduation Anniversary!

It has been 1 year, 6 days, 2 hours, 39 minutes and an assorted number of seconds since I walked across a maroon and gold decorated stage, shook hands with the president of my university, and handed an empty portfolio emblazoned with the Loyola Chicago crest. (Degrees are delivered by the U.S. Postal service, of course). Since that day I have attempted to “live an extraordinary life” and “set the world on fire” as my peers and I were encouraged to do that day and throughout our tenure as Loyola students. I naively and eagerly assumed that one morning I would wake up and know exactly what my next step would be.  The reality of the past year looks rather different; it has been a 365-day  journey of peaks and valleys, joys and sorrows, frustration and elation.

I spent my summer working the same job I have had since I was a precocious 15-year-old, anxiously waiting for an email or phone call that would notify me of where I was going next, either New York or Washington, D.C. As the sun set each day, I dramatically exclaimed to my ever supporting parents that despite efforts in college, perhaps I had peaked.  They laughed and told me to be patient.  So I waited, and cried, and waited some more, all the while thinking that fate was playing tricks on me. Then it happened, I was standing in line to get cream puffs at the Wisconsin State Fair (I am a midwestern girl at heart) when I checked my email and found out that I would be moving to D.C. to work at the most perfect place on earth.

I suppose the impetus for this piece comes from the nostalgia that has set in after seeing the endless stream of photographs on social media of friends and acquaintances alike proudly wearing their gowns, grinning from ear to ear. I, too, was one of them. I was starry-eyed, ready for the future, and somehow had convinced myself that the uncertainty of my future was not even a bit unnerving. Now, as someone who has one year of “real-life” experience under my belt, I have lost the endearing naivety that all recent college grads have. I would not say I have grown cynical per se, I would say I am now pragmatically hopeful.

Despite all that has occurred and the current journey that I am on-the search for that first post-college job in my career field, the past year has been replete with stories and adventures. Because I adore lists so much, I am going to give the longwinded literary paragraphs a break and simply list some things of this past year.

Top 5 Highlights:

1.) I took an almost complete family (Missed you Reesa!) trip out west before I moved to D.C.  We spent two weeks running free, climbing rocks, making friends with bears and elk, living the hippie road-trip life, and  seeing some of the most beautiful places in America. Yellowstone, I’m looking at you. It was bliss.

2.)I moved to Washington, D.C. and  interned at the place of my dreams and experienced the most perfect 6 months of any political junkie’s wildest fantasies (hint: it is featured quite heavily in shows like Scandal and my ultimate favorite, The West Wing). It was the most inspirational time of my life in terms of how I want to spend my career and my experience there is the biggest push I have to stay in D.C. and find a job here.

3.) I took a survival part-time job that has since expanded to a nearly full time job allowing me time to figure things out career wise without living completely off my parents dime. It has also led me to find the most unconventional D.C. friend family imaginable.

4.) I experienced my first Christmas spent in warm weather with an incomplete family. I spent the holidays with my parents kissing dolphins, drinking margaritas in the Florida Keys, lounging in hammocks tied to palm trees, and reliving my inner Hermione Granger fantasies  at HP world (Don’t do it. I’m not Ginny no matter how many times you bring up the red hair similarity).  It was a good lesson that adulthood brings changes to sacred family traditions and gives you chances to experience and enjoy new ones with the ones you love.

5.) I am currently undergoing a whirl-wind job search full of interviews with people and organizations that I dared to dream. I am learning so much about what I want to do, what I’m looking for in a job, and even though the process is as times exasperating, I feel accomplished every time I leave another office building with more and more interview experience.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Canyonlands Nat'l Park, Utah

Canyonlands Nat’l Park, Utah

Snowfall at the White House

Snowfall at the White House

Showing my mom around my workplace in D.C.

Showing my mom around my workplace in D.C.

 

Christmas in the Florida Keys- Islamorada

Christmas in the Florida Keys- Islamorada

It was a wet one.

It was a wet one.

Harry Potter World

Harry Potter World

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You bet I got some butterbeer

Cherry blossom season at the Tidal basin

Cherry blossom season at the Tidal basin

An inspiration for my career- FDR Memorial

An inspiration for my career- FDR Memorial

My current workplace- the John F. Kennedy Center

My current workplace- the John F. Kennedy Center

Top 5 Struggles:

1.) I miss my friends everyday. Like other young adventurers, I moved away from home after college. It was new and exciting and all that good stuff, but it also comes with the heartbreak of leaving people who have become a part of you over the years.With friends in California, Chicago, New York, Boston, and scattered in every nook and cranny in Europe and Asia, I am lucky that I have such exciting vacation spots already lined up. However, every once in awhile skyping and phones calls just doesn’t cut it and you simply want to show up at your friend’s house in the middle of night, crawl in their bed, and contemplate life while drinking wine and eating hummus. This of course is a natural course of life, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

2.) Balancing a budget on pennies with no free food or events on campus dictating your social life is quite the adjustment. Excuse me D.C., you  are asking what price for a tiny English basement apartment? Money woes are the burden of nearly everyone no matter where they are in life, and living post-college is no exception. It is not as if I am a stranger to budgeting, I worked three jobs in college to afford things, but after college I wanted to be able to take care of myself with absolutely no parental help and pay off more than the monthly payments of my loans. This is one place where I had to adjust my expectations.

3.) No matter how many interviews I go on, I still get nervous each and every time. When I say nervous, I mean heart racing, sweat inducing, stomach muscles playacting a roller coaster, nervous. Yet, the minute I shake hands with my interviewer I calm down and do my best. At least I can turn it on when it matters, but I could do without all the earlier theatrics. I’m working on it.

4.) I am a perfectionist and incredibly hard on myself.  These things while pushing me to excel in school are proving difficult to my current situation.  I like most humans feel deficient when I hear a no, or a maybe later. My mom and friends are the absolute best at maintaining that I do not get down when things don’t work out or reminding me to keep going, but I am not going to lie and say that is has been easy to keep going every day.

5.) This goes hand in hand with number 4, but the uncertainty of the future is an incredible struggle for me now. I dealt with it much better in school because I compartmentalized it and let it hide dormant between my hopes and plans for the future. Now, I face it everyday as I try to decide the next step; it is a continual struggle.

5 Things I Have Excelled at:

1.)  D.C. is a city of happy hours. I have found I possess a knack at finding really good cheap places to enjoy great food and drinks and thus, I organize a lot of social events around this. Who doesn’t love good company, tasty sustenance, and libations?

2.)  I have been told that I am Midwest friendly countless times since I moved to D.C., something which still seems so strange to me. I’m just me, talking to strangers and all. Apparently this is something that not all people do as they are very busy with their high powered jobs. Even still, I try to make the time to to pay attention to those around me. It has served me well as I meet new people everywhere and I appreciate each new story and new relationship. Hopefully as D.C. grows and changes, more of my fellow Midwesterners can rub off some of our friendliness on this high powered city.

3.)  Craigslist has been my D.C. sanctuary. I found my current job and housing on it. I used CL before, but not to the extent that I do now. If you need something, first check CL.

