10 Days on the North Island of New Zealand

I've always said you could spend months on the little country of New Zealand and you would never get bored. Both times that I traveled in New Zealand, I met tons of cool backpackers spending months traveling just there, and many more doing a year work-holiday visa. From caves to volcanos to mountains to beaches, it's impossible to be unsatisfied.

In aggregate I've only spent 10 days on the North Island of NZ: once in April 2013 for five days alone after a 5-day trip in Queenstown with friends, and then again on a quick 5-day road trip with two of my best friends in January 2016. Below I outline what my friends and I road-tripped last January and then added two days to do what I did in and around Auckland in 2013. I have suggestions on what we might cut if we had less time (but all of it was awesome) and what we would have loved to do if we were blessed with more time.

10 Days on the North Island of New Zealand

(Note that this itinerary could be done in reverse) 

DAY ONE: Fly in to Wellington & Explore

I'm actually super stoked to see Wellington in a couple weeks, because tbh when we did the North Island trip last year, this was our Wellington experience:

We went hard in Australia the days prior (???) and took a red-eye flight to Wellington. We were running on minimal sleep, and it was really rainy in Auckland, and we were confused. Ross was driving and decided he couldn't even drive so we pulled over for a quick nap in our tiny car. Somehow all of us passed out for FOUR HOURS in the tiniest most awkward positions. I'm a terrible napper so I don't even know how this was possible. But yeah then we just left Wellington and that's all I can say about Wellington.

Apparently it's a cool place, so try not to be tired or hungover and check it out for the day and night. I'll have more to say on Wellington soon! ?

DAY TWO: Drive up the coast to Napier & Wine!

The next day, take a four hour drive up to Napier. It's the longest drive of the trip, but unbelievably beautiful! Napier is the Art Deco capital of the world, so you'll be able to check out some cool architecture. There's also some wineries nearby, we didn't get the chance to check them out but that would be the move. The beach is also really cool!

We just stopped by to check this out because I really wanted to see the buildings, but I'd recommend staying a night or two here so you can check out the food and drink scene in the Hawkes Bay area.

If you have time, add more days in Wellington or Napier depending on what you're into (Wellington for more NZ culture + city vibes, Napier for more holiday + wine + art vibes) because I'm a fan of traveling slow.

DAYS THREE + FOUR: Adventure in Taupo!

Taupo was probably my fave part of this trip. I would love to visit again and stay longer. It's the adventure capital of the North Island. Plenty of lake and mountain activities. You can bungee, raft, kayak, paddle board, cycle...anything. We chose to mountain bike and it was SO FUN (and challenging). You should try to rent your adventure gear in advance though. Many rental places close at 5pm, and lots of stuff is already taken so some planning helps here.

mountain biking in Jurassic Park today #activities #newzealand

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The town was also really fun to go out in. Really small, but great vibes by the water. Maybe it's because I'm a Northern Michigan gal but I loved the vibes and how you could just walk home after.

DAYS FIVE & SIX: Hit up the Waitomo caves, then off to Rotorua!

We had too much fun in Taupo and luckily I woke up (late) but just two hours before our glow worm cave in Waitomo, We barely made the tour (we had to somehow get on one an hour later) but this is a MUST-DO on the North Island of NZ! I've done the Waitomo Glow Worm Cave tour twice - once I did the 5-hour climbing tour (first of its kind in the world) and once I did the "blackwater rafting" tour. These caves are amazing and the tour is so worth it.

Little park in the tiny town of Waitomo. The outdoors all looks like fields from Lord of the Rings Little park in the tiny town of Waitomo. The outdoors all looks like fields from Lord of the Rings

After the tour, which takes about 4-5 hours, we drove up to Rotorua. It's a pretty chilled town but definitely a good amount of restaurants and people around. We just chilled by the lake with a bottle of wine (each) before grabbing food, and had a nice night chillin in Rotorua.

