Sunday, 26 August 2012

Heading to the Snow

When I decided to do a year in Australia one of the most appealing things about it was the idea of a year in the sun. I envisioned living in sunny beach towns, and chasing the sun up the East coast into Queensland as the winter arrived. It was with this thinking that I packed my backpack with shorts, t-shirts, sundresses and flip flops! I did not, not even a tiny little bit, imagine that I would need thermals and winter coats because I would be going skiing, let alone going to work and live at a ski resort for three months. But the best part of this whole travel thing, is that anything can happen. Just like leaving Europe to go to the land of surf and BBQ’s and end up at a ski resort!

But that’s exactly where I’ve ended up….and I love it! I have a great job in a ski shop, I’m learning to ski and loving it, and am slowly but surely getting used to the cold.  
We are living in a small town, Jindabyne, just down the mountain from the ski resort. So there’s no snow down here, it’s a little warmer and surrounds a gorgeous lake. It’s lovely to have my breakfast looking out the window as the sun rises over the lake, or go for a walk around it on my day off. It really is such a pretty little town. There’s not too much going on, but there’s everything you’d need.

So as we don’t live on the mountain, you might be wondering how we get to work every day? Maybe not, but I’ll tell you anyway! So we leave the house at 6:55 every morning and drive for 25 minutes and then get the 7:20 Ski Tube up to Perisher. The Ski Tube is basically a train that brings you up the mountain to the resort. It’s to facilitate the thousands of guests and staff as there wouldn’t be parking for everyone. Also the resort is in a national park so it’s best to minimise traffic. My body still isn’t loving the early mornings, but I am getting used to the routine. It’s strange being in bed by 10 most nights!

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about going back to working in retail, something I did for 6 years through school and college, but I’ve been in an office environment since then, in a job I loved and got very comfy in with great friends and colleagues. A lot of the shop jobs I’ve had have not been so comfy, or enjoyable. In fact some have been awful, filled with angry, unpleasant customers, evil managers and bad hours. Up here though every customer is on holidays so they are all in a good mood! It’s so nice, and such a positive atmosphere, unlike working in the children’s department in Pennys on Mary Street, where half the customers are junkies and everyone else is in a bad mood because they are in a jam packed department store, hunting for a bargain surrounded by said junkies. But in Slopestyle, everyone’s on their holiday and therefore glad to be there. I mean it’s still a shop, and they are throwing down some serious cash, so customers expect and deserve great service, but they are polite and cheerful and generally up for a bit of a chat. And everyone I work with is so nice and there to enjoy the ski season. My boss is awesome as well, so welcoming when we first arrived and helped me get settled.

Also, when the shop is quiet we get to clock off for an hour or two and go for a ski…how cool is that? Best job perk ever I reckon!
I also wasn’t sure how I’d take to skiing. I’m not coordinated, graceful or athletic, so I didn’t have great hopes for myself. I’m also not too fond of the cold. But I was here armed with a free ski pass and free lessons, and I was damned sure going to give it my best shot, so off I went on my first day off with Leigh to the beginner’s magic carpet and gave it a solid try. We were both expecting to see a re-enactment of Bambi, falling flat on my bum, limbs flailing beneath me, but I surprised us both and actually picked it up fairly quickly! After I got a little comfortable with the basics (Pizza & French Fries to any South Park watchers, Snow Plough to any skiers) I took a lesson and before I knew it I was out of the magic carpet and on my way up a chairlift! I fell over a lot, or course, that day, but I have been out a tonne since then and have taken another lesson, and by about day three I knew I was hooked. I’m still not a great skier, but I love it. It’s so much fun, the most exhilarating and exciting activity I’ve ever done, and I am getting a little more confident every week. There aren’t too many weeks left in the season so I’ll have to start bucking up and getting as much practice in as possible before the snow melts and we have to go.

Check in soon so see how the rest of the season treats me! 

Road Trippin' to Melbourne

So after being beach bums in Coffs for 2 months Leigh and I got jobs in a ski resort in the Snowy Mountains for the winter season. When we got our start dates we figured we would take The Silver Fox (our newly acquired car) on a bit of a spin before we started, and drive down to Melbourne to visit some friends of ours from home. As we figured we would do a proper road trip after we finished the season out we decided we’d maximise the time with our friends in Melbourne by driving straight there as quickly as possible. So we drove the 1,400 Kilometres in 2 days! 

On day one we drove straight to Canberra, the capital city. I’m afraid to say on this visit to the capital we literally checked into the YHA hostel, watched an episode of True Blood, and tried (and failed) to get some sleep in the same room as THE LOUDEST SNORER IN THE WORLD. I literally had to shake the bunk bed about 10 times to get him to move positions and encourage the snoring to stop. This was particularly hard on Leigh who had done the majority of the driving.

