Tuesday, December 27, 2011


so, after 8 weeks, I'm finally back in the States!

after we explored Sydney for one last time, Pete was lovely enough to drive me to the airport, and I was officially on my way back to the States. I checked my bags with no problems and went off to security where they confiscated the Vegemite I bought for my sister's Christmas present, as well as my skinID face wash. the Vegemite was stupid on my part because I forgot it was in my carry-on, but my face wash was 118mL (limit is 100), and more than half empty. so stupid. so upset.

anyway, I walked all over the Sydney airport looking for a shop to buy more Vegemite, and I finally found one, close to my gate (of course). the largest size they had was in a tube, which I thought was pretty cool because it was portable :) so I bought it, along with a ton of Aussie candy for pretty cheap, as far as airport prices go.

Detroit airport tree!
best airline food EVER (never thought
I'd say that)
THEN I realized that I forgot to get tiny Vegemite packets as gifts, so I found a Macca's (which was easy enough) and asked for some Vegemite. I bought some fries because I felt guilty just asking them to give me some.

by then I was exhausted just from walking around the airport, so I sat and waited at the gate. surprisingly, I managed not to get too teary. leaving Darwin was much more difficult than leaving Australia. luckily, I have had contact with Kaye and Roger and other Darwin people throughout my travels, and it has really helped.

the plane ride was as awful as ever. I had a middle seat in the middle row in economy, same as I had on my arrival flight. impossible to sleep, and if the person next to you is sleeping, you can't get up to pee. I had a very sleepless flight, so I ended up watching 4 movies :X they were all pretty good, but my favorite was Crazy, Stupid, Love. hilarious, heartfelt, unexpected. I actually had to stifle my laughter the entire way through. I was on the new flight direct from Sydney to Dallas/Fort Worth. the flight was more than 14 hours, but I was surprised how fast it felt once we landed. and the Dallas airport is massive! they have a sky train/people mover that takes you from terminal to terminal, which was pretty fun. customs in the US was a breeze. they just asked me a question or two and sent me on my way. going into Australia (from the US and Indonesia), my bags were searched and everything, and I had far less luggage then. a bit more strict than we are, evidently.

Silvie, enjoying his Christmas gift
Santa came!
once I found my terminal, I worked my ass off to get an earlier flight. I really, really didn't want to deal with that 17-hour layover after the exhausting week I had. I got on the phone with Qantas, and they put me on an earlier flight (10 hours earlier to be exact), and waived all the fees. amazing.

Jordan met me at the airport at midnight, and drove me to my parents' house. the next day, I woke up to SNOW! I may not have had snow on Christmas day, but this was good enough for me. and it continued to snow for 2 days. we only ended up getting a few inches, but it was snowing so hard and it was so perfect.

adam, pretending to be cute ;)
french toasting
my dad made the best french toast ever, and we hung out until my sister came over. she was in town from Florida with my 3 nephews, and I loved seeing them. we opened presents and had delicious food (always the case at my parents' house), had a few drinks, and played Apples to Apples :)

as much as I miss Darwin, I'm happy to see my American family. I still get teary reading emails from Kaye, and I get disappointed when I wake up and I realize I'm no longer in the tropics, but they're thinking of coming to the States for Christmas next year, and I couldn't be more excited! I met people in Australia that I know will be in my life forever, and I'm so grateful for everything they've done for me. for now, Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year. 2011 has been unforgettable.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Sydney Christmas!

a Christmas deejay at the airport!
Sydney has been wonderful. I have been staying with Fran's brother the past couple days. he and his daughter Georgia have been so great. they invited a perfect stranger to stay in their house and I couldn't be more grateful.

Christmas champagne at Pete's
the night I arrived, Georgia invited me out with her straight away. so we dropped my luggage and went to her friend's house for drinks and nibbles before going out. since it was Christmas Eve, the bars were PACKED. literally sardines. right after we got to the bar, Fran called me and she, Pete and I went to meet up with Carlee on her last night in Sydney. Georgia didn't come, but she recommended this bar that was impossible to find. we must have looked lost, because a nicely-dressed man standing in a creepy alley asked us if we were looking for the bar. when we said yes, he pointed to a blank white door in the middle of the alley. probably prompted by our confused expressions, he opened the door, and there was a bar inside! sensational. a well-kept Sydney secret, and so much fun.

