I've swam in the Great Barrier Reef. I've climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I've seen the Opera House. I've even been to Indonesia... But these past five days in Melbourne have been my favorite trip, by far. It cannot even be put into words the amount of welcomeness and love I've been shown over the past couple of days here, and how happy my heart has truly been.
I've been staying with my Great Aunt Audrey, who is my paternal grandmother's sister. My dad's mother and my grandmother, Dorothy, passed away ten years ago too soon. She was a remarkable Australian women, who fled to the United States after marrying a U.S. soldier she had met and fell in love with in Brisbane, Australia. She married my grandfather and left Australia at age 19, never seeing most of her family there again. My Great Aunt Audrey told me the story as I sat and tried to hold back my tears, in such awe of my family's history. My grandmother Dorothy birthed six children in America, my dad being one of them. I miss my grandmother dearly, and still hear wonderful stories of her to this day from my dad and his siblings; and now from her own sister.
As soon as I was greeted by my Aunt Audrey and cousin, Ebony in the Melbourne airport, my heart was filled with warmth. It sounds so cheesy, but I was the happiest I had been in a very long time. My cousins took me shopping, took me all over Melbourne, I drove all around Melbourne (which is exciting because the steering wheel is on the other side and the sides of the road are opposite as America), I went to a concert, went hiking in the mountains and visited several of my relatives' homes. Being in Melbourne helped me to see how crucial family truly is. I have met almost all of my cousins here, and each one of them has had an immense impact on me in such a short amount of time.
My Great Aunt Audrey has to be the most beautiful and most remarkable person I have ever met. She was a famous ballerina back in her day, and is still legendary throughout Melbourne, Sydney and even in London. She reminded me so much of my grandmother. It brings me to tears just typing this, because when she spoke, I heard my grandmother, Dorothy. She resembles her so much, but of course she would because they are sisters. She welcomed me into her home as if I was her own, and did so much for me over a short period of time. The day I arrived, she arranged an amazing brunch where my cousins came from all over Melbourne to welcome me and get the chance to finally meet me after 20 long years. I was so tired from traveling all night by train and then by plane, having 0 amount of sleep; but the fact that I was meeting my blood-relatives in Australia was enough to keep me wide awake. My cousins were more fascinating than I could have ever imagined they would be.
I have SO many cousins. I didn't even get a chance to meet all of them, but I met about 10 of them during my stay. My cousins in Australia are amongst the most talented of people I've ever gotten to know. My cousin Adam, decided to follow his dream of being a musician and came up with his own band and label, with a recording studio in his basement. Elizabeth is an environmental scientist in Tasmania, deeply passionate about saving wildlife. Priscilla (Pill), rides and owns horses as a trick rider near the Gold Coast. Ebony is training for the 2016 Olympics taking place in Brazil as a swimmer holding one of the highest times in the world for the breaststroke. Bridie just won Battle of the Bands singing with her band in Melbourne and will go on to compete in a state-wide band competition. Rosa is one of the most beautiful people I have ever met, inside and out, and has traveled Europe for her amazing vocals. Olivia is traveling as a ballerina, going to high school at the Royal Ballet School of New Zealand. Daniel had just returned from the Outback doing volunteer work at an Aboriginal site in Alice Springs. The list goes on and on. These people were the kindest, smartest, and most genuine people that I am so blessed to call my family.
The week in itself was an emotional one for me. Being away from my family in Delaware for 2.5 months has not been too easy. There are days where I just want to hug my mom and eat one of her home-cooked meals. There are times where I wish my dad could just tell me a joke and brighten up my mood like he does so well. Yes, I LOVE traveling the world, but I miss my family dearly. So staying in Melbourne really hit me right in the heart. It made me feel at home, and it made me feel so loved being surrounded by such kind people that were my family. Also, knowing that I was making my dad proud made me beyond delighted. He has never had the chance to come to Australia and visit his family, so knowing I was honoring his mother and his heritage as well as my own, made me overjoyed. It also ironically turned out that the day when I left Melbourne, was my grandmother Dorothy's birthday. I strongly felt her presence with me in Melbourne and I knew that she was in heaven smiling down at me.
Within 5 days, I learned so much about the history of my family and even more about myself. I realized how special family really is to me. I've always known that family comes first, but staying with my relatives in Australia made me appreciate the meaning behind family. Family is something that is forever, and it's very important to stay close to them. Now I can leave Australia in 2 months with memories that will last a lifetime, as well as new relationships made within my own family. I am so grateful for the experience I had in Melbourne and it is one that will forever stay close to me and within my heart.