Leigh did a lot of this...

...while I did a lot of this!

I started driving very late in life, at twenty four and just a few months before we left on our trip. With the amazing patience of dear old Dad I managed to pass my driving test TWO DAYS before we left! Phew! All my hard work paid off and I got my licence for this exact reason so we would have the freedom to drive around the insanely large country that is Australia. So I was excited to head out on our first road trip I was extremely nervous as I’m not an experienced or confident driver. Poor Leigh understood and took on the brunt of the driving; I only did about 4 of the 16 hours. But hey, baby steps!  

The next morning, after a bad night’s sleep, we hit the road and began the drive from Canberra to Melbourne. The two days driving were fairly uneventful (thank God!), and involved many McDonald stops, copious coffees, endless games of Twenty Questions and blasting the radio.

When we got to St Kilda, the suburb of Melbourne that our friends live in, it was pretty late and they had work in the morning so we didn’t meet up. We checked into our hostel (Habitat HQ in St Kilda – I would totally recommend to anyone looking for a place to stay here) and walked up to Acland Street (that we learned from our hostel receptionist is the bar/ restaurant hub of St Kilda) to get some much needed dinner. We stumbled across an amazing place, Le Roche Cafe, where we ended up going back to a bunch of times. We got delicious food and beers and had our first taste of the St Kilda eat-drink culture. I could, and did, easily get used to this!

The next day we had an amazing lie-in and strolled up to Acland Street in the early afternoon. We popped into Woolworths before heading for lunch and as I turned around one of the aisles who did I see like three feet ahead of me….Steph! It was pure fluke and hilarious! We just screeched and hugged in the middle of the supermarket and then went in search of Sandra and nearly gave her a heart attack in the aisle when I jumped up on her! It turned out they were both suffering with a cold and had called in sick to work. So we made the obligatory trip to the off licence and then headed off to lunch. It was so so nice to be having lunch with two of my best friends from home and to catch up on what they’ve been up to for the last seven months. It had been so long since we’d seen each other and we’d all done so much but it felt like no time had passed at all, and once we were all caught up it was back to ridiculous jokes and hearing the girls’ latest catch phrases. (‘Boom Dog’ anyone?)

After lunch we took our bottles of wine and walked to the pier for the sunset and to try and catch a glimpse of the penguins that live there and are known to swim on shore at sunset. The penguins never made an appearance, but we had a great laugh all the same. Then we met up with Stephen and headed back to the guys apartment for some more drinking and hanging out.

The rest of the week was spent like this. As the guys were working most days Leigh and I would have a lie in, walk up to Acland street, have brunch and coffees or beers, walk around, do a bit of shopping and meet the guys and hang out for the night, usually with wine and some tv. It was so nice to be relaxed and chilling out with my friends like we would at home. No fuss or stress, just lazing around together like you can only do with real friends. The three of them, and their lovely roommate Ais, were so welcoming and we straight away were made to feel at home and were making ourselves cups of tea straight away.

Art installation.

This was my kind of museum -  The Australian Centre for the Moving Image 

Home and Away and Neighbours feature in the ACMI

Art installation.

Melbourne's CBD

Of course a few days we did head in to Melbourne CBD and had a great walk about, did some shopping and visited a museum, but for the most part of our trip here we hung out in St Kilda, and I have to say I’m really taken with the place. It’s so relaxed and young, and I love the eat-drink culture of going out for dinner and a few drinks and seeing some live music on a random Wednesday evening.  Apparently it’s even lovelier in the summer, and it’s definitely the sort of place I could see myself living, so who knows maybe we’ll do a few months there before we head home?

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Coffs Harbour

Have the beach to myself
Coffs Harbour has been my Australian home for the last two months, and in two days we’re leaving.  I’m ready to go, don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to being back on the road, seeing the next place and starting the next part of our trip, but a part of me will miss it here. We've spent so long here and have a little hostel family where we feel at home. It’s safe to say Coffs has treated me well.