The next day, we checked out the geothermal pools which were pretty cool. We did two activities, one of which I recommend... We got tickets to walk around a geothermal park which was awesome. Then we went to Hells Gate which was more of a mud spa. It was nice but a bit expensive and the big natural park was cooler. Also the sulphur got in my eyes and really burned for about six hours after that, and it dyed our silver rings black (but luckily the colour came back in a couple days). But yes Rotorua was cool.

....Newco takes New Zealand? #killingit #feelingalive #wanderlust

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By the way we stayed at Rock Solid Backpackers here which has a climbing wall in it! Cool hostel.

DAY SEVEN: HELLOOOOO AUCKLAND!

Now it's time for NZ's 'big city.' It was fun to experience a lot of Kiwi culture here. I had a really special experience in this city in 2013 as this was my first time traveling alone. I made fast friends with a Dutch girl and we had a blast exploring the city together, even though we could barely speak the same language. I also went to a comedy show with some friends from the hostel which was a fun way to experience Kiwi culture.

Definitely visit the Auckland Art Gallery, it's amazing!  I also did a run around Mount Eden which provided awesome views of the city--hike there. The cool neighbourhood is Ponsonby - v bohemian, cool cafes and nightclubs. I'd def want to hang around here if I go back to Auckland! And of course exploring by the harbour is nice, and Auckland has a beautiful park.

Traveling alone = trying to do selfies. Also I look like a baby!  Traveling alone = trying to do selfies. Also I look like a baby! Top of Mount Eden!  Top of Mount Eden!

[Unfortunately my time there in 2016 was one of those legendary travel experiences where we came out with an amazing story but no so much cool experiences of the city ?? (might've gotten lost and slept in 2 hours another hostel and then maybe got kicked out of our airbnb in downpouring rain and spent our last night freezing on the floor in the airport idk).]

DAY EIGHT (+ NINE?!): Waiheke Island

Take a 30 minute ferry over to Waiheke Island for the day (or two). This is where a lot of Aucklanders commute from, and many more have holiday homes here. It is seriously stunning. I rented a bike and spent four hours biking around the island and had an absolute blast. It reminded me of Northern Michigan (my happy place) and I would love to go back there with family or friends.

Waiheke Island! Waiheke Island!

Insanely pretty...  Insanely pretty...

DAY TEN: Finish off what you need to do in Auckland and say BAI ?

If you have more time, spend more time doing activities around Napier or Taupo, do the Lord of the Rings Tour (I know...how did I not include that...) or take a couple days to road trip up the Bay of Islands. I haven't done that yet, but like everything, it is on my list.

I'd really love to do the Tongariro hike too.... there's so much.

The North Island of NZ has a special place in my heart. Can't wait to see what the South Island has in store for me in a couple weeks. Then it'll be interesting to compare the two! ?


? Views from the top of the Sydney Tower

This pic was the winner for me This pic was the winner for me

Going in to last weekend, I didn’t have many plans until Saturday evening. But of course the 24 hours after work on Friday ended up filled with unexpected activities.

First, myself and four others went for “one beer” to catch up after work on Friday. That turned into pretending we worked at a startup and going to an awesome startup party on a rooftop in Surry Hills. With a DJ and FREE booze! — Which is basically the most important thing when a case of sh*tty beer costs $55 here.

Then lucky me had to wake up at 6am the next day. But actually I was very lucky because a friend had a free ticket for a Nikon Masterclass at the top of the Sydney Tower, worth $300! I was able to borrow a fancy DSLR camera from my agency and I was ready to go. Thank God I took pictures because I was so tired I barely remember it.

JK, it was really cool.

FYI – the Sydney tower is that really tall building that looks like Seattle’s space needle.

Before being allowed to go out on the viewing deck, we had to put on these adorable blue onesies. Only four of us ended up going out on the deck (two were scared of the height, and one got vertigo when he got outside so he went back in) so we got some nice one-on-one time with the photography teacher.

It took me a few shots to remember the photography basics from my film days. I also learned a bit about shooting on a cloudy morning. The black and white photos added a very awesome mood to it. We even learned about bracketing (when you set the camera to take three photos in a row at different shutter speeds) so you can take the photo with the best lighting.

