Seeing Stockholm Sweden in 24 Hours

Because I planned my Nordic adventure on short notice, some tough decisions had to be made with regards to itinerary. Probably the most notable was that I would only have 24 hours in Stockholm – devastating news when I first learned it. But fear not, readers. I am always up for a challenge! And looking back, I am extremely proud of what I accomplished with one day in Stockholm to see the sights. Tighten your shoelaces because it’s one heck of a pavement-pounding kind of day!

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I walked 22kms and took nearly 30,000 steps to see Stockholm in a day. It was SO worth it! Here’s what went down…
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As the Viking Line cruise ship entered Sweden and ultimately Stockholm, there were thousands of islands to enjoy along the way. It was the perfect welcoming party.
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After a quick drop of the bag at my hotel near Centralen station, I hit the ground. A brisk walk past the northern end of Kungsträdgården and through Berzelii Park fit naturally in the plan.
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For my bear brethren: a statue of bears biting each other. Ouch.
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It was a spectacularly gorgeous day to stroll down the Strandvägen and check out the moored boats.
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The architecture along Strandvägen feels like falling back in time. What stood out most for me was the sharp peaks and spires of the buildings.
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I walked across the Djurgårdsbron (the Djurgården Bridge) en route to my first real stop. Many of the museums are located on the island of (you guessed it) – Djurgården!
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Seriously, this town. So picturesque at every turn. Another view from Djurgården Bridge looking toward the Strandvägen. Check out those spires!!!

After the initial hike from hotel to Djurgården island, I went excitedly to the first (and on my must-see-Stockholm list, most important) museum I would see on this leg of my journey. The Vasa Museum! It’s so worth popping over to Wikipedia and reading about The Vasa as the story of the ship is a lesson of patience over pride. Some of the highlights I learned during my guided tour include: the ship is about 95% original from its maiden-cum-final voyage in 1628, she was the first ever ship to have as much weight of shot capacity from a single side driven by her dual gun deck, she remained underwater for 333 years and her demise was ultimately caused by poor, top-heavy design that would have taken exceedlingly minor adjustments to prevent. Tragic…but what a sight. Click or tap on the images to read more.

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Following the Vasa Museum, I strolled along toward the south to my next destination. Seeing the Sweden flags blowing in the breeze of a beautiful day? Just perfection!

I couldn’t visit Stockholm without seriously enhancing my gay cred with a stop by ABBA: The Museum. Is it cheesy? Yes, a bit. Is it tacky? Yes, quite so. Is it worth every penny? YES! If you even remotely enjoy ABBA’s music, you’ll find this museum quite entertaining and exceptionally educational on the real history of the group. I spent over an hour absorbing background details I never knew. Feel free to click or tap on the images below for captions that share a bit more info!

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After the ABBA museum, I walked back north along the island through the green parks of Djurgarden.
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I’ve learned that I can’t mentally handle more than 1-2 museums per day, and by now I was already tapped out. (I couldn’t get the Vasa out of my mind!) So, sadly, I didn’t enter The Nordic Museum on this visit, even though I heard wonderful things about it. If you don’t like ABBA, it would be easy to swap this one in. 😉
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For my stroll back along Strandvagen, this time I took the tree-lined path to try and get out of the sun for a bit.
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It’s an odd but frequent pattern for me that I’m in major cities randomly on their important holidays. Today was no different. It was June 6 and therefore…National Day of Sweden! Everyone was with their friends and family, lounging in the parks and enjoying the crazy beautiful weather.
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I made my way along to Skeppsholmen – the island to the west of Djurgården. This one has really spectacular views of Gamla Stan specifically and the ample waterfront.
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Along the Skeppsholmsbron (the bridge connecting to Skeppsholmen) are some of the best views of the city. Including…
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…this famous spot right here! This is the Guilded Crown on Skeppsholmsbron, a must-see marker. Of course it’s great for selfies but don’t forget to take a few minutes and focus on the views all around you.
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I walked all the way to Kastellholmen and turned around to head back toward the city. Although I had to walk swiftly past the northern end of Kungsträdgården earlier in the day, I was able to take in this view from the southern end during the afternoon. So pretty!
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After my epic morning and early afternoon, I headed back to my hotel to reset and refresh. Plus, I wanted to save Gamla Stan for the later afternoon and ensure lots of nice, long shadows in my photos. En route to my hotel, I walked around the Church of Saint Clare, which had very nice churchyard.
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After a brief respite, I was back on the town and ready to see what is arguably the most famous section of Stockholm: Gamla Stan (“Old Town”). It’s on the island Stadsholmen and has been around since the 13th century.
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Gamla Stan is known for it’s architecture, shops and restaurants – it’s a lot like gothic districts you can see in many European towns. I love these districts because they give you a bit of a medieval vibe and are perfect for low-key, destination-unknown meandering.
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Cool arched-tunnel, check. Winding cobblestone alley, check. If I were a ghost, I would haunt this spot right here.
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Gamla Stan is super famous as a whole but Stortorget (large square) in the center of the neighborhood is by far the most iconic spot, hands-down. Not only is it full of beautifully vibrant buildings but also known for a massacre that happened in the early 1500s called the Stockholm Bloodbath.
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I sat down at the adorable Chokladkoppen restaurant for a light dinner and a much-needed local brew. Mostly, though, it was time to plot out my remaining time in Stockholm as the day was getting long and I needed to prioritize!
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I’m pretty sure this is just an attractive outhouse. But you should probably pay more attention to the spire of Storkyrkan in the background – it’s the oldest church in Gamla Stan.
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Definitely don’t miss out on the opportunity to walk down Mårten Trotzigs Gränd which I happened to stumble upon with no prior research. It’s the narrowest street in Stockholm at just 35 inches (90cms) wide at one point!
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Upon leaving Gamla Stan, I decided to add on one huge additional leg to the journey. I contemplated turning back and just calling it a day, but a few more sights were calling to me and I was powerless to resist. So, I headed south to Södermalm and walked the cobblestone streets.
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In this part of the city – and if you’re a fan of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series – you can walk past where they filmed Mikael Blomkvist’s penthouse for the movie adaptations.
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And just a little more to the west here, you can walk up a semi-hidden path to the incredible Mariaberget observation area. From this raised vantage point, you get to look north toward Stockholm and take in the entire city.
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After spending some time at Mariaberget, I continued to head west down the path, past Ivar Los Park and popped out along the Söder Mälarstrand. I walked this stretch for nearly 2kms, enjoying the waterfront views of the city in this very quiet part of town.
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At the far west end of the city proper, I arrived at Västerbron – a 600m long bridge stretching over Riddarfjärden with a very convenient footpath.
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Once off the bridge, I cut through Riddarfjärden which was absolutely spilling over with people celebrating the National Day. From there, I walked the entire length of the Norr Mälarstrand, this time enjoying views south and lots of floating cocktail bars. Ultimately, I arrived at a structure which I had been eye-balling the entire day but didn’t know what it was. And it was probably one of my favorite of the whole experience: Stockholms Stadshus (Stockholm City Hall). The courtyard was so eerie and peaceful.
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Outside the Stadshus, I saw this little guy nesting in a flower pot. Pretty decent camouflage, buddy.
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I learned that the Stockholm City Hall is an example of national romanticism architectural style of and gets utilised for all kinds of government and public events. The most notable? The Nobel Prize banquet, of course! Inside within the Blue Hall it occurs – I didn’t get to see the space as it was so late in the day but I imagine it’s spell-binding.
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One last view of Stockholm Stadshus as I walked away. I couldn’t get enough of this structure and especially the shadow the golden statue was casting along the tower.
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So there you have it! As I mentioned at the start of this post, I ended up walking 22kms but am beyond thankful that I didn’t ease up. I saw a decent majority of the sights within the pink circle above which exceeded the expectations I set for myself at the beginning of the day. Let’s just say, I slept soooooooo well this evening.

And there you have it, people. If you have just one day to see Stockholm, you really can bite off a huge chunk of this gorgeous, historic city. You just need stamina, a passion for city sight-seeing, a willingness to keep searching down more winding alleys…and of course, lots of water and snacks! I hope you enjoyed my 24 hours in Stockholm. 🙂

Coming next: I tackled Copenhagen, Denmark in a single day as well. Stay tuned! XOXO -JW

Enjoying Two Days in Helsinki Finland

In June, I had an incredible – and fairly short notice – opportunity to explore the Nordic countries of Northern Europe. I obviously jumped at the chance to visit these locations and boarded a plane from Sydney to start the journey. It all kicked off with two days in Helsinki, the capital of Finland in the southern part of the country. Here’s what went down…

