I’m Dreaming Of Buc-ee’s

Before I moved to the USA, I heard of this mystical place which originated in Texas, called Buc-ee’s. What is Buc-ee’s you may ask? Quite simply, it’s the largest gas station and convenience store in the whole universe. Well, maybe not the universe, but it’s very impressive, and Buc-ee’s has broken a number of world records; firstly for being the largest convenience store, and secondly, for having the longest car wash. They also won a contest for having the cleanest restrooms in America, and that’s remarkable considering how many people use them!

For my birthday this year, all I wanted was a trip to Buc-ee’s and now that I’m living in Dallas, my darling husband took me. I can’t even tell you how excited I was. It may sound crazy, but I was watching travel vloggers visiting Buc-ee’s over the last few years, and they made it look amazing. I just had to go!

Driving into Buc-ee’s, the first thing I noticed was the staggering amount of gas pumps.There was row upon row of them, but honestly, I wasn’t there for the fuel. I was there for pretty much everything else. The convenience store itself was like a massive warehouse, and it was hard to know where to start; it was also jam packed with shoppers and lookers. Pretty much hundreds of others like me. 

Jim suggested we make a plan of how to tackle Buc-ee’s, which was an excellent suggestion, so we started at one end and worked around the store in a clockwise direction. Walls of nuts, candy and a zillion other things. I can’t even begin to list how much stuff was there, and I gave up trying to photograph it all. We grabbed a few bits and pieces as we walked through, and then we reached the coffee section. Now this is something spectacular. There’s a huge counter of coffee machines — and also coffee grinders. You choose what type of coffee you want, the size, and off you go. But then!! And this is amazing— once you have your coffee you turn around, and there’s two islands of creamers, syrups, and every other imaginable thing you could want to add to your coffee. And these are all included in the price of the coffee! I could not believe the choices. It was a beautiful sight for a coffee lover! 

A lady stood at a cart giving away samples of pulled pork (cooked onsite), so we made a beeline for it. Delicious! That made it simple for us to decide what to have for lunch, but as there’s nowhere to sit and have lunch, we grabbed pulled barbecue pork sandwiches on the way out, and they were piping hot and tasty. We perused the on-site bakery with the huge cinnamon rolls, the beef jerky counter with all flavours on earth, and then walked through the clothing and gift section. Jim chose a fluorescent Buc’ee’s mug (which I’ve since claimed), I chose a Texas key ring, and then back to the food section. We watched as almonds and cashews were coated in a buttery cinnamon glaze and roasted. The smell was amazing so we bought a small cone of hot cinnamon cashews to share. I chose an ugly Buc-ee’s reuseable drink thing for my daughter, as I knew she’d love how hideous it is, and a few boxes of animal crackers and finally, a packet of the famous Beaver Nuggets. 

It’s not all barbecue and Beaver Nuggets though. There’s a fridge section with the most amazing, fresh looking salads. They also have fruits, cut-up veggie snacks, cheese etc. There are so many healthy options that it’s hard to choose. They even sell raw meat you can take home and cook. It would be impossible to visit and not find something to buy. 

What an experience! Another thing crossed off my Buc-ee’s list! See what I did there? But in all seriousness, it was worth the visit. Buc-ee’s really does have so much to look at, and despite the crowds, it was a lot of fun. The food is really delicious, the atmosphere is upbeat, the premises are really clean, and yes, those rest rooms are spotless. That in itself is worth the visit!


Guy Fieri, Queso, And A River Of Tears

I love travel vlogs and food shows. Travel vlogs with food are even better. One of my favourite food shows is Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives. Guy’s excitement for food makes me happy, as I love food too. Don’t we all? My favourite episodes of DDD is when Guy’s son is with him, as watching them both share a passion for food, and they way they tease each other is heartwarming. I think it’s always made me so happy as I would watch DDD with my daughter. During covid lockdown in early 2020, in Brisbane, Australia, we sat on the lounge and binge watched them. We’d plan all the different diners we’d try once covid restrictions lifted and we could travel again. 

I moved to Texas a few weeks ago and after days of unpacking and settling in, right before Jim was due to start his new job, I suggested a day out was in order. Something fun to get out of the moving and unpacking cycle. It felt as though all we’d talked about and done for six weeks was the move. One of the many great things about where we live in Texas, is the accessibility to other states. We are not too far from Oklahoma and Arkansas. As we’d recently driven across the entire state of Arkansas to move to Texas, I suggested a trip to Oklahoma, but just to a border town. With a little bit of a Google search, we decided to drive to Durant in Oklahoma. Jim was born and raised in Oklahoma, but I’d never been — I was incredibly excited. 

We looked for reviews for places to eat, and via FaceTime, my clever and beautiful daughter informed me that Guy Fieri has one of his own diners in the Choctaw Casino near Durant! I almost fell over with excitement. It was settled — Choctaw, here we come! 

The drive to Durant was pretty. A vastly different landscape from the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina that we’d moved from, but I like to see beauty in every landscape. Once we’d driven across the border we stopped at the information centre to look around and use the restrooms. It’s beautifully set up and worth the stop. A lot of state information to pick up and a really pretty rest stop. From there it was full steam ahead to Durant. 

Now I don’t want to be harsh, but Durant was incredibly underwhelming. It was very run down and looked sad, but the Choctaw Casino (which was actually in Broken Bow) was absolutely enormous and you could tell that a lot of money has gone into it. It also has a resort attached so it has lovely gardens and pools, and excellent parking. I’m not into gambling at all, but despite that, and having to walk through a smoky haze to get to Guy Fieri’s diner, nothing could dampen my spirits. 

The casino itself was actually really well finished. Flashing lights and loud music, lots of eateries and some little boutiques, and loads of really well maintained restrooms. They really managed to make it upbeat, and the staff were friendly and helpful — nothing seedy which surprised me. 

We wound through a maze of poker machines and bars, and there in front of us (thankfully in the non-smoking area) was Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen and Bar. It was ridiculous how excited I was. Jim and I were given a table by the window, so we had a great view of the palm trees and resort pool. I looked at the menu, then became utterly overwhelmed and burst into tears. It’s going to sound stupid, but the memories of sitting on the lounge in Brisbane city, my daughter and I joyfully planning our next overseas trip, and then all hopes being dashed when the lockdowns kept going and going with borders still closed, and no end in sight, became too much. Despite all the craziness of the world, I was sitting in a Guy Fieri diner in Oklahoma, with my husband, and I was so happy I couldn’t contain it. I felt really stupid being so emotional, but Jim held my hand, and reassured me that I was not even slightly stupid. It was a moment of pure joy and gratitude. Despite the lockdowns and craziness, I was still experiencing new places and new foods and new experiences. I was still travelling, and that blew my mind!

The lunch menu wasn’t huge but it was good. Jim encouraged me to order for both of us as this was ‘my thing.’ He’s such a sweetheart. I ordered a Farm Stand Salad, Queso Dip with pita chips, and Bourbon Brown Sugar BBQ chicken wings, to share. As expected, the servings were enormous, and they were starters. The queso dip was next level delicious. Hot and cheesy, spicy and creamy, with hand made pita chips. Some were crispy and some were slightly chewy, and all seasoned perfectly. We couldn’t get enough of it. The wings were good but nothing came close to the queso. It was so decadent. The salad was huge, and really fresh. It had avocado, tomato, chick peas and a load more. So tasty. We couldn’t finish everything so we took half the salad and a few chicken wings home.

On the way out Jim bought me an autographed copy of one of Guy Fieri’s new recipe books, and the waiter gave me some decals. It was such a great experience and so unexpected. It reminded me again, of how wonderful local travel is. There’s always something to see and do. I have so much to see here in Texas, and a weekend trip to Oklahoma City is also being planned. We are hoping to also get to Eureka Springs in Arkansas soon but for the moment, I’ll keep settling into my local area and discover all the hidden treasures around me.

Me on the way in
One of the bars in the Casino. A real Oklahoma feel.
Guy Fieri’s! What we’d come for.
The decadent queso and pita chips
The salad!
How about these sticky chicken wings? Mmmm

Amish Aspirations

I don’t claim to know much about the Amish community, and that’s probably how they want it. What I do know is that they are a large community of over 350,000 in thirty-one states in the US, and they make fantastic food. Really fantastic. 

I think there will always be some fascination for the Amish as they manage to live so differently. Maybe we romanticise it? They live in their own largely self-sufficient communities, they work together, grow their own food, keep their own animals, build their houses and furniture, and school their children. There’s something that seems so organised and stable about their lives. But while I love the sound of their lifestyles, I love the city and conveniences more, so I’ll stick to visiting their stores, and eating my way around them.

Before we left North Carolina, Jim took me to the Shiloh General Store in Hamptonville. I was so excited as I had heard so much about their delicious home made food. We’d already visited a beautiful Amish furniture store in West Jefferson, NC, but not the general store. When we arrived, on a Saturday around noon, it was packed. People were spilling out from everywhere. The large verandah was filled with people enjoying lunch and a cold drink on what was a really hot day. We made our way through the crowds, into the store, and it was like being in Wonderland. There was so much to look at — small goods, cheese, dairy fridges, fresh baked goods, nuts, dried fruits, herbal tinctures, kitchen tools, and so, so much more. We easily filled our basket and then made our way to the sandwich counter. The store is run by people from the Amish community, the women resplendent in their aprons, long dresses and bonnets. The food counter was so busy, but they had a really good system where you ticked boxes on a piece of paper of what you wanted to order (it was a set sandwich menu), and you handed the order in at one counter, and in less than ten minutes your order came up on the other end of the counter. All sandwiches were served with a packet of chips, which is a pretty standard thing in the US. You took your lunch and basket of goodies to the front cashiers, where two men served cheerfully and efficiently despite the crowds and long lines. The wait was minimal.

The first time we went we lucked out on finding a spot to eat on the verandah as it was so busy, so we ate in the air conditioned comfort of the car. It was in the nineties so such a relief to be out of the heat. Now let me tell you about the sandwiches! I ordered chicken salad, mayo, relish, mustard, and salad veggies. The bread was slightly warm as it was freshly baked, and so fresh that it was falling apart as I scoffed it. Jim ordered the pulled barbecue pork with a range of condiments and salad, and it was hot, and melted in his mouth. The sandwiches were quite honestly, amazing. The best sandwiches we’d ever eaten. We went back two weeks later and I also ordered the pulled barbecue pork sandwich and it really was outstanding. So much flavour, and I ordered a bit of raw onion and every condiment I could get, and it just worked! Every combination works because the food is so fresh and well made. We had bought a huge cinnamon roll as well, which we ate later that night.

Now that I’m in Texas I don’t have to miss out on the goodness of Amish General Stores or their amazing sandwiches, but I do have to drive over four hours to get to one! I’m hoping there’s one tucked away around the corner from me and I’m just yet to discover it.


Texas, here we come!

I haven’t blogged for a couple of months. I’ve done some really cool stuff I wanted to share, but I’m having a new website built so I thought I’d wait until it was all finished. It’s taking longer than I’d planned and the break has been too long, so I’m back to blogging.