Looking out east towards the Pacific Ocean. Watson's Bay and Bondi are out that way Looking out east towards the Pacific Ocean. Watson’s Bay and Bondi are out that way

This was such a cool way to see the city, and helped me get my bearings a bit more. I love staring at maps and figuring out how all the areas were connected, and after seeing this I feel like I can really picture Sydney’s layout. It’s nice to finally wrap your head around another huge city (I really only had Chicago down before this). ?

That famous beautiful harbour, looking amazing even on a cloudy morning That famous beautiful harbour, looking amazing even on a cloudy morning

I experimented with zooming in a bit too. The below is looking over at Darling Harbour. I liked the movement of the boats in this, all going in different directions:

We were all taking photos at one point and suddenly the clear floor we were standing on made a loud noise and started moving outwards, so we were hanging over the city more. It startled the four of us taking the class ?  Must be a funny thing they do to all the visitors at the Sydney Tower.

Our instructor making fun of us when they moved the clear floors outwards Our instructor making fun of us when they moved the clear floors outwards

The more west you go in Sydney, the more industrial it gets. The image below actually isn’t too far west, but you can tell it’s a little more industrial already. I think the black and white makes this look like it could be from the early 1900s. The big white building is the famous Australian Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour.

It was fun to see the Westfield lettering up close too (Westfield is Sydney’s biggest shopping mall chain). The below is tied as one of my favourite pictures – must be the typography nerd in me.

The below is Hyde Park. It looks small from here but walking through the trees in the park down there is magnificent. But maybe that’s because I love trees so much.

I enjoyed creating frames that played with the patterns of the coast a bit, like in the below –

I also thought my shoes looked cool –

This below photo isn’t the best lighting but I thought it showed off a historic area of Sydney in detail so I wanted to share it.

In conclusion, I LOVE SYDNEY! ?

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Watching the Cubs Win and America Lose from the other side of the world

What an insane few weeks it has been in America. Talk about HIGHS and ⬇️ LOWS⬇️. With the Cubs trailblazing to our first World Series championship in ages and the nastiest Election coming to a brutal close, trust me, the whole world has been watching.

I’m grateful that my company set up a TV for our office to watch the events go down. But hey, it wasn’t just me glued to the TV for the most stressful 10 innings of the century and the most shocking presidential results on the planet. Being over here has opened my eyes even more to how powerful and influential the U.S. is.

Very stressful day at work here but very pleased with the results ☝? #flythew #gocubsgo ?⚾️✨

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For most of my family and friends, the Cubs and the Election brought about many emotions and meaning. My mind has been racing the past few weeks. In some ways it has been so amazing and interesting to be in Australia for all this, and in some ways I feel I’m missing important moments at home. But I am grateful for this perspective and overall have a bright outlook on the future (even if the road is arduous).

PT 1. FLY THE W

Yeah, I know. I noticed that I was not in Wrigleyville raging my face off with my best friends when the Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. I didn’t hear firsthand the roar of the crowd on Addison street and I wasn’t up til 4am ordering deep dish pizza after one of the best nights of my life. (but I also wasn’t puking in the office stalls at work the next day ??) Some might say this was not the best time to move to Australia. I mean yeah it would have been awesome to be in Wrigley for this (and I feared before leaving that I would be missing exactly this), but honestly, location didn’t affect the amazingness of watching that moment happen. The smile on Bryant’s face when he threw to Rizzo SWOOOOON half a second before the Cubs won (source: Business Insider)  half a second before the Cubs won (source: Business Insider) I still get goosebumps thinking about it. Instead of Wrigleyville with my best friends, this is how I witnessed baseball history on an 80 degree sunny Thursday workday in Sydney, Australia:

    • 1st – 3rd innings: Frantically checking the Guardian’s live updates of the game while sitting in an Australian Defence Force financial seminar outside of Sydney (one of my clients). There were people all around the world who must not have access to the live game checking this, so at least I wasn’t alone.