Where do I even begin here? I don't want to take you all on a day-by-day summary because it was an 11-day trip that we took through Bali, Indonesia and that would take forever. This vacation was a little different than most, though. My phone got severely broken and won't turn on, I got a bad case of the "Bali Belly," and a couple of other unlucky things happened too, but those are besides the point. Let's just say I was not having the best luck in Bali and it was quite discouraging... but I couldn't let these unfortunate events that were happening ruin my time there. My phone wasn't the only one that got destroyed, another girls' did as well and I told her, "Phones can be replaced. Our stomach's will feel better, but our time here is limited so we need to make the best of it." Given, there were some days where I couldn't move from my bed and my friends had to bring me meals to my bedside, but even when I felt like staying in bed all day, I still went to that white water rafting trip along the Ayung River and then on to ride an elephant through the jungle because I would look back and regret if I hadn't. Yes, it probably would have been best if I had just stayed in bed, but I'm all about the adventure and that's what this whole experience is all about right?
Indonesia is a country in Asia, which is a continent I had never visited before. After visiting Bali, I have now been to 6/7 continents in the world, Antarctica being the last one. Asia was quite like how I expected it to be. Bali is a third-world country so we didn't indulge in many luxuries while we were there, but we were not expecting to at all. It was about enriching ourselves in a new and unfamiliar culture, which is what traveling the world is all about. Again, we met many new people, and people were shocked to hear we were Americans in Indonesia, because Americans supposedly don't visit there quite often. Whenever we mentioned we were American, the reaction from the Balinese was quite consistent with; "Ohhhh OK OK. Obama."
The Balinese people were very friendly, and although their English was poor and broken, it was much more proficient than what our attempted Indonesian would have sounded like. The currency was pretty easy to get used to, Indonesian Rupiah, which consisted of an array of colorful bills in the tens and hundred thousands. Everything in Bali was dirt cheap which made it easy to buy souvenirs, personal items and to even treat ourselves a few times. Most of our hostels came out to be around $8-14 USD per night, which was unbeatable, and all of the hostels we stayed at were so much more clean, and had way more uplifting environments than was expected. Two of our hostels had outdoor showers, one overlooking a rice field. Almost all of our hostels had free breakfast (which usually contained rice), and a lounge where travelers could bond and hear each other's stories. Meeting other travelers has got to be my favorite part of traveling, besides the traveling part. It never gets old to see how many people just branch out from their lives, leave their jobs, leave their families and loved ones and just venture off into the world, usually having little or no plan at all. We meet people who have been traveling the world for 15 months solo, and have no plan of returning home anytime soon, even though they are out of money. It is just remarkable the passion that traveling brings to so many people all around the world.
The activities we did in Bali ranged from camel rides along the beach, parasailing, banana boating, visiting Turtle Island, shopping in the local markets, going to the Gili Islands, snorkeling, white water rafting, watching traditional dances, visiting Balinese temples, going to buffet dinners at sunset, riding elephants, spa days, etc.. It was the trip of a lifetime, even under the circumstances that occurred while being there. Even when bad things are happening, you still have to try and dig out the good. You have to take a minute and appreciate what you've got in front of you, and make the best of that rather than to dwell on something small like not having a phone or having stomach pains. Life is much bigger than that. I'm studying abroad to indulge within different cultures, and the last thing I wanted to do was miss out on a huge one.
Going to Bali really taught me a lot. There was one day that stood out to me, more so than any of the cool excursions that we went on. We were waiting for our fast boat to the Gili Islands to leave and were venturing around the Padang-Bai harbour when we spotted a beautiful view from the roof. All of us were taking pictures and were in disbelief of the breathtaking view of the harbour. I then wandered off to the other side, in double the amount of disbelief I had just been in a few seconds ago. It was a totally change of scenery. I was looking down at ruins, half of a house, and a whole family of four living in it. The mother was stirring a stew while trying to keep a fire, the father was caging the chickens that would soon be eaten for dinner, and the small boy and girl were running around barefoot on the ruins playing with each other, as happy as could be. They had no roof over their heads. None. The little boy looked up and noticed us staring down at them, and smiled and waved. I felt so rude watching, but I couldn't break my eyes off of this family. They had absolutely nothing, but they all looked so happy. It was all that they knew. All that that little boy knew was to play hopscotch between rocks in his bare feet everyday. All that his big sister knew was to do what her mother told her to and to chase her little brother around this place where they called home. They made the most out of their situation, and it truly inspired me to keep on making the most out of mine, living each day to my fullest and in pure gratefulness for everything that I have and everything that has been given to me in this beautiful life.
Tomorrow I embark on my next journey to visit and stay with my Great Aunt and cousins in Melbourne, Australia for 5 days!!! I am super excited to meet her again and the rest of my dad's side of the family, because my father means so much to me and getting in touch with his side does as well. If anyone wants to know more about Bali, inbox me or personally let me know!
I'm sure you all know that you can't go to Australia and not visit Sydney. It is the most populous city of Australia, the capital of New South Wales, and holds the iconic Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Alongside those structures is a ton of nightlife, mouth-watering foods, adorable markets all throughout town, and views that are out of this world. Around 5 million people currently reside in the Sydney, and 40% of those people are from outside of Australia. Even though this was my third time in Sydney since being here, it was our first time actually getting to spend time in Sydney, and boy was it a great first time.