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My hotel for the first night was along the waterfront with a beautiful canal leading out to the sea. I got to Helsinki by the mid afternoon so I threw my stuff in the hotel room and immediately hit the town to start exploring.
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I walked south from the hotel toward the city center, passing some beautiful buildings along the way. This was the Bank of Finland. I’d store my money there!
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Ultimately, my first destination was the well-known Helsinki Cathedral (Helsingin tuomiokirkko) overlooking Senate Square. I had fantastic weather for this moment! Chilly but sunny and glorious. Yum.
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Sitting on the steps of Senate Square is the most quintessential thing you do in Helsinki, I reckon. Bring a coffee and just relax.
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From Senate Square, I continued south to the marina area called Market Square. The Havis Amanda statue is a key site here – she’s a mermaid with four sea lions around her and is meant to represent the rebirth of Helsinki in the early 1900s.
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I headed due west out to stroll along the Esplanadi, a narrow park that opened in 1812 and a lovely place to sit on a bench and people watch to your heart’s content.
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Although a major tourist spot, it was irresistible to me to give the Allas Sea Pool a plunge. Even though the air was crisp outside, the pools are heated and there are very large (and OMFG hot) saunas inside to warm up. I can’t emphasize enough how legit the sauna was – I could only handle a couple minutes at a time to prevent passing out. Finns are hardcore!
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I packed fairly intelligently for my Nordic tour by way of a single large backpack. A much better option than dragging a roly-bag all over Northern Europe. 😉 After my first day of exploring, it was time to grab the bag, check-out and relocate to my second hotel.
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The next hotel was located right in the marina and reached via a tree lined path.
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Marina views outside the hotel in the port of Helsinki.
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Market Square is known for it’s row of orange tented vendors, selling local foods, fruit and drinks. A nice spot to stroll around for a quick lunch bite!
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A bit of foreshadow: my transport to Stockholm for the following day was already in the port!
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I bought a Helsinki Card when I arrived, which gave me access to a really beautiful boat tour through the seas around the city. For about 2 hours we meandered past holiday homes, forested little islands and just generally lovely surroundings.
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Probably one of the cooler structures I saw during the boat tour. An amazing building and I believe primarily a restaurant these days.
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The highlight of the boat tour was a tight squeeze through a canal and under a super cute bridge between Tammisalo and Yliskyla islands.
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Contrasted to the peaceful Senate Square I had seen the day before, I happened to be in Helsinki on 4 June – Flag Day for the Finnish Defence Forces. This part of the city was absolutely packed now!
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After the boat ride, I did literally the most touristy thing imaginable – a bus tour. Now, I used to be super opposed to these but after Daniel opened my eyes to them in Barcelona, I totally appreciate their relevance. A super easy way to see city highlights and narrow down what you want to see up close! Although I didn’t join the fray, this was the Hietsu Flea Market. It’s a hot spot to visit during a Helsinki summer if you’re in to shopping (which I, sadly, am not).

I hopped off the bus at the Sibelius Monument, a beautiful abstract art piece dedicated to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

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From Sibelius, I walked south through Topeliuksen Puisto, a quaint and quiet little park.
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At the southern end of Topeliuksen puisto, I was pretty astounded by Töölön Kirkko (Töölö Church), a Nordic classicism structure built in 1930. I found it oddly haunting.
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The destination ultimately was the remarkable Temppeliaukion Kirkko, situated in the center of a residential area.
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The Temppeliaukion Church is literally built in to the rock and somewhat underground. I didn’t have a ticket to enter the church on this day, so I had to just enjoy the exterior!
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The rock wall of the church – a pretty decent place to enjoy a good book.
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The Helsinki Central Railway Station was a shockingly gorgeous art nouveau structure. This photo doesn’t quite do it justice.
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I spent about an hour at Ateneum, the Finnish museum of art. It’s just the right size for a dose of beauty to fill the soul without feeling overwhelmed (like the Louvre).
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If you thought IKEA designed these chairs first, I just want to let you know: you’re wrong. 😉
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To wrap up this day in Helsinki, I climbed to the rooftop Ateljee Bar on the 14th floor of the Hotel Torni. It’s known for panoramic views of Helsinki and absolutely delivered!
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I asked the bartender to recommend something local and ended up with a crazy delicious Sinebrychoff Porter from a Finnish brewery.
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When traveling solo, sometimes the most awkward part is sitting at a bar alone having a drink. I say: screw that! You do you.
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A final view from Ateljee Bar. Here’s the insane part about this photo: it was about 11pm at night. Given I was so far north in Europe during the summer, I got to experience the ‘midnight sun’ where it basically never got fully dark in the evenings. The sun would disappear for a couple hours between 2-4am. So cool! But blackout shades are mandatory for sleep.
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On my way back to the hotel, I walked by Uspenski Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox structure built in the mid-1850s but modeled after a 16th century Russian cathedral.

For my last day in Helsinki, I considered just sleeping in and not fussing about seeing any more sights. But then the FOMO part of my brain fully took over, as it usually does, and I bounced out of bed for a few final hours of meandering! My destination for the morning was very focused: Suomenlinna, a sea fortress series of islands just a short ferry ride from Helsinki proper. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site originally known as Sveaborg when the Swedish built it in 1748 to protect against Russian expansion efforts. It’s a fantastic spot to explore, full of cobblestone streets taking you past tunnels, fortress walls and even a small city centre. There are about 900 people who live here year-round and it stopped being utilised as an actual fortress in the early 1970s. If I had to summarise my Helsinki visit and recommend a single, must-do it would most likely be Suomenlinna. I absolutely loved it. This was partially influenced by the fact that I was literally the first tourist to get there in the morning and had the entire place to myself. It made it a bit more eerie and remote feeling, which I prefer.

After Suomenlinna, it was time to make my way back to the hotel, grab the bag and check-in for the next leg of the journey: a cruise ship from Helsinki to Stockholm. When this transport was booked, I don’t know what I was envisioning. A quaint sort of ferry-like boat, perhaps? Instead, it was full-fledged cruise ship with restaurants, bar, night club…the whole shebang. I was LOLing as I walked around the ship checking out all the spots but honestly…I wouldn’t have swapped it for anything else in the world. It was a hilariously perfect way to transition from Finland to Sweden.

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After a few hours on the ocean, I got to enjoy some stunning view of the sea and sky as I officially waved goodbye to Finland behind me and looked toward Sweden.

So there you have it, lovely readers. 48 full hours in Helsinki completed, and I think I did a damn good job of exploring the heck out of the city. I wish I had extra time to get further outside of the capital and see more of Finland to formulate a broader view of the country, but that will have to be saved for a future holiday. Stay tuned for the next phase of the epic Nordic adventure coming soon: 24 hours in Stockholm, Sweden! XOXO -JW

Hiking Ben Lomond Track in Queenstown New Zealand

I’ve lived in Australia for over 16 months now and have visited New Zealand a couple of times (once for business in Christchurch and once touring around the NZ north island with friends, which was mind-blowing). But doing some kind of awe-inspiring hike in Queenstown has been my ultimate fixation….And. It. Finally. Happened. I flew to QT (local shorthand for Queenstown) for a weekend getaway and some much needed connection time with mother nature. I researched in advance and decided that the Ben Lomond Track would be the perfect hike for me. This couldn’t have been more true. The only trouble was, none of the content online about Ben Lomond Track seemed to provide a walk-through. I aim to change that right now! Here’s what went down…well…actually…what went ‘up’.