4.) I used to moan and complain at the thought of writing a cover letter. What do you mean I have to write a new one for each job?  Due to my job search, I was forced to learn how to write professional and engaging letters that balanced talking about your experience while at the same time proving just what an asset you would be to the organization. I have become fairly competent at doing so and have received comments from possible employers that they liked my cover letters. Point for Courtney: 1.

5.) I have lived in three apartments in my 7 months in D.C. While globetrotting taught me to be go with the flow, living here has taught me to be just as flexible in your own country as well. Things just happen sometimes, and if you spend all your time worrying about it, you get too caught up and feel miserable. Instead, I have grumbled about it a bit, then picked up and tried to remain positive.

5 Things I Can Improve:

1.) I need to learn to be patient with the speed of my life. I cannot control the timing of jobs, how how quickly people get back to you, or life in general.

2.) I need to stop stop judging my life against peers. I have spent way too much time looking at Facebook and see friends going to grad school, teaching English abroad, working in the Peace Corps (something I almost did), etc. I’m not envious of their success, I am honestly happy for them, but it makes me uncomfortable with my current state. I suppose I am envious of their seamless transition.  I want to do a great number of things in my life and I am incredibly motivated so I should stop focusing on what everyone else is doing and think about myself. Plus, if I think about it, I have done so much already and they may be Facebook stalking me just as much I am them. (Pitfalls of social media, huh?)

3.) Since this is my second post in two years, I have been neglectful to my special blog world. I am changing this, NOW.

4.) I have learned to say no in some situations, but I need to work on this. I am a people pleaser, so I want everyone around me happy first. I am going to try be pragmatic and say yes to the things that will help me down the road and learn to be a little bit selfish until I feel back on solid ground career wise.

5.) I attempt to do Skype dates and phone calls weekly, but often life gets in the way. I want to be more efficient at scheduling time to connect to my friends who are away.

This is a brief overview my first year post-grad. I will fill you all in later about my various tips to survive and travel tips since I have done a fair bit of traveling in between.

To all my first years in real life, I say this. Keep your beautiful and perplexed heads up. You may have found your way already, but if you haven’t enjoy the ride. Whichever our speed, we can take this one step at a time or barreling forward. We can create our stories. Let us be the authors and illustrators; this is our life after all.

Cheers!

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Reunion with a Dear Old Friend


Earlier tonight, I experienced the warm, giddy, and comfortable feeling that can only occur when you are reunited with an old dear friend who understands everything about you. It pains me that I was separated from this piece of my life for so long, but I am eager for the new phase in our relationship. So who is this elusive friend you ask? Drumroll please… I will not hold you in suspense too long…Our Nature Lies in Movement is back in action.

I have decided to bring back the old blog, which last accompanied me through my travel adventures. While I am currently stationary, living in Washington, D.C., I want to continue sharing my tales of adventure and the mundane  (because let’s face it, life is filled with that dichotomous pair) with my lovely readers. It has been two years since I last published a post and in that time I have learned many things about movement. Movement may take form in the most obvious way- physical changes in environment, traveling, through various means of transportation across highways and oceans. However, I have also discovered during my hiatus that it can also occur in more subtle ways. Movement occurs naturally in life even when one is physically stagnant; it happens within one’s community, one’s career, one’s friends and families, one’s ideas, thoughts, hopes, and dreams.  I wish to capture movement in its grandiose fashion and in its minutia. I hope that I can make this transition from a pure travel blog to a blend that includes travel tips and stories both in the US and abroad, life hacks for twenty somethings, and everything in between. Stay tuned for a new layout, more intriguing posts, and beautiful photographs.

It feels so good to be back.

Cheers!

Welcome Back Our Nature Lies in Movement.png

 

 

How I Stayed with Strangers and Lived to Tell About It

I am among the more than 4 million users who are a member of the hospitality exchange website couchsurfing.org.

I will admit that I was initially tempted by the allure of free accommodation but when I started to actually fill out my profile I realized that CouchSurfing was really about interactive cultural exchanges. CouchSurfing is not just something you do on a whim when you have run out of money, for many people it is a way of life and travel. If individuals are going to open their homes to strangers, it is only courtesy for those surfing to embrace the opportunity to learn first hand about another culture through the eyes of a local. Therefore, I wrote my profile carefully so that I would present a genuine view of myself as a traveler and guest.

My CouchSurfing Profile

How did this all come about, you say? I am a 20-year-old university student who somehow was fortunate enough to study abroad. I surfed in Europe while I was studying in Prague. I have surfed with chefs and social workers, free spirits and conservative types, university students and retirees, young and old, and men and women of all nationalities and ethnicities. I have slept on couches, mattresses, floors (some more comfortable than others), and even the host’s own bed (they gave it up when space was crowded).

I began my couchsurfing venture in Paris. I somehow convinced several of my other travel companions to CouchSurf with me as well. There were 5 girls in total and we stayed at a flat with 5 French chefs.   They were gracious and willing enough to host all of us even though none of us had ever surfed before. Later I learned that our hosts have hosted more than one thousand individuals since they started hosting a year and a half ago.  At our host’s home I met a Brazilian flight attendant and a German Uni student; we formed fast friendships.  We swapped travel stories, life anecdotes, and even at times got lost in translation. Our hosts made us feel completely at home. They even showed us their culinary skills by cooking us a lovely meal on our last night in their home. Needless to say after the overwhelming positive first experience, I was hooked.

CS in Paris

New CouchSurfing Friends in Paris.

I started spreading the notion of CouchSurfing to my friends and suddenly I had created a trend amongst my study abroad group.  All of a sudden students in my classes would ask me for advice in filling out their profiles, finding good hosts, and other miscellaneous information as if I was a CouchSurfing expert. While I humbly told them my reasoning for CouchSurfing, I politely encouraged others to do so as well as long as their intentions were pure and about getting to know individuals from other cultures.

When I tell people that I CouchSurf, I hear the usual, “You are brave to be staying with strangers,” or “Aren’t you worried about safety?”  Yes, CouchSurfing involves everything your parents told you to avoid during childhood. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t meet people you talk to online. And certainly, do not stay with those strangers.  However, I have found that the nature of successful travel in general requires one to step outside their comfort zone. Instead of simply stepping outside the box, why not simply banish it?  This is what CouchSurfing does. It expands traditional travel to create more unique and genuine cultural experiences. It redefines travel.

In response to safety concerns, I simply respond it is as much of a risk to those who open their homes to strangers as it is for those staying. Thus, in the manner of friendly international relations it is both parties best interest to be cordial and polite.  (On a personal note, I am not reckless and am aware that a traveler needs to be smart, but I do think that Americans can be more paranoid than the average person. I simply chose to be a practical traveler who believes that there are good people in the world who are not automatically out to get you).