Pete's daughter Courtney and her
puppy Pumba - cutest ever!
an amazing Christmas feast
Christmas the following day was great. we turned on Christmas music, and hung out, chatting and having champagne. Pete cooked dinner and Georgia decorated a gingerbread house. before we knew it, lots of people were arriving, including Pete's other daughter Courtney and her adorable little pug puppy, Pumba! I was in love. he is such a cutie (though he bites pretty hard).

I was EXHAUSTED after dinner. Fran had to leave, but Pete and Georgia an I turned on Christmas Vacation before going to bed :)

yachts getting ready to race to Tasmania
the next day was my last day in Sydney. I thought I would spend it lounging around and getting ready to go, but after breakfast, Pete surprised me by inviting me into town to walk across the Harbour Bridge (something I didn't get to do my first go around in Sydney). it was so good! the Sydney to Hobart yacht race was launching at 1pm, and even though I had to be at the airport by then, but we still saw lots of boats in the harbour.

best name ever
once across the bridge, we tried hunting down a coffee shop in the city but they were all closed for Boxing Day. we wandered a bit before going to the Rocks market, and then headed back to their apartment for a quick Christmas-leftover-sandwich for lunch before I was Dallas-bound.

the Rocks market
while I was unbelievably sad to be leaving Australia, after this hectic week, I was happy to be going someplace stable. my someplace stable was with the Cowleys' home for so long, and when I left, I felt like I was being pulled in so many different directions. however, I have had so many nice people help me out during my travels, which is so amazing.

I have fallen in love with every bit of this country. the land, the culture, but especially the people. I will miss Australia more than anything. I hope I will be back again.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

a few days in Melbourne, and Sydney-bound (again!)

yesterday I took the city of Melbourne by storm! well, not really, but I was there anyway.

fed square
I bought a ticket to take the tram into town, which was an experience in and of itself. riding the tram is definitely one of the must-do, iconic things in Melbourne. the cool thing about public transport tickets here is that the same ticket can be used to ride the tram, train, and bus, which I got to do later on in the day.

an aboriginal painting
once I was in town, my first stop was Federation Square. from the Square, you can opt to take a tour, or have something to eat, or do something else touristy, but I decided to just walk around for a bit. after exploring the square, I headed over to the Ian Potter centre at the National Gallery of Victoria, which I heard was free - bonus! they had some beautiful exhibits of Aboriginal art, and other really interesting collections. I definitely spent a good couple hours admiring 3 floors' worth of art and artifacts.

from there, I wandered for a bit, and eventually made it to Chinatown. such a cool place. the smell of the food alone was incredible. there was a Chinese museum, but it was a bit pricey, so I didn't go, but I had a good time walking around in Chinatown for a while, taking in the sights and smells.

ni hao, Chinatown
while looking at my omnipresent map, I realize that the library is close, so I go there. they have free wifi and air con, so I hang out for a while. the building is beautiful, and there were exhibits about books and ideas throughout time, and photographers of post-war Melbourne, which were really cool.

after a bit more window shopping, and a few trips down a few of Melbourne's many arcades, I stopped by the Immigration Museum. they let me in for free with my international student ID, wonderful people. the museum was amazing, and so interesting. I really liked the exhibit about the child immigrants. from the policies, to the transportation, everything was so fascinating.

reading room @ SLV
8 hours later, I was exhausted. it was a fun day in the city. even though I'm sad that I didn't get to do some of the "big" things in Melbourne (walking along the Yarra river, going to the MCG, or seeing the Royal Botanical Gardens), I'm not too broken up about it. that just means I'll have something new to do the next time I'm in town :)

I was really good about my spending as well. I spent $7 on an all-day pass to ride the tram, bus, and train and $15 on food for underprivileged children okay, it was on shoes.

after, I came back and showered and tried to lay down, but I was still so energized from all the walking that it was useless. later, when Virginia and Craig came home, we got ready to go out to a BBQ at their friend's house, and they let me tag along. we took a bus and a tram to get there. I love the way the routes all meld together, even though I'd be useless in figuring it out on my own.