 

  • 4th – 6th innings: Kingston (my CEO) and I were driving back into the city after the seminar, so he streamed the game on his phone. It was actually super high-def and updated, so I got to properly watch the game here. I appreciated Kingston’s interest in this important game.

 

 

By the end of the 5th inning, I had to ask Kingston if he could drop me off at a sports bar to finish watching the game. I promised I would finish the hours of my work later but I had to be in an appropriate environment to let out my stress about this game (i.e. drink beer, scream and cry).

    • 7th – 10th (!!) innings: Kingston dropped me off at Cheers, a bar where some Americans, both Cubs and Indians fans, were apparently watching the game, according to an Americans-in-Sydney type of Facebook group. I didn’t even care if anyone was there but just needed the live game, beer, and room to pace and jump and flail according to the game.

 

 

I walked in to a packed (ok, not packed) bar of around 30 nervous, loud Cubs fans freaking out about the game. My people.

After the most intense three hours hugging and screaming and pacing and getting to know my new Cubs fan friends, I spent the hour after Kris Bryant threw the ball leaping into strangers arms, bawling with a few Chicagoans, taking turns calling home, crying some more, drinking beer and singing the Go Cubs Go song.

You literally could be one of the nasty cockroaches in my kitchen but if you were a Cubs fan we would have had the best time. And I might’ve kissed you.

Funny thing is, I surely celebrated that Cubs win with some people who are celebrating Trump’s win. ?

It’s so cool how a sport unifies people like that. Not just unifying people from different backgrounds and beliefs but I felt SO in touch with everyone at home (and Grandpa Lou up above ?), feeling the same feelings about the game and watching a dream come true. It made the world feel small and full of love and good things. 

[I will say, once celebrations in Sydney died down around 7pm and all my American friends were passed out, I was v v lonely for a couple hours because I was like HELLLOOO THE CUBS WON WHO WILL CELEBRATE THIS MOMENTOUS OCCASION but then I hung out with two of my best Aussie friends and the world was right again. Because the Cubs WON]

PT 2. DRUMPF

Haha, a newspaper in Aus Haha, a newspaper in Aus

I thought America was on a roll with the Cubs thing. This month, I was getting nervous leading up to Election Day (Wednesday for me). Yesterday kind of felt like an anxious Christmas! The vicious election would finally be over and we could get an official answer and get down to tackling the issues.

Woof. Watching the Election all day at work was shocking. A darkness slowly and literally crept over me (I biked home through a storm). It’s funny that something like a Cubs game unified so many, but this Election harshly divided our people.

As the Aussies would say, I am DEVO (devastated) about the results. ?

It’s scary. It’s real. My heart aches for those that don’t feel safe or wanted in the U.S. And for my own brother and others in the LGBTQ community. And for women and even for people uneducated enough to understand what they’ve chosen.

And for the PLANET. The Paris Agreement, the Clean Power Plan, spend on clean energy…all this progress I am terrified to lose. AAHHHH (P.S. pls watch Time To Choose)

But we’ve seen a lot (a LOT..) of positive bravery in the media the past couple days. I can’t stop reading/watching it honestly. It’s really cool to see everyone express their disappointment but courage to go on and fight this. (hoping everyone puts their tweets where their mouth is)

Today I even met up with my new American friend from NYC to grieve, eat sushi and get ready to take action. She’s already donated to causes she supports that are in danger of getting trampled by Trump. ?

No need to repeat everyone but I liked this instagrammer’s post:

I’ve been inspired to practice more fiercely and fight harder for everything I believe in. It’s comforting to know that of 18-25 year olds, only five or six states would have been Trump. Makes me excited for a brighter future.