To those not fully convinced yet, the website itself enables a few methods that allow more concrete standards for safety. First, there is the vouch feature, which allows someone who has been vouched for three times to vouch for other members who they know or met through couchsurfing and trust. Secondly, an individual can pay 25 USD to have their address identified by receiving a letter in the mail with a code that can be entered online to secure their identity and location. Lastly and more importantly, references are the best way to gage a possible host or surfer. It is customary after a CouchSurfing encounter to leave a reference either negative or positive to let others know about the individual as a guest or host. It is exactly like reviewing a hostel on hostelbooker.com or leaving any feedback on trip advisor. When scouting for a possible host I would examine the reviews and make a judgment call based on the reviews.  Every time I surfed, my hosts have completely lived up to their positive reviews and I have found this feature to be the most reliable and best tool in choosing a prospective host.

If you think of it, CouchSurfing is simply a modified version of the old practice of crashing with a friend of a friend.  Social networking has clearly enhanced this tested and true method of accommodation by allowing it to be all on online and with a greater network of friends.

When I finally get back to the States I plan on opening my apartment to CouchSurfers. Since I am not traveling it will be a great way to get a taste of the world in my own home while my wings are temporarily clipped.  People and culture is what travel is all about. These are the pillars of CouchSurfing and I cannot stress enough the positive effects of this unique way to travel.

I close this piece with a brief list of some of the lessons that I have learned while CouchSurfing and a few handy tips. They may seem simple and obvious to some, but you would be surprised that this unassuming advice is not always heeded.

1.)Politeness still matters.

In many situations, it seems that manners have become a lost art and informality has taken their place. I am not suggesting acting like you are dining with the Queen at teatime; however, it is better to be overly polite. Customs around the world differ and while it is impossible to know the ways in every host country, acting in a polite manner will often benefit you until you learn the local customs.  Also, I always like to give my host a small thank you gift as a token of my gratitude for letting me stay.

2.) Be OPEN Minded

You will meet all walks of life when you CouchSurf. You will hit it off with some of the people you meet and some will rub you the wrong way. However, it is necessary to remain open minded in order to get the full experience.  If you are open minded, you will never be disappointed.

3.) You don’t have to agree on everything but respect others and all opinions.

This goes hand in hand with the 2nd one, but again it is important enough to be stressed. In Porto, Portugal, my host took me to dinner with one of his buddies who also had CouchSurfers. These surfers happened to be an older French couple and two twenty something French drifters. My host was an older former businessman who had worked and lived all over the world. While he was very polite and respectful of others’ opinions, his friend’s surfers decided to embroil him in a heated political debate about the Middle East.  While I am the first to revel in a good political debate, this went out of hand and the debate began a battle of religious ideology. Needless to say, it damaged relationships and really was unnecessary. Remember, you don’t have to see eye on everything, but you should respect the differences.

4.) Food is an important way to break the ice.

Yes, the cliché that food brings people together remains true especially when you CouchSurf. A nice way to get to know your host on your first day is to make a dinner for them. While it is not a rule of Couchsurfing, it often clues your host that you really are grateful for them hosting and allows good discussion over something that all people do: eat.  If your host cooks for you, offer to help. (This may seem like simple manners but believe me I have seen people awkwardly stand there while the host does all the cooking when all he really wanted was a hand chopping up some vegetables).  If your host takes you out to a local restaurant, try the cuisine. It may not be your cup of team but by making the effort to try the local dish you are making a statement that you appreciate their culture. No one says you have to enjoy everything you try, but trying new things is important.

5.) Keep in touch.

You never know who you will meet when you Couchsurf.  Some individuals you meet may be your friends for life and some may be merely acquaintances.  By putting the extra effort to keep in touch, it can lead to an amazing global network that may surprise you in the future. For instance, one of my hosts has multiple residences and has offered me to stay with him in Brazil and Morocco simply because I maintained in contact with him.  I have been invited to my first French hosts’ birthday parties time and time again and hopefully one day I will be able tot take him up on their offer.

6.) Leave the place better than you found it.

It is someone’s home after all.  Unlike a hotel or even a hostel, there is not cleaning service or maid to clean up after you. Treat the space with care and even better perhaps clean up a bit for the next guests. In Paris, one of the other surfers had a bit too much to drink and was sick all over the bathroom one night. Our host was then forced to clean up the entire mess. It was not only awkward for the surfer, but also for the host. Please clean up after yourself, and take care of the space.

7.) Let your host show you around.

I know that often you have your own plans when you stop in a new city. I know that I always had a short must see list written down. However, if your host takes the time to show you around, take advantage of it.  In Brussels, on my first night after a long bus ride my host took me to a bar to meet other local surfers and hosts. I was reluctant to go at first because I simply wasn’t in the mood. However, out of politeness I went, thankfully I did. Not only did the bar have a groovy attitude and splendid cider, but I also met so many wonderful people from all over Europe, two who were were official translators for the European Union headquarters.  In Portugal, my host gave me a tour of the entire city, and he even took me to free Port wine tastings. Talk about a night out!! Trust your hosts and their advice of their hometowns. At the same time if there is something you are dying to see or do, simply tell your host and I am sure they will be more than happy to take you there.

8.) At the same time, your hosts are not travel guides.

As great as it is to have a host that can show you around, not all hosts have flexible schedules that allow them to do so. Hosts are after all everyday individuals who have to work just like the rest of us. They cannot simply drop their responsibilities to show you around. Don’t get bent out of shape if you were expecting the grand tour of the city. Ask your host for a few places to see and head out on your own.  I had a few friends who tried CouchSurfing and when I asked them how it went they shared their disappointment with how their host was unable to show them around like they initially thought.  Each CouchSurfing experience is unique.  Some hosts may be able to show you around and some may not, but both are sill valuable experiences–just in different ways.

9.) Communication is key.

The most important thing you can do to avoid any unpleasant encounters is really just to communicate. The worst thing that a surfer can do is to just tiptoe around an issue.  If there is something really bothering you, bring it up tactfully. More often than not, your host will be glad that you communicated the issue and move past it.  There is nothing worse than the elephant in the room. Communicate with your host as best you can language barrier and all.

10.) Make the best of your situation.

I can go on and on about the benefits of CouchSurfing until the cows come home, but whether you like it or not is completely up to you. I encourage all to try it, but I cannot guarantee that it is necessarily the way to travel for you.  Thus, if it is fantastic, if not that’s fine too. Either way make the best of any situations, because for everything that is going wrong on your trip there will be a millions things that will go right and completely erase any small mishap you may have encountered. And in the off chance that your CouchSurfing experience isn’t everything you thought it would be, you at least have an entertaining story to tell your friends. After all even when things go to hell, they end up being the best stories. 

To this day, some of my best memories are from the places where I CouchSurfed during my months living in Europe.  So if you have a wandering soul like me and love travel because it opens your world to new people and culture, I whole-heartedly suggest giving CouchSurfing a chance.  I cannot promise you that every experience will be perfect and that all your hosts will be courteous and welcoming. You may have that one awkward or uncomfortable encounter.  However, I also cannot promise you that every hostel will be clean and bed bug free or that every hotel will be worth the pretty penny that you pay for it Couchsurfing may not necessarily be your thing, but you won’t know until you give it a chance. Travel is all about taking risks, and with a little bit of luck and an open mind you can enhance your travel by being bolder than the rest.