State Library of Victoria entrance
I liked doing a mix of touristy things, and doing stuff with Virginia and Craig. meeting their friends was a blast, and they were so nice to invite me along. I will miss Melbourne, but I've got to go back to Sydney to catch my flight. Christmas is so soon! I'll be missing Darwin people more than ever over the holidays, but I'll be with Fran and her fam, and I know that will help. happy holidays!

Thursday, December 22, 2011


ciao, Sydney
Melbourne has been amazing so far. I am staying with Kaye and Roger's daughter Virginia and her fiance Craig. they have been absolutely wonderful.

here we go again
when I landed, I took a shuttle to the train station, where Craig met me. I'm so grateful that he did, because I am useless at figuring out which tram to take where, and transfers and all that. it was nice to have help with my luggage as well. I don't know how I ended up with so much stuff, but I'll definitely have lots to remember Australia by when I go home.

a tram and a train later, we met Virginia at the platform, who drove us to their apartment. I got to meet Leo, the most adorable (and fluffiest) cat ever before going out for a fabulous pizza dinner :)

I was up at the crack of 9:30 the next morning and decided to walk over to Chapel St., a popular shopping area close by. as I walked along the road, the shops went from vintage at one end to high fashion at the other. I was proud of myself for not buying anything, but I've got my eye on a pair of shoes that I regret leaving behind. I may have to go rescue them tomorrow.

after about 4 hours of window shopping, a latte, and a snack, I came back to the apartment exhausted. I hung with Leo and planned my Friday in the city. I discovered that there's a free bus and a free tram that go around the city, and I only have to pay about $4 to get into town. bargain!

latte and smut...great combo
my new roommate Leo
when Craig and Virginia got home, we ordered Thai take out which was literally some of the best Thai food I've ever had. they even invited me to tag along when they went out to have a drink with some friends. so nice! I definitely feel very welcome here, and I had a fabulous 1st day in Melbourne.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

a few days in Sydney, and Melbourne-bound!

lots of street performers on the Quay
street style was stellar
so I made it in and out of Sydney with only a little fuss. due to a bit of a miscommunication, I arrived in Sydney with no accommodation, so I found a hostel to crash at for the night. people in Sydney are very nice and gave me directions without so much as an eyeroll. however the hostel was less than glamorous, and I was beginning to doubt my decision to come alone.

opera house modeling!
all the motorbikes reminded me of Bali
at the first sign of trauma, I fell apart into teeny, tiny pieces. the problem was figuring out how to put myself back together again. it happened when I left Darwin, throughout my flight (the only time I wasn't crying was when I was sleeping), and snowballed when I arrived in Sydney. needless to say, with a little help from Kaye and Fran, and a lot of help from Jordan, I think most of the pieces are back in place and I'm breathing easier.

Jordan decided to get me an early birthday present, and buy me a night's stay at the Hilton in the city. as Kaye would say, it was very flash. once I was there, it was wonderfully easy to get around. it was only a few blocks walk to the opera house and bridge, and I had a great time sightseeing.

later, I went to a bar called Three Wise Monkeys and had the best fish and chips in the world, and a pint of Boag's for $15. bargain! live music as well - Kings of Leon and Gin Blossoms made for some good mood music.

tv in the shower, holy crap!
Sydney is full of beautiful, fashionable people, and the hustle-bustle of any big city. while I love the people-watching, and how easy it is to walk around, it made me miss the laid-back nature of Darwin quite a bit. I'll have to thank one of those lovely Darwin people for humoring me and talking to me at all hours of the night :) it was definitely uplifting, and it's wonderful to have contact from people "back home." :)

GJ loves me!
harbour bridge w/climbers!
I'm happy to say that I'm enjoying Sydney for the beautiful city it is, and finally thinking positive. I find that I'm much happier when I'm out walking around. sitting in a hotel or a shitty hostel is depressing. at least when I'm alone. I have to be out experiencing things, and let's face it, that's what this whole trip has been about.