I want to start with the huge news. We are moving to Texas! The Lone-Star state. It’s a massive move from North Carolina, but we are really excited. It took me a while to come around to the idea, but Jim had been planning to move to Texas even before we met. Once we met and knew we wanted to be together, it made sense for him to stay in North Carolina until I could immigrate. After all, Jim had been in the same job for years, I loved his apartment and being in such a beautiful part of the country, and I looked forward to the small town living. Honestly, the thought of Texas terrified me. I haven’t been, even though I’m moving there.

We all know a lot of stereotypical stuff about Texas — guns, steaks, ribs, cowboys, serial killers (don’t judge; I studied Criminology), and everything being bigger. It’s a big state, with lots of people, crazy traffic, insane humidity, and border problems. That’s what my concerns were — it’s just so big and busy. But there’s so much more. It’s a beautiful state with diverse landscapes. It has a great church we will be going to, amazing food and shopping, and Tex-Mex. We’ll be living north of Dallas and there are a number of lakes and parks, as well as being so close to Oklahoma and Arkansas. So much to explore!

We’ve hired a U-Haul truck, and we’ll do the sixteen-hour drive over a few days, towing our car. We drive from North Carolina, through Tennessee, then Arkansas, and into Texas. So many different landscapes to see. We had talked about doing the trip over a week, but it’s very hard to stop at tourist spots and check out places like Nashville and Memphis in a huge U-Haul mover whilst towing your car. Our route has been carefully planned and all accommodation booked. 

The move is ten days away. There’s still a lot of packing and sorting to be done, but I’m really excited. We won’t be driving huge distances each day so we will have a few stops and some great scenery to check out, but they won’t be in the middle of a city. I’m really looking forward to seeing three new states, and watching the landscape change as we go. America is beautiful. I really love this country and all the different things it has to offer. And once we get to Texas there’s so, so much to explore that I don’t even know where to start!


Culture Shock in the USA

After thirteen months of the immigration process, I made it! I am now living in beautiful North Carolina, USA, with my loving American husband, Jim. I am so happy to be here with him, but it would be remiss of me to not mention the culture shock before anything else. So here is a list of the things I have noticed so far.

  1. Rabies: On my third night here there was a rabid fox trying to attack people walking their dogs around our apartment complex, so the police came out and shot it. That absolutely terrified me. Australia is one of the few countries in the world, free of rabies — something I had assumed was the same all over the Western world. I was wrong.
  1. Portion sizes: It’s going to take me a while to start ordering the correct portion size at restaurants. Even an appetiser is too big for me, and the food wastage is something I’m uncomfortable with. Jim and I have taken to sharing an appetiser and a salad, and ensuring we minimise waste. The upside? Food is so cheap that it costs less than $12 for Jim and me to eat out as we share.
  1. Recycling: In Australia we are crazy about recycling everything. The council provides recycling bins which are picked up fortnightly so we don’t fill up our garbage dumps with products that could be recycled. Here, where I am living in North Carolina, there is no recycling. Everything goes into the one bin. I am struggling with that, so Jim is trying to find some way we can take our recyclables to have them dealt with appropriately.
  1.  Thank you: I have been using the word ta, in place of thank you, from the time I could speak. Ta. Americans don’t use the word. They say thank you, which is a no-brainer, but I cannot stop saying ta. It’s a default constantly, and no one understands it except Jim. He often uses it to thank me, which I really appreciate.
  1. Accent: I know, I know; I live in the USA, but I cannot tell you how strange it is to hear an American accent everywhere. I find it especially alarming in stores over the PA system, or coming from little kids, as I just don’t expect it. I’m so used to hearing Australians speak, that to hear the deep southern twang throws me every time. When I am at home, writing away in my little office, I could be at home in Australia. But once I leave home and I am anywhere else, the accent is a constant reminder that I am a little displaced.
  1. Groceries: I cannot find the products I’m used to. Especially lamb. There’s no legs of lamb or cutlets in the supermarkets. And when I am homesick, I want lamb.
  1. MSG: It seems that there’s MSG in just about everything here, and they don’t need to declare it. It gives me a headache and nausea. In Australia, food containing MSG needs to be clearly marked so it can be avoided. MSG was largely phased out in Australia in the 1990’s, but some products contain it as an additive. I just need to be more diligent in checking for it.
  1. Landscape: This is not a bad thing by any means. Yes, I miss sunny Queensland, but North Carolina is absolutely stunning. The vibrant colours are gorgeous; bright green grass, pink and white blossoms, the sky is as blue as I’ve ever seen, and trees in a myriad of hues. The countryside is breathtaking. Photos just don’t do it justice. Well not with my photography.
  1. Weather: I was a bit frustrated after a long, humid summer in Queensland, to be heading to another summer in the south of the USA. But despite having some lovely warm days here, we’ve had quite a few cool ones. It’s been so refreshing. I also need to remind myself that here in the south, I will get to experience four seasons, rather than one boiling hot mess for nine months, and then three months of milder weather in Queensland. It’s been years since I experienced all four seasons and I’m really excited about it. 
  1. Driving: Jim and I bought a car together. A sleek, black sedan, which I can’t drive. I am struggling with being on the wrong side of the road as a passenger, but when I hopped into the driver’s seat to consider a test drive, I was so dizzy from being on the opposite side of the car, I gave up. I have been assured it’s just a time thing, and I really hope so. I love the freedom of driving and I’ve always had a beautiful car for myself. At the moment Jim has to take me everywhere and when he’s at work, I am  pretty much stuck at home. I don’t mind the down time to write and relax, but when you realise you don’t have a grater and the recipe you’re cooking requires grated ginger, well, a quick trip to Walmart would be helpful.

Really, those things are minimal. There’s so much I already love about living here. The people are friendly beyond belief, and that’s coming from someone who loves the Australian laid-back friendliness. People are so polite, and because I’m Australian and obviously, have an accent, they love to talk to me. I’m discovering so much and I’m trying to learn as much as I can about this amazing country. Jim and I have so many weekend trips planned so I will have so much to share. Can’t wait!

Our wedding day
Enjoying trying some local foods

Viva BrisVegas

Brisbane is my favourite Australian city. It’s beautiful, has great opportunities, is relatively safe, packed with great things to do, and has a laid back, country vibe to it. I never tire of Brisbane city. However! After over a year of navigating through the visa immigration process, I am finally in America. I am still in shock that once my actual visa arrived in the mail, everything was so quick. I had planned to make a last trip to all of my favourite places before I left, but I only had twelve days between receiving my visa and flying out, and that was a mammoth task. With moving out of my place, shipping everything to the US, trying to get all the paperwork I’d need so I could apply to leave the country, and having COVID swabs etc, I simply could not do anything other than pack up and leave. It took every ounce of strength I had to actually get onto that plane to fly out of the country I love, and I sobbed hysterically as I boarded the flight, nervous about what was to come, and sad about what and who I was leaving behind.

But rather than reflect on the sadness, I want to focus on the things I have loved most about living in such an incredible place. And because we all love lists (research proves it), here’s my list of favourite Brisbane (and beyond) things. These are not in order— I love them all the same. 

  1. The Brisbane River: I lied. This is my favourite. There is nothing as wonderful as a trip into the city on the River Cat. Undoubtedly, every trip has brought me joy; even when I was lost and ended up a few stops away in the opposite direction, in the dead of night, waiting for a River Cat back to my stop. That did not lessen my joy one bit. 
  1. Queen Street Mall: This is also my favourite. I love Queen Street Mall— so many hidden arcades, gorgeous shops, restaurants and cafes. After four years I still get lost in Queen Street Mall, but I love it so much I don’t care. Every time I go to Queen Street Mall I find a new shop or cafe I hadn’t noticed before. It’s like my birthday every time.
  1. Southbank: This is definitely my favourite. How could it not be? Shops, restaurants, parks, a man-made beach, and a board walk alongside the beautiful Brisbane River. There are markets, gift stores and so many places to eat. The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art are there as well, and I’ve spent countless hours frequenting them. A quick trip on the River Cat from Milton takes you to Southbank and it’s quite easy to spend an exhausting, but fun day just at Southbank. Southbank at night is really special too; the colourful city lights reflecting on the water, fairy lights hanging from the bougainvillea vines and trees, kids swimming in the little beach area, and alfresco dining. Ah … so much lovely. 
  1. Redcliffe: A lot of people in Brisbane would scoff at Redcliffe but I love it (it’s not my favourite but close). The council has done a brilliant job of transforming Redcliffe into a vibrant, beachside, tourist destination. Alfresco dining, beachside markets, live music, a gorgeous boardwalk that stretches from Scarborough to Margate, and an aqua blue, man-made lagoon with bbqs and picnic tables. Redcliffe is so family friendly and Sutton’s Beach or the lagoon are the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the heat of summer. I spent the first eighteen months in Brisbane living in Redcliffe by the beach, and I would start the day with a run from Margate to Scarborough. Doesn’t get much better than Redcliffe. 
  1. Eat Street: Now this place is special. Eat Street is a massive market place that is everything food. Almost every kind of food truck and food stall you can imagine is at Eat Street. There’s live music, park benches and a dynamic vibe, with food vans stretching in every direction, by the Brisbane River. You can catch a River Cat there, or drive.
  1. Bribie Island : Bribie Island is north of Brisbane and is one of my favourite spots because of its sheer beauty. Aqua blue waters, lots of sunshine, white sands, and a permanent tourist vibe. The island is connected to the mainland by a long bridge, and pelicans sit perched on the street lights silently guarding it. There’s not much better than a fish and chips picnic at one of the many beaches on Bribie Island, and even in winter it’s a fantastic place to walk for miles on one of the sandy white beaches.
  1. The accessibility to the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and the hinterlands: Being so close to such gorgeous parts of the world is remarkable. The Gold Coast is more commercialised and touristy than the Sunshine Coast, but with so many fantastic restaurants and cafes, and spectacular beaches, it’s certainly worth the trip. The hinterlands of both the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast are simply stunning. Gorgeous cafes and markets and the scenery is amazing. So close to Brisbane, but a whole world away also.   
  1. Sunnybank BBQ Duck: This is just a new thing for me. I really only discovered it recently, but as soon as I knew it was there, I was a regular. Sunnybank has a large Asian population and we all know what that means— great food! I’ve always loved Asian BBQ pork, but the crispy skin BBQ duck is utterly delicious. You can buy the whole duck with its cute little head intact, and although you find yourself apologising as you eat it, it doesn’t lessen the experience. 
  1. The Story Bridge: The Story Bridge may not attract international tourists like the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but I love it. From Eagle Street Pier, with some of Brisbane’s best restaurants, the view of the bridge at night, all lit up, is iconic Brisbane. It’s actually breath-taking at night, and cruising under it on a River Cat is really special. There’s also a fantastic view of the bridge from the Howard Smith Wharves. I loved a lazy lunch at Felon’s Brewery, gazing out onto the water, admiring the beautiful Story Bridge, and I think it’s my favourite place.
  1. Indooroopilly Shopping Centre: Ah … this is everything retail. Designer boutiques, cafes, book stores, our favourite retail and food chains, and a glorious fresh food section. I love Indro Shopping Centre; in the heat of summer it’s a fantastic way to cool off and drink great coffee in comfort, and it’s also the ideal place to meet up with friends over lunch. I have spent so many lovely shopping hours (and unspeakable amounts of money) at Indro, and also eating at Betty’s Burgers. Apparently they are based on In-N-Out Burgers here in the US, so I will try them as soon as I can find one to relive the beautiful memories. 