Cairns: A Journey to the Great Barrier Reef

Another item on my Australian bucket list was to see the Great Barrier Reef. Initially, I was going to go earlier in my stay in Australia because I wanted to go during the best weather season. However ticket prices were quite high and a bit more than I had budgeted for. My friend Karissa also desperately wanted to go so we decided to wait for a later date when tickets were less expensive.  We had heard that that the weather is usually nice most of the year so we would not have to worry about that when we decided to book our tickets.

One of the easiest and most popular places to see the reef is Cairns. It is located way up north in Queensland and the town itself is nothing spectacular but it has many deals to get out the reef that are fairly affordable (at least for Australia). They also have Green Island, which is a small little island right on the edge of the inner reef where they have daytrips. This is what we had planned to do because we wanted to stay an entire day on basically a private island (only the tour groups and staff inhabit the island).   Eventually I want to be a licensed scuba diver and I intend to go back and dive in the outer reef where it is the most beautiful.

To say that the weather was not the most pleasant would be a serious understatement.  The receptionist at our hostel said that usually the weather is like paradise. Naturally we were there the 4 days that it was a monsoon. We did not let the foul weather stop us. We looked up the forecast and booked a tour to the Great Barrier Reef on the day that it wouldn’t rain but was supposed to be overcast. We decided that we would not let it bother us, and honestly even though the weather could have been more ideal the experience was still very worthwhile.

First day in the downpour.

Needless to say the other days that we did not have solid plans were not the most exciting. We spent a lot of time chilling at the hostel, chatting and reading which actually was quite enjoyable. It was a nice time to get away from the stress of schoolwork even if it was just for a weekend.  One of the special things that I did get to do was hold a koala, twice actually.  Another item on my Aussie bucket list was to hold a koala.  Ignorantly I assumed that you could do this anywhere in Australia, but you are only allows contact with koalas in certain states. It is illegal to hold koalas in Victoria and New South Wales both states I had already been too, the former being my home.  Therefore after we booked our ticket to Cairns in Queensland, we knew that we had to find somewhere to hold koalas.  There was a separate animal park that allowed you contact with koalas but due to the foul weather we wanted to find someplace closer and more convenient. The casino complex in Cairns, which also housed a swanky hotel on the top, had a dome zoo. They allowed animal lovers such as us to hold and take a photograph with a koala.  Thus, the first day we headed there and held Tim Tam, a young female koala. There was also Harvey a much older male koala that you could hold, but they rotated on and off duty every other day.  We decided that we also wanted to hold Harvey, so we went back the next day as well.

Here’s Harvey!!!

Other than hanging out in the hostel in true backpacker fashion, holding koalas, we also walked around the town a bit, went to one of the local restaurants called the Wool Shed  (popular with tourists as they offer several deals), an then sat down by the pier. You would think that being on the ocean, Cairns would be a hotspot for beach vacationers. However, Cairns itself does not have its own proper swimming beach, but there are many resorts such as Palm Cove nearby that have beautiful tropical beaches.  They do have an esplanade and public lagoon, which is quite pretty and nice weather permitting.

Town Center.

On Saturday, the day I had been excitedly awaiting for months arrived. We got up early with our bags full of extra clothes, snacks and a beach towel. We boarded the boat and were in for a rather rough 45 minutes to Green Island.  While it was not raining, the water was quite choppy and it was rather windy. Once we got to the pier Karissa and I hung around because we had also booked a glass bottom boat tour of the reef. Even with the rough water, which made the water a green color instead of the usual crystal blue because it pulled up grass and sand from the bottom, we were able to see hundreds of massive fish and many different kinds of coral. I was beside myself that I was actually viewing such a fascinating living organism. After the glass bottom boat, we went to a shop to pick up our snorkeling gear and we rented wetsuits due to the cold weather.  It was a little difficult to see things because of the rough waters, but we did see some of the reef.  After we spent some time frolicking in the Coral Sea, and spotting some fish and coral, we headed in and explored the island. For the afternoon we spent it lounging on the beach, taking in the sights, and walking through the small rainforest in the center of the island.  Even though we had already changed out of our swimsuits, I realized that this would be my last beach in Australia so I just had to have one more swim. It was a bit chilly, but I jumped in the sea with some of my clothes on and Karissa joined me. People walking by on the beach kept asking us if the water was cold as I am sure they thought it was a bit strange that we had jumped in without wetsuits and in our clothes. Ah well- the life of the free spirit!!! We didn’t want to leave, but we needed to catch the boat back to Cairns so that we could pack for our fight the next day.

Karissa and I snorkeling!

A Turtle!!

Overall, despite the rainy weather I had a lovely time in Cairns. It was a great getaway and I cannot wait to back in the peak of summer hopefully with a diver’s certificate so I can travel up and down the coast exploring the Reef.

Cheers!!

P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney

I finally made it to Sydney. This was the one place besides the Great Barrier Reef that I had to go before leaving Australia. Ever since I watched the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, I knew that I had to visit.  This was also cemented with the release of the film, Finding Nemo, which gave every child the idea of visiting Sydney and the imaginary P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way hence the title of this post.

We arrived at night and trekked with our bags across Hyde Park and saw St Mary’s Cathedral. It really is more gorgeous at night, but then again I am just partial to cities at night. Even in the first few minutes of being in Sydney, I immediately felt a difference between Sydney and Melbourne.   There is a continued rivalry stemming back from when Melbourne was the Australia capital from 1901 to 1927 before Canberra was basically built for the sole purpose of solving the problem of where to house the capital between the two cities.  But, alas, I will write another post on that predicament.   This was the first time leaving Victoria and it really made me appreciate the “Garden State.”

We had a bit of a love hate relationship with our hostel. Now, I have stayed in a lot of hostels from some of the nicest in New Zealand to some that were atrocious in Madrid, but this one holds a particularly special place in my heart (note the sarcasm). It was neither the loudest or dirtiest hostel I have stayed in, but nonetheless our stay less than pleasant. The worst part was not the fault of the hostel itself but of the particular guests in our room. It was apparent that they had been staying in Sydney awhile because their stuff was all over the entire room. There was no room for our things because their clothes, shoes, books, and toiletries were strewn haphazardly everywhere.  I am always so careful to contain my backpacking mess to my general vicinity because I do not want to crowd anyone. It really can be obnoxious  when you do not have any space (Note to future backpackers, try to keep your things to yourself in hostels as much as possible). However, it was decently priced and in a decent location so I cannot complain too much; I had a bed.  But enough of this, on to the trip…

