When you visit a country where the people speak your language you assume that some of the normal day-to-day interactions will be fairly simple. When it comes to coffee in Australia, you can throw that assumption out.
If you walk into any coffee shop in Australia and try to order a simple cup of coffee, as one knows it in the US, the response will always be the question, “What kind?”
Drip-filtered coffee does not exist in Australia. It is all espresso based. The only alternative is instant coffee.
An Australian “coffee” is some tasty variation of a shot or two of espresso with steamed or foamed milk. Some of them are the same as drinks we would order in the States, but others are different. Here is the list of the most common forms you will see in cafes:
Short black- A simple shot of espresso
Long black- A double shot of espresso poured into half a cup of hot water. Similar to what we would call an “Americano.”
Latte- One shot of espresso with steamed milk and some foamy milk at the top
Flat White- Basically a latte, but with no foamed milk
Cappuccino- Espresso, steamed milk and much higher proportion of frothed milk
Macchiato (Not your Starbucks caramel macchiato)- A shot of espresso with a small bit of foamed milk on top.
Piccolo-Shot of espresso with a small amount of milk added. (When you pick one of these up you get an awesome tiny to-go coffee cup)
Another important thing to know about Aussie coffee is the dairy situation. Australians do not put cream in their coffee, they use milk. If you ask for half and half they will ask you “half of what?” Or if you ask for cream, they will say, “do you mean milk?” The only cream available at the grocery store is heavy whipping cream; believe me, Laura has looked for it at least a half dozen times.
Australian “coffee” is delicious and we love it, but it’s definitely different. There have been times when we miss the simplicity of ordering a large cup of coffee with cream and drinking it all morning. Don’t worry about us though–we’re still getting our caffeine fix.
Here’s the deal, y’all. I’m from Oklahoma, a place that has more than its fair share of wacky animals. So, I’m no stranger to bizarre critters. I mean, is an armadillo not the coolest? It’s like some kind of adorable dinosaur-rat-turtle.
Holy horned toads though, Australia is something else. Sure, sure, everyone is aware that Australia is home to hundreds of creatures that are not found anywhere else in the world. The most common response I would hear after telling someone our plans to head Down Under was, “well, good luck. But watch out for those ______ [insert some insanely deadly creepy crawly here, e.g., spider, snake, crocodile, shark, octopus, etc.].” Still. I wasn’t prepared for the more “mundane” animals that we would encounter.
Within the first few hours of arriving in Sydney, we were in Mark and Chris’s backyard eating some Twisties (they’re like Cheetohs BUT…BETTER.) and chatting. Then, we hear very loud, repeated squawking. The Aussies do not react. I, on the other hand, start looking around in alarm. Oh, don’t worry, it’s just an entire flock of cockatoos flapping around. I’ve seen cockatoos in pet shops, zoos, cages, but it was really odd to see them flying around like a gaggle of geese. And their screeches. Cheeseandrice. Honestly, I wish I could play you a recording. They come out of nowhere and it’s quite unnerving. After more than four weeks here, I’m still not used to it.
Not long after my first cockatoo sighting, we are at an outdoor restaurant and, no joke, a real life kookaburra flies onto an electric line above our heads. I’m no avian expert, but I knew instantly what it was. But I needed validation before I burst into spontaneous song, so instead I exclaim, “what is that??” After confirming that this was, indeed a kookaburra, I started humming to myself… “mighty, mighty king of the bush is heee,” and thought, “man, Australia. What a place.”
The following weeks have been filled with a lot of beautiful birds—rainbow lorikeets, king parrots, crimson rosella (shout out to Pete for the bird watching lesson), and a multitude of cockatoos. There are also a ton of wild turkeys roaming around though much smaller than U.S. gobblers. Have you ever seen an ibis?? Those birds are wack, but also awesome. Aussies refer to them as “bin chickens” because you frequently find them scavenging through trash cans in parks looking for food.
Aside from birds, we have seen lots of other animals, including a ton of lizards: “water
dragons,” skinks, and salamanders. Australian possums are much cuter than our variety, but one scared the bejeezus out of me when it was climbing in a tree over my head. The biggest bat I’ve ever seen in my life was flapping alongside the car causing me to shout, “what the F*** was that?!” along with a few other expletives. I’m talking Batman sized bat. Effing HUGE. Truly, it looked like it could’ve carried away a small child or at least an Australian possum. And all of this came before my first “classic” Australian wildlife sighting!