But it’ll take work work work work work to get there. Being in Australia showed me that there is a real danger of losing our rep as one of the most powerful countries in the world. We set the example and the international agenda on a lot of issues, so it really makes me now, more than ever, grateful to be an American. I feel fully responsible to make sure we do the world right. Obama said in his interview with Bill Maher the other day:

“Our values and our ideals actually matter. We do a lot of good around the world. There are some things that we do that are either ineffective or imperfect, but there is a lot to be proud of”

— President Obama

There’s no need to for everyone bail on America (although visitors are welcome) and there’s no need for me to run home straight away.  Despair is not the answer. Let’s fight da good fight, all over the world ?

I will still happily fly the W and fly the American flag side by side (I actually do on my desk at work). I’m just ready to wake up, be a better person, and rep our country well here ? ✌️?

And here’s Bondi Beach on November 10, 2016, looking fresh as ever ?

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Drooling over Sydney's Fashion Scene

***When you accidentally spend $500 on clothes within your first few weeks of moving to a new country*** ?

But ok. It’s not entirely my fault. I mean it’s 100% my fault, but I have been extremely excited for the fashion in Sydney. Plus, the American dollar is worth more so it was technically only US$380.75 right??

I was saving money for so long, knowing that I would soon be delighted by window shopping in the city and strolling through markets by the beach. I LOVE Chi-town, but the Chicago fashion scene is not so much my style. Every time I visited my good friend in LA, she was entertained by me gawking and being overly enthusiastic about all the cool outfits I saw there.

As a result of my geography, this was my American shopping style: Buy nothing. Not even practical things (until I finally gave in and bought my first real purse in January…). But then anytime I saw something beachy/quirky yet appropriate for city-wearing, and quality but not overly expensive, I would just immediately capitalize on the rare clothing find and purchase it.

That method has not proved to work in Sydney, because about every ten feet (I mean meters, I need to get used to the metric system…) I see something that is extremely cool and quirky and quality and expensive and I must have it.

I really don’t like owning too much clothes but I also really enjoy finding a great piece to become part of my lil wardrobe. You should’ve seen how many bags of clothes I gave away before coming here! Even if it was cute, if I wouldn’t wear or buy it now, it had to go (to my sister. You’re welcome).

Once I realized that I’m not on a trip but I actually live here now, I started to calm down and slowly build my Sydney wardrobe, observing the fashion scene around me. How I’d describe it all for now:

  • Quality-beachy - lots of denim, really nice white t-shirts, pastels, unique patterns, interesting cuts, florals, and flowy tops/dresses.
  • Sporty chic - The athleisure trend has certainly taken the world by storm so of course in this active city it’s popular. Literally every person here owns a pair of Adidas sneakers and wears them all the time. I’m not kidding you-- Every. Single. Person. ?  I get compliments all the time on my shiny gold adidas slip ons. You can’t even tell they are adidas so I just think Australia/the world loves Adidas.
  • Quirky - I see a lot of people wearing really nice jeans and a t-shirt, but then add a really cool piece like crazy shoes or beautiful jewelery or funky sunnies or a nice hat. That kind of outfit would be easy to travel with, just mix up the small pieces!
  • A bit more casual than NYC or Chicago - every time I wear heels people are like OoOoOo. So I wear them a little less which is fine by my feet. But the black chunky heel boot is very popular. Particularly the Australian-made RM Williams boots...lots of girls have em, they are beautiful. Would love a pair ?   http://www.rmwilliams.com.au/

So I came here with two suitcases but who knows, might go back to Chicago with around seven…

But actually I am trying to break even on how much clothes I have (more on that later), so I'll be giving some away soon, look out for that :D

Here’s what I’ve bought so far! ?

  1. Some quality Wrangler jeans... wow you can make so many outfits when you have a pair of jeans that fit you!!

2. While I was on a denim kick, I got a wrangler black denim skirt... LOOK AT THAT POCKET DETAIL

3. Overalls! Prediction: An absurdly large proportion of women will own a pair of overalls by September 2017.

4. Got this up in Byron -- Minkpink is everywhere here. How fahn

5. I'm new to warehouse sales, which are apparently a thing in NYC and LA. One of Australia's nicer designers Shakuhachi had a sale just around the corner from my work. I got there right when it started at 8am and snagged these awesome baby pink real leather shorts. ?