My friend who was traveling with me is afraid of heights, but she had decided that she would attempt to overcome this by parasailing. I booked parasailing for two over the Sydney Harbor at Manly beach.  Our appointment was not until 2 in the afternoon so we went on a free walking tour of the city to learn about some history of the city. It was a great way to figure out where everything was and get comfortable with the layout, plus our guide was quite animated and funny so it was entertaining.  We ducked out a bit early from the tour because we needed to catch a ferry to Manly. Before I went to Sydney I had no idea about their extensive ferry network despite the fact that I knew that Sydney was built around one of the most famous natural harbors in the world.  It was how I pictured Seattle to be with its ferries (No, I have never been there, it eludes me in my travels thus far, but I have watched enough Grey’s Anatomy to have a picture in my head of Seattle).  We took a ferry to Manly and found our boat that would take us into the harbor for parasailing. I personally love heights, but I was a bit nervous about my friend. We decided to go first so that way she would not have to sit and worry about it. They hitched us up and off we went into the sky. It was so relaxing to just float in the air and take in all the sights of the Harbor. It was truly a beautiful ride. They even dunked us a bit and we got a tad wet. My friend actually loved it and a made a little headway in conquering her fear. Afterwards, we hung around Manly which is an adorable town/suburb, went to the grocery store and bought our dinner of champions rice cakes (bread for Ann the gluten tolerant one), peanut butter, Nutella, apples, and yogurt and ate on the beach. We took the ferry back at sunset, which gave us striking views of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge. Later we hung around the pier, had some ice cream and bought impulse tickets for a performance in the Opera House for the following night.

St. Mary’s & Hyde Park during the day

Sydney Harbor Bridge

Sydney Opera House

Before parasailing

Sunset over Sydney Harbor

The next day we went to the Botanical Gardens, which to be honest were very pretty but not spectacular a label that I use to describe the Melbourne Botanical Gardens. We walked around the harbor a bit to get better views and then went to the Museum of Contemporary Art. I really enjoyed the museum and they were featuring this fascinating piece called The Clock by Christian Marclay which was a 24-hour video project featuring thousands of short film clips that showed a time of day usually in reference to a clock face or watch. I was riveted as I watched his unique sequencing of every minute through video. Even for those who are not great fans of modern art, I think you would find it very interesting and would advise you to check it out if it tours in one of your museums.   The museum is located in an area called The Rocks which actually used to to be one of the rougher areas in Sydney way back when but was gentrified and is a very hip, artsy and wealthy area now filled with shops, pubs and bars. They had an outdoor market while we were there and we enjoyed meandering along the streets and seeing all the local vendors. I fell in love with the area and the shops. I could not help myself and bought my one souvenir from Sydney which were handmade earrings from one of the artists at the market. We also walked across the Harbor Bridge to check out some more views of the city. We ate dinner in Chinatown and headed back to the harbor to go to Macbeth at the Opera House. Now, I love Shakespeare, it is partly due to my love of theater and also my love of British literature (though my real love is Russian Literature). I always refer to Macbeth as the Scottish play or the play that cannot be named (it is bad luck to say Macbeth in a theater during a show run, yes my background in theater comes out now) and I was ecstatic to see it. For my friend Ann, she is Danish and English is not her first language. While, she speaks nearly perfect English I knew that the fast and older style of speaking might be challenging for her so I gave her a brief summary of events so that it would be easier for her to follow.  This production of Macbeth was produced by Bell Shakespeare Theater Company, which is actually Australia’s only touring company, and it was a very modern interpretation of it. Instead of wearing Renaissance style clothing, the aesthetics were very simple and they wore dark jeans and boots.  Aussie actress Kate Mulvany  (she also has a small role in the upcoming film Great Gatsby; I’m so excited for this film) who played Lady Macbeth was the star of the show for me because she  gave a incredible performance.  The Opera House is so massive that it has many different theaters in one. We were in the Drama Theater which was one of the smaller spaces; nonetheless it was an amazing experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Exhibit in MCA Sydney

Market at The Rocks

View from the Harbor Bridge

Opera House…another one of the many shots from the Harbor Bridge

Theater where Macbeth was performed in

Sydney Harbor at Night

On our final day together, we wanted to see a bit of nature so we headed to the UNESCO World Heritage listed Blue Mountains. Blue Mountains composed of mostly sandstone plateaus start 60 kilometers west of Sydney and are quite expansive.  It was named Blue because it is densely covered with Eucalyptus trees which when the air temperature rises emit an oil that causes the land to have a blue hue to the human eye. Usually, tourists take a day tour from Sydney that includes round trip bus transport. However, in the spirit of saving money and getting a more local experience I decided to take a local train there. It turned out to be a great choice as we got to see outer Sydney suburbs and the ride to the mountains was quite pretty.  We disembarked our train at the largest town in the mountains, Katoomba. We then walked/hiked to the famous Three Sisters, which are three sandstone towers and admired the majestic views at Echo Point lookout.  There is actually a legend about the sisters. According to the tale three young women from the Katoomba tribe fell in love with with three men from the Nepean tribe from the foothills. Tribal lore prohibited the union, and a battle ensued. A Katoomba witchdoctor turned the women to stone to prevent them coming to harm, but he was killed in the battle and no one else could undo his spell. Hence the three sisters remain in stone overlooking the region. Lastly we headed to the Scenic World, which consists of a cable car, train ride, and skyway all with fantastic views of the mountains. The train ride is actually one of the steepest tracks in the world (if not the steepest) and takes you down a side of the mountain through a rainforest.  The skyway is similar to the cable car but instead of going up the mountain, travels parallel to a deep ravine and boasts a see through floor. All three rides provide great views of the rainforest and mountains and are a perfect way to end or begin a trip in the Blue Mountains.

Three Sisters

Bottom of the Railway

Blue Mountain rainforest

We headed back to Sydney and Ann headed to the airport for a flight that night; she needed to get back to Melbourne for her nursing clinical to start. I said goodbye to her and headed to my new hostel for the night because the one that I was staying in before was booked full.  After I cleaned up, I headed to the harbor for my last night in Sydney. I just simply walked around the Opera House taking in my last views of the beautiful city and harbor.   As much as I loved visiting Sydney, I was happy that I was living in Melbourne because it fits me better. However, Sydney really is a beautiful city and I highly recommend visiting.

Cheers!!

Panning for Gold

I am currently huddled under covers in my brisk jail cell. Yes, I said it jail cell. NO, I did not commit any unlawful offenses I am simply staying at former prison operating from 1830 to 1999, which was turned into a hostel in Christchurch, New Zealand.  It is by far the wackiest place I have ever stayed at. Coincidentally enough, it is also the nicest hostel I have stayed thus far. The rooms are pristinely clean, the common areas are warm and inviting they have a lot of amenities perfect for backpackers’ needs that other hostels do not have. Plus, the staff has a lot of fun with the whole jail theme as they wear orange shirts with prison numbers. With the exception of the lack of free Wi-Fi (a problem that has plagued me everywhere in Australia and NZ) Jailhouse is the perfect introduction to New Zealand.  I paid for Internet but apparently I have already used the memory already- go figure (I paid for a whole day and it lasted me 3 hours. One of the things I am most looking forward to going back to the States is cheap unlimited internet, none of this 8-10 dollars a day crap). Tales from NZ will come soon.