I can now report that I have seen a whole herd of kangaroos, and they are very similar to deer in the States. So much so, in fact, that my first sighting was a roadkill kangaroo—bloated and belly up on the side of the road just like a deer.
Despite the menagerie of animals that we have seen, it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the fauna that can be found in Australia. Can’t wait to see even more critters that require a “what the F*** is that?!”
This day started off on a sad note with a trip to the airport to drop off my mom and dad. It was the last big farewell of our journey and one of the hardest.
I was happy to have a bit of distraction in the form of a Western Sydney Wanderers’ soccer game that afternoon. Jess and Luke invited us to go to the match and see some Australian A-League Soccer. We were given some Wanderers’ apparel to fit in with the crowd. We then headed up to New Castle to see the Wanderers take on the New Castle Jets.
We arrived in quiet New Castle and found our way to a local pub that had been selected by Wanderers supporters to be the meet-up spot before heading to the stadium. The Wanderer’s have a very intense part of their fan base known as the “active support”. These guys are hardcore. They go to every game, they organize other fans in out of town meet ups, and they know countless songs and chants.
We left for the stadium with a couple hundred fans in a long march to show our support through the streets of the opponent’s city. As we got closer to the stadium a drum started to beat and the singing began. The Wanderers’ fan section went through the gates and continued all the way up into the stadium, singing and chanting. As we came around the concessions area the singing grew louder. Laura and I have been to a couple of Colorado Rapids soccer games, but this was something else entirely. The energy and enthusiasm leading up to game time was electric! It was amazing to see all of the fans singing and dancing in unison to support their team.
The chanting did not stop for the entire game. The most intense supporters continued their songs and taunts of the other team for the full 90 minutes. For the 80th minute of every game, in a show of unity, the entire Wanderers’ fan section turns their backs to the game. Jess and Luke explained this to us beforehand, and we were a little perplexed. However, as sports fans, we know that some traditions don’t make any sense. Still, when it was time for us to turn around, it seemed kind of silly. Here, in the last 10 minutes of a 1-1 tie game, fans were facing the wrong direction. We were amused to see so many people trying to take part in this ritual while still turning their heads just enough to see the field.
The game ended in a 1-1 tie, which I guess soccer games can do, and we headed back to Sydney with a new appreciation for the world of professional soccer.
The next leg of our journey took us to Queensland and Australia’s Sunshine Coast. Mark and Chris had organized the trip wanting to show my parents, Laura and I one of Australia’s best beach towns. We headed for the airport early in the morning and a couple hours later we had arrived in Noosa.
Our condo was beautiful. It was in a resort built into the side of a hill with great ocean views. There was a huge sliding window opening up onto the balcony. A couple of levers allowed the window to be pulled away and the entire condo was open air.
Over the next few days, the whole crew enjoyed beautiful days at the beach, walks through nearby Noosa National Park, and gorgeous sunsets.
One particular highlight was our dinner at Spirit House, a chic Thai restaurant about 45 minutes from Noosa, where Chris and Mark had made a reservation.
After driving out to what seemed like the middle of nowhere, we arrived at a small parking lot. We walked through an archway and into a different world. Small lanterns lit the way for us down past beautiful Buddhas to the main dining area. The seating was almost all outdoors surrounding a large pond. It was dark, mysterious and unlike any other dining experience.
We took our seats and were in for a fantastic meal. The dishes were amazing. One after another they came to the table. Moreton Bay Bug on Betel Leaf, Massaman Curry of Braised Lamb Shank, Thai Fried Chicken, Duck Green Curry and Vegetarian Pad Thai all graced our table and our stomachs. It was one of those highlight meals that I am sure we will talk about for years to come.
We also had a surprise visitor during dinner. A cute little lizard, locally referred to as a water dragon, continually tried to come over and join us. We named him Henry. Now Chris is pretty horrified of any reptile and we spent a decent amount of time trying to keep Henry from sitting directly under the table. Mark found that a combination of incense and empty wine bottles worked best to keep Henry at a comfortable distance.