I'm off on a little birthday trip to Melbourne today, and I'm glad I decided to be back in Sydney for Christmas. I did a bit more walking around before catching a shuttle to the airport. the city is wonderful, but I'm sure it won't take me long to fall in love with Melbourne as well. I'm excited to meet another member of the Cowley family, and to have memories of another Aussie city to take back with me to the States!

in the words of Andrew McMahon, I've got tunnel vision, but I'm doing fine. cheers to overcoming hardship, and to whirlwind adventures.

Monday, December 19, 2011

farewell, Darwin

the table was so adorable
well, today's the day. I leave Darwin for Sydney this afternoon. I'll be there for about a week before heading home to Michigan on Boxing Day. bittersweet is a word that a lot of people use when describing positive change, but at this juncture, I'm struggling to see the sweet. I guess I have to look at it this way: I'm seizing the opportunity to see another city in this beautiful country before I leave for the States. I've met the most gracious, fun-loving people in Darwin, and it didn't take long for me to feel like I have a real home here, and I always will. I'm going to miss Kaye, Roger, Blake and Fran like crazy.

the most adorable decorations in the world
digging in!
I made a few frantic attempts last night to see the people I'd grown to love before I was off for good, but some fell through of course. I felt like I've finally gotten closer to some of the people I met, and now I'm off. I think I just got so sad about leaving and really wanted to see everyone one more time before I left. even the people who I didn't spend heaps of time with made huge impacts on me, and I think I was panicking a bit at the thought of leaving them.  it's a hard thing to do, leaving someplace that you consider home, for an undetermined length of time.

Kaye as Santa :)
lots of champagne-fueled fun
Sunday roast last night was beautiful. we had Christmas decorations, delicious food, and the best company. Kaye and Fran played Santa and we listened to Santa Koala about a thousand times over and had a few good laughs. saying goodbye to them all was absolutely heartbreaking. after dinner, Blake took us out to East Point one last time so Elissa could see the wallabies. we managed to spot a croc as well.

saying goodbye to Blake was terrible. he has been such a big part of my life here, and he didn't even live in the house this time when Kaye and Roger had students living with them, so I can only imagine how hard it was for the others. I got into the house and just fell apart. today has been worse. I have been fighting the tears on and off all day just thinking about leaving Kaye and Roger. sometimes I can't be bothered to fight them at all. they have been so good to us, spoiled us, and made us feel comfortable and at home ever since we arrived, and I love them for it. the same goes for Blake, his mates, and the teachers at Wanguri. it's difficult to cope with the fact that things are changing. this city and the people I have met here will be in my heart and in my life forever, that's for sure.

ah, enough sap for one day I suppose. until we meet again, Darwin.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bali, baby! pt.2

flowers and photos to start off the dance
fighting off an evil spirit
our second (and last) full day in Bali was literally one of the best days ever. after yet another amazing breakfast, Carlee and I packed up some jam sandwiches and hitched a ride to Ubud. Kuta is wonderful, but we wanted to see a tiny bit more of the country before we left Bali. Ubud is still very touristy, and there is lots to do. one of the hotel staff helped us find a non-metered taxi for the day. in the end, we payed $36 between the two of us. 7 hours of taxi service for $36. blown away.

first, we opted for some Balinese dancing. I marveled at the sights the entire way there. I couldn't put my camera down. when I wasn't taking photos incessantly, I was taking in the sites. I was enveloped in this rich culture, and I didn't want to miss a beat. the people, the buildings, the crazy drivers... anything and everything fascinated me. I could definitely get used to Bali.

sun bear yawn!
our driver was extremely helpful. he accompanied us when we payed for our tickets, and showed us where to go. he even played photographer for us once or twice :)  the "dance" was actually a play in five acts, and represented an eternal fight between good and evil spirits. I was in love with the colorful costumes, and the humor that they entwined with the acting and dancing. everything about it was beautiful, and it definitely left me wanting more.

we met up with our driver, and we were off to the Bali zoo. we bought a package that included zoo admission and insurance, and vouchers to hand-feed the animals, a souvenir of our choice, a drink, and an elephant ride. way too good to pass up.