I finished my last week of classes at Deakin this week and have exams coming up next week. With all this last minute schoolwork, I have yet again neglected catching up from some of my recent exploits.  I am embarrassed to say, but I still have not shared a road trip that I took over a month ago. Fear not, since my Internet has expired, fate is literally forcing me to write some updates.

Where to start? Ah, yes….

After my autumn break, two of my roommates and I went on yet again another road trip. This time it was in the opposite direction towards western Victoria.  Our destination was Ballarat and the Grampians National Park. We wanted to camp again because I just cannot get enough of this fresh Australian air and views of the night sky.

I was chief navigator and luckily for me I inherited my mother’s inner compass and knack for directions.  I did my job quit well, but I cannot say the same for the rest of the group’s skills of remembering essential items. We finally managed to maneuver the diagonal, zigzag, and just plain complicated streets from Burwood to Melbourne’s CBD when I asked if anyone had grabbed the tent. My question was met with blank stares and “I thought you brought it.”  Needless to say, the trip was off to a comical start as usual, but no worries, it’s Australia; nothing bothers the Australians or those of us who currently call Australia home.

We first headed towards Ballarat because we wanted to go to Sovereign Hill, which is a mix of interactive museum and live demonstration village. For any Wisconsin readers, it is like Old World Wisconsin- where every child by the age of 12 has gone to at least twice for field trips to learn all about the history of the state. Ballarat is a city that was founded after gold was discovered in the area. Sovereign Hill is a model of how Ballarat looked like during the Australian Gold Rush. It has models of buildings, streams to pan for gold, tour guides donned in traditional early 19th century garb, farm animals, mine simulation, and much more.  As I always say, I am a bit nerdy, and the history nut really came out, as I was more excited than the dozens of school children there and they get a day off of school.  We learned how to pan for gold, and my friend, Lana actually managed to find a few flecks, which she kept.  If you are doubting the plausibility of there still being gold in the stream, the staff dump gold flecks into the stream everyday for tourists to find when they practice panning.  I was unsuccessful, but then again I always figured that I would do a better job at wearing gold than panning for it.  We spent a few hours in Sovereign Hill, got a history lesson, and also went to a gold museum.

Next, we continued west towards the Grampians.  We knew we were getting close when we saw a gorgeous expanse of forested mountains and hills in the distance.  The sun was setting and we stopped to take in the beauty of the setting sun over the mountains. As always, I am not much of a planner so of course I did not have any real plans once we got there and with the tent mishap we now had to find a place to stay. As I am incredibly money conscious because Australia had drained me of all of my funds, we decided to sleep in the car, which was comical in its own right after hours of shuffling around blankets, bodies, and seats. We did end up getting a pretty relaxing sleep if you can believe it or not.  At one time, there were kangaroos surrounding our car and we just watched them as they lounged and eventually hopped away.

Field of Kangaroos

Almost to the Grampians.

Pit stop. Gotta love Redhead Firelighters

In the morning we hit the Grampians visitor center and picked out a few spots that we wanted to hike to and see. We started with Mackenzie Falls.  We adventurously decided to hike to the bottom of the falls and climb over the safety barriers.  Nothing will happen right? I should have known that I would jinx myself because as I was jumping from one rock to the next, I tripped and fell flat on my face. I instinctually put my hand down to break my fall so that I would not smash my face on the rocks. My sunglasses slid into the water and I lay flat for about a minute. I was shocked more than anything because I am not a klutz (that role belongs to my sister).  I quickly got up, not thinking anything was wrong but then I felt shooting pain right around my thumb to my wrist in the hand that I braced myself with. I could feel a bruise already forming on my knees and my left right shoulder was also sore.  Luckily, my friend Ann is studying nursing and her dad is a doctor so she quickly assessed the damage.  My hand and wrist swelled up quickly and was all purple.  I could not move my wrist or my thumb.  Ann came to the conclusion that it wasn’t broken but I had a deep bruise and strained the muscle that connected the hand to the wrist. Uh OH!!

I didn’t let the mishap stop me, that’s for sure, as I continued jumping on rocks, climbing back up the falls, and then hiking some more in the mountains overlooking various canyons.  I needed a bit of assistance because it was my right hand and I was a bit clumsy with it. However, we spent the rest of the day hiking and seeing all the beautiful views of the Grampians.

The Fall

Mackenzie Falls

This trip was short because we all had work we needed to do before Monday. It was yet again another successful road trip, which provided more fantastic views of Victoria.

Again, I cannot stress enough how beautiful the country is and the best way to see it is by taking a road trip. Regardless of what state or terror you are visiting in Australia, once you get outside the cities, the nature is truly phenomenal.

Cheers!

Off the Grid: Camping in Victoria

I am going to finally update my blog on some of my most recent trips that I have taken. Hallelujah!!  This is going to be a long one filled with lots of pictures so get prepared to be wowed by Australia’s fantastic beauty.

For my spring break, I mean my autumn break (damn the southern hemisphere messing with my seasons) I went on a road trip with a few other international students. We were a rag tag bunch that is for sure. At one point on our adventure, a woman asked us how we all knew each other because she felt that it was odd that a Danish, Malaysian, and 2 Americans one of whom is Vietnamese all knew each other and were friends. Don’t under estimate the positive effects of globalization.

The road trip was my idea of course; my ingenuity saved the day (Wow, conceited much). Unlike in Europe, where I was able to travel freely with little consideration of cost, I have been on a strict budget in Melbourne.  As everyone around me was packing for their week longs trips up the east coast or to Ayers Rock, I grew restless.   The Thursday before break, as usual instead of doing homework I was looking up places in Victoria that I wanted to go. I asked my roommate if she wanted to go, and then we contacted two of my other friends and my restless yearning turned into a reality.

Ever since I received my acceptance letter from Deakin Uni, I knew that I wanted to explore Victoria and go camping to really experience Australia’s natural beauty. I wanted to get outside of the hostels, big cities, and sleep under the stars preferably on a beach.  Luckily, my companions shared my sense of adventure and wanted to rough it in a tent, with no bathrooms (ok, we used McDonalds’ bathrooms along the way, but it sounds more adventurous without them) and live off of PB & J or in my case peanut butter, rice cakes and apples.

The places we decided to visit were Lakes Entrance, Wilson’s Promontory, and Phillip Island camping along the way and driving on the picturesque Princes Highway. We wanted to go old school and figure out the directions only with a map, no GPS or written directions. Luckily, even though we were driving on the wrong side of the road, we managed quite successfully.

Crammed in a two-door car with way too much stuff, you could barely see my friend Ann and I in the backseat wrapped like mummies in blankets. Sleeping bags are apparently a hot commodity because their prices are steeply inflated and there was no way I was spending fifty precious AUD on a sleeping bag I would use once. Needless to say we settled for dragging our pillows, comforters and extra blankets with us. We bought a child foam alphabet to lie on the inside of the tent (another one of my brilliant plans, yoga mats were 4 times as much) for extra padding and to prevent us from getting wet from the morning dew.