We rounded out our time in Noosa with a couple more days of great beach activities. We
rented a boat and took turns at the helm navigating around Noosa’s little inlets and river. We had great days on the beach playing Spikeball and catching waves in the huge swells.
On our final morning we got up for a walk along the coastline through Noosa National Park. Mark, Dad and I were the only ones to do this walk a few days before and wanted everyone to get a chance to see the amazing views. The walk started out great, but shortly after the mosquitos descended. These were not your typical mosquitos either. Imagine the mosquitos from the movie Jumanji and you would know the approximate size of what we were attacked by. We cut the trek a bit short and scampered out to the car.
We enjoyed a great breakfast at a restaurant looking out on the ocean and one last trip to the beach before heading for the airport. A fantastic introduction to Queensland, and a great way to really begin our time in Australia.
Important Aussie Characters: Mark & Chris Willis: our Aussie hosts for our time in Sydney. Some of my family’s oldest friends who will be putting us up for the next few months. Jess & Jake Willis: Mark & Chris’ daughter and son who are like a brother and sister to me. Elise Willis: Jake’s lovely wife Luke Stapley: Jess’s soccer-loving boyfriend
We arrived in Sydney Thursday afternoon and were greeted by a whole posse of people. Mark and Chris, Jake and Elise, and my parents, who had arrived earlier in the week for Jake and Elise’s wedding.
We drove home from the airport and Laura was able to catch her very first glimpse (and I mean just barely a glimpse) of the Harbour Bridge and the skyline of downtown Sydney. About 30 minutes later we arrived at Mark & Chris’ home in Cherrybrook.
Cherrybrook is a suburb of Sydney about 45 minutes from downtown by train. It is a lovely neighborhood with rolling hills, palm trees, nice homes and a cute shopping center. Mark and Chris have a lovely home and we were shown our room. They went above and beyond to make us feel welcome– we have our own room (with a picture of a sloth! For those who don’t know, Laura is obsessed with sloths) and bathroom. And there is also a lounge room next to our bedroom with a couch and bookshelves where we can hang. We had a little bit of time to unwind and shower and then it was on to wedding festivities!
From Cherrybrook we were heading to Mona Vale to drop off our hosts for a wedding rehearsal, and then on to Newport where we would be meeting up with everyone for dinner.
Dinner was at Newport Arms, a huge open eating space on the shores of Pittwater. Consisting of multiple decks of open tables, Newport Arms had a number of bars scattered throughout as well as 4 or 5 little restaurant/food stand type places. For all of our Denver readers, imagine Finn’s Manner on steroids, add about 10 times more space, and exchange hipsters for more beach-chic dressed patrons. The location offered great views of a harbor and had a fantastic ambiance for our first night in Sydney.
At dinner we discovered one of our first new Aussie treats, the “schnitty”. A schnitty is a chicken schnitzel sandwich and local favorite. I had eaten quite a bit of schnitzel during my trip to Israel a few years ago, and was surprised to see it Down Under. In my previous trips to Australia I had never been introduced to the schnitty, but I was glad to meet it.
Along with our introduction to the schnitty was our first Australian beer. Pale ales are big in Australia and our first taste was of the Kosciuszko Pale Ale. Named for the tallest mountain on the continent, Kosciuszko (pronounced cozzy-osco), was a solid beer with some notes of wheat. We will probably have to do a full snobby post on the differences between US and Australian beers, so I will refrain from going into further detail. The most important note from this beer experience is what Aussies call a pitcher of beer. It is not a pitcher, but a “jug” of beer. In our jet-lagged state we could not quite understand why everyone was talking about where to find the best priced jugs, but eventually got on the same page.
After dinner the tiredness of the past 36 hours of travel really started to take its toll. Jess helped us stumble to her car and we headed for Cherrybrook. I immediately fell asleep in the back seat and Laura attempted some mostly incoherent conversation with Jess during the drive back. We made it home and immediately crashed for the night.