fruit bat freak-out
at first, I thought that this would be an ordinary zoo, but it was so much more. the enclosures were not as restricting to visitors. at one point, we walked by a tiger exhibit, and it was just behind a chain-link fence less than an arm's-length away. I have to admit, I kind of loved it. I could have reached out and pet it if I wanted, but I didn't. that comes later.

hungry much?
all along the way, there were little extra things that we could do for free. we held birds, and tey sat on our shoulders. we swung a fruit bat from our fingers, and it latched onto our dresses, and licked my camera.

while we were waiting for the elephant ride, we used our drink and souvenir vouchers, and then we held a bearcat on our shoulders, held a baby croc (mouth agape - a bit unnerving), and PET A BABY TIGER (see? told you it would come later). oh, did I mention that I love Bali?

and then, the pièce de résistance. the elephant ride. incredible. amazing. breath-taking. it was wonderful. half-hour on an elephant with a very nice man named Dian sitting right atop its head. Budi was the naughty elephant of the bunch. he kept tugging up huge plants with his trunk and eating them, while Dian attempted to scold him.

we roamed around a blocked-off section of the zoo. Budi showed us his home, and even took a dip in a pool with us on top. it made for an unforgettable ride.
literally in love
just riding an elephant,
no big deal
Budi having a swim

by the time we got back to Kuta, we had been out and about for 7 hours, so we headed back to the hotel. after a failed attempt to nap (chalk it up to an exhilarating day), we went out exploring some more. we adventured to a street that we drove through on our way to Ubud, and found some more amazing deals.

certainly not an
uncommon sight
the god of the sea
still unable to tire ourselves out, we had dinner at Dulang for the second night in a row. the laksa was even better than the veggie satay, which I never thought was possible. we contemplated dessert, but wisely opted for beer instead.

of course, upon return to our hotel we ran into the Aussies. we sat with them to avoid a very drunk and vulgar man, and before we knew it, we were on stage belting out I Will Survive (I will never know how they did it. Aussies can be very persuasive). we ended this perfect day with some more Eat Pray Love and a good night's sleep.

Monday morning was bittersweet. we had taken the day off school to squeeze in one last day in Bali, and we were sad to say goodbye. we had until 2 pm (which turned out to actually be noon...oops) to check out of the hotel and head to the airport. we decided that we needed to say goodbye to the city, and walk around one last time.

2 Americans + 6 Aussies
to our surprise, while we were eating breakfast, we noticed the streets were closed down. there was a funeral procession passing through, and tons of people came walking down the streets, carrying xylophones on their shoulders and baskets full of food and other offerings. one of the staff at the hotel was trying to explain to us that all funerals are this elaborate. the details were a bit difficult to understand, but it was very beautiful.

we quickly ate our breakfast and followed the procession down to the beach behind the hotel. the ceremony was so colorful. there were men playing instruments, ceremonial burnings, and gatherings of many people to honor the dead. I wish I had more time in this country to learn about the customs and their way of life.

beautiful beaches
we continued walking along the beach and in the tide for what seemed like hours, but it wasn't long enough. I couldn't believe how much I was going to miss Bali after only being there for 3 days. the rich culture and kindness of the Balinese people really leaves an impression on you.

we passed through the mall, and one last market before heading back to the hotel for a pre-departure dip in the pool. after saying goodbye to all the people that treated us so well, we shopped for some snacks (since JetStar denied us anything for free except a HOT cup of water on our arrival flight), and called a cab. for $2, we made it back to the airport in about 15 minutes and were early for our flight, so we decided to go to Macca's for some Cokes and nibbles.

Indo Maccas > Aussie/USA Maccas
at last, we exchanged the last of our Rupeeah, and then waited at the gate. the flight back was perfect, save for the fact that we got in after 10 pm. my wonderful Aussie parents were waiting for us, and I went home and went straight to bed stayed up way too late admiring and editing photos.

sudah, Bali
I was sad to leave Bali, and I was even sad to only have spent 3 days there, but in the end, I'm so thankful for the experience. I'm thankful for the hotel staff that was so helpful, and for making friends with people we could relate to. I'm so grateful for the people of Bali who treated us so well, and I'm happy that I got to enjoy the beauty of Indonesia for as long as I did. we will meet again, Bali. selamat tinggal, for now.