First, we headed 320 kilometers east of Melbourne to Lakes Entrance. It is a fishing port where the Gippsland Lakes and the Bass Strait meet. It is a popular place for campers and has some gorgeous views from the various lookout points as you approach the “entrance” where the lakes, ocean and river meet.  We wanted to camp near the ocean so we drove further north and headed through a forest until we reached an isolated camp spot right on the beach.  Two of the four us had never slept in a tent nor assembled one before so it became the two Americans’ jobs to be the team leaders. We assembled it fairly quickly before dark and walked along the beach feeling pretty content.  There was also an older couple there and they had a roaring fire going as well as a fancy caravan. They jovially invited us to sit around the fire and we chatted for hours and drank coffee with our new friends. I was awestruck at the sky. It was the most beautiful sky I have seen in my life (I really should use a thesaurus to look up other words for beautiful because by the end of this post I will have taken word overuse to a new level).  You could actually see the Milky Way and all the constellations.  It was a cloudless sky and the moon reflected on the water. I literally felt like I was at the edge of the world (despite the fact that the globe has no real edges since it’s a sphere). I spent most of the night looking up because I could not comprehend that I was gazing on something so beautiful. It was a lovely moment and I have come to the conclusion that Australia has some of the most gorgeous views of the sky in the world.

One of the biggest surprises about that night was how cold that it got. I knew that when you are by the ocean the temperatures are naturally much colder because of the wind. However, I was not expecting it to be this cold. Luckily, I brought a hat, infinity scarf, gloves, and my warm winter fleece. Note to the wise: Do not be fooled that Australia is always warm. Melbourne is literally the coldest place in Australia and even though by no means does it get close to the Midwest’s cold temperatures, it does get quite chilly.

Living in Melbourne, you forget how most of Australia is rural. There are only small towns with one gas station, a grocery store and if you are lucky they will have a McDonalds where you can access free Wi-Fi.  Soon, we started taking bets on whether or not the towns would have Mackers or not.  It is a very quaint drive and the wildlife is fantastic. We stopped all the time to snap photographs of kangaroos hopping in the grasslands and wombats on the side of the road.

They have gas stations like this circa 1970.

Next, we headed southwest towards Wilsons Promontory, which is a national park on the most southern tip of mainland Australia. It was once an important place for the aborigines and it dates back nearly 6,500 years. To this day it is highly significant to the Gunai/Kurnai and the  Boonerwrung clans who call it Yiruk and Warnoon respectively. It is the largest coastal area in Victoria and features sheltered coves, sandy beaches, granite cliffs, coastal dunes and swamps, and granite islands scattered off the shores. Its natural beauty remains unmatched, as it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.  We found the most perfect beach that was nestled in a cove. The clouds looked like unreal, like little marshmallows suspended in the sky. We lounged on the sand, searched for shells, threw a footy around, took classic jumping pictures and breathed in the salty air.  We didn’t get to camp on the beach this time (such an Australian problem), but our tent was nestled in between a grove of eucalyptus trees. We went for a hike and found a field full of kangaroos; we then decided to go past this barrier marked ‘park staff’ to follow the kangaroos, there we found emus, wombats, wallabies, and of course more kangaroos.

Just chilling with a wombat.

Kangaroos have really become my favorite animal and luckily for me once you get outside city limits they are everywhere.  I am not afraid of animals mostly due to the fact that my family owns a farm and I spent nearly every weekend at my grandmother’s with potbelly pigs, sheep, horses, dogs, parrots, cats, and the occasional cow. My own home is quite the menagerie with 5 dogs, an Amazon parrot, turtle, and rabbit. I am the type of girl who gets in trouble for sneaking her pet rabbit in her dorm room and who rescues a wild duck that turns out to be a goose and raises him until the Human Society can find a flock for him to join. For some reason, my friends happen to be afraid of animals, an idea that is hard me to comprehend. Needless to say, as I was inching closer and closer to the kangaroos, my friends were nervously biting their fingernails and warning me not to get any closer. While I am not foolish enough to get too close because after all they still are wild animals and can act sporadically especially if they have a joey in their pouch, I did manage to get some great photos close up.

It started to drizzle so we started heading back but not before we saw a rainbow. At this point I was in disbelief at how perfect this day was. There are just some moments when I feel like I am in a movie and not real life. This was definitely one of those. We watched the rainbow fade away as the kangaroos hopped across the field.  Despite the rain that night, we stayed miraculously dry in our cheap K-mart tent. I personally think it was due to the foam alphabet, but then again that’s just me.

I feel like I should sing along with Judy Garland.

Lastly, we headed to Phillip Island just southeast of Melbourne. Even though the island is tiny, there are a plethora of activities to do. Most famously, the island is known for the Penguin Parade where Little Penguins (this is their official name not just me being facetious) come ashore at dusk and head to their burrows after days at sea gorging on fish.  They don’t allow you to take photographs because the penguins are very skittish and they do not want to scare them away, otherwise I would have created a post dedicated to them. They were precious. While we did this at dusk and evening, the day was filled with going to a chocolate factory and drinking/eating the famous chocolate shot (it was so thick that I needed to use a spoon), visiting Churchill Island Heritage Farm and making friends with a horse, chilling with koalas at the Koala Conservation Center, and walking around the Nobbies’ boardwalks on the rugged coastline.

Welcome to Phillip Island!

Chocolate Shot

Cheers

The Nobbies

Nobbies

There was also still one more thing that I wanted to do on Phillip Island and that was go to the Phillip Island Wildlife Park. Because kangaroos are my new favorite animals, I wanted to do more than just see them, I wanted to pet them and feed them. I found a place on Phillips Island that lets you do just that.  Not only that but wallabies and kangaroos roam around the zoo in a free-range environment. Your admission price includes a bag of food (we also purchased an extra bag each) so that you can feed the animals to your heart’s content. I spent over 2 and half hours roaming around the grounds feeding kangaroos, emus and wallabies and seeing wombats, exotic birds, Tasmanian devils, koalas, and dingos.  It was amazing and honestly one of the highlights of my trip. The kangaroos were so gentle and use their hands/front feet to hold your hand steady as they nibble the food off or your palm. If they are feeling particularly greedy they will even lick the crumbs off your hand too which tickles and makes you giggle. They are such sweet and funny animals unlike the emus that are aggressive suckers when motivated by food. The kangaroos and emus were kept in the same open enclosure. The emus were smart and I swear understood that when a bag crinkled or rustled it meant food. They then proceeded to run across field towards you. While we all knew that they wouldn’t hurt us, having a pack of 6-foot birds come at you is a little intimidating even for my animal loving self. Sometimes if they felt you were not quick enough in feeding them they would peck you, not hard enough to hurt but it was still frightening.  Nonetheless the wildlife park was fantastic. My friend joked that she would have to drag me out of there and she was right. If we didn’t need to go home to return the rental car, I could have easily spent the whole days with the kangaroos.