Realistically, with COVID having changed everything, I am unsure when, or if I’ll ever get back to Brisbane. I dream of moving back there one day, with my American love. There is so much to do and see in Queensland, and I have seen so little of it. But until then I’ll settle in here in the USA, and slowly discover new and exciting places to satisfy the travel bug. Stay posted …

Looking over to Southbank from a River Cat on the Brisbane River
The beautiful Story Bridge at night, from Eagle Street
Sunshine Coast Hinterland
Brisbane city at night, taken from Southbank
Sutton’s Beach Redcliffe
The aqua waters of Bribie Island
Me sitting at the art gallery, admiring the views of the Brisbane River

Unintended Sydney

I flew down to Sydney despite the COVID lockdowns, for a highly anticipated consular meeting. I would only need to be in Sydney for a few hours for the actual interview, but with the canceled flights and strict quarantine rules once I flew back to Brisbane, I had to stay in Sydney for three days. But sometimes the unexpected happens and our plans change.

On the day of my departure from Sydney, to head home, I woke up sick. Really sick. I was struggling to get out of bed, I was weak and tired, and had vertigo. Not severe, but enough to make walking tricky. I phoned a friend for help, and we decided that I’d have no choice but to cancel my flight home and extend my stay. It was announced the same day that mandatory quarantine in Brisbane would be lifted on the 1st February, so I decided to extend my stay by four days. It would give me time to recover and rest.

I spent the first couple of days in my room and then made a few short trips out each day to buy food. There was a lot I would have liked to have done in the time, but I thought it would be wise to not wander too far away from my hotel.

I stayed in a budget, but very comfortable hotel opposite the Queen Victoria Building, right in the city. I was close to Town Hall Station, the tram line and loads of arcades and shops. Each morning I’d cross the road to a little coffee shop called Workshop Espresso which made a nice flat white, and served simple take out breakfasts like croissants and banana bread. As I had a late breakfast and wasn’t well, I either skipped lunch and had an early dinner, or had a late lunch and skipped dinner. 

Much of George Street from Town Hall Station down to Haymarket is now Asian food places or shops, which is very different from the eighties and nineties in Sydney. So many different types of food— Korean, Japanese, Thai etc. I ate some delicious Thai street food and had mouth-watering thinly sliced Wagyu beef in teriyaki sauce in an underground sushi restaurant. I found a little cafe in World Square that made a nice coffee and a toastie for brunch, so I’d sit quietly over my small meal and watch people go by. As COVID restrictions were still in place, a mask had to be worn in most enclosed places, like shopping centres and arcades. 

On my first night in Sydney, before getting sick, I managed to catch the tail end of the Australia Day fireworks at Circular Quay with a dear friend. Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit up, and green and gold lit catamarans sailed through the waters against the backdrop of the Sydney Opera House. It was intensely humid, and the drizzle did not help at all. It was a fantastic night but the humidity was very uncomfortable— every time you’d move you’d sweat, and that included breathing! But as it’s possibly my last Australia Day in Australia, it was worth every minute. I haven’t been to Sydney Harbour for years, and to actually catch the fireworks on our national day was exhilarating. 

Sydney has changed so much since I was a child. I miss the city I grew up in, but forty years have passed and things change quickly. I don’t dislike all the changes; they certainly add a different dimension to the city, but I do miss a lot of what made Sydney so iconic. Homeless people are still there, some have set up actual beds in George Street, and they are still up for a conversation over a free cup of coffee. The things I don’t like about the changes are feeling like I am now unwelcome in the city I grew up in. I can’t speak the Asian languages or read the signs in shops. I can’t read the menus and I don’t recognise the city I once felt such a part of. That saddens me. However, I still enjoyed the time I spent there, and the changes allowed me to rediscover the city all over again. While I no longer live in Sydney, or even in the state, Sydney will always be a part of me. My family on my father’s side have been there for generations, and most of my childhood was spent there. I think I’ll always be a city girl at heart.

The QVB on the right, and Centrepoint Tower in the distance.
Sydney Harbour celebrations on Australia Day
The Asian culture which has become very much a part of Sydney city
One of the beautiful old arcades in the city
The statue of Queen Elizabeth guarding her iconic building


And The Winner Is …

An unexpected sickness delayed my flight home to Brisbane, and saw me staying for six days in Sydney, rather than three. After a few days holed up in my hotel room, I knew it was time to get down to business … cheese tart business.

I am a fan of the Hokkaido Japanese Baked Cheese Tart— so much so that I have blogged about them before. But I also read claims that Uncle Tetsu makes the best baked cheese tarts, so I knew I’d have to find out.

I bought some of the original cheese tarts from Hokkaido in World Square, first. Delicious. I was tempted to try the salted caramel cheese tarts, but then I wouldn’t be able to do a comparison with Uncle Tetsu. The next day I went to Uncle Tetsu’s for morning tea, and alas, they don’t open till midday. I was a little sad about it. However, I had my chance to get there and bought two of the original cheese tarts so I could do my research.

Firstly, there was a queue to get in. That’s always a good sign. Secondly, Uncle Tetsu’s cheese tarts are a bit bigger. The consistency didn’t look much different— similar texture, with a paler colour than Hokkaido, but it was all down to the taste.

The first bite into Uncle Tetsu’s was an explosion of delicious. Creamy, slightly lemony, utterly decadent in every way. It was in my opinion, superior to the Hokkaido cheese tart, and that’s a huge claim considering I really like them both. Now that I’ve had an Uncle Tetsu’s cheese tart I have to say that they will go down as the ultimate cheese tart for me, unless there’s a better one out there …

Uncle Tetsu’s Baked Cheese Tarts
Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tarts
Continue reading “And The Winner Is …”

USA … I’m on my way. My favourite things about America

It’s January 2021 and COVID is still in full swing in Brisbane. As I write this, I am home due to a three day stay-at-home order. However, I’m still forging forward with my immigration process and hoping for some good news in the next few weeks (but who knows what will happen between now and then?).

The USA has featured heavily in the news over the last few months (well forever really), and when people find out I’m immigrating there, I get the same shocked responses, “Why would you go there?” “ Are you crazy? Do you know what’s going on in the US?” “Why doesn’t Jim come here?” etc etc. And it would fill me with trepidation all the time. Yes guys, I do know what’s going on there, and probably better than you as I have a fiance there remember? I’m not entirely stupid. 

Yesterday in lockdown I watched a heap of youtube videos of a British man who married an American woman and he’s been living in the US for over a decade. He loves it, and watching his experiences gave me a fresh excitement for the move, and it reminded me that yes, there’s a lotta crazy going on over there, but America is still pretty awesome. I’m choosing to focus on the awesome and here’s my list of the things I am most excited about once I reach the US. Naturally Jim and my daughter are the best things, but this list is other American awesomeness.

  1. Biscuits: I have been thinking about biscuits a lot since I was last in the US. That fluffy, buttery goodness— can’t wait to try one with a piece of good old-fashioned fried chicken.
  2. Walmart: If you don’t understand this it’s because you haven’t been there. Walmart has everything— from tyres to guns to salad. Everything. There’s about six aisles of just breakfast cereals (well confectionary if we’re honest), and it’s my favourite aisle to ogle. I’d never actually buy or eat any, but the range is awesome. Added to this, you cannot leave Walmart not having bought something you don’t need.
  3. Restaurants: I’ve written about this previously, but I’m still shocked every time I think of it. You can change up the meals as much as you want everywhere you go, and they accommodate you with a smile. In Australia they ask you to leave!
  4. Cost of living: sure, wages are a lot lower, and in some chain restaurants I’m sure the wait staff earn less than child labour in China (be a decent human and tip big!), but the cost of living is affordable. Maybe not in New York, but I don’t want to live in New York. A small town in one of the southern states is enough for me. There are many small towns all over the US where you can buy a house under $100,000 and still have a local Walmart (see number 2 for clarification).
  5. The incredible landscapes: I will always consider Australia one of the most beautiful countries on the planet— from the stark countryside to the mountains and the breathtaking coastlines, we have it all, but don’t discount the USA. America is filled with such beauty, in a way that is different to Australia. Every state has its own unique beauty and I can’t wait to visit every state and experience what they alone offer.
  6. Small town America: The Hallmark movies— pretty little towns with that American pride which I love. Old Glory flying in the breeze, restored old homes, the colours of fall and cosy coffee shops. That’s the America I’m moving to. 
  7. The food: America has great food, there’s no two ways about it. You don’t become one of the world’s fattest nations without having some great food (and a lot of high fructose corn syrup). But in all seriousness, it’s not just about the fried stuff. America has some outstanding food. Some of the foods I expected to be hideous were actually delicious. There is a booming market for organic, natural, and locally produced and grown foods and there are many restaurants and cafes with menus offering the best of locally sourced foods. Every state has its own special dish and I plan to work my way through all of them, even the deep-fried bull testicles just because I can.
  8. Choices: Where do I even start? From groceries to clothes to furniture, the choices are seemingly endless. Don’t like one store? Try another one of the six billion, and unlike Australia, they all have really different stuff. Jim took me from store to store in his little town and I was surprised that the range in every store was so different. I wasn’t expecting that at all, and it was wonderful. 
  9. Road trips: Yes, road tripping in Australia is awesome too, but I want to road trip from Florida up to Alaska, cruising through Canada. Not at the moment though, as Canada is currently closed because of that COVID thing, but one day I will. Well Jim will, because of that driving on the other side of the road thing. And me taking photos and videos out of the car window. It will be a long trip though— Jim doesn’t like to drive for more than five hours per day, and I need to stop and go potty every fifteen minutes (yes, an American term which makes me cringe but I’m practising so I don’t physically recoil when someone says it)  so it may take a while …

Finding Fraser— Island that is!

I’d spent a rainy week in Hervey Bay before making a last minute decision to stay a bit longer so I could head out to Fraser Island. When people think of islands they mostly conjure up images of resorts, palm trees and tiki bars, and that’s pretty much how I imagined Fraser Island, but I couldn’t have been more wrong— pleasingly so.

Fraser Island is off Australia’s eastern Queensland coast, and what makes it so remarkable is that it’s the world’s largest sand island, stretching over one-hundred-and-twenty-kilometres. Known for its white sand, turquoise water, dingoes, and a huge variety of wildlife, it’s a fifty minute ferry ride out there. What had kept me from visiting Fraser Island is my severe sea- sickness and concern that I’d spend the ferry trip over and back throwing up, and unable to enjoy the day. As usual, I was wrong, and I was very happy to have been assured by the receptionist at the ticket office that the trip was in the bay, and so smooth I’d barely notice. 

