Thursday, November 7, 2013

10 Things to Obsess About in Australia

I was sitting in front of my scratch-off map recently, running a coin across the country of Australia and as the turquoise color hidden behind the gold revealed itself, I was struck by a thought: 

As much and as far as it feels like I've traveled, the reality is that I've barely taken a bite out of what the world has to offer.

There's a certain satisfaction in crossing off destinations from the imaginary list in my head, yet when one steps back to look at the bigger picture, that list becomes less about crossing things off - and more about valuing the experiences themselves.

This is why I never lose that feeling of awe when walking the streets of a new city, when chatting with the locals, or learning about the best place to try new beers (you can take the girl out of Colorado…). I'm fortunate to work in a field that combines a job I love with experiencing life as a traveler, and I try to never lose sight of that.

That being said, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Australia for WYSTC at the end of September and I'm still obsessing over all that I came across. From Sydney to Melbourne, to Canberra and Newcastle, there was something to smile about around every corner. Given my limited time in the country, I'm sure there are many things I missed seeing, which is why another trip is absolutely necessary. Until then, I have the memories to tide me over.

Whether you're planning an extended trip or a short jaunt, here are ten obsession-worthy things to discover in Australia, in no particular order. Fair warning, this list is as quirky as my personality ;) 

1. Flat Whites

I was sitting in the conference hall in Sydney when someone asked me if I'd had a flat white yet. I shook my head, wondering if that was something to taste or experience. It turns out it was both. This particular coffee beverage was originally developed in Australia and New Zealand and is similar to a latte, but without the foam. Sounds like any other fancy coffee drink, right? WRONG. I'm not sure what it was about this beverage, but it may have been the higher proportion of coffee to milk that kept me coming back for more. Unlike other coffee concoctions I've tried, this version was distinct because of its smooth and velvety texture. For a caffeine junkie like myself, this was a beautiful thing to discover.

2. Outlet Switches

Call me a bit OCD, call me strange, but I hate leaving anything plugged into an outlet when an appliance isn't being used. It's such a thing for me, that I've been known to not leave the house unless I've checked the outlets. My roommate can comment upon this plenty. That being said, I loved coming across the outlets in Australia. They reminded of the ones you find in the United Kingdom, in how they have actual on/off switches. So simple, so brilliant! Rather than worrying about leaving something plugged in, all you have to do is turn the switch to the "off" position and no energy is wasted. Australia, I bow down to your outlet prowess.

3. The Fashion

One of the great things about sitting at a table on a university campus (as much of my job entails when on the road) is the people-watching that takes place. It's a way to observe individuals in their natural element and better understand how different people interact. It's also one of my favorite ways to see what kinds of fashion are trending in that part of the world. From one Australian campus to the next, I fell in love with the high-waisted skirts and ankle boots that many of the women were wearing. 

There also seemed to be element of taking more risks with fashion, for both women and men. Colors were readily apparent in many of the outfits I observed men to be wearing, the jeans were tighter, and Oxford-style shoes were everywhere to be seen. The best part about all of this? The Australians themselves. There is an inherent "c'est la vie" atmosphere to be found in this country, and it translates to how people carry themselves, no matter what they're wearing. Now that's what I call fashion sense.

4. Pumpkin on Pizza

Sensing a trend? Apparently I have a thing for new foods and beverages, and Australia must have recognized that about me. Eating pumpkin in different variations is nothing new for me, but never in my trips around the United States had I heard of pumpkin being a staple pizza topping. Maybe I just haven't been to the right place yet. Regardless, this simple concept took me by surprise and had my tastebuds jumping for joy. Of the different pizzas I tried my favorite included a combination of fresh pumpkin, goat cheese, and sun dried tomatoes. NOM. Trust me, this was a foodie dream come true.

5. Eco-Friendly Toilets

I'm starting to see more of these in US restrooms, but the fact that you find them everywhere in Australia appeases my eco-friendly conscience. Again, it's something as simple as having two different kind of flushes, yet it's brilliant in how much water it saves. Kudos to you Australia for having the environment's back.

6. The Accents

When you've spent a significant portion of your teenage years pretending to have a British accent in public, making up stories as you go, it's safe to say you have a thing for accents. Before traveling to Australia, I didn't think I'd find another accent to rival my appreciation for those found in Scotland. It turns out I was wrong. And pleasantly so. Like I learned about Scotland, there is variety to be found in intonation, depending on where you're at. You really have to hear the accents to appreciate them, so I'll only say this: music. to. your. ears.