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In my research, I learned you could trim off an initial hour of the track by taking the Skyline Gondola from downtown Queenstown to the upper area. Given I wanted to ensure I could do the track in a single day, I took this option and started off on Saturday morning. It was $35 return for the gondola ride but ultimately, this proved to be worth every penny by the end of the day!
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Here I am, all rested with clean clothes and shoes. Smiling and ready to rock Ben Lomond Track! Compare this to the return gondola pic later and my nasty shoes. 😉
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Make sure and sit to the back of the Skyline Gondola on the way up (your back to the mountain), so you can enjoy one heck of a picturesque trip up. It probably took a total of 2 minutes and brings you up 450 metres.
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Clearly, the Queenstown gods knew there was a gay in town and conjured the first of several rainbows I got to enjoy on this day.
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When you exit the gondola, you walk outside, weave around the luge track and end up at the trailhead for Ben Lomond Track. You can’t miss it as it’s very clearly marked. At this point, it’s expected to take ~2.5 hours to get from here to the summit. I started from this point at exactly 8:00am on a Saturday according to my iPhone photo library timestamp. In my pack, I brought 2.5 litres of water, a snack and layers of clothes.
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After the initial, fairly flat hike through a pine forest for about 6-10 minutes, you’ll pop out on to the real track. This section of trail weaves around beautiful forested hills and progressively gains some altitude. Unfortunately, I only had today to attempt this hike so the fact that it was a foggy day would remain a theme.
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The views behind you toward Queenstown during this stage are without a doubt jaw-dropping. You should take them in…but also remember…you’ll be walking back this way on your return and looking straight at this view the whole time. So I suggest just powering ahead for now!
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The Ben Lomond Track is quite easy to follow and predominantly rocky, with a mixture of muddy patches. It’s pretty much uphill the entire way and requires a reasonably intense downward focus to ensure you don’t slip on rocks or miss your footing. There will occasionally be a pole with a yellow marker reminding you to stay on the track. You’ll intermittently share the track with the mountain bike trail – be sure to stay on the hiking trail and not accidentally veer onto the bike one at a few intersections.
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You’ll get to this exciting sign as you get near the Ben Lomond saddle – which is essentially the lower crest of the mountain. It took me until 8:53am (53 minutes from start) to get to this point, which seems a bit ahead of the expected pace of ~90 minutes. Please keep in mind, I really enjoy uphill climbs and tend to muscle through them. And my CrossFit training doesn’t hurt. (Sorry, I know some of you just gagged after reading that but it’s true…this track is surprisingly challenging and you should be well aware of your fitness level before you jump in. Always a wise choice!)
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About 5 minutes uphill after the previous sign, you’ll make it to the iconic Ben Lomond bench at the saddle. On a clear day, the views are spectacular at this point (or so I’m told…Laugh/Cry). My research says a lot of people actually choose to stop at this point, enjoy the panoramas and then head back. A totally viable option! Just not for me. #MustKeepGoing
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When I got to the saddle, I was immediately greeted by this incredible Kea bird. They are an endangered, native New Zealand species and the only known alpine parrot on Earth. I didn’t know this until after I got back down from the mountain and did some Googling – so you can imagine my surprise when I got up here and a f’n parrot popped out to say hi. It was hysterical. I hung out with him for a few minutes and tried to strike up a conversation. Keas are known to be extremely intelligent, which you totally can sense when they look at you. It felt like this guy was just as interested in me as I in him! Check out the video below for our time together…the main thing to watch for in the video is the two flashes of gorgeous red feathers that they have underneath their wings. Stunning! (Also, I think the Kea is my new spirit animal.)
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Once you peel yourself away from the saddle bench (and any new alpine parrot friends), the real work begins. You will be pushing hard for the next hour to get to the peak. I did this hike in late May and it’s about this point on the track where the snow started to show up a bit more noticeably. Oh, and the ice. But don’t let that stop you! Just an element you need to factor in to your pre-hike planning.
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Given that the day was so cloudy, I was managing my expectations along the way. But I happened to have one stroke of luck for which I am eternally grateful. About 15 minutes after I left the saddle bench, the sky briefly cleared and the clouds parted. I took this opportunity to quickly capture the inspiring view Ben Lomond track is known for: a perfect visual of The Remarkables mountain range. They give you the ever-important nudge in the side reminding you that you are a tiny, tiny speck. That humbling feeling is something we all need to have more often.
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I read on the Internet that to prove you actually went somewhere, you’re supposed to show your huge face in the photo rather than just the amazing landscape. So here’s me, my unkempt beard and some mountains.
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At 9:24am, this exact moment right here made the entire hike up to this point worth it. I could have looked at this view all day. Sadly, the clouds swirled and settled back in a few minutes later.
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10 more minutes up the track and the rock scramble starts to materialize. There will be moments where you will have to use your hands – not just feet – to maneuver through this area. Again, please know this before you start the track! It’s not terrifying or anything like that but you do have to be willing to ‘dig in’ a bit and have some fun here. 🙂
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And the reward. A successful climb to the summit of Ben Lomond by 9:54 am (1 hour 54 minutes in total). The clouds never fully lifted but this amazing rainbow kept trying to push its way through the haze. It was kind of spectacular. The rainbow maintained perfect arching form but never delivered any color. For me, this made the summit special. Even without famous view of The Remarkables.
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In addition to the giant rainbow, there was also this small halo rainbow that was radiating as the sun played off the summit peak. My philosophy in life is that we should strive to be glass-half-full, and this was one of those moments where you could get bummed out that it wasn’t perfect conditions OR you could choose to focus on how absolutely wonderful nature is. Your choice. For me, I choose positivity.
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This represents just about the clearest moment I got during my time at the summit. The quiet and calm up here coupled with the air quality…I’m relaxed just thinking about it as I write.
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I spent about 30 minutes at the summit before heading back down. This is where I want to emphasize the BIGGEST CAUTION for those with less hiking experience. The initial 10 minutes climb down was tough and very slow-going – this was because of the ice. If you go in the height of summer, it’s probably less of an issue. For me in late autumn, however, I had to take it carefully and had several moments where I nearly lost footing. So take it easy on the descent, people! There’s no rush. By 10:54am I had made it past the worst of the slippery bits and beyond the rock scramble back on the main track.
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Along the saddle, there is a valley to your left as you descend (on your right during ascend) that is so damn pretty. Take a moment and enjoy this. You’ll want to run down the slope and spin around and stuff, but you probably should fight that urge.
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In fact, take more than a moment. Sit down and breathe it in. You can see the day started to warm up just a fraction, so I switched from winter cap to light cap and even brazenly unzipped my jacket a bit.
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The valley had this gorgeous flowing mist cascading through it, which made it all the more captivating.
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I definitely don’t want to deter anyone, but I took this pic to elucidate exactly how sloppy and slippery this track can get. At this point on the descent (so, imagine your body weight leaning forward and pulling you down the mountain) I was coping with a muddy ice mixture. It would have been very easy to wipe out. Make sure your shoes have grippy, textured soles. And although I’m generally against them for how idiotic and destructive people can be with them, hiking poles for sections like this would be quite useful.
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Like I said earlier, once you get back further down the track (it was 12:00pm sharp when I took this), you’ll be walking straight in to this fantastic view for about 20 minutes. In this shot, a rainbow ‘chunk’ was poking through the clouds in the upper right area. I thought it was so cool! Kind of felt like big, gay high-five from those Queenstown gods and goddesses.
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This photo made it to my Instagram because honestly…for me…this was the perfect blend of my favorite nature elements: pine trees, a trail, a lake, mountains, and fluffy white clouds set against a blue sky. JUST SLAY ME!
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The final stretch back through the pine forest is going to feel so relieving. You’ll be appreciating the flat ground sooooooooo much. The tendons and small muscles around my ankles were definitely speaking up at this point.
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And just like that – clocking in at 12:24pm with a roundtrip hike on the Ben Lomond Track of 4 hours 24 minutes, I completed it! I was sore, gross and muddy but it was worth every single step.
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Definitely take a moment at the top of the Skyline area before you take the gondola back to view Queenstown from this height. It’s one heck of a perfectly positioned town.
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And this is the aftermath of the hike I promised to show. Wearing my CrossFit shoes was a decent idea as I’m extremely comfortable in them and knew no blisters would form, but I would ultimately recommend a hiking boot to help with grip and avoid moisture.
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Along the hike, I drank a ton of water and had a single blueberry muffin at the summit. To say I scarfed this florentine and chugged this flat white when I got back down would be a massive understatement. Anyone watching me at this point probably had to turn away. 😉
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Back to my hotel and freshly showered, all I wanted to do was chill out and enjoy the view of Lake Wakatipu. Which is what I did. And then I ate again.
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The next day, with the sorest calf muscles I’ve ever experienced, I made my way to the Onsen Hot Pools in Queenstown. This, my lovely reader, is a MUST DO. You have a perfect hot pool all to yourself, but it’s the view that really warms your soul…
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…and here it is. While you soak for an hour, you also soak in this mountainous landscape and a direct view of the Shotover River. It’s next level idyllic. Check out the short video below to get the full panorama vibe.
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For the rest of the afternoon on Sunday after the hot pools, I lounged around and recovered from the hike. This included drinking several glasses of New Zealand pinot and eating cheese on my own. No shame.
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And after a fantastic weekend getaway to Queenstown, by Monday morning it was time to head back to Sydney. Make sure you get a window seat on your flight!!! You’ll see several minutes of this fab & unforgettable view.

So there you have it! I hope this post helps inspire you to get outside and go on a hike – of any level, be it easy or expert. And please add Queenstown and trekking the Ben Lomond track to your life list, my friends. It’s shockingly beautiful and so worth the calf pain. XOXO -JW

Meeting Family in London for the First Time

I had been interacting with Daniel’s family on their WhatsApp group chat for many, many months, which was a pretty decent way to get to know them. But, realistically, no digital interaction is going to be better than an in-person, face-to-face, wine-glass-in-hand experience. Thankfully, this finally happened in May! Here’s how some London sightseeing and – more importantly – meeting the family in London for the first time went…

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After our 10 day holiday in Spain, we flew on to London. Apparently, air traffic control was quite busy that day as we had to circle Heathrow twice before landing. It was a nice view the first time around…but then got a tad redundant.
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Daniel took me to see The One Tun, the pub his mum ran for nearly 30 years! He even lived there at one point. It’s located in the Saffron Hill / Farringdon area and has a very long history…the pub was even featured in Dickens’ Oliver Twist in 1838 as “The Three Cripples” I learned!
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We finally saw The Book of Mormon and my expectations were exceeded 100x. People had told me it was ‘inappropriate’ but I had no idea just how naughty it got. We nearly wee’d ourselves laughing. In a chance encounter, a previous colleague of his, Dustin, happened to be there, too! We had a quick drink with him after the show in the gayborhood at some bar that smelled funny to me.
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The next day (and at long last), I got to see The British Museum. For some reason on my previous visits to London, it just kept evading me…but not this time!
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The quantity and quality of Egyptian artifacts in The British Museum is totally mind-blowing. I do struggle, however, to be ‘ok’ with the idea of mummies on display. For gaining a deeper understanding of human history, I can get my head around it. But, ultimately, someone’s final resting place was disrupted. How weird would it be if your coffin were on display 3,000 years from now? A teensy bit bizarre, I imagine.

The rest of our British Museum visit was pretty much me aggressively hunting out any and all ancient pieces that included sea creatures to 1.) satisfy my life-long fascination with ocean life, particularly in art form and 2.) generate ideas for potential future body art. The above were some of my faves.

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After the museum, we met up with Daniel’s mum, Caroline, whom we hadn’t seen since she spent a month with us in Australia last spring. We had a lovely lunch and wine in Covent Garden followed by a leisurely afternoon stroll around the neighborhood together.
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That evening, Daniel and I took a taxi to Wapping and !!FINALLY!! met his family – first for a quick icebreaker drink at The Captain Kidd and then dinner at Il Bordello restaurant. Pictured from left to right: Jan, David, Joel, Georgina, Sophie, Aston (I think that was his name? He was super shy. LOL jokes, Ast), Caroline, Daniel and yours truly. It was one of those excellent meet & greets where conversation flowed seamlessly. It didn’t feel like a gauntlet or trial by fire or 20 questions – more of an immediate, welcoming seat at the family table. For that, I am thankful! (And I superrrrrrrrr hope I’m not 100% wrong here, drank too much, made a fool of myself and they’re all just too kind to tell me now!) 😉 After a huge meal, we relocated to David & Jan’s place for a ‘quick nightcap’, which in reality ended up being several extra bottles of wine (I *think*)…I can barely remember! All I know is I remember laughing a lot, so it must have been fun.
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Miraculously, we made it back to our hotel that night…and the following morning, Daniel and I took the bus from Portman Square up to Golders Green and transferred to the Northern train to Edgware.
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Our arrival in Edgware! The farthest north I’ve been within London’s boundaries.
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We spent the afternoon with Caroline and her mum (Daniel’s grandma), Maise. About halfway through the visit, her surprise arrived: a visit from Joel, Georgina and their wonderful boys Harley and Riley. Harley is literally one of the sweetest, most thoughtful kids I have ever met, and if Riley doesn’t end up a hotshot rugby player when he’s older, I’ll eat my hat. Or someone’s hat at least. A HAT WILL BE EATEN.

After our social visit with the family, Daniel and I met up that evening for dinner with his best friend of 20+ years, Tom. He’s hilarious, warm, lovely and honestly it’s not fair to refer to him as just a ‘friend of the family’ – he is 100% a family member. We had a fabulous visit with Tom and it made me smile seeing him and Daniel reminisce and catch-up. I’m extremely bummed as the three of us completely forgot to get a photo together! (Unacceptable, gents. Truly. Shame on us all.)