Rather than take my car on the ferry, I elected to travel by foot. The ticket to Fraser Island cost $60, which included not only the return ferry trip, but access to the Kingfisher Bay Resort. I caught the 9 am ferry from River Heads Boat Ramp and was impressed with how large the ferry was. It had a kiosk and bar, and viewing platform on the top. The journey was smooth and scenic, and I was so excited to see a dugong on the way across. I was glued to the front of the ferry, watching and waiting for Fraser Island to come into view, and finally, it did. It was nothing like I expected— glistening white sand and aqua waters to be sure, but rather than palm trees and hibiscus, it had a thick coverage of Australian native plants and trees. It was remote and wild, almost eerie in how empty it was, and I couldn’t wait to explore.

A small tractor-pulled train picked us up from the jetty and the ranger who was driving warned us about dingoes on the way over. There have been a number of dingo attacks on humans, including children, so the resort had fenced off a large area around its perimeter so that visitors would be safe. Large signs with dingo warnings were posted above securely latched gates so that you well and truly knew when you were stepping out of the protective fenced area.

Kingfisher Bay Resort is an eco resort, with the philosophy of “Ecologically sustainable tourism that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation”. I was fascinated by the gentle lines and almost camouflaged design of the resort, so I jumped at the chance of attending the eco walk, and learning more about it. After an interesting tour I set off on my own for a bit of a nature walk and then crossed the dingo fence to spend some time on the beach. There was no doubt that I felt a bit nervous of dingoes as the beach was quite empty, but there was no way I could spend time on Fraser Island without enjoying the spectacular coastline. It was the end of winter and a bit cool to swim, but I found a great place to sit and relax, and not too far from the safety of the fence. 

It was a bit unusual being on my own on Fraser Island as everyone was either in a couple, or a group. Especially as I was ever aware of the warnings about not venturing out on your own because of dingoes, but I had no option if I wanted to get the most out of the experience. I think I walked kilometres as I explored as much as I could, as safely as I could. I ate great fish and chips in the restaurant for lunch, wrote and posted postcards from the resort post-office, photographed some of the spectacular native plants, and drank great coffee whilst writing from the resort pool. Despite being the end of winter, and wearing my Alaska cap for most of the day, I managed to get a little sunburnt. The day grew remarkably warm and I watched a little enviously as a group of teens horsed around in the aqua waters. 

After walking for hours, I was ready to head back. The return ferry ride to River Heads was calming, allowing me to rest my weary body, and I knew I’d sleep well that night.

I’ve done a lot of travelling, but the day trip to Fraser Island was really special. When I reflect on what made it so wonderful, I recognise that it was being able to explore and enjoy it on my own. Maybe it was simply that I was so utterly alone amongst the spectacular Australian native plants, with that tiny hint of fear? Maybe it was being immersed in a landscape that seemed so primitive and untouched? Or maybe it was simply that I had finally ticked off another of my bucket list items, and it was so close to home. 

Dingo warning sign before stepping onto the beach
Sand paths through thick brush
Inside Kingfisher Bay resort
Australian native plants
Dingo warning sign

Asleep In Transit

As I sit here and write this, I am waiting for a friend who is in an appointment. I’ve been waiting for three hours and I’m in need of a snooze. I don’t mind the wait— I’ve become good at it. 

I’m reminded of all the hours I’ve waited for a connecting flight. Sometimes for seven or eight hours. I was on a layover at Vancouver Airport for about that long, and I was exhausted. With the time change I had not slept during the long flight to Vancouver and with so long to wait, I had to sleep. I can sleep just about anywhere when I’m tired— ferries, trains, waiting rooms, even in hospital, and that’s a huge achievement! But I am always worried that when I’m sleeping at an airport, someone will take my stuff. It’s hard to sleep with your hand tightly gripping your carry on luggage. 

I was so exhausted at Vancouver Airport that I lay across a row of seats, and slept. The sun was shining through the huge terminal windows, and it was toasty warm. I slept for thirty minutes at a time, waking every so often to make sure my belongings were still with me. The short snoozes were blissful. 

I remember being just as exhausted in Hong Kong, and I slept the whole ferry ride from Victoria Harbour, sitting upright. If I’m that tired, I sleep! 

I think that as I spent so many years travelling as a child, I learnt to sleep just about anywhere. Some of my earliest memories are of me in transit, and I even took my first steps on a ship in the Pacific Ocean. I have many memories of planes and ships from my early childhood. 

Most of us have seen people sleeping on the ground at airport terminals and this is nothing new, but I know more people who need to be at home in their own bed to sleep properly. I don’t sleep particularly well on ferries and trains, but when you’re thoroughly exhausted and have no bed in sight, you take what you can get— a nanna nap in the upright position. 

I normally find that on the first leg of a long haul flight, I get very little sleep— I listen to audiobooks, music playlists, and watch inflight documentaries. But once I arrive at the airport and find my connecting terminal, I need to sleep. I snooze at the airport and then pretty much the entire rest of the trip, regardless of how many connecting flights I need to take. Generally the thrill of another trip has worn off and all I want to do is sleep until I get there, and sometimes even in the transfer to my accommodation. 

I think that part of enjoying travel is learning to sleep, or at least rest well in transit. From Australia, everywhere is a long flight, so it makes sense to train yourself to sleep. I suffer severe motion sickness so I have to take travel meds for it, and I make sure I always choose the tablets which have a slight sedative. Even if you can’t sleep, you can rest and relax, as opposed to having travel meds which keep you wired on a twelve hour overnight flight— please don’t be that person! I also make sure I take my travel neck pillow, which is revolutionary; you can sleep anywhere upright with those babies! And I take a shawl or a wrap as it’s always freezing on a flight. My other trick is a beanie. I won’t fly without a beanie— I cannot tell you how warm your whole body stays on a flight when you have a beanie on. It’s also comforting and blocks out some noise. After a documentary, a few chapters of an audiobook and a feed, I listen to some chilled classical music, kick my shoes off, pull on my beanie and wrap myself in a shawl. Even thinking about it now makes me want to sleep …


The Ultimate Road Trip

I’ve always enjoyed road trips and weekends away. Nothing fancy, nothing planned, just a packed bag, pillows, a great playlist, and the road.

I moved to Queensland four years ago, from the Central West of NSW. The summers were hot and the winters were freezing, but worst of all, I was too far from the coast. Growing up in Sydney I spent every weekend in summer at the beach. We holidayed at either Forster or Vincentia, and it was blissful weeks of swimming, sunburn, and the occasional heat stroke— the eighties weren’t known for slip, slop, slap. When I left home I moved to Byron Bay and just about lived in the water. I have tried to stay as close to the coast as possible my whole life, so the seven years I spent in the Central West were very difficult.

There was a lot to love about the Central West— beautiful countryside, four distinct seasons, a laid back lifestyle and country hospitality, but no beach. A trip to the beach had to be planned, and involved hours of driving. I loved road trips to other towns for lunch or a few nights away, but as the years went by with only a handful of trips to the beach, I felt myself declining. I had enjoyed my time working as a writer for a tourism magazine, and later as the writer and editor for a small newspaper, but I needed the ocean. I look back at this part of my life with some sadness— I felt lost and very alone, and I knew that I had to make some drastic changes.

I packed my car with as much as I could fit in, quit my job, and started the long drive up to Queensland. I had no job to go to, but I had savings and would be staying with a friend until I could find a place to live. I had applied for a few jobs prior to leaving, and surprisingly, two of them called to offer me interviews as I was driving up. When I had left the Central West it was freezing. I was rugged up in a coat, jeans and boots, but I had a change of clothes ready. I drove for nine hours straight, stopping only long enough to buy coffee and use the restrooms. I was too scared to stop in case I changed my mind. I had planned to stop at Goondiwindi for the night; a small, pretty town on the Queensland side of the border. I knew I was getting closer when I had to pull over to let an emu cross the road in The Pilliga, and it was then I started to relax. I waved goodbye to the black dog who had been menacing me for the last six months, I turned the music up, took off my coat, and unwound the windows. Warm air filled my car and I finally felt alive. I had forgotten what it felt like to actually be doing something I wanted— travelling, having adventures, exploring new places. Everything was unknown, and if I knew then what I know now, I wonder if I’d have made the same decision. I’m really not sure.

I pulled into a hotel in Goondwindi and was happy they had a small, air-conditioned room available for the night. I removed my winter clothing, slipped into a cool dress, and went for a walk through town. I was exhausted from the driving, but incredibly happy, and I smiled as I ate Chinese takeaway in my room. Goondiwindi is one of my most favourite little towns. It’s so picturesque, with quaint stores, friendly locals, and surrounded by a breathtaking Australian landscape. The main street is very pretty, and rising early the next morning, I ran through the empty streets, towards the Macintyre River. Lined with gum trees the Macintyre Riverwalk is three kilometres of a walking track, or in my case, a running track, along the river. I enjoyed the humidity as I had felt like I had been cold for so long in the Central West. After a shower and a light breakfast in a cafe, I packed my car again and headed towards Brisbane. I only had four more hours to drive, and I’d finally reach my destination; I was so excited! 

It’s been four years, almost to the day since I arrived in Brisbane. Yes, I achieved what I wanted— I rented a small apartment by the water and every morning I would take a run along the beach running track, before work. I swam most days, soaked up the sun, and ate great food in little cafes by the beach. I’ve made great friends and had incredible experiences as I’ve explored Queensland and other countries. I still love road trips, and despite some very trying moments I’ve had since I moved away, it will still go down as one of the most important road trips I’ve ever taken.

Some of the Australian countryside I zoomed past
Macintyre River

Beautiful morning sky in the Central West of NSW
Miles and miles of bright yellow canola fields outside of Cowra NSW

Simple Pleasures

Do you ever just stop in a moment, and realise that you feel utterly joyful? You know, that feeling of your heart being so full, it could overflow? I do, and it happens at the most unusual times. 

I love catching the ferry on the Brisbane River. I stand at the front, waiting until I catch my first glimpse of the city, and I feel as though I could burst with joy. I feel the same way when I’m at Eagle Street Pier at night, gazing awestruck, at the brightly lit up Story Bridge. It happens when I’m in the Art Gallery in Brisbane City, or floating on my back in the ocean— that incredible sense of fullness and contentment, and I love it. Simple pleasures. 

When we look back on our travel adventures it’s impossible to remember every detail, but I remember slices. In Hong Kong it was eating Mrs Fields choc-chip cookies while waiting for the ferry at Victoria Harbour. In Singapore it was eating the most incredible stir fry at Newton Circus. In Tahiti it was swimming in waters as blue as the sky. In Alaska it was drinking hot cocoa in the lobby of the Copper River Wilderness Lodge during Christmas in August, and the reindeer hot-dog at the food truck in Anchorage. In Malaysia it was a great pair of Italian leather shoes in China Town. In Egypt it was a picture hanging over a fireplace, and in Canada, it was two little kids laughing at my Australian accent. There are many, many more of these travel moments. Too many to record here in fact, but each memory holds powerful emotions. 