The next morning we awoke from our hard jet-lagged sleep and were wedding weekend bound for Palm Beach, a gorgeous beach community about an hour or so from Sydney. Mark and Chris had arranged a beach house for everyone to stay in and what a place! We traversed a steep path up from the road to get to the stairway to the front door. The hike up was totally worth it, set on a hillside, the house had multiple balconies with lounges and amazing views of the Pacific.
Saturday was wedding day. We drove back to the church at Mona Vale for a lovely church wedding. It was then back to Palm Beach for the reception.
The reception was great, lots of friends and family, beautiful location and good food. Things were pretty similar to American weddings except for 3 rousing anthems played by the DJ. Just as “Yeah” by Usher feat. Lil Jon and Ludacris came to an end the mood in the room changed. One hundred Aussies converged upon the dance floor. Pounding synthetic drums, piano and then the chorus. Laura and my jaws dropped and we stared at each other wide-eyed like “What the F is this?” as the entire wedding crowd rocked out singing along to every word. It was our introduction to John Farnham and the 1987 Australian Recording Industry Association Single of the Year- “You’re the Voice”. Watching that music video will not do justice to our experience hearing the song for the first time, but it was similar to a “Dont’ Stop Believing” or “Tiny Dancer” sing along at an American wedding.
Next up came the Australian classic “Khe Sahn” by Cold Chisel. A song about a soldier struggling upon returning from Vietnam. While not the booming feel of “Born in the USA” it has a similar sound and subject matter. We were shocked to hear yet another song that everyone was singing along to that we did not know at all.
Finally the Daryl Braithwaite ballad, “Horses”. I had actually heard the song before on the wildly popular Kenny Loggins album, “Return to Pooh Corner”. The song and wedding crescendoed to an ending with the bride and groom lifted in the air and everyone waiving their hands together in unison.
If you want to follow along with all of our musical discoveries this year follow our “Legally Bound to Wander” Playlist here on Spotify.
“It’s a dangerous business…going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” J.R.R. Tolkein
Even with a significant amount of planning, the initial act of getting out our door did not go as smoothly as planned. Our first day of travels was also our last day in our apartment. The day before our departure, we realized how much crap we still had to get rid of. The little stuff is always the most annoying to deal with! We stayed up late cleaning the place and throwing stuff out. We woke up early and continued tossing things and setting some items out next to the dumpster for any potential scavengers (our coffee table and lamps were already picked up by the time we left). It was a race against the clock as my cousin, Jess, was arriving at 6:45am to take us to the airport.
Jess arrived and graciously helped us finish throwing out the last of our junk and packing up the two boxes she would be storing for us for the next (hopefully) year. We snapped a quick picture and our journey was officially underway.
Thus began a long 36 hours of travel to get to our first destination. Using our Southwest points we had booked free flights to LA, but we were also stuck with about 12 hours in LA before our flight left at 11:30pm.
Fortunately for us, our friends Alyssa and Matt live in the Westwood neighborhood of LA, not too far from LAX. Alyssa and Matt invited us to come and hang out at their place for the afternoon so we could avoid a day at the airport. We took a Lyft from LAX and found ourselves in a picturesque LA neighborhood. So picturesque in fact that we were in the middle of a commercial. The US Postal Service decided to shoot a commercial on their block that very same day. Could not have asked for a more LA situation.
We unloaded our gear and recognized how hungry we were. On advice from Alyssa, we headed down to an LA staple, the Apple Pan. You walk into Apple Pan and seem to go back in time. A rectangular counter surrounds a grill top and “kitchen”. Three men in white aprons and paper hats run around taking orders and grilling burgers. We were not prepared. The guy taking orders came over and wanted to know what we would like. We had not seen a menu and despite looking a bit annoyed he handed us a couple menus. It was easy to see why he was a bit frustrated with us. There were 5 items on the menu. We made quick choices and waited all of 2 minutes for our food. The burgers were delicious, with a nice relishy special sauce.
We finished up our burgers and headed back for the house. We relaxed for the rest of the day until Alyssa came home. We caught up over a beer then went and met Matt for dinner at one of their favorite little Mexican spots. We ate, picked up our bags and Alyssa was nice enough to drive us to the airport.
We boarded the plane and at 11:30pm we were on our way. The adventure had finally begun.