The next day, we met up with Daniel’s mum in Farringdon for a goodbye lunch before we headed back to LHR to board our flight. But before that, another perfectly lucky moment took place where I got to reunite with a good friend…

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Our visit lasted just 10 minutes but it was time well spent! Lovely to see you, Christina!!!

And that, lovies, is that. All told, I think it was a spectacular first visit with Daniel’s family (I almost typed ‘successful first visit’ but that made me gag as it sounds like I was on a business trip and won some new clients or something). We all got on brilliantly, and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity for some fam social time – wherever in the world it may be! XOXO -JW

10 Days Vacation in Barcelona and Sitges

I’ve been dreaming of a visit Spain since I was 11 years old. I was totally inspired by the knowledge that my Aunt Sue studied abroad there when she was in university in the 80s, and I spent a great deal of high school and college passionately learning Spanish (just a few credit hours short of a minor – damn!). So when Daniel and I opted for a non-scuba holiday in April and picked Spain as the destination, I was thrilled beyond words. We spent 10 days touring around Barcelona and Sitges, and now back home in Australia…all I have are wonderful things to say about the Catalonia region. Here’s the pictorial review of our 10 day vacation in Spain.

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We flew from Sydney to Dubai and Dubai to Barcelona. All told, about 23 hours in the air.
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We watched the sun rise over the Mediterranean on our 1st full day in Barcelona. Jet lag wake up!
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We happened to be in Barcelona on Diada de Sant Jordi. The city was totally buzzing! Boys give girls roses and girls give boys books on this day. Although, I’m not in to gender norms. 😉
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This was bizarre and amazing in all the right ways. Future inspiration for a tattoo perhaps?
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The Arc de Triomf in Barcelona – a stone’s throw from the neighborhood we stayed in.
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El Passatge Sert was an adorable passage connecting two main streets. Lovely to stroll through but only open certain hours of the day.
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Our AirBnB in Barcelona was on Carrer Monec right in the heart of the El Born district. I can’t imagine staying in any other district now that we’ve done this one…
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Right out front of our AirBnB was el Passatge Sert. There’s an amazing coffee shop called Nomad in there! But as you can see, the doors were shut this time of day. 😛
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I became semi-obsessed with doors in Spain. You’ll see notice the theme throughout this posting…
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El Born selfie!
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Palau de la Música Catalana was at the end of our street in El Born. It’s a stunner.
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We decided to do an open top bus tour on day one to acclimate to the city. It was a great way to take in some of the key architecture. This was Torre Glories (formerly Torre Agbar). Reminded me of The Gerkin in London!
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St. Jordi day brought out the masses. It was complete insanity! OMG!
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Daniel getting a tan in the top of the bus – at least we were up above the crowds! Yikes!
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Try as I may, I could never fully capture how amazing the streets were in El Born. This is probably the closest I came visually.
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Our AirBnb was perfect for our needs. A pretty large studio and immaculately clean.
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Daniel testing out the couch.
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Two thumbs up for AirBnB!
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Our host, Raimundo, gave us a wonderful overview of the neighborhood and made loads of recommendations for food and drink.
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The view out of our balcony.
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“Lolea” became such a fixture for us during our holiday. Not only do they make amazing Sangria – they bottle it and sell it around town.
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Palau de la Música at night.
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We decided to play it smart with ‘no excuses’ and did 5 days of CrossFit in Barcelona. We picked CrossFit Eixample and had a really great experience! Daniel did his first full week of CF and I was super impressed. 🙂
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Casa Lolea – literally 6 steps away from our AirBnB – became our favorite cafe in all of Barcelona. Breakfast, dinner….you name it and they do it flawlessly. They are also the makers of the sangria I mentioned earlier.
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Antoni Gaudi and Barcelona pretty much go hand-in-hand. What I did not expect, however, is that Antoni was such a handsome fella in his youth! Woof!
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Casa Milà AKA “La Pedrera” is one of the best known Gaudi buildings in BCN. Beautiful wavy lines…but apparently the locals did not love it when it was first built. Hence “La Pedrera” means “the open quarry” LOL
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Plaça de Catalunya is a beautiful – albeit super mega touristy – plaza in Barcelona. If you do the ride-on open top bus, you pick it up near here!
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We also did the mandatory La Rambla (or Las Ramblas as some call it). We were warned in every guidebook and every article online to be careful of pickpockets so we were on high alert! Nothing happened of course. It’s a cute, tree-lined street full of vendors trying to sell tourists stuff they really don’t need. 😉
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Daniel has this uncanny sense of internal GPS – it’s really impressive. He remembered exactly where to turn and when so we could pop in to the Mercat de la Boqueria. This was a must-see!
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If I had to summarize why I love Barcelona so much….it would be easy to say the architecture, the proximity to the sea, the people…but honestly for me, I would probably have to say it’s the €3 cones of Manchego cheese! (You think I’m joking??)
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Just more mercat gloriousness – I really wanted to spill these baskets because they were so damn pretty! Is that odd?
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Plaça Portal de la pau with the Monumento a Cristoforo Colombo at the top. He’s pointing West as this monument is in honor of his return after ‘visiting’ the Americas (as we all know by now he certainly didn’t ‘discover’ them). #HistoryLesson
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Looking toward Museu Marítim from Rambla de Mar.
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We made our way to La Barceloneta neighborhood – a cute, village-y part of town that’s known for restaurants, seafood, sandy beaches and nightlife. We found an amazing restaurant called Somorrostro and had a leisurely late lunch with both the sea air and wine flowing.
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This was my first ever real paella. It was delicious…but just between us squirrelfriends, holy hell it was WAY too much work to enjoy. And honestly I just can’t eat shrimp that aren’t properly deveined in advance. I know that sounds a bit princessy of me but this is my blog and I get to keep it 100% real here.
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A beautiful door looking directly across the street from Somorrostro.
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I swear I only had one glass of wine at lunch before I took this picture. Although I thought it would be artsy, I wish I had just taken it straight on. (I’m too lazy right now to edit it.) Long story short: this is a view along La Barceloneta with the Hotel Arts in the background and the renowned Peix sculpture (it’s a giant goldfish!).
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This quirky structure is la Torre de les Aigües…I think. When I Google it, it’s a bit hard to confirm. No matter…it looks like a Renaissance Fair and I love it!
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We popped in to Estació de França to take a look at the art nouveau architecture. Totally didn’t disappoint! What a ceiling.
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Ugh…not another “I’m leaning on a mammoth” photo! Like, haven’t we seen enough of this exact photo on social media???
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My favorite dual selfie couple pic from the entire vacation. Here we are in Parc de la Ciutadella with the really intriguing Cascada Monumental behind us. Honestly, one of the coolest monuments I’ve ever seen.
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Another door that made me stop and go “cool!”
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Although everyone is forbidden from taking photographs inside the Picasso Museum, this is one of its quaint courtyard with the perfect beam of light poking through. We spent about 2 hours meandering through the museum and it will dramatically open your eyes to the incredible array of styles Picasso was capable of painting in – not just the Cubism works for which he is most known!
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Fun fact: back when Barcelona was “Barcino” nearly 2,000 years ago, it was completely walled-in. There are sections of the wall from the 4th century AD still intact.
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I loved this shot because I think it perfectly captured the Gothic district balance of old vs. ‘new’.
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Cathedral of Barcelona – stunning, gothic, 13th century. We didn’t go inside but I wish we had!
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Another door but honestly…would you have walked by this lushly green one without snapping a pic?
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No photo could adequately capture this little miniature plaza. I tried. I don’t think I succeeded, but I’ll forever remember how much I loved this spot.
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Eating Spanish tapas is my favorite way to eat any kind of meal – I’d rather have lots of bites of tons of different things and that is just commonplace for dining here. We were back again at Casa Lolea, which I think it’s safe to say was our favorite meal in BCN. Oh, and more sangrrrria.
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I know…two food pics back-to-back. Not my normal approach but really, the breakfast we had at Al Asur cafe (a chain…gasssssp) was so damn photogenic.
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We had our first dreary day in Barcelona and it happened to be the same day as our journey up to Park Güell, Gaudi’s whimsical escape in the northern part of the city. It’s kind of like if you took Charlie & The Chocolate Factory but removed all of the candy and replaced it with mosaic tiles. 🙂
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You’ve gotta respect the tile work here…how long did this take?
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The very famous “El Drac” fountain. So famous, in fact, that I would say it’s statistically impossible to capture a picture of the lizard solo without a human standing near it.
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There’s no way I’m going to remember the name of this little bar/cafe but we had delicious sandwiches here while we waited for our ticketed entry time at La Sagrada Familia.
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La Sagrada Familia: towering masterpiece of Gaudi. One façade depicts the Passion and the other the Nativity. The third is the Glory and is under construction.
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Construction on La Sagrada Familia has been ongoing since 1883 and is expected to be completed in 2026. That’s 143 years but when you look at the church close-up and all of its minutiae you can kind of understand. And honestly, I think I was on hold with United Airlines customer service longer than that once.
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Requisite Jesus on the cross. Part of me thinks they shouldn’t have put him under such a fancy umbrella though…
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The stained-glass windows will absolutely blow your mind. Not going to minimize or avoid hyperbole here – they were incredible.
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We did the audio tour whilst walking around and the most amazing thing I learned was that Gaudi’s design for the columns was meant to be trees and their branches. For some reason, knowing he created La Sagrada Familia with such an earthy / organic approach made me 1.) respect him even more and 2.) appreciate the design more as well.
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INSERT [“Requisite hyperbole.”]
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The Passion Façade was designed by Gaudi but the actual sculpting on this side was done by Josep Subirachs starting in 1987.
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An honest sign. Again…SO proud of him!!! He rocked it.
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We had dinner at Elsa y Fred (highly recommend!) and also had a special guest join us…
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…Mary Hadley from my Ritz-Carlton days! She was in town on a business trip and managed to squeeze in dinner with us and a brief walk around town. We were very lucky to get to reconnect with her in Barcelona of all places!
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The next morning, we hopped on the train from Barcelona to Sitges and 45 minutes later…voila! We arrived. This town is SO DAMN CUTE. Situated right along the Mediterranean and full of shops, amazing restaurants and great bars all along perfect little streets. Happy/Sigh.
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The view from our Sitges AirBnB certainly did not disappoint.
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Usually, I’m not a fan of non-stop boutique shops but there’s something special about it in Sitges. We popped in to several over the course of our time here.
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The Parròquia de Sant Bartomeu i Santa Tecla is probably the best known architectural spot in Sitges. This is a cathedral right along the sea and the beach…even I would go to church here!
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My mermaid fairy godmother anointing me and teaching me how to breathe underwater, without scuba gear. Took her long enough.
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Sunny Sitges selfie #1!
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Loved the winding streets and views like this one.
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I refuse to apologize for my door fetish on this trip. Look at this one!
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And this one! Tell me you wouldn’t want this on the front of your house??
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This sums up Sitges in a single photograph if you ask me. The view toward Platja de Sant Sebastià is perfection.
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Cafe culture game is STRONG in Sitges. We plopped down here, had tapas, drank wine and people-watched to our heart’s content.
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Sunny Sitges selfie #2!
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Now this door is really just a shout-out to my youth spent in front of the beloved SNES. (I’ve got nothin’ but love for you Mario & Yoshi!)
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One of the reasons we added Sitges to our Spain holiday was the opportunity to enjoy International Bear Weekend during our stay. Bears from all over the world come spend a long weekend socializing in the extremely bear-friendly town of Sitges. They even have a bar called “Bears Bar” which you can see in the distance. I think I consumed more alcohol in the ensuing 4 days than I usually would in 4 months…
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Social Sitges selfie! My second favorite dual selfie of the trip.
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I think I put this on my Instagram with the caption “Vignette du mer” and that still sums it up.
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Awwwwww he’s adorable. 🙂 This was dinner at what ultimately became our absolute favorite restaurant in Sitges – La Picara! Daniel taught our lovely server how to make a Lemon Lime Bitters, which is an Aussie staple. She said they are going to add it to the menu!
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I’m posting this pic because my arms look big.
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I promise this is the last door pic. It’s just so delightfully blue!
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If the previous pic of San Sebastian beach summarizes Sitges sea-side perfectly, I think this does a great job of revealing the cool cobblestone streets you can explore.
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Very  much recommend a meal at Big Al’s in Sitges if you get a chance….they serve ‘American Style’ food and TBH they have it figured out. That was damn good ranch dressing!
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International Bear Weekend was a total blast. We made new friends from all over the globe. This pic alone has representation from UK, Australia, Germany, America, and Belgium. Such lovely people!
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Our final meal at 33 Sitges fusion kitchen. The food was a bit pricier than other places but worth the extra charge! If you had to pick between here and La Picara, though, I’d say LP wins it!