Travelling leaves each of us with more than just tacky souvenirs and a thousand photos. It provides us with wonderful memories that can ignite strong emotions and recollections that break through the mundane everyday. A dreary day at work can be picked up by the sweet memory of swimming under a waterfall in Byron Bay, or the bright pink flowers on Sentosa Island. So whether it’s a ferry ride into the city, or a bad coffee in an American diner, get out of the house and travel. Your well-being depends on it. 


Spaghetti in Hong Kong

I had previously travelled to Hong Kong for a few short days, but as I wanted to explore a bit more, I decided to book for two weeks. I stayed at an average priced hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui and arrived at night. After a long, refreshing sleep, I decided to spend my first day exploring. I headed off with a backpack and map, and the moment I hit the street I reeled from the noise and the sheer volume of people. They were everywhere. Cars honking, people pushing past, and so many new sights and sounds I felt momentarily disoriented. 

I crossed the road, which was a terrifying experience in itself, to visit the 7-Eleven store. I needed coffee and supplies, and headed to Nathan Road to do some shopping. I bought all sorts of bits and pieces, including souvenirs, shoes and clothes, and just enjoyed looking around. After hours of walking around carrying bags of goodies, I was pretty hungry. Hong Kong has so much great food, and I was looking forward to having a few Chinese banquets, and trying some of the little eateries and street food— egg waffles, curry fish balls, and the decadent egg tarts of course. But as I headed back towards my hotel, looking for food, what did I stumble across? None other than The Spaghetti House. Needless to say, I love spaghetti, so I was in. 

It probably seems stupid to make a beeline for a pasta restaurant when Hong Kong has so many great places to eat, but I wanted spaghetti, and I was going to have spaghetti! The menu was large, and although I initially planned to have spaghetti bolognaise, I changed my mind when I saw a bowl of spaghetti topped with a chicken schnitzel, Napoli sauce and cheese. Pretty much a spaghetti parmigiana (or spag parmy if you’re Australian). 

That meal started a life long love affair with spaghetti parmigiana, which I have since managed to recreate at home. The pasta was cooked perfectly and the chicken schnitzel topped with the Napoli and cheese was juicy and delicious. I actually couldn’t believe how good the combination was. I wanted to run through the streets waving banners and pom-poms, but instead, I went back at least five times. I still managed to try some fab street food and Chinese banquets, but I must admit, I was so hooked on the spaghetti parmi that even whilst eating other food, my heart was at The Spaghetti House.

Hong Kong lights at night

Dreaming Of Alaska

I flew into Anchorage at the end of summer; mid-August, with a suitcase of summer clothes. Hailing from sunny Queensland, I couldn’t imagine needing a jacket. Yes, naive, but too late once I’d arrived.

It was instantly apparent I’d freeze, and as I headed toward Eagle River where I’d be staying in a cozy house on Fire Lake, the auburn leaves confirmed that fall was settling in. My friend, and guide, who has lived in Alaska for over thirty years, was resplendent in singlet top and cropped pants. I shivered just looking at her, wrapping my scarf tighter around my neck, begging for a jacket.

I’ve been watching the Hallmark Channel for years, with a secret love for American feel-good movies. You know the type; all-American families spending summer at the lake, bonding over shared traumas and joys. I found myself in a Hallmark movie.

Early each morning I woke to the sound of a small sea-plane starting its motor and bouncing the way along the surface of the water. I’m told it’s not easy for the planes to take off on Fire Lake. The water is so smooth and clear it’s like a mirror, making the lift off difficult. I could see every shade of green and amber from the trees reflected in the waters, the colours so bright it’s hard to tell where the shore ends and the water begins. Late afternoon the fog sets in, wrapping the mountains above in a misty veil. It’s overcast a lot at this time of year, and it rains on and off most days.

My hosts shared the best local Alaska had to offer, so naturally, freshly caught halibut and salmon were on the menu. I hadn’t tried halibut before, but was warned it’s a must in Alaska. The fish was topped with mayonnaise, garlic and lemon pepper, wrapped in foil and cooked on the barbeque. It was delicious; subtle and mild, taking on the flavour of its marinade. It reminded me of chicken, but doesn’t everything we haven’t tried before?

I wanted to do what the locals do, so I shopped at Walmart and Fred Meyer, ogling at the range of firearms on display, and the sheer variety of groceries. I couldn’t help but fill my trolley each and every time I went to a store, buying into the materialism that we all like to pretend we are immune to. There were so many different flavours in Oreos, Pop Tarts and breakfast cereals (which look more like confectionary than breakfast), and I spent hours in each store. Rainy afternoons were spent in a cosy coffee shop, drinking a flat white and chatting with friends in front of a fire.

We did all of the touristy things you’d expect— road trips to Valdez, the Alaska Zoo, visiting the bears at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre at Girdwood, weed shops and cozy lunches in Talkeetna, shooting practice at the side-of-the-road gun range, and a night at the Princess Lodge in Copper River. Each day grew colder, but we filled every moment with more memories, and I delighted in watching the trees change colour day by day. In Australia the changing seasons are so much more gradual, so I was astonished by how quickly summer moved into fall.

The timing of the trip to Alaska was perfect, as the Alaska State Fair was on. We spent a day eating loads of local foods, checking out all the stalls and exhibits, and we even managed to catch the pig racing event. I was constantly overwhelmed by the size and beauty of the snow-capped mountains everywhere we went. One minute I was sipping on a cool juice and eating curly fries, and then I’d catch a glimpse of the majestic mountain backdrop and be reminded of where I was. I probably looked like a crazy tourist taking photos of gas stations and apartment complexes, but I was actually snapping pictures of the incredible mountains in the background. Coming from sunny Queensland, I could not get enough of the snow capped mountains and glaciers everywhere we went. Queensland is beautiful, and one of my most favourite places on earth, but the starkness of Alaska is really special. There is an eeriness to it— I felt unnerved, but nature has a way of doing that to me. Even the plane trip from Vancouver to Anchorage is incredible as we flew over the Canadian Rockies, and I gasped as I looked down on the glaciers set high in the mountains. A beauty so startlingly different from the tropical coastlines and reefs of Queensland.

There was just so much to love about Alaska, and I think that staying with locals, and seeing the world through their eyes enhanced it. They know the best places to eat, drink, and visit. The vacation went far too quickly, and before I knew it I was on my way back to Australia. Alaska is a place I regularly dream of, and if I thought I could manage the cold, I’d move there. However, I now have the added bonus of my daughter living there as she married an Alaskan. I keep planning my trip back, making lists of all the wonderful places I didn’t get to see, and all the places I want to revisit. Now to wait until the borders reopen …

A frosty lunch in Talkeetna

Stunning glaciers flying over the Canadian Rockies

Those snow capped mountains!
A fall snapshot at Eagle River

Uncle Bobo’s— Hawaiian BBQ

I’ve always tried to make it a habit when I travel, to eat where the locals eat. Whether it’s food stalls, markets, or hole in the wall eateries, I’m there. However, I am not a fan of food poisoning, so I always check reviews and ask for recommendations, and make a list of where I want to go. Travel Vlogs are also a great place to get local recommendations.

I stayed in an AirBnB house in Ka’a’awa in Hawaii, and as there were not a lot of places around to eat, we took most of our own food. A five minute walk from the house took us to a petrol station, post-office, and a little cafe called Uncle Bobo’s. Very unassuming looking, but the menu looked promising, and very reasonably priced.

Uncle Bobo’s specialises in BBQ, and they make all of their own sauces. I was really hungry, so I ordered a basket of hand cut fries and a huge salad with juicy chicken pieces and their special BBQ sauce. The meal was utterly delicious— the chips are actually made in house, and the salad was just so fresh. There were five of us eating that day, and considering everything is made to order, the wait time was not at all unreasonable. We sat outside at a table in the shade, chatting and admiring the ocean view just across the road. Huge palm trees and the salty air added to the experience. 

There’s nothing really fancy about Uncle Bobo’s, and that’s part of the reason I liked it so much. A few of us returned a few times over the next week, and the meals were just as good each time. There is an authenticity to the little diner that I appreciated. A husband and wife working together, doing something they love, and providing consistently great food at a reasonable price. I had a lot of really great food experiences in Hawaii, but Uncle Bobo’s has stuck with me. In fact, every time I think about my last trip to Hawaii I think of Uncle Bobo’s. The simplicity of great local food, incredible views, and those vacation vibes— what’s not memorable about that?

BBQ Chicken Salad at Uncle Bobo’s

Loving Local

I had planned to spend the month of September in Alaska, but COVID happened, the Australian borders closed, and that took international travel off the table. So what’s a frustrated traveller with a bad dose of travel fever to do? Travel locally. 

So where to go? It had to be in Queensland as even though I could leave the state, coming back in would mean a mandatory fourteen day quarantine at my expense, and I didn’t have the time, nor the will for that. Next, I knew I wanted to drive as I like my own pillows, and I had to lug my laptop, a pile of books and my essential oil collection (necessary for my relaxation), but I didn’t want to spend days driving and reduce my relaxation time. I didn’t want to stay in a resort and all that entails, or skimp and stay in gloomy but budget accommodation, so Airbnb seemed my best option. Once I had worked out how far I wanted to drive and what kind of destination I wanted, I did a search on available Airbnb accommodation, and it was easy from there— I wanted water views, fresh air, a family-sized apartment with a good kitchen so I’d have plenty of room to cook and spread out, and something a little luxurious and pretty.  Within minutes I’d found the perfect destination and accommodation— Hervey Bay. 

I packed my car and headed up north in torrential rain— not a great start for someone who’s not a confident driver, but I was on vacay so I didn’t have to rush. The drive up to Hervey Bay took over four hours as the rain was so bad I had to keep pulling over, but I arrived safely. I located my accommodation, but before checking in I had to eat and have a coffee! I was reluctant to stop for long on the drive up as the weather was awful, so by the time I arrived in Hervey Bay I was famished. A gorgeous little cafe opposite the beach in Urangan made me the best coconut prawn salad I’ve ever had, and the coffee was so good I had two. I went for a short walk on the beach to stretch my legs, and just to connect with the earth for a while.

My accommodation did not disappoint! I’d splurged on a gorgeous two-bedroom apartment with water views from every room (even the bathroom). It was the perfect place to sit and write, or just relax, with so many little luxuries for me to enjoy, including a long balcony overlooking the water. It was a lot fancier than home, so I relished it, despite the rain! I actually found the rain enhanced my break. It meant I had to plan my outings carefully, but sitting in an apartment overlooking the water, snuggly inside (it was the end of winter), was incredibly relaxing. It was too cool to be sitting on the beach anyway, so I sipped coffee, wrote, and unwound from the busyness of everyday life.