6. More from the Shakuhachi sale. This top is beautiful on, you don't even need a necklace

7. Another Shakuhachi find ??

8. Some cool accessories from the Bondi Markets! Also, those little pom-poms on the bracelet are on everything now. Cool vibes

9. Okayyyy and a one-piece swimsuit. Couldn't resist. (it's ripcurl)

10. And of course a flower crown for the Melbourne Cup race day (most girls get a fascinator, but didn't suit my vibes)

But seriously I’m done shopping for now.*

*unless I see the most amazing piece that is so Emi G and then I might have to have it


3 Days in Byron Bay is Not Enough

A week into my life in Australia, my friend Anna invited me to fly up to Byron Bay for the long weekend (New South Wales celebrates their Labour Day the first weekend in October).  Byron Bay is brand itself now….an icon for hippie and surf culture. Amazing beaches, tasty food, my favorite kind of fashion ?  This is what I came to Australia for, so of course I went!!!

I thought three days would be plenty of time for a beach town and man was I wrong. I can see why so many Australians and people from around the world stop in their tracks and settle in Byron. Every step towards the airport was like walking down the plank. UGH I can’t wait to go back!!

So here’s what we did…

(at the end I made a list combining things I did and didn’t do that I would recommend for anyone going / this is what I’ll be doing the next time I’m there!)

Lots of beach chilling–a must. The surf was actually pretty dead while we were there but obviously surfing on any of the five main breaks at Byron is supposed to be awesome. Next time I go back hopefully I’ll be good enough to shred ?  The beach we went to above is Whites Beach–luckily we knew some locals and this is one of their favorite spots. We had to take a car up a winding dirt road for a while, and then a cool hike through trees to get down to the beach. Obviously chilling on the Byron beaches is a must while in Byron, but you should definitely look for one of the locals’ favorite spots because it’s cool to get away from the crowd too.

Most important part: WE SAW WHALES!!!!! This was my first time seeing whales ever. Someone was casually like “oh cool, a whale” and I flipped. Some of my crew said they enjoyed watching me see whales more than they enjoyed actually seeing whales. If you just picture me flailing and jumping and sprinting and being completed shocked and amazed, that’s about it. I almost want a little tattoo on my ankle of a whale because it was so exciting and I want to always be reminded of how magical that moment was ?  So now I am officially obsessed with whales.  And apparently seeing whales in Australia is a thing. COOOOL. I have officially realized I am in a place completely different from Chicago… ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

Of course we hit up the party scene a bit! Labour Day weekend is also the Grand Final weekend for AFL (Australian Football League) AND for NRL (National Rugby League). Since Anna and I are of course huge Swannies fans we might’ve spent 6 or 7 hours our first day at the Beach Hotel, a massive bar on the beach. They put up extra screens for the game. It got pretty rowdy. Good thing we had the most AMAZING breakfast at the Bayleaf Cafe–could’ve been my favorite meal the whole trip (and that’s impressive) so I would definitely say hit it up.

For my friend Erin’s birthday, we had ‘breaky’ at Byron Fresh. Yummmm it’s all really delicious health food and amazing coffee and muffins. Really close to the beach too. Then it was a bit rainy that day so Erin and I did some shopping…cannot disclose how much money I spent but let’s just say my excitement about Australia’s fashion manifested itself in this day. Then we commenced the number one rainy day activity (drinking) at the Stone And Wood Brewery. This was super cool–their Pacific Ale is most popular and with good reason… After tasting a flight there we headed back near town to the newly renovated Byron Bay Brewery and then hit up Railway Friendly Bar which was probably my favorite (chill vibes, live music), and then back to the Beach Hotel for a boogie.

Ugh then I had to wake up at 6 and head to the airport to get back to work in Sydney. I know Sydney is supposed to be like a vacation for me but Byron just blew everything out of the water. Really got to do some of the Aussie things I came here for, so I can’t wait to go back ?