And there you have it! 10 days of holiday in Spain. I simply cannot wait to go back. I think that’s what makes me feel so happy about Spain – as soon as we were leaving, I already wanted more. That’s a good sign that you love a location!

After we wrapped up Spain, we hopped on a plane and jetted off to London so I could finalllllllllllllly meet Daniel’s extended family. That post is next up and coming very soon, my darlings! XOXO -JW

Enjoying a Long Weekend Away in Byron Bay

I’ll warn you wayyyyyy in advance here that this post is going go be a bit bohemian and new age-y. There’s going to be talk of mysticism and connectedness to nature…as well as a healthy dose of clothing-optional beach imagery (all cleverly and respectfully edited for the purposes of keeping my blog G-rated). So if you’re up for this potentially eye-rolling experience,  please read along. And if you’re not, don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone if you read it anyways. 😉 We now begin the story of a long weekend away in Byron Bay.

But first, some background…if you live in NSW Australia for a while, you will soon hear tell of “Byron Bay” as a must-see location. The more you research Byron Bay, however, the more you learn that it’s known as a bit of a hippy-dippy, ‘no worries-esque’ beach bastion where people set up camp (literally/figuratively) and kind of drift away in to one heck of an easy-going quality of life. Clearly, as I tickle the greying fringes of mid-life, this sounded right up my alley. So I’ve had an awareness of Byron Bay for many months now but no real formalised plans to visit. Back track to November (and cue the mystical music) during our phenomenal week of SCUBA diving the Philippines with DFL, Daniel and I met an incredible diver and new DFLer, Zan. Turns out, when Zan isn’t trying to rescue sea turtles in the Philippines, she hails from Byron Bay, so we immediately started cooking up a plan to visit and do some diving there. We ultimately picked a date in mid February as that fit everyone’s schedules and voila (zip the frames forward a bit), here is where the story truly begins.

Daniel and I arrived in Byron on a Friday morning after a zippy, 50-minute flight from Sydney. We had a glorious, 4-day weekend getaway booked rather than trying to cram in to something shorter. The plan was simple: do some diving with Zan on Friday afternoon and Saturday and then enjoy the rest of the time plucking around Byron as an extended surface interval. We were radiating with excitement about diving Byron Bay as it’s quite unique to Australia and the world in general. There is an ocean confluence of warm and cool waters that takes place at a famous dive site, Julian Rocks. At this random rock formation, the location teems with creatures that you would normally not see in Australian waters but rather across the wider Asia-Pacific waters, in general. If you’re on the main beach in Byron, you’re looking straight at Julian Rocks offshore:
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Sadly, none of these diving dreams would come to pass! The ocean was extremely rough with large, soul-crushing swells that resulted in all SCUBA diving being canceled for the whole weekend. We were disappointed but in Aussie fashion, we went with the flow and reconstructed an entirely new plan!

Friday became walking around Byron Bay, relaxing for a bit on the beach in some stunningly bright sun (whilst observing the visiting Irish getting cooked alive), checking in to our perfectly quaint Byron AirBNB, getting some deep-tissue massages and then a drive up to the Cape Byron Bay Lighthouse with Zan and partner Akkadia for jaw-dropping views perched upon Australia’s most easterly point. After that, we had delicious craft cocktails and a lovely dinner at The Roadhouse, one of Z&A’s fave local spots.
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We woke on Saturday with a singular goal in mind: go to the beach and bum around in the sun and sand for the day. Turns out, this is exceptionally easy to pull-off in Byron! We hopped in the car after a quick breakfast at The Top Shop cafe (conveniently attached to our AirBNB) and headed south out of town to Kings Beach – a popular, secluded and clothing optional beach. We spent the rest of the morning lounging on the beach and sunning parts of our bodies that rarely get exposure to UV rays. Whilst relaxing, (cue that mystical music again), we ended up hitting it off with a fellow traveller, Luke. He was spending some time in Byron whilst on a holiday from his work as a paramedic. We bonded pretty immediately with Luke and ended up chatting away the afternoon and hanging out for the rest of the weekend. Before we knew it, it was time to wrap up our beach day and head back in to Byron to meet Z&A at their house in the hinterlands for some dinner and drinks.
IMG_4027IMG_4032The winding drive from Byron Bay proper to their gorgeous home offered some seriously wow-factor views. We had climbed upward out of the flatlands and could look back from the road straight down to the ocean and lighthouse far in the distance. It was a view worthy of pulling the car over and snapping some pics!
IMG_4043IMG_4047Zan and Akkadia then hosted us to perfection at their wonderful home surrounded by private, lush forest. We sipped wine, had great conversation and some seriously impressive tagine cooked by Akkadia. We bid them adieu, knowing we would see them a few weeks later in Sydney for Mardi Gras!IMG_4050IMG_4056
Sunday was a slightly more adventurous version of Saturday. We decided it was another day for exploring various water and beach spots but this time we headed north out of Byron Bay toward Tyagarah Nature Reserve to go take a dip in the restorative tea tree lake. The water of the lake is stained a reddish-brown from all of the tea trees that surround it – and tea tree oil is known to be a popular remedy for all kinds of ailments – so the idea of jumping in to an entire lake of healing oils is probably the closest we can all get to a fountain of youth! The water was warm and you could see the coloration on your skin as you treaded about. I certainly won’t claim it shaved any years off my life but it was one of those impossible-to-pass-up opportunities that I’ll remember forever. It’s one of those places that reminds you everything nature has to offer and how important it is to go connect and be part of it.
IMG_4058After the medicinal skinny dip in Tyagarah lake, we continued down the road to Tyagarah beach, yet another clothing optional location in the Byron area. At this point in the journey, you start to wonder why anyone wears clothes here at all. It seems the better option would be to just isolate a 20km radius around Byron and call it what it clearly wants to be – a giant nudist colony! 😉 The beach at Tyagarah was unquestionably one of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen. It reminded me a bit of 7-mile beach in Grand Cayman, except delete all the resorts and entirely replace them with natural surroundings and beauty. The water here was also strangely warm compared to the waters of Byron Bay just 4KMs south. IMG_4068IMG_4071IMG_4076We didn’t stay too long at Tyagarah as we had not planned for the extreme sun exposure on that beach – seriously, if you decide to go there, bring umbrellas or beach tents to ensure you don’t roast. Even though we were fully covered in SPF 50+, I knew it wouldn’t take too long to get lobstered out there. So we opted for the final beachy plan for the day – return to Kings Beach to lounge in the shaded sun!IMG_4081After our trio of unclad locales, it was time to get draped and head in to Byron Bay proper for some beers and dinner. We ended up at Balcony and sat out on the umm…balcony…to enjoy our meal. After that, we had a stroll along the beach to watch the sun set and take in our last evening of Byron’s magic. There were all kinds of people hanging about, listening to music, running around on the sand…it honestly boggles my mind that this place exists and likely rinses & repeats this same scenario on a daily basis. It’s a vibe. It’s a thing. It’s just…Byron!
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Oh hello, fine reader. Did you make it this far? If so, bravo to you! You have what many seem to have lost in recent years: an attention span. 😉 So now it’s time for a little bit of a surprise to wrap up the story of our Byron Bay weekend.