Some people don’t enjoy doing things alone, but I’m not one of them. I am happy to travel alone, dine alone, do all the touristy things alone, and just explore! Each morning was started with coffee and a long walk, then back to the apartment for breakfast, some writing, and then an outing. I shopped, walked through the Botanic Gardens, took tonnes of photos, checked out different beaches, went for scenic drives, and ate great food at local restaurants. I cooked a few meals in my apartment so I didn’t have to go out every night, and even that is fun when you’re on holidays. I took long walks along the beach, stayed up late and slept in every morning. It was blissful— the best I’d felt in a long time. 

The day before I was due to leave I realised I just wasn’t ready to go, so I managed to book a couple of extra nights. It was more than just the relaxation, it was the realisation that once the borders reopened I would be immigrating to America, and this was possibly my last little trip before I go. There are many other places in Australia I haven’t visited, but the call of other cultures is very strong; I simply can’t wait to go. But while I’m here I want to experience everything I can, and make the most of this beautiful country.

Urangan Pier QLD
Coconut Prawn Salad— delicious!

A fork of bliss

There’s nothing extraordinary about being someone who loves to eat— most of us do. I love food, but I can’t eat unless I’m hungry. I flew from Honolulu to LAX late in the afternoon, and American Airlines didn’t provide a meal. By the time the plane pulled in at LAX, I had an hour before my connecting flight, and I was starved. I’d never been to LAX and it was almost midnight when I arrived. I ran through the empty maze of tunnels from one terminal to the next, growing hungrier by the minute, but nervous about finding the right gate. With a little help I finally arrived at the gate, and had forty-five minutes till I could board. Perfect! Just enough time to source some food, or so I thought. So close to midnight, many food places had closed, but there was a bistro style cafeteria brightly lit up and smelling great. I selected a dry looking beef casserole with brownish coloured mashed potatoes, as most of the hot food had been sold, and I didn’t fancy a gutful of curry right before a six-hour flight. I sat down with my food and a bottle of water, warily eyeing off the people around me. I was nervous. Small time Aussie girl in Los Angeles airport alone, at midnight, and I was feeling a bit anxious. I couldn’t tell if those around me were male or female. Everything was different; clothes, style, accents, body language. I was exhausted and emotional. 

With the first mouthful of my dinner, everything changed. That was no dried out beef casserole and dodgy mash; that was bliss on a fork. The casserole was rich and meaty, and the potatoes were thick and buttery. I groaned at how delicious the combination was. I wanted to call out to someone, “You must try this casserole!”, but it wasn’t the right crowd. No one at LAX cared about how much the white, middle-aged, average woman was enjoying her dinner. Once I polished that off and boarded my flight, I remembered that I was in America, and food in America is good. 

My Immigration Process

I have been in the US for almost six months and I definitely feel settled and happy. I can’t believe I moved to America from Australia! I had forgotten how anxious I was before I arrived, but today I found a chain of emails between myself and a long-time friend, and the discourse was carried out between arriving at Sydney Airport prior to flying out, and finally before stepping onto my last flight which would take me from LA to Charlotte. It is raw and it reminded me of how utterly exhausted and frazzled I was.

The immigration process was intense and it took a considerable amount of time and effort (and money!). A lot of people have asked how I immigrated to America, so here’s a run-down of what was involved, and my fragile emotional state. It’s really important that readers understand that this was emotionally taxing like nothing I had ever experienced before — I cannot separate the emotion from the actual process. There’s no quick way to share this so please bear with me. Also, remember that I came over on a K1 Alien Fiance(e) Visa, so this information only applies to those who are engaged to an American citizen.

Jim and I became engaged in March of 2020 and within days COVID hit. We assumed it would just be a few weeks of lockdown and everything would get back to normal, but as we now know, that didn’t happen. In fact everything closed down, and after a while, so did the US Consulate in Sydney, which was where I had to go for an interview. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The process started with filling out a tonne of paperwork. The paperwork included a lot of information about me, past marriage/s, employment, finances, criminal records etc. They literally want to know everything about you and rightly so; you are considered a threat to the country until they establish who you are and why you want to move here. I’d expect the same level of security for anyone wanting to immigrate. They also needed to know a lot about Jim’s financial status as he would in effect be sponsoring me, and that includes full financial support (unless I had zillions of dollars and could support myself). When you come to America on the K1 Alien Fiance(e) Visa you cannot work in the USA until you have applied for and received a Work Permit and/or a Green Card. That takes a lot of time, so you need financial support as you are not entitled to any government financial assistance. This is really important to understand — getting here is only the beginning!

That pile of paperwork, which took weeks to complete (as they also needed many documents to prove your identity, relationships, finances etc), was sent to Jim in the US who then completed his part as the sponsor, and then he posted that off to Texas to the USCIS (Immigration). We received notice that they’d received it, and then nothing. Literally nothing for months. Immigration was on skeleton staff if that, because of COVID being in full swing, so nothing happened. Finally, in August 2020 we received notification that the paperwork had been reviewed and accepted! I was granted conditional approval. I was hysterical — doing this crazy laugh-cry thing that probably needed sedating. We felt as though we were on the downhill slide — WRONG. Far from it. 

The next step was that our paperwork would be sent from Immigration in the USA to the American Consulate in Sydney, where I would have to attend an interview. Sending the paperwork wouldn’t take that long, but the Consulate was closed for anything but urgent issues. We could do nothing but wait. Meanwhile, President Trump had suspended most forms of immigration (K1 visas being one of the few modes not suspended). There is a time limit on the approval, and ours expired before I had my interview. However, because of COVID they agreed to extend it if we provided a letter stating we still planned to pursue the application.

 It wasn’t until January 2021 that we heard back from the Consulate, with a date for my visa interview, and it was booked for only a few weeks away. I had a lot to do to prepare for it. More forms to fill out, more fees to pay, and I had to schedule a medical ASAP so there would be time for the report to be sent to Sydney (I lived in Queensland). The medical was very expensive and it included a thorough examination, vaccinations, a chest xray to test for TB, and blood tests to check for sexually transmitted diseases. The report was done quickly and forwarded to the Consulate as it was part of my application.

I booked my flight to Sydney and struck major issues. The Queensland border was closed to NSW (Sydney is in NSW) — I could leave QLD, but to go back required getting permission and an expensive, mandatory three-week quarantine in a government mandated hotel (all at my expense). I knew that I had to do it, so I booked the flight and did all the paperwork. I would be flying down and back in a day. Well that didn’t happen. My flight was cancelled only days before I was due to leave because the flights were largely empty. I could fly down but not get back, so I had to rebook my flights according to availability, and that meant leaving the day before the interview, and coming back the day after. As I had to go into a three-week quarantine I also had to drag a massive suitcase with everything I would need for three weeks, including laptop etc so I could work from my hotel room. That suitcase was so heavy I paid a small fortune to get it on my flight.

The interview itself was nerve wracking. You are interviewed in front of everyone else applying and they can hear all of the private conversation. Added to that, you have a mountain of paperwork and are answering questions about your relationship — be prepared for this. The officers are very professional and courteous, but it is an intense process. Despite the weeks of work I had put in, and reading the instructions meticulously, I didn’t have all of the correct paperwork (including the correct federal police check and envelope size), so I was rejected pending documentation. I was utterly crushed. Jim and I had worked so hard to get through the process and it felt as though it was all over. I cried and cried, and woke up with a migraine so bad the next day that I couldn’t make my flight. I could barely stand up. I ended up staying seven days in total as the mandatory quarantine was to be lifted, so staying four extra days would save me the almost $3000 quarantine. The flight back cost double what it should have as the border had opened and the flights were full.

Once I made it back to Brisbane I collected all of the documentation (I can’t begin to tell you the dramas I had there, so I won’t!), and I mailed it off. It took two months to get all of the documentation because of a clerical error with a government department. Within two-and-a-half-days of the correct paperwork being received by the Consulate, my visa turned up via courier and I was stunned — it had dragged on for a year, and then all of a sudden it was all systems go. By this stage it was the end of March. Once the visa arrived I booked my flights (more dramas and huge expenses with COVID flight cancellations), and I had twelve days to pack up my house and a million things to organise. I had just sold my car in anticipation and was borrowing a friend’s, and I had also quit my job. I was so anxious that it would all fall through after so much drama that I couldn’t sleep and I felt really unwell. My friends worked tirelessly to pack up my house, clean it up and move me out. We sent over boxes of stuff I wanted to keep ($1000 worth of postage), but ultimately gave away the majority of my life. I was determined to take two suitcases only, and we managed to do that. 

Have a think about this. If you look around your house at all of your belongings, and you can only take two suitcases of your entire life, and a few small boxes, what would you take? I’m in my fifties so I had a lifetime of personal things — little drawings my daughter had done at pre-school, her first baby blanket, my favourite mugs, photo albums, gifts, your favourite pairs of shoes. And what about that drawer of bits and pieces that you may need one day? Everything had to be culled until two suitcases were filled — I can’t tell you how heart-wrenching it is to have to leave behind so much of yourself. You’re also leaving behind your lifestyle, your favourite people and places. The familiarity of everyday that we take for granted until it has gone. This process is purely emotional, and it saps you of energy and joy. I was so fragile by this stage I just cried a lot.

The next real hiccup was trying to leave Australia. With closed borders I had to apply to leave the country, and my initial application was rejected as I hadn’t submitted enough proof of why I needed to leave — Australia wanted to be sure I wouldn’t be returning in a month with COVID. I did all they required and received final approval quickly, but it was three days before I was due to fly out! It was down to the last minute. I had issues with visa info for the airline, but that was because of the stupidity of the call-centre which was offshore, and not the actual staff working on the ground. As a result, I was up all night trying to get through to Homeland Security in the USA to get some information regarding my particular visa and that was a huge waste of time because the airline gave me the incorrect information. I then had to squeeze in a specific travel COVID nasal swab (that cost $150) within a certain amount of hours before I flew out, and the only testing centre open was an hour’s drive away through flooded roads as the East Coast of Australia just happened to be flooding as I was trying to leave the country. It seemed like I would never make it and I seriously thought about quitting — I went one step forward and two steps back continually. I remember crying hysterically to my friend and saying that the anxiety of whether I’d actually make it out of the country was taking its toll, and she said so wisely, “Just one step at a time. Just put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward, even if you’re terrified.” And that’s exactly what I did; one step at a time. I also managed to burn my right hand severely with boiling water, and that required daily dressings, and meant I could not use that hand.

My friends picked me up and drove me to the airport, with me sobbing as I knew that this would be goodbye for who knows how long? Forever maybe? I flew down to Sydney safely and peacefully, stayed one night at a Sydney Airport hotel, and then turned up to the international terminal the next morning. I was grilled by security who had become really militant with the COVID scare, but after making it through all of the humps with all of the correct paperwork and my negative COVID swab results which came through in time, I was allowed onto my flight, crying like a baby, and finally left the country. I had a fourteen-hour flight to Los Angeles, and once I arrived there I had to go through another interview with Homeland Security to be allowed to enter the USA on my visa. I was so exhausted and fragile, but the officer was incredibly kind and professional, and I made it through the process quickly. I had a seven-hour layover in LA, and then boarded my final flight to Charlotte which was filled to the brim, and we flew through storms the entire time. 