7. Melbourne Nightlife

Most of my time in Sydney was spent at the conference I was attending, and it wasn't until heading to Melbourne for two days that I was able to see more of Australia's nightlife. It's worth noting that there is an interesting rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, and everyone I spoke to seemed to have an opinion. My time in Australia was short, yes, but I'm just going to come out and say it: Melbourne officially has my vote.

As I was fortunate to have a friend living in the city to play tour guide, every experience felt colored with local flavor. Take for example the bar Section 8, one of the first places I saw. One had to first wander down an alley to discover this place, and it only got more interesting upon stepping inside. Rather than any sort of actual bar tables, wooden palettes were stacked together to form makeshift sitting areas. I'm struggling to recall the local beer I tried there, but it's safe to say that this venue was as unique as can be expected of Australia.

Naked for Satan

Other favorites from my jaunts around Melbourne included Naked for Satan and Rooftop Bar. The former boasted some drool-worthy tapas, funky art that is appropriate to Melbourne's street art culture, and an impressive rooftop bar. I suggest heading to the elevator and grabbing a seat on this rooftop if you can. The views alone will make you want to stay forever. Rooftop Bar also had some amazing city views (at least seven levels off the ground, if I recall correctly), but it's getting to the roof that was my favorite part. Rather than take the elevator, stretch your legs by taking the stairs. Yes, it is a ways to climb but each level has something unique to see. Added to that, the art lining the stairwells makes your climb an adventure in itself.

Like I said, I only had two days in Melbourne, but it was enough to recognize and appreciate the rich personality of the city and its people. If it wasn't on your list before, write it down at the top and circle it. You'll be glad you did.

8. The Beer

I never realized I'd become a beer snob until living in Colorado. Now, after two years of living in microbrew utopia, trying local beers is always at the top of my list when visiting a new destination or country. I'm sure there are many that I overlooked, but here are some of the ones I tried and enjoyed:

  • Coopers Brewery - Celebration Amber Ale
  • Hargreaves Hill Brewing Company - Extra Special Bitter (ESB)
  • Little Creatures - Pale Ale & Bright Ale
  • Pure Blonde - Premium Lager
  • Bright Brewery - Fainters Dubbel

9. Road Signs

Maybe it's the proper use of English being used, but the road signs in Australia made our road trip an adventure in hilarity. One gets used to seeing road signs in the US that are abrupt, use broken statements, and generally get the point across. In Australia, it was a bit different. During our drive along the ocean coast from Sydney to Melbourne it was common to see many signs with messages like "Safe speeding, there is no such thing" or "Stop, revive, survive" and my personal favorite, "Don't die for a deadline." It's clear that Australia takes long drives seriously, and just when you think there can't be another way to phrase "Don't fall asleep at the wheel," you'll see a new variation at the next mile marker.

10. Appreciation for Travel

This might be what I fell for the most in Australia. It didn't take long of being on Australian university campuses before I realized most of students I talked with had traveled somewhere outside of Australia. Sure, I'd heard about the travel culture in Australia and met many Australians throughout my own travels, but it still resonated with me. Whether it was study abroad, working abroad, or an internship abroad, these students had experienced a new part of the world, and were eager to do so again. And lets not forget those who hadn't yet been out of the country - they were still as interested in some form of meaningful travel. As an international educator, this made me love my job all the more.

Everywhere you look in Australia it's easy to see how ingrained this appreciation for travel, for diversity, and for cultural awareness is. From chatting with a Sydney taxi cab driver who was originally from Malaysia, to meeting a woman in a Melbourne coffee shop who was on holiday from Italy, there was never a dull moment.

Funny, isn't it, how appreciation for a country can sneak up on you like that? Now more than ever I understand why Australia appeals to so many people. There are the obvious reasons, but once you start digging deeper - beyond the tourist spots, beyond the white, sandy beaches - it's clear that it's Australia as a culture and its people that make it worth falling in love with.

So while I may have been the one to reveal this country on my scratch-off map, it is Australia that has left its mark on me. It's one I know I'll carry with me wherever this crazy journey leads next.