On Saturday night after Zan and Akkadia’s, Daniel and I got back late to our AirBNB around 1130pm and parked the car under a full moon. Two seconds later we were greeted by a friendly, tongue & tail-wagging black labrador who came bounding out of the dark. We petted him for a moment and laughed at how good-natured he was, he jumped up on me at one point and I distinctly remember feeling a collar…he followed us toward the entrance to the AirBNB but ultimately he took off to go frolic joyfully in the moonlight. We didn’t think too much of it, although I thought it a bit curious (and too laid back, even for Byron Bay) to just let your dog roam freely in the evening. So you can imagine my horror when I saw the below on Monday morning as we were getting ready to drive to the airport.
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I cannot fathom the agony of having a lost pet, so I dropped a text to the contact listed in the sheet. Fear not, gentle reader, it’s a happy ending for this lucky guy. Turns out, he had already been found and the signs were in need of removal. (It was awesome to meet you, Bailey! Now don’t follow the lure of the full moon anymore, buddy.)
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And that is how we concluded our lovely, mostly disrobed, entirely gorgeous long weekend getaway in Byron Bay. I can confidently say we became experts of the various beaches there but until we get back and under the water of Julian Rocks, I shall remain restless….thanks for reading and hope you have a fantastic day! XOXO -JW

Hiking from Heathcote to Kangaroo Creek, Uloola Falls and Karloo Pool

In February, we expertly picked the hottest, most humid and sweltering day of the year to go on a long hike. We explored a different part of the park this time as previously the experience had focused on hiking the Royal National Park Coast Track – and we were also very fortunate to have a friend along who had hiked this path many times. For this adventure, we parked in Heathcote and did an extended loop from Engadaine Track to Uloola Track to Karloo Track and back to Heathcote. The main objective of the hike was to see Kangaroo Creek, Uloola Falls and Karloo pool and take refreshing dips in each of those spots along the way. Let’s just stay, that’s not quite what ended up happening! It was still a lovely ~14KM bushwalk, nonetheless! Here are the highlights.
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We started the hike nice and early, and were on the Engadine Track by about 830am. It only took about 40 minutes to get from our parking spot in Heathcote down to Kangaroo Creek. Sadly, the weather had been so hot and dry in NSW the prior few weeks that the creek was low, buggy and not quite something you would have wanted to splash into. It was still a refreshingly quiet and contemplative spot to relax a bit before starting an uphill stretch of the trek.
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After climbing up out of the valley, you are treated to the most majestic part of the whole bushwalk: meandering along Gurrumboola Ridge line via the Uloola Track. This section of the trail goes on for about 5 KMs and continuously alternates you from dense bush to wide open vistas and rocky outcroppings. If you don’t like feeling grasses rub up against your legs during hikes, I would suggest wearing long pants for this one.
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We were also treated to regular visits from the largest ants I had ever seen. They are called bull ants and WOW are they aggressive and absolutely fearless. We would see them along some of the sandier bits of trail out in the open and although you’d imagine this type of tiny creature would run from humans…these guys did the exact opposite. They would rear up, take a threatening stance and run towards you, not away. Terrifying little guys! Also, pretty damn cool. 😉 If I had some extra time, I would totally stamp “You Shall Not Pass!” in a thought bubble on this little guy:
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After completing the ridge line section of the hike, we were absolutely drenched in sweat and eager to reward ourselves with a plunge in the famed Uloola Falls. I’m told that normally, they are a beautiful site to see, with multiple cascades running over the edge of a cliff and creating a beautiful little swimming hole. In keeping with the same weather-related impact that deflated our dip at Kangaroo Creek, Uloola Falls was the same story. In fact, there were no falls whatsoever!
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…and the pool at the base of the ‘falls’ was sadly just a fetid pond during our visit. It definitely makes me want to go back and see what the Uloola hype is all about! And it goes without saying that we did NOT strip down and hop in. I’m all for this whole “YOLO” thing the youngins like to say but to keep the “L” in there, you also have to make good decisions hehehe

Thankfully, all was not lost. From Uloola Falls, it was a comparatively short hike to the well-known Karloo Pool. And this place totally delivered. There were several locals already enjoying a swim in the natural pool and we joined in the fun (although I couldn’t fully submerge as my tattoo was still healing). Man, it was so refreshing to cool down and enjoy something as wild and wonderful as Karloo. Add it to your life list!
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After a re-charging at the au-naturale pool for a bit, we hiked the last few KMs out of Royal National Park and back to the car in Heathcote. We were exhausted but extremely happy to have had the experience. If I had to rate the whole hike, I would give it a 7/10 and would argue that the ridge line view was the key selling point. Maybe if we go back after a bit of a rain and get to experience Kangaroo Creek and Uloola Falls in all their glory, I’ll change my POV. Thanks for joining on this adventure, readers! XOXO -JW

 

 

 

Getting Tattoos in Sydney at The Tattoo Movement

Three sittings and 13 hours later, it’s done: I got a new tattoo in Sydney with Amber Kate Kelly. My nerdy SCUBA diver love for the peacock mantis shrimp is immortalized as well as my fascination with creatures from the deep who lure you in with a tempting bulb of light in the darkness. WARNING: this post contains body hair (but no nudity). LOL

Here’s the behind-the-scenes journey of how I got inked in Sydney:

The planning: It began back in October 2016 when Daniel and I were exposed to Amber Kate Kelly’s incredible work whilst meandering through the Rites of Passage Tattoo Festival in Sydney. I had seen Amber’s work on her Instagram prior but being able to flip through her book and observe her tattooing someone else sealed the deal. And in an incredible stroke of luck, she was based at The Tattoo Movement in Alexandria, about a 7-minute walk from our apartment in Waterloo. It was meant to be! We scheduled a consult with Amber in late October where I elaborated on the vision I had shared in email: I wanted a piece that essentially represented the yin and yang of sea creatures. Something abstract, fantastical, wispy and ethereal. On the left side, I wanted the creature to be bright and vibrant – inspired by the peacock mantis shrimp  – and on the right side, more sinister and vile. Something you would fear. They would somehow complement each other and balance the light and the dark. Amber fully understood the vision and we booked in a date to start the work. About a week before my first sitting, Amber emailed through the design. It was so spectacular and exceeded every expectation. We made a small revision to add an angler to the creature on the right but otherwise it was ready to go as-is. img_3326
The first sitting: On a Saturday in early December, I sat in Amber’s chair at The Tattoo Movement for the first time. The first sitting for a piece like this takes a lot of set-up time. You and your tattoo artist need to be 100% aligned on exactly where the ink will be placed, ensure it’s perfectly centered, confirm the sizing is spot-on, etc. It can take a good hour or more just to get the logistics worked out before you even get the needle to your skin. After we arrived at the perfect positioning and applied the flash via tattoo transfer paper (stencil), we were ready to rumble.
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Looking back on this day, I’ll never understand how or why, but I managed to get inked continuously for 7 hours. And the main lesson here is that I will never, ever sit for this long again! Although you get in that head space where you can endure the annoyance and pain of the needle, it’s just terribly taxing for the human body. After we completed day one, I was feeling reasonably good. But a few hours later, when Daniel helped me remove the plastic wrap and wash the tattoo for the first time, I very nearly passed out. I think I was in a state of shock given the trauma the body had gone through in a single day. I’ve since decided that I will cap all future tattoo sittings to no more than a 4-5 hour stretch. Marathon sessions are DOA.

In the first sitting we were able to get the creatures mostly completed and ‘scratch in’ the outline of the geometric center so we would not have to worry about any future stenciling needed.
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The second sitting: about a month later in mid January 2017, it was time to visit Amber again and continue working on the piece. During the prior month, the tattoo had completely healed and had done so beautifully. Plus, it was just about enough time passed to forget what it’s like to endure a tattoo. Perfect timing to return and go through it all over again! For this sitting, the plan was to get all of the center work done, add in the gorgeous splash of water and do some additional, fine detail work on both of the creatures. We capped the session at around 4 hours, which was smart because getting a tattoo on the center of your back along the spine is ummmmmmm…the complete f’in opposite of pleasant. Survivable, of course (as most things are) but not something you would voluntarily do that often.
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The third and final sitting: You might have looked through the previous pictures and (after marveling at my born-this-way body hair) thought the piece was complete. And maybe, we could have considered it so. But Amber and I were on the same page – some additional work was needed to make the creatures pop back out now that the water was in place, in particular around the fine bones of the anglerfish. I also wanted to add a little more contrast to some of the water areas. So a mere two weeks after the second sitting (just enough time for it to heal), I was back at The Tattoo Movement with Amber ready to wrap up the piece. For this sesh, we were done in 2 hours – a blink of an eye compared to the prior sittings! But, wow, did the extra time spent make such a difference. The water pops more, the creatures have more depth and just generally, it was all of the finishing touches that completed Amber’s astoundingly genius piece. It’s not possible for me to be happier with the final work of art. So a HUGE ‘thank you’ to Amber for her incredible work here and I can’t wait to cook something else up with her in the future.
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Thanks for reading through the post! Hope you enjoyed the journey of my first tattoo in Sydney. If you did, be sure to check out my first tattoo in Melbourne and a visit back to get a second tattoo in Melbourne. XOXO -JW

15 Things I’ve Learned Living as an Expat in Australia for One Year

Somehow an entire year has passed since I moved to Sydney in January 2016. Although I’m by no means an expat expert, I’ve had a lot of time these past 365 days to muse over a few top things I’ve learned since moving to Australia. Some are good, some not so good. And all the 100% opinion of yours truly. Here are the 15 Things I’ve Learned (so far) Living as an Expat in Australia for One Year, with no scale of magnitude and in no particular order:

  1. Wow, such an astoundingly beautiful quality of life with incredible beach access – no matter where you live in or around Sydney, you’re probably a 15-20 minute drive to some kind of fantastic beach. And if you drive just a bit further, the beach points get exponentially more stunning. Whether you want the beautiful chaos of Bondi, the wilderness of Burning Palms or the clothing-optional risqué of Little Congwong, there is something for everybody. If SCUBA diving is your thing, there’s Kurnell, Bare Island, Shelly Beach, Camp Cove…the list goes on. You can go diving in the AM and still have the entire rest of a Saturday to relax and enjoy. The beaches are intrinsic to Sydney culture and it seems Aussie culture as a whole – being outdoors in the sun near the ocean is just (clap) what (clap) you (clap) do. Outdoor cafes, gorgeous neighborhoods – honestly, it’s just lovely here.
  2. I’ll never again live somewhere that gets painfully cold – Australia has totally shifted my perception on what I find acceptable in terms of winter cold. Here, our coldest day during 2016 was about 9 degrees celsius (48 degrees fahrenheit). But that was one, single day! Otherwise, it really never dropped below 10C/50F. And I’m here to tell you, the thought of surviving through any future freezing, bitter winters has been eradicated from my life list. Experiencing my first summer Christmas was certainly odd but at this point, I’m thinking YEA, worth it.
  3. Domestic flights are crazy expensive – you’ll be supremely thankful you live near some great beaches as domestic flights within Australia are crazy pricey. This is because there are really only two major airlines who own the market – Qantas (with its cheaper JetStar subsidiary) and Virgin Australia. To get from Sydney in NSW to Perth in WA can be $600-$800. Which leads to my next point…
  4. You might even journey more frequently to other countries rather than explore Oz – when you can get to New Zealand for $300 or Bali for $400 airfare, you totally start to question the ability to really adventure through AU. Sure, you can hop in a campervan and be a bit more bohemian about it but if you’re wanting just the occasional getaway long weekend, you’ll regularly end up off-continent.
  5. Oh hell, the whole cost of living here is intense – major Aussie cities have been on an economic boom for decades. A small cottage style home in the main Inner West burbs will be over $1M and renting a 3-bedroom new apartment is going to run you $2K a fortnight (AKA ‘every two-weeks’ for my American friends). You couple that with previous observations I’ve had about food costs (breakfast for two will usually be around $60) and you can imagine how quickly you can burn up your cash. Now, it’s not all gloom and doom. Dining prices are largely driven by two factors – workers are paid a living wage across all industries (which I am hugely supportive of) and produce costs can be high especially for anything requiring import. Real estate, on the other hand, seems to be driven partially by Chinese investment here and rapidly escalating values of property among other economic factors (Updated: 10 Mar 2017). If you bought a house here 10-20 years ago, you are sitting on a goldmine. But you’re also paying for the lifestyle…like I said above, pretty much everyone has access to a beach somewhere and that’s hard to put a price tag on!
  6. A pint of Ben & Jerry’s costs $12 – I know it seems odd to call this out as its own observation but this one nearly made me die. Has it ever stopped me from buying a pint when I’m swirling down an ice cream-crazed shame spiral? Well of course not. But I still cringe. And thankfully there is the glorious magic of a Golden Gaytime ice cream bar which is my favorite local sweet treat. Subversive perfection!
  7. Coffee culture in Australia is ridiculously, fabulously amazing – I’ve been back to the states twice since moving to Oz and have attended several meetings in other countries…and frequently you encounter that sad, drip coffee or the Starbucks behemoth. I can promise you, within a few weeks of living here, Australia’s quality and expertise with espresso will ruin you for ever. You’ll arrogantly sniff at drip and eye-roll at Starbucks. There is just nothing like a local flat white or long black!
  8.  Your brain eventually reprograms to the local universe – I think I’m a slow learner (read as ‘stubborn’) but eventually over the course of 6-9 months, the Aussie accent started to seem less pronounced, using the metric system became commonplace and preferred, being on the left-side of the road felt normal, swapping out Zs for Ss in writing became habit (optimise, realise, etc.) …all the smallish things that really put your brain through a re-wiring kind of just fall in to place. I can’t imagine the added challenge of also having to learn a 2nd language, so I have much respect for those who are expats and developing a foreign tongue. Bravo!
  9. But your brain will never stop missing things from home – 12 months later and there are still preferred brands that I miss and make Daniel import during his frequent USA business trips. Mostly just small sundries for the bathroom and such but I still can’t find an equivalent I’m willing to try! Again, stubborn. 😉
  10. Amazon Prime isn’t here yet oommmgggg – yea, really. And it kind of makes sense given how large the country is relative to population size that the profit margin would be tougher for Amazon. But, man, do I miss it! Loved the old days of building up a shopping cart, clicking submit and seeing it all arrive 48 hours later. The good news is that Amazon Prime is coming to Australia in 2017. Fingers crossed it’s priced well!
  11. Internet speed is so…damn…s   l   o   w – This was probably one of the biggest shockers for me. Bugs and snakes and spiders be damned. The fact that I left a country where I could download at easily +100Mbps and now am super lucky to get 20Mbps makes my head explode. And it’s not just my provider at home. I have the same issues at work and pretty much everyone has just gotten accustomed to the low quality. Now, apparently the nbn is going to change all of that but I have yet to experience it and sadly my apartment is not wired for it! You just get used to web pages loading kind of slowly which I find uniquely challenging being a digital & eCommerce guy!
  12.  Aussie and New Zealand wines are phenomenal – If you’re comprehensive experience with AU wine is “Yellow Tail”, I can promise you that’s just about the worst representation of Aussie-born wine imaginable. Shiraz here is fabulous. And NZ’s sauvignon blanc and pinot noir – just to die for. I used to be a total California red snob but my tastes have evolved quite dramatically.
  13. Scary creatures. Yea, whatever…let’s talk about FLIES – When you live elsewhere and envision Australia, you definitely think about terrifying things like spiders, snakes, crocs, etc. And sure they exist and in great numbers across certain regions. But to be honest, the craziest thing here is the quantity of little black flies!!! If you go on any kind of hike during the summer, you can guarantee you will be swatting black flies out of your eyes and mouth the whole time. Even walking from our place in Waterloo to my work in the CBD…if I cross any park along the way, I am swarmed with them. You laugh as it happens because you can observe everyone else doing the same arm flailing maneuver – and if you look at people’s backs as they walk by, you’ll see all humans in Australia are really just fly buses. They unabashedly hitch a ride in droves. So at this point, my opinion is BRING ON THE SPIDERS if they will pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease just eat the flies.
  14. My last two points are going to dive a bit deeper. First up, making friends…it’s just not that easy – I think one of my biggest observations here is the challenge of making new friends. It’s probably quite a bit simpler if you’re young, living here and going to university as you’ll end up forcefully surrounded by potential friends. But when you’re a middle-age adult working full-time and living abroad, it’s surprisingly challenging. Couple that with the knowledge imparted to me that Aussies tend to build an impenetrable tribe whilst in high school whom they maintain as close friends for life, and you can see the complications. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing by any means – it’s just part of the reality check. In fact, an Aussie here once told me that it takes about 3 years to make true friends in Sydney (and apparently 5+ years in Melbourne). I’m not sure how statistically sound that is but I can say I’m at the 1 year mark and have made a small handful of real friends and a very large array of acquaintances. I consider myself fairly social and only selectively introverted (usually reserved for bingeing a new book or Netflix show) and I contrast this to my last year in the USA living in downtown D.C. where within a few months I made some of the very best friends of my life. So that’s been interesting to sort out here! I look forward to year two and seeing how it all plays out.
  15. Finally and pointedly, I miss my family in the USA. – I certainly expected nothing less, but in retrospect, I clearly rode a huge wave of excitement for the first year where the distance was offset by the new job, regular adventures and fascinating experiences. But 12 months later, I’ve plain and simple been wanting more access to the fam. Sure, Facebook helps and hopping on the occasional video chat does, too, but being this far away has really started to sink in. You have to make regular, concerted efforts to reach out and stay in touch to offset any heavy duty homesick feels. And – ever the optimist – I’m also happy to know that a direct flight to Dallas from Sydney is always just a few clicks (and a nice chunk of change) away.

One year later and that’s where my head is at, so far. I’m sure I’ve left out all kinds of other observations but these were the ones that bubbled up to the top of my mind when I sat down to write today. Would love to hear from other expats on what things they learned in their first year! Hope you enjoyed. XOXO -JW

Road Tripping & Reminiscing through Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas

In October, I shared the wonderful news that we would be visiting the USA for Thanksgiving – and, wow, what an absolutely perfect road trip it ended up being! The craziest part of the trip was actually the beginning. Daniel and I landed back in Sydney on a Saturday morning after SCUBA diving the Philippines, and we were back on a direct flight from Sydney to Dallas that same afternoon. Yea. Really. We had just 8 hours back on land before we were wheels-up for America. But, man, was it worth the chaos. Here’s what went down…

Saturday 19 November: 
The thing I love about flying from Sydney to Dallas is not so much the surviving a long-haul flight but more that you get to be an actual time traveler. You leave Sydney around 3:30pm and arrive in Dallas about 1:30pm on the same day. Crossing the international date line doesn’t hurt in this process, of course, but the best part about this is when you start your holiday you haven’t lost a single minute of time yet in the air. How cool is that???

Saturday 19 November (all over again!):
We spent our one full day in Dallas catching up with the always delightful Jason & Josh as well as having some fantastic eats and copious drinks in the 214. By far the star of the evening was our time spent at Dot’s Hop House in Deep Ellum. This place is enormous. Both physically (it is the renovated space of two full size warehouses) but also liquidly (just go with my usage of this descriptor here, people. I know it’s a stretch). There are 100 beers on tap at this place. From your typical Guinness yawn to mega hoppy IPAs that will invert your lower jaw to my guilty pleasure…fruit beers. Anything you can imagine. Oh, and you get to sip or chug said drink while orbiting an enormous chandelier underneath an open air roof. Really, it’s all quite stunning and lively. I just wouldn’t want to be there for their first hail storm.