I’m not going to lie, this was one of the most emotionally gruelling processes I’ve ever been through. Many times I asked Jim if this was worth it, and I questioned if I had it in me to keep fighting. Many times I didn’t have it, but Jim did, and so did my friends. That may sound stupid, but I felt as though my life was in the balance for twelve months. I was in a state of limbo; would I ever get there and would it be possible to actually give up life as I knew it, to start a new life in another country with a man I hadn’t seen for twelve months because of COVID closures. It felt as though I was jumping out of a plane without a parachute over and over again. Now that I’m here and married I know that it was absolutely the right thing to do, but I don’t think I could manage it again. We have submitted our final paperwork which was a change of visa status, an Affidavit of Support, and a Work Permit, (the K1 Alien Fiance/e Visa only lasts for 90 days so you have to get married and get that paperwork in ASAP, with a lot more money), and now we sit back and hope all of the paperwork was filled in correctly with all of the right documentation. Next we had a biometrics appointment which was organised by the USCIS, and after that, a final immigration interview will be scheduled, where we need to show proof that this is not a sham, or Green Card marriage. All of this can take up to twelve months. Once all that goes through and it is approved, I will be issued with a Social Security number and a Green Card. We could have paid a lawyer to do it all, but the whole process was expensive enough as it was, and we didn’t want to spend more than we already had. We also didn’t know it would be so hard, or else I think we would have had an immigration lawyer throughout the entire process.

So my advice if you’re thinking of doing this is to be prepared for how hard it is. It’s hard, I can’t stress that enough. It took everything I have. The unknown and waiting is awful — trying to live between two countries and feeling like you don’t have a home. You need to really love your fiance/e and be willing to give up much of your life for them. The pay-off is pretty great though. America is a wonderful country despite what the media might tell you, and I am so glad to be here with Jim. If you want more practical information about the paperwork and documents required please message me — I’d love to help out and support you emotionally. Until then, I will be resting after the arduous process I have been through!

8 American Foods You Must Try

When people plan a vacation, one of the things they like to prepare is a list of different foods and restaurants they want to try. 

Most tourists head to the US with some idea of what American food will be like, perhaps imagining deep fried and sugar-laden. And while this is not inherently untrue, it’s often the most unsuspecting dining experiences that leave an impression worth traveling back for. 

I usually like to try food trucks and locally owned diners, but I have another list which is worth considering for your next trip to the US. It may seem a bit silly at first, but trust me — I explain as I go. This is my list of American foods you must try. Not all are specifically American, but the way they are cooked or prepared in America is what makes the difference.

  1. McDonalds: Okay, now this one probably sounds ridiculous as everywhere on earth has Maccas (as it’s known in Australia), but I can assure you that McDonalds is different in every country. In Malaysia they had rendang burgers, in Singapore they served savoury porridge for breakfast (a type of oatmeal), in Australia they have fruit cups and decent salads. Well in the same vein, McDonalds in the US has items that you can’t get anywhere else. Sweet tea, and biscuits, are a great example of this, and they make really, really good sweet tea. They also have a range of pastries (think cinnamon rolls and chocolate chip cookies) that are different to what I was used to in Australia.
  1. Grocery Stores: I can’t get over how different the grocery stores in the US are compared to Australia. Firstly, the variety is overwhelming. There is just so much to choose from and that can actually make it quite difficult. In Australia I was used to a reasonably limited range so I always knew what I wanted and had tried most brands.
  1. Local burgers: In Australia, burgers are a popular option, and you can get one from Maccas or a takeaway store, and even a gourmet burger at a brewery or pub. But burgers are the national food in the US, and cooks both at home and in restaurants around the country know their way around a deliciously grilled piece of meat. Most restaurants (even those offering mostly only international cuisine) will offer a basic cheeseburger, along with a decent selection of variations. I’ve not been able to work out what exactly makes the American burger so good, but whatever it is works.
  1. Mexican Food: I have written about this continually but it’s seriously important for people to understand how incredibly good the Mexican food is here. It’s cheap, delicious, and the menus have about 6000 things on them. In the small town we live in there’s at least ten Mexican restaurants, if not more. We have tried four of them, but we love one in particular so much that we can’t help but go back there over and over again. I have taken to trying something different each time I go, and it‘s all very good.
  1. Shake Shops: I have become addicted to thick shakes. You can tell by my ever thickening waistline (well, where my waist used to be). The McDonald’s shakes are unbearably sweet, but the shakes from the mom and pop shops are fantastic. My favourite so far is the banana shake — they are so thick and creamy and delicious that they give you a straw and a spoon to eat them with.
  1. Amish Stores: The Amish are renowned for making delicious bread, jams/jellies, baked goods, pies, deli meats, pickles, coffees, relishes, butters, cheese and all sorts of home-grown goodies. They use the freshest ingredients and everything is top quality. They also sell natural health remedies and furniture. If you have an opportunity to visit an Amish General Store, do it, and take a trailer to carry your goodies home in!
  1. Pie Shops: I haven’t seen too many of these near where I live, but when I do see one I like to stop in and oggle the selection. Pie shops in Australia are the savoury kind — meat, chicken, and specialty meats like crocodile and kangaroo in more touristy places. But in the US pies are sweet — apple, peach, pecan, pumpkin, and berry pies (and many more of course). It’s especially good when they also serve coffee which you can enjoy with a sweet, warm pie and ice cream.
  1. Omelette Restaurant/Bar: This blew my mind — a whole restaurant dedicated to the humble omelette, but there are a number of these in America, especially New York. Some of these omelettes are masterpieces! Omelette Parlour in Colorado has an omelette called Pat’s Thunderbird, which has a sausage, potatoes, green peppers, onions, tomatoes and cheddar stuffed tortilla INSIDE the omelette! Yep, the omelettes here are pretty spectacular. I order the Philly Cheese Steak Omelette at a local diner for breakfast when I can. They are delicious, and are usually served with fried potatoes and a biscuit. 

One of the many things I love about living in America is the variety of foods available. Some I like and some I don’t. At home I cook all of the ‘normal’ foods I grew up with, but when I’m out I like to try something new as often as I can. It’s really the only way to expand your palate, and to learn more about the place you are living in, or travelling through. For me, food is one of the most wonderful things about travelling. There’s something wonderful about food memories and they can transport you straight back in time!

Squirrels and Scorpions

My husband and I spent a week in Jasper— the beautiful mountains in northern Georgia. The trip from North Carolina was spectacular, driving through the Great Smoky Mountains, enabling us to see the lush countryside in Spring. We stopped on the way through the mountains at Natanhala Outdoor Center and enjoyed the fast-flowing river that swept past. 

Our accommodation in Jasper was amazing. We stayed with friends who own a beautiful property in the mountains, and it’s literally in the woods. We were given our own luxury apartment which had an enclosed verandah surrounded by the thick scrub, and we spent a lot of time sitting in the quiet, listening to the birds and animals. Each morning I was greeted by a tiny squirrel who lived in an elm tree close to the verandah, and he would climb up that tree lightning fast, stopping every so often to take a peek at me with his cheeky little face. I loved seeing him, and he didn’t seem to mind being watched as he went about his business. 

Coming from Australia I’d only ever seen a squirrel bouncing across the fences in Alaska on my last trip there, and I fell in love with their dynamic energy which I sadly lack. I became so enamoured with the little squirrel that I couldn’t wait to see him each day. He wasn’t the only squirrel we saw; each day I would see them running across tree branches, or nibbling at the side of the road.

I was so relaxed on my little vacation. It was warm and I was able to walk around the house barefooted, which I really enjoy. However, one morning as I was sitting drinking my coffee my husband loudly ordered that I sit still and not move off my chair. I was going to laugh and remind him that if there was a spider, the Australian in the house would be best equipped to deal with it, but before I had a chance, I heard the loud thud of his shoe, and the word, “scorpion.”

“What do you mean scorpion?” I asked incredulously, “We are in Georgia, not Mexico!” Yeah, well about that; Jasper, Georgia has scorpions, and quite a few of them at that. What I did know is that scorpions hurt. A lot. I am used to spotting spiders on the walls and ceiling, but not scorpions crawling on the floor at night when I need to use the bathroom. I told our beautiful hostess that there was a scorpion on the floor which Jim had killed, and she said she was pleased it wasn’t in our bed! That was not the reply I was hoping for.

The thing about snakes, spiders and scorpions, is that once you’ve seen them in your house or yard, you can’t unsee them. They are constantly on your mind. I was raised in Australia so I will probably never stop checking my shoes for spiders, or taking kitchen tongs to the letter-box in summer, but scorpions? That adds another level of hyper-vigilance to my list of things to avoid (behind crazed gun-men in Walmart and ridiculous medical insurance prices).

Squirrels and scorpions aside, Jasper is a beautiful place, reputed to be the first mountain town in Georgia. With quaint stores and breathtaking views we had a fantastic time exploring. We ate the best cinnamon rolls imagineable at the Carriage House Coffee Shoppe, while sitting on the back deck with brightly coloured umbrellas and pots of flowers. And to make it even more wonderful we stopped in at the Community Thrift Store (CTS) and picked up the bargains of a lifetime. I love thrifting and as CTS is run by volunteers, everything is incredibly cheap. I picked up a brand new Williams Sonoma French Coffee Press set with two matching glass mugs for $5.00. The retail price is about $80. That place is the ultimate in retail therapy and I had some serious work done on my mental health while I was there! On the trip back home we had gorgeous prints and glassware shoved into every available space in our car.

The drive back through the mountains was probably even more spectacular as we had more time to enjoy it, and we were able to stop and take more photos. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the road in front of us in the Great Smoky Mountains as it was so green and lush. It was simply breathtaking and I don’t know how Jim managed to drive through there safely with me wanting to stop and gawk every few minutes. 

I’m pretty happy I managed to visit Georgia even if I only saw a small part of it — but I like the fact that I saw a part of the state that many others probably wouldn’t think to visit. Places like Savannah and Atlanta attract the most tourists, but I love that small mountain town with fantastic people and beautiful scenery. 

The general store at Natanhala Outdoor Center
The Carriage House Coffee Shoppe
Coca Cola originated in Georgia and this was a cute mural I liked
Driving through the Great Smoky Mountains
The lookout at Sharp Mountain near the place we stayed
Me posing for a photo at a mountain stop besides the white water rafting river

Mrs American Pie

When I left Australia to move to the US, it was in a flood of tears and with heart-wrenching separation anxiety. As the plane took off I wept, my hand pressed up against the small window, wondering if I would ever return to my home again. I could think of nothing but what I was leaving behind.

Fast forward six weeks, and everything is different. Obviously the major difference is that I’m happily married, and that automatically makes life a whole lot better, but it’s more than that. I never really wanted to move to the USA. A lot of people dream of it, but not me. My heart was set on buying a little cottage in Italy, or Malta, or maybe even spending a year working in Montreal. I knew I wanted to experience as much of the world as I could, but America was never on my radar for more than some great vacations.  