Best travel trip: If you are on a tight budget, but still want to experience Australian nature, buy a tent, rent a car and go on a camping road trip. Plus, you can cross camping on a beach in Australia off your bucket list.  If it wasn’t on there, you should add it because it is definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

Overall, the road trip was fantastic.  It was a low budget way to see a lot of gorgeous Australian land. We didn’t even leave the state of Victoria but there was so much to see.  I will update soon (after I get this damn politics paper finished) on another road trip in Victoria in the opposite direction this time and about my trip to Sydney.

Cheers!

Music Frees the Soul

As it turns out procrastination leads me to actually write some more posts. This always happen, when you are supposed to do something, you end up doing something that you aren’t supposed to do. I think it was ingrained in us from an early age.  Flashback to the times your mother told you to clean your room. You grumble, make your way to the closet and then you start playing with all the things you found that you didn’t know you had because they were buried under your mess.  I suppose writing this paper is my room that needs to be cleaned.  I was searching through my iTunes to make a study playlist to encourage me to work when I was curious to see if any of my favorite bands were playing in Melbourne.  Once I started looking the bands up, I not only discovered that I had missed a lot of concerts in the beginning of my time in Australia including one of my all time favorites Bon Iver (from Wisconsin, Whoop, Whoop! Home state pride) but a lot of my favorite bands were drum roll please…. Australian. Why it never occurred to me to actually look the band info up is beyond me, but then again it was always more my prerogative to listen to the songs a hundred times on repeat rather than actually researching the artist. Sorry, if that makes me a bad fan.

I absolutely positively adore music. I am actually quite mad about it. Luckily for me, my summer job consists of working at Summerfest in my hometown of Milwaukee, which according to Guinness World Records is the largest music festival in the world. (There it is that word again, hometown. I always feel odd using it because Milwaukee isn’t actually a town; it’s a city. Then again, I didn’t create the cliché so I guess if I am using it I shouldn’t pick it apart).  While it is not as famous as Bonnaroo, Coachella or Lollapalooza, it has something for everyone and I do suggest heading to Milwaukee one time during the 11-day festival. Instead of catering to one particular group of people usually the young Indie scene, every genre is covered at Summerfest. The acts range from Florence  & the Machine to Eric Clapton, Kid Cudi to Santana, Kiss to Peter Gabriel, Lady Antebellum to ZZ Top and much more. I just realized I really sound like an ad sponsor for this festival; perhaps I should be paid more.

Anyway, now that I was a bit sidetracked, back to Australian music. Australia has a unique tradition in folk music going all the way back to the oral tradition of the aborigine people.  Traditional indigenous music includes the didgeridoo, considered to oldest instrument in the world. With European immigration, the  English, Celts, Scandinavians, and Germans also brought their folk music to Australia. “Bush band music” originated by the working convicts sent from England who sang  ballads about their harsh lives and isolationism. Thus, music that emerged was a mix between aborigine storytelling, folk songs, and melodic ballads. Now, folk rock and indie rock dominate Australia’s music scene but their folk origins can still be found in contemporary music.

Here is a list of some of my favorite bands that also happen to be Australian. Granted my favorite genres of music are indie, singer songwriter, folk and alternative rock which thrive in Australia It’s the perfect place for my musical taste.  I even included some links to my favorite songs.

Youth Group

Empire of the Sun

Hungary Kids of Hungary

Lisa Mitchell

Powderfinger

The Temper Trap (of course)

The Jezabels

The Woodenelves

Laura Jean

Sia

Boy & Bear

Tin Sparrow

Eskimo Joe

The Paper Kites

Washington

Angus & Julia Stone

I’ll also throw in a couple New Zealand favorites as well.

Ladyhawke

Kimbra

Betchadupa

Enjoy the tunes!! If anyone has any other Australian bands that they think I would love, post them. I always love finding new music.

Cheers!

A Passionate Plea to the Night

**Sorry folks. If you were expecting some new travel musings, I have to disappoint you. Rather, I wanted to write a creative personal piece that encapsulates who I am.  Fear not, more travel posts are in the works as my blogging wheels are already turning. 

Passion is both the bane of my existence and my purpose in life.  To say that I am a passionate person would be the understatement of the year. For those around me they either appreciate it or wish to tame the wild beast. My father is one of those who appreciate it; he calls me his fiery daughter. While that can also be attributed to my crimson hair, it mostly applies to my temperament.  When I go home, most often he antagonizes me with ludicrous statements just to see if my fire has withered at all. Our quarrels, which reveal to actually be incited quibbles, allow him to encourage my fervor and attempt to direct it. He loves testing me, but then again tests have always been his preferred form of assessment during his tenure as an educator. While infuriating, I understand that my passion gives him hope and also reminds him of his less cynical youth.

My passion has also gotten me in trouble; many political and ethical debates among friends have ended badly although with a victory on my behalf because much to my consternation most people do not like to debate or argue and detest conflict. More importantly, my nature provides the biggest battle for me internally. While, I don’t fly off the handle anymore; I have perfected the art of controlling my emotions or at least masking them behind a thin veil of self-protection.

I feel things, incessantly, at the most inopportune times, when I’m awake and when I’m asleep. It is constant.  It is an eternal smoldering ember that cannot be extinguished. It is a ravaging hunger that can never be satiated.  It urges me to keep searching, to keep fighting and to never surrender or relent. But it also pulls me in every direction. Some mornings I wake up and know that I will be compelled to act. In which direction?  I am treading water, neither sinking nor swimming, neither moving forward nor backwards. I am imprisoned by own desire to do everything, all the time, and everywhere.  My desire to do everything prevents me from doing anything.

It is at night, when I lie awake because my mind is rapidly firing and try as I might I cannot make it cease. Then for a singular moment calmness washes over me because my passion appears directed. All the murky possibilities line up and point to one direction. I can let myself sleep and wake with the dawn.

The sun warms my face as it peeks through the curtains and I rise with purpose. I feel light, light enough to take flight.  I craft a weaving of plans in my mind for my future and how I can live with integrity and passion.  I eagerly greet the day with abundant energy. The day is a mixture of action, reflection, appreciation, and gratitude.

However, time is fleeting.  Night blankets the earth again. I’m still tethered to the ground and I feel heavy. I feel myself being sucked under again, back into the bewildering world of thoughts, hopes, misdirection, chaos, and confusion. I am back to the start, full of passion and yet no further in my quest.  I despise the night for it makes me doubt the day.

Despite this, I cannot wish night away for it allows me preparation for the day. The passionate confusion allows possibility and inspiration to emerge. The uncertainty of my direction allows an endless future where my passion can lead me. I can only hope to learn to cope with night.

This is the struggle of the passionate. It is my battle. It is my curse. It is my salvation.  It perpetuates a life that seeks the great and the impossible.  I am governed by the light and hopeful day and the dim and poignant night. I am governed by passion.

So in avoidance of writing my final paper for one of my classes, I decided it was high time that I made a quick video (slideshow really) of my time in Europe. This is the product of my procrastination skills and a little bit of nostalgia. It’s nothing special, but it is a nice way to reflect on all memories without wading through nearly nine thousand photographs. Cheers!

Go Do