Sunday 20 November:
Sadly, we had just one evening to enjoy Dallas before continuing on to a place I hadn’t visited in nearly 10 years. The University of Oklahoma, my alma mater in Norman, OK and my home from 1998-2003. We drove the ~3 hours straight north up I-35 from Dallas and arrived in Norman in the early afternoon. Just enough time to walk from the southern to northern part of the University. I know I drove Daniel a little bit crazy with all my reminiscing and tons of ancient references to my youth, but he was a good sport and ran all over with me while I snapped pics and rambled about 5 years spent living on campus. Regardless of what you think of Oklahoma in general, OU’s campus is a real stunner. It took my breath away all over again, just like when I was 17 years-old and visited for the first time.

Monday 21 November:
We started the day with an enormous breakfast in Norman which I recall cost less than $20 USD – a total shock from the typical $55 AUD breakfast back home in Sydney. The main highlight of today, however, was the drive from Norman to Tulsa with stops in Slick and Bristow (the two small towns I lived in from 1993-1998).

We drove due east along I-40 and veered off to some back roads (including the dirt variety) to wind our way along to the teeny, tiny town of Slick, Oklahoma. This microscopic roadside town played a notable role in my life and punched well above its weight of ~135 inhabitants in terms of an emotional imprint. During my time in Slick (c.a. 1995-1998), my Mom managed the only little restaurant-cafe-convenience-store-gas-station in town. And even though I was dealing with a metric ton of teen angst and coming out fears during this era, I had a magnificent time working for her at The Country Store AKA “Jeremy’s 1st real job”. When you worked there, you had to simultaneously run the register, monitor the convenience store area (complete with pool table and electronic dart board), cook burgers & fries and other country restaurant fare, pretend the gas pump meter actually worked (i.e. rely on the honesty of strangers) and juggle all this while shooting the breeze with the many local regulars who would somehow manage to make a single 20oz Dr. Pepper last 3 hours while they communed at the table. But looking back as a grown man now, I can really appreciate those times and how much I learned as a 15-year-old getting a crash course in multi-tasking and customer service. We stopped by the old Country Store, and it has long since been boarded up and seems to now be someone’s garage. I think it’s better that way…to have had the opportunity to walk in to a functioning cafe would have likely put a glitch in my memory banks of the place. So I’m thankful it was deceased. We also stopped by the driveway of the 40-acre plot of land I lived in with my parents and sister for several years. The gate barred any entry, of course, but it was a bit cathartic to step out of the rental car and look up toward the land I traversed regularly on foot and realize how pretty it really was. I recall loving the rock formations on the property as a teenager but also resented the place as it was so remote. And now as an adult, aren’t we all just looking for our own little plot of land to escape to from time to time? You really do have to smile when things come full-circle.

After our brief visit through Slick, we continued 10 miles along the road to Bristow, Oklahoma where I spent the last vestiges of junior high and all of high school, ultimately graduating in 1998. We spent some time driving along Main Street, pulled in to the parking lot of Bristow High School briefly, visited the local lake (i.e. where you hung out as a teenager), stopped at Sonic for my favorite blue coconut cream ice drink and also had a nice lunch catching up with my Aunt Sheila. We did the unthinkable and went to Pizza Hut’s competitor Mazzio’s, conveniently placed directly across the street. Again, this was likely for the best as Bristow Pizza Hut is AKA “Jeremy’s 2nd real job” and those stories are a future post all of their own I’ll draft one night whilst sipping wine on the balcony here in Sydney. 😉 After lunch, we had the great fortune of spending time with a close friend, Melissa. She’s now a mother to three (of whom we got to meet her two youngest!) and her partner, Jake, masterfully leads the Bristow Chamber of Commerce in his spare time. We enjoyed catching up on their porch before relocating to the middle school to say hi to her sister, Erin, and surprise their mom, Linda, with a ‘hello’ and a chat on her birthday of all days! Beyond joyful to have had the opportunity to connect after all these years!

Somehow after all of this, we still had a few more miles to go before we could sleep and continued on from Bristow to Tulsa where we checked in at the DoubleTree hotel downtown. Shortly thereafter, we met up with my Dad to spend some time together over dinner at a local Irish pub. It was fantastic to catch up with him but for some extremely bizarre reason (I’m typically very tuned in to this) we completely forgot to take a picture together. So all I have to document Tulsa is a downtown cityscape pic and an exterior shot of the pub. Major oops on my part, and despite it being several weeks later, I’m still feeling terrible about it! I promise pics in 2017 for sure. 🙂

Tuesday 22 November:
We rose early again and hit the road due east for a day in Eureka Springs, Arkansas – the perfect stopover point en route to my family’s home in Mountain Home, AR. This town is extremely unusual to the area and – as noted in the city’s tagline – it’s truly an ‘extraordinary escape’ particularly given the typical small-size Arkansas town which tends to be fairly void of an artistic underbelly.  For our stay in Eureka Springs, we enjoyed accommodations at the historic Palace Hotel & Bathhouse. Now, let’s not jump to any gay conclusions on the name – this is not *that* kind of bathhouse. It’s a traditional one you would have found in the early 1920s across America – soaking tubs with mineral water and salts, personal wood barrel steamer cabinets…I wouldn’t have been surprised to find one of those machines that ‘shakes the fat’ off to be honest! I loved every second of it. Our room was also very fitting for the environment – and with an incredibly gigantic hot tub / jacuzzi that generated water so hot you could have easily boiled an egg in it. But the best part of Eureka Springs is simply to walk around town and window shop your way through all kinds of artsy, craftsy, gifty & curious little stores and unique restaurants. You’ll get a bit of a Diagon Alley-meets-Main-Street vibe as you stroll, too, which I certainly appreciate. We had a phenomenal afternoon tea at Nibbles Eatery which I would say is a “must try” restaurant whilst visiting. Dinner was pretty uninspired at a local Italian restaurant so not worth a link, to be frank, although I appreciated them letting us take the leftover wine to-go!

Wednesday 23 November – Saturday 23 November:
As per yooj (yay, phonetics), we were out the door on Wednesday AM to make the trek to Mountain Home. Although, we did sneak in a spa treatment first because, well: deserved. En route, we absolutely raided the local Super Target and filled up an entire piece of luggage with various sundries unavailable (or dramatically overpriced) back in Oz. We also had to make a rapid lunch decision, and it was clearly time to baptize Daniel in to the Church of Arby’s. If you’re reading this from a country that does not have this delectable, fast-food roast beef chain, I just want to send my deepest condolences. And if you’ve never dipped a perfectly corkscrewed, seasoned french fry into a vat of horsey sauce, I’ll just make it clear: you haven’t lived. (In the midwest, at least.)
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Following our roadside gourmet, we made our way via the winding roads in to Mountain Home. This small, north central Arkansas town near the Buffalo National River – in addition to being home to my beloved mom, stepfather (Hank), nieces, sister, future brother-in-law (fist bumps) and multiple fur siblings – is also known for being the hometown to Wes Bentley of the Hunger Games films. Knowledge bomb for ya. Clearly, though, we were there to visit my family not stalk Wes (although I will forever consider his Seneca Crane beard to be most majestic).

We arrived safely at Mom and Hank’s on Wednesday early afternoon and so began a wonderful 3 days together enjoying everything that makes Thanksgiving magical. Laughter, drinking, eating, drinking, remembering good times, drinking, sleeping long enough to kickstart my liver, drinking…you know, normal stuff.

Highlights of this beautiful time together include:
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Daniel and Mom taking over the kitchen duties like duplicate Gordon Ramseys.

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Mom clarifying who is actually boss by way of her trademark moves The Point™ & Look Me In The Eye While I Talk To You™ – which she executed simultaneously in this rare image.

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Daniel trying to disappear by way of expertly synching his attire to the wallpaper.

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People being cute for the camera. (And an empty wine glass AKA ‘my nightmare’)

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More cute, smiling members of my fabulous fambly.

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Working on the dual selfie. Oh, who TF am I kidding – I’m on Expert Mode already.

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Observing a sweet potato casserole nearly burn down the house and all our hopes/dreams.

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Feasting on all the classic American Thanksgiving dishes – green bean casserole, (reconstructed) sweet potato casserole, stuffing, turkey…omg salivating IRL.

Working for 11+ hours across seven different family members to complete one helluva 1,000 piece puzzle. Think it sounds easy? Try it on a 24/7 I.V. drip of mimosas and then report back to me, oh ye of much hubris. I can guarantee complications.

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Not featured here intentionally is footage of my sister and I playing Wii’s Just Dance with our niece. Let’s just say, it’s in the vault for future release…

So there you have it, lovely readers. We had the most amazing time visiting the fam for a few days. We woke on Saturday AM 23 November, had some incredible donuts (as one does after bingeing for 3 days on Thanksgiving dishes) and hit the road for Springfield, MO airport to start the long journey ‘home’ to Oz.

Why quotes around ‘home’ you might wonder? To be honest, it’s because I think home is starting to take on a much bigger meaning to me in my advanced age (and corresponding wisdom). Yes, I of course very much consider our awesome apartment in beautiful Sydney a home – that’s not at question. But it feels like something is missing on this huge, remote island continent. And that something is easy, regular & tangible access to family members…from those who are entirely new to the fold to those who have known you since you took your very first breath. Annual visits help but I have to wonder…………..I think I’ll actively put down this left eyebrow now and stop rubbing my beard inquisitively. 😉 😉 😉

Thanks for making it to the end of this unexpectedly long post, readers! I meant to do a quick summary of the road trip but as I started writing, I realized I had so much more to say than a few quips and insights. It was time to share on a bit of a deeper level. Hope you enjoyed as I peeled back the past. XOXO -JW