Well here I am in America with my sweet American husband, and I’ve settled into my new life. For the first few weeks I was homesick all of the time, and that resulted in a lot of tears and a deep desire to go home. But one day I woke up and felt happy to be here — really happy, and that hasn’t changed since. When I reflect on why I like being here so much, I can’t really pinpoint it. It’s certainly very different from any kind of life I’ve known, but there’s this perfect mixture of crazy and beautiful. Let me try to describe it.

Jim and I live in a lovely apartment in a small town in North Carolina with our chubby white dog I’ve taken to calling, Vanilla. The apartment complex is beautiful, with a heavily wooded area behind us, and a valley in front, separating us from the main road. I take Vanilla for walks about four times a day, and in the late afternoon I tend to head to the valley area at the front. Because it’s spring, the colours are vibrant and there are an assortment of wildflowers and trees. There are often deers and rabbits in there too. It’s just so beautiful and peaceful, and I look over that valley and marvel at the outline of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, and the Walmart. I don’t walk into the valley as it’s too steep, but also because there may be a lion or tiger, or both. I know it sounds bizarre and my poor friends are probably sick of hearing about it, but in a number of US states including North Carolina, you can own a pet tiger, lion, bear or baboon. An article I recently read claims that there are more tigers in US apartments and backyards, than are left in the wild around the world. The article gave statistics of how many people, including children, had been killed or maimed by these ‘pets.’ So I am constantly on edge.

You may think that the article has overinflated details, but no, indeed it has not. In Houston, Texas, during the week, a man found a tiger in his front yard, belonging to his neighbour. He called the police but the tiger got away, and three days later it’s nowhere to be found. At some point that tiger will need to eat something, or someone. So how many tigers or lions have been let loose by people who could no longer care for them and they go unreported? These things worry me. So while enjoying the beautiful North Carolina view each and every day, I have anxiety that some of the crazy, in the form of a tiger or lion, will come springing out of the valley, or the woodland behind the complex, and devour me or Vanilla. If it goes for Vanilla, she’s on her own. I love her, but girlfriend, you’re on your own! My booty will move back up those stairs so fast that Usain Bolt would choke on my dust!

I love the variety of fast food places. Not because I want to try them all (well maybe I do), but simply because there are so many, and they mostly have roughly the same menu. How many varieties of a chicken sandwich (chicken burgers for the Aussies) can there be? Hundreds my friend, hundreds. 

I also love that there is so much to see in this country. Yes, Australia is filled with incredible beauty also, but it’s all so remote. America is not like that. A nine hour drive from here takes me to New York or Florida, with many, many large towns and some huge cities along the way. In eleven hours I can drive to Toronto in Canada (or fly there in under two hours)!  When I lived in the Central West of NSW, a nine hour drive would still have me in the middle of nowhere! The USA is massive, but accessible in a way Australia isn’t. A flight from New York to Paris is under eight hours. However with COVID, it may as well be a million hours as everywhere is closed!

There are so many people here in the USA, and so many different styles. Everyone just wears what they want and fashion doesn’t have the same level of importance as I was used to in Australia. I’ve always loved how stylish and trendy Australians are, but there’s a real easiness to living here in the South and people just don’t place as much importance on it. It may be different in the bigger cities or among the youth, but the focus seems to be more on comfort and I’m all about that these days. No one knows me so I will wear my track pants to Walmart. We all know how bad it can be at Walmart, so trackie dacks are quite acceptable. In fact, whole tracksuits are a thing here that I just cannot buy into. I just can’t. Black trackies with a nice t-shirt or sweater are as far as I am willing to go when it comes to comfort.

I love the variety of supermarkets here that aren’t available in Australia. There’s real competition and different products in every one. Same staples of course, but you really can shop around for the best deals and find the products you like best. I love Lowes Foods — it’s set out like an indoor market and they have such a great variety of fresh foods, including lamb, as well as specialty products I am more likely to try. It reminds me of Australian supermarkets and I think that’s why I am drawn back to it 

Lastly, everyone is polite. They are really polite and I haven’t heard anyone swear yet. Gasp! I really don’t think I have heard one swear word since I got here, and coming from a country that embraces them, it’s been a shock to the system. They’re not part of the vernacular here and that’s something I can definitely get used to!

Honestly, Australia will always be home, and I will always miss it, but it does surprise me that I am so happy here. My everyday life is pleasant and simple, and we spend weekends on road trips and exploring new places. National parks, mountains, waterfalls, neighbouring towns, Amish stores, and large cities; all of these places are within a short drive from us and I am relishing every new experience I have. There are also things I don’t like so much about being here, and I’ll share those soon.

Update: The tiger in Houston has been found. No one was harmed, including the tiger.

Continue reading “Mrs American Pie”

The Sweetest Tea

Before immigrating to the US and moving to the South, my Australian friends would ask if I was looking forward to trying sweet tea. Sweet Tea? How disgusting, I’d say. You don’t put sugar in tea, and drink it cold — you drink it as the Queen of England would — hot, and milky.

Honestly, I have no idea how Queen Elizabeth II drinks her tea, but my point is, a civilised person only drinks tea hot, and milky. I’d forgive you for adding a dainty teaspoon of sugar, but that’s where I draw the line. 

I avoided sweet tea for as long as I could, turning up my nose at it every time Jim ordered it, but eventually it was crunch time, and my loyalties were being tested. Would I strive to fit in and show that I’m on team America, or would I hold onto my English superiority complex? 

My lovely friend from church, Helen, took me to the Dine-N-Dash for lunch. She wanted to treat me to an American lunch and I was all in. The Dine-N-Dash is a cute little diner (as the name suggests), which serves hotdogs, milkshakes, and sweet tea. I ordered a hotdog with the trimmings, which comes with a bag of chips (crisps), and a drink. I had water with my lunch, and Helen ordered a large sweet tea with extra lemon wedges. I wolfed down my delicious hotdog with chilli (the meat chilli), and eyed Helen enjoying her sweet tea. So what’s it like, I asked? Delicious — nice and lemony, was the response. She offered me a sip. 

I watch a lot of travel vlogs and one I saw of my favourite vloggers, Kara and Nate, they were drinking a sweet tea and remarked that it was too sweet. I don’t really have a sweet tooth so I imagined that the tea would just taste like cold sugar syrup. Wrong. Helen’s sweet tea was absolutely delicious. It was brewed perfectly; a subtle black tea flavour with a mild sweetness, and the tang of the freshly squeezed lemon wedges, all icy cold. It was a game changer. 

I needed to have my own so excitedly Helen pulled out some coins so she could buy my first official sweet tea. It only costs about $1.00 or so in diners in the US, and it’s usually bottomless. I told the lovely lady at the counter that I had just had sweet tea for the first time, and I liked it so much I needed to have my own tanker of it. She looked at me in shock; you’ve never had sweet tea? Um no — we don’t drink it in Australia. She was so delighted she gave it to me for free!

That day has gone down as the day I fell in love with sweet tea. In fact I like it so much I drink it constantly, and try it everywhere I go. Dine-N-Dash has the best sweet tea so far, but McDonald’s has a pretty good one too. I’ve tried it at about ten different places, maybe more, and I will continue drinking it everywhere I go. It’s funny that all the things I expect to hate, I end up loving, and all of the things I thought I’d love, I don’t. I guess that’s part of what makes travelling and trying new things so much fun — you never really know how it will end up!

Breezing Into Blowing Rock

Before I visited North Carolina for the first time, I had repeatedly heard two things about it — The Blue Ridge Mountains, and Blowing Rock. These are considered must-do’s in North Carolina, which is known for its natural beauty. Despite only having lived here for less than a month, and not having seen too much of it, I can confirm that this state is absolutely breathtaking. 

After a cool day inside, with me feeling overly emotional and homesick for my friends back in Queensland (and missing Australian coffee like I’d parted with my own flesh), Jim suggested a drive to cheer me up. Where would I like to go? No-brainer — if it’s not a Goodwill store, it had to be Blowing Rock. Jim and I did head up to Blowing Rock in February last year, but it was winter, sleeting, and thick with fog. The drive up was stunning, that broody greyness that appeals to the gothic fiction reader in me, but it was so foggy and rainy that we decided against the actual rock at the last minute, and stopped for pizza instead. This time, on a cool but sunny and clear day, it was full steam ahead to Blowing Rock.

We took the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is the most scenic route, and were rewarded with breathtaking views overlooking the Appalachian Parklands. There were several viewing stops which we took full advantage of, madly trying to record the beauty on my iphone video function. It’s just not possible to capture it on film. Jim drove slowly, allowing me to take in all of the beauty, and we watched the weather gauge in our car drop from the sixties, down to the low forties the closer we got. For my Australian friends, once we arrived at Blowing Rock the  temperature was about  6-7 degrees, and my three-quarter jeans and light jumper (sweatshirt), were not cut out for the cold and the wind. It was actually the wind that was surprising — it was blowing a gale and we were warned to hang onto our phones etc if we were brave enough to walk out onto the viewing platform. Sounded like a dare, so I had to do it of course. Admittedly, I had to hold onto the railing as it was so windy I struggled to stand upright. 

It cost us less than $20 USD entry for the both of us, and we were given a map to direct us. I was imagining nature trails that went for miles, and an hour long hike out to the rock, but I was wrong. You pretty much go out the door of the gift shop/info centre, and the rock is on your left. It’s really not that big either, which surprised me. I think it must be the angle of photos I’ve seen of the rock that make it look gigantic. I know I am not making this sound like compelling viewing, but I am giving my take on it. The rock itself whilst not enormous, is definitely worth seeing. What makes it so spectacular is the fact that it’s actually a cliff which is four thousand feet above sea level, and it overhangs Johns River Gorge three thousand feet below. Added to this, the walls of the gorge “form a flume through which the northwest wind sweeps with such force that it returns light objects case over the void.” And to make it even better, you’re actually allowed to climb on it and sit on the peak! I climbed as far as I dared, but as I struggle with ongoing dizziness, I thought it best to not stand out on the edge. It looks like a marbleised wave and is quite beautiful.

I loved the fact that there were only two other couples there besides us, so it felt as though we had the rock to ourselves. It was way too windy to romantically stand on the observation tower hand-in-hand — it took all the energy we had to not blow away, so we pretty much just looked around on our own. The views from the Blowing Rock are spectacular. I leaned over the observation deck as far as I could, to try to capture the views. Being spring, the colours were so vivid and gorgeous; greens, burgundy, brown, and the tiny little blossom buds in pink and white. The gardens were stunningly looked after, with flowers in bloom, and everything meticulously cared for. A gorgeous old-style house was converted into a museum and photo gallery, which shared some of the rich history of the area. Sadly, the snack bar is closed because of COVID, and we were craving the sweetness of a hot chocolate to warm us up.

I loved the time we spent there. It was well worth the trip and I am so glad I have the photos to look at. The cold and windiness made it even more memorable, and even though I don’t think I will go and see it again, I’m so pleased to tick it off my list. 

Museum and photo gallery
Appalachian Parklands