You may be wondering why we decided to stay so here long. Truth is we never really made a concerted effort to stay here for two months; it just kind of ended up that way. Our first night here was kind of a giveaway that we were going to like it and stay longer than the two nights we had originally booked though.
So our Coffs home is Aussitel Backpackers. We arrived on the evening of Easter Saturday, and an hour later there was a BBQ going. We sat down got chatting to a group, had some beers and felt so welcomed straight away. After the BBQ was finished so were the 6 beers we had figured would be sufficient for the night. But everyone in the hostel was in party mode and it was contagious. We decided to walk to the bottle shop (off license) but as we got to the driveway we were kidnapped by a group of six drunken backpackers we’d been chatting to at the BBQ. Seriously we were pretty much forced in the “Maxi Taxi” and coerced into town to a club. There was Alex (French), Charlotte (German), David (Canadian), Aki (Japanese), Alisha and David no. 2 (Australian) and me and Leigh (the Irish), who were for the rest of the night known only by our country names. We arrived at the club where we (and two others) were refused entry. We’d just come from Thailand where flip flops are the only footwear to be seen, but in Australia you gotta have closed shoes to get into clubs…who knew! Also we had no ID, and were dressed super casually, after all we were just drinking beer in the hostel when we got kidnapped.  But the whole gang just left the club and walked down to the next place and told the bouncer straight of the bat, these guys don’t have ID, or proper shoes, but  we’re all together and are gonna spend money on beer, and they were really sound about it and let us in. We ended up having a great night dancing away and everyone ended up swapping shoes at some point. Random, but extremely fun.
New friends, AKA our kidnappers
The next few days were spent with our new friends, making the most of the hostels facilities. The best part of Aussitel is that there are two free activities every day, so on a Saturday you could go canoeing on the creek during the day and then had a BBQ in the evening and on Sunday go Body Boarding during the day and do a table quiz that night. We got a little gang going and took turns cooking dinner for each other and drinking beer and doing beach activities. After two weeks we still weren’t ready to leave so we took up cleaning jobs in the hostel where you work for an hour or so a day and get free accommodation. I was on bedroom duty and Leigh on bathrooms. Leigh drew the short straw (well the metaphorical short straw, they prefer girls to clean the bedrooms as there are girls only dorms), but they were both handy numbers, and meant we stopped haemorrhaging money on rent, and our days were free from 11am each day.

Sea Kayaking (we're the ones in the air on the right!)

Most days in Coffs are spent body boarding on the beach, canoeing on the creek, kayaking in the sea, walking around the harbour, eating copious amounts of coffee and cake that’s on special offer at the local ice cream shop and playing heaps of Shithead (a backpacker card game).
We got two weeks work in a coffee shop in the middle of our stay that didn’t last too long because winter slowed things down, but it did buy us our car, The Silver Fox, a super classy 1988 Nissan Skyline. In fact it bought me my first car! I’m so excited to have a car, and to be heading out on our first road trip in Foxy in a few days.
The Silver Fox himself

 I think a Coffs blog was so late coming because I’ve gotten comfy and settled down. I guess I figured that there wasn’t much to report on as I kind of got into a routine and wasn’t moving from place to place every few days like when I was in Thailand. I thought it wasn’t “blog worthy” I guess.  However, Leigh’s cousin Conor pointed out to me the other day that doing nothing in Australia is still more exciting than my previous doing nothing in Dublin. It got me thinking and I realised he was dead right. Learning to sea kayak on a random Tuesday morning was more fun and exciting than sitting at my desk in work. And swimming with wild dolphins on a random Saturday (ok that was just today and just the once!) was a bit cooler than walking around Dundrum avoiding the rain at home. So while the last few weeks haven’t been as go go go and exciting as backpacking around Asia, it has been a blast, and it’s been really nice to feel so comfortable and happy in a little home away from home. I’ve learnt some new skills and made a few friends I’m sure I’ll have in my life for a long time to come.
I’ve done a sky dive, learnt to body board, did some canoeing, tried paddle boarding, discovered a love for the adrenaline rush of sea kayaking, cycled more that I have since I was ten, developed a tea and biscuit addiction, made new friends, eaten more Eggy-Bread than ever before in my life, started calling French-Toast Eggy-Bread, learned that I’m good at Scrabble, rediscovered my love for jigsaws, swam with dolphins, spent hours reading in hammocks, become a pro hooverer,  learnt to make coffee with a professional coffee machine, played a ridiculous amount of cards and bought my first car.
Aussitel I’ll be seeing you again.
So here are loads of photos that’ll show you what briefly what I’ve been up to for the last while.

A night out

View of Coffs from Muttonbird Island

Under the jetty

One of my new dolphin friends

Leigh's surf lesson

Leigh and Aki

Charlotte cooking us dinner...AGAIN!

Sundowners on Park Beach

Road trippin'

Road trippin' to Port Macquarie for job interviews

Beach football

One of many beach bonfires

Deep in  jigsaw concentration 

We finally finished!

Another day at the beach

Muttonbird Island

Pretty walk

So windy!


Driving the parachute

PJ playing with the Big Banana 

The Big Banana, one of the few tourist attractions in Coffs....I can't explain!

Group dinner!

View Point

Hello! *waves*

Spot the tourists!

Ah The Clog Barn, best crepes in town!

Leigh playing football manager with a cup of coffee, all's right in the world.

Paddle boarding

Riding the waves

A spot on canoeing on the creek. I felt like Joey Potter!

Going for a swim

1, 2, 3 JUMP!