Everytime we travel, we leave from Sydney since it is the closest airport to us. Sydney is a 2.5 hour train ride from Newcastle, and costs $5-8 AUD on our bus cards to get there which is very, very cheap for Australia. We left Friday morning and took the 8am train which got us to Sydney around 11am. Upon arrival, we went to put our bags down at the hostel so we could explore the beautiful city. It was 70 degrees, Friday morning, the sun was shining on the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, the birds were chirping and people flooded the streets filled with markets and great shops. I was in the greatest mood possible because I knew we had a fun-filled two days coming up. That same day of arrival, we were going to visit the Opera House, the Sydney Aquarium and then out to a nice dinner followed by a renowned night club called The Argyle. It's funny because in Newcastle, we go to The Argyle every Wednesday for Uni night, but we got to see the classier, more upscale version of it in Sydney.
The Opera House was absolutely breathtaking. I am still in awe that I got to climb the steps, and see the many different views of it that I saw. I mean come on. The SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE! So many famous people have performed there, and it is the most iconic architectural structure of Australia. When people hear "Australia," they think of those flawless white points. Seeing them up close and personal was a surreal experience that I will forever remember. (And I have another great story about it coming up later on too).
We had to take a ferry over to see the Sydney Aquarium which was located on the Darling Harbour. (This is how the Aussies spell it and I feel like I'm misspelling the location if I don't include the 'u'). The Darling Harbour included a mall, a bunch of restaurants, the Sydney Aquarium, a wax museum, an IMAX theatre and much more. It was filled with things to do, and luckily we had the whole day. We went to the Sydney Aquarium because we had heard it was one of the best in the world. Tickets were $20 AUD and it was self-toured through the aquarium. I wouldn't say it was one of the best in the world, but it was definitely very cool. I also haven't been to an aquarium since I was probably seven years old, so I got to feel like a kid all over again. We walked through tunnels contained with sharks, manatees and countless varieties of fish. Other animals included were turtles, seahorses, jellyfish, penguins, starfish and coral too. There was a Great Barrier Reef exhibit, explaining how within the next 20 years it is going to disappear because of the coral dying; which is so sad because it's so beautiful. The aquarium was a great start to our time in Sydney, and I am always up for anything related to sharks so it was a win-win situation.
Friday night was very... interesting. The group had a dinner filled with laughs, pineapple & vodkas, and strange pizza. After dinner we went on a ghost tour, led by our study abroad advisor's husband. I swear they are the most fun people. We really wouldn't want to have anyone else as our study abroad advisors or our mentors. Jason (her husband) took us through the area we were staying in called, The Rocks and explained some myths and stories about ghosts haunting the area. We even visited a room where 13 people were murdered. After the ghost tour, we then headed on over to The Argyle. I was super excited about the night, had my wedges and red lipstick on and ready to go. Until I fell down a flight of stairs in the club and my wedges BROKE in half. I was actually pretty upset about it so I went back to the hostel with Megan to change my shoes. Getting to the hostel, I was still super annoyed that I broke my shoes and busted my butt in front of a bunch of people, had a major headache, and wanted to stay behind. Then I thought of the blog post I wrote earlier, "8 Things To Tell Yourself While Studying Abroad," realized that I'm in Sydney, Australia and needed to get my ass back out there and make some memories.
I headed back to The Argyle with Megan and tried to have a good time there. There were several of us all there together, but I was just not feeling it. Luckily, Jonah asked if anyone wanted to go to the Opera House to chill and see it at night. That sounded so perfect to me at that very moment. The girls were all having a great time, so Jonah and I walked across the harbor to the Opera House, and sat at the Opera Bar for a little while to order a few more drinks. After those many few more drinks, we climbed up the steps to the Opera House and soaked all of the gloriousness in at that moment. "Life was too good right now," was all I could think. So we decided to be a litttttle bit rebellious and hop the 'No Access' ropes and climb the steps higher to see a better view. Sorry Mom & Dad, but these are the kinds of things you have to do in life. You have to take risks, make memories, and live in the moment. Bad decisions do make the best stories. (Not really, but this one did). The view was insane, and we were having such a great time up there. We had already conversed with the security guards and they were very friendly, so we weren't too worried. We figured that people do this all the time and that it wasn't harmful. It was risky, but the experience was so worth that risk. And I mean, now we can say that we saw Sydney lit up at 2AM from the top of the Sydney Opera House because we snuck up there. Not many people can say that. This entire day and night was one I will remember for the rest of my life.
It's The Cliiiiiiiiiimb...
1 WEEK UNTIL BALI. OH MY GOSH. FREAKING OUT.
3 WEEKS until I get to meet my Great Aunt and all of my cousins in MELBOURNE!!
26 DAYS until Listen Out
54 DAYS until Oktoberfest in Sydney (21,000 people attending)
And a trip to New Zealand, the Gold Coast and the Outback to plan for November :)
Stay posted mates & thanks for reading. <3