Checklist – Must Do’s While Visiting Byron Bay

  • EAT: Cafe scene is strong. Bayleaf Cafe, Byron Fresh and Cafe Byron are all in town and are very good. But if you have a car consult this article for other delish options.
  • DRINK: An ideal night would be Stone And Wood Brewery –> take a cab back in town for Railway Friendly Bar –> walk in town for a boogie at Beach Hotel. One of the Byron boys said he really likes the bar Woody’s too, sounds like it has a divey late-night bar vibe and sounds really fun!
  • DO: Bike out to The Farm and have coffee and/or a delicious meal. Hike up to the lighthouse for a magnificent view of Byron’s massive beach and then head down to the rocks to watch the surfers shred (and/or do some shredding yourself).
  • SHOP: Hit up the shops in town for cool clothes, art and gifts. If you really love fashion check out Spell Byron Bay. I’ve been following them on Insta for years and was bummed I didn’t get to check them out, but I will one day 🙂 Also if you time it right, the Byron Market is the first Sunday of every month. We were actually there for it but traded off for a beach day with the local boys (good decision) but I would LOVE to check them out.

What else should I do next time I’m in Byron???? Besides see more whales ?

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Moving vs Traveling: the big move to SYD!

Num one swannies fan ❤️? #afl #sydneyswans #sports

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Whoa. Four weeks ago my world flipped upside down. ⤵️  On September 5th I traveled down under to catch the tail-end of Sydney’s ‘winter’ and start a new job at an integrated marketing agency (Now Comms Group, for those curious). I went from Lake Michigan to the Pacific Ocean. Cubs baseball games to Sydney Swans footy games (Australian Football League - I am an avid Swans fan now). Living 2 hours from home and 2 minutes from 30+ friends to being 16+ hours ahead of most of my family and friends! ?

This all happened very fast. Emotional highs and lows but all-in-all it’s been super amazing so far. The first couple weeks were really hard, and the past couple weeks were not at all. Funny how things work like that. I felt things I’ve never felt before, but they were good feels to have. Moving somewhere far away is very different than traveling somewhere far away--The glamour and excitement are pushed aside to make room for the reality of figuring out a new life while a fun familiar life you once knew continues at home. To illustrate, here’s some thoughts that crossed my mind during the first few days of my Sydney life:

“I don’t think I’m cut out for this other side of the world thing”  

“WHAT WAS I THINKING!!!!!”

“This move has cost me so much $$ already. I could’ve built a nice base for my freelance business and joined Soho House and moved to California and all these things. I’m so close to my family and friends how could I leave them. This will be cool but is it worth it???”

“This is an indescribably sad feeling.”

Okay those depressing thoughts and then some all happened on the plane ride over ?

After finding my lovely house in Paddington, a neighborhood I sat in just 9 months ago looking around thinking ‘this is where I need to be’, I felt a little better. I still could’ve burst into tears any moment but I was, you know, at least slightly pleased to be in Sydney. I took a nice run to Bondi Beach, met my welcoming housemates Lachie, Maddie and Alec, and went to my fun agency in the ~trendy~ neighborhood Surry Hills to meet my team. I got a smoothie bowl (YES) and was able to Facetime my family and my boy Chris when I got my phone figured out. Knowing I could still laugh and share moments with my family and friends while being on the other side of the world was sooooo comforting. I guess I forgot that Facetime would be readily available while I was having my little freak-out.

The new place in 'Paddo' aka Paddington. This is a signature old house in Sydney with the New Orleans-esque porches and gates. Coooool! The new place in 'Paddo' aka Paddington. This is a signature old house in Sydney with the New Orleans-esque porches and gates. Coooool!

My first night in Sydney, a bunch of my friends who convinced me to move here happened to be having wine and dinner in their cool backyard. All things considered it was an awesome first day. But still super surreal. My head was a bit in the clouds that first week, just taking everything in. My friends, my job, Sydney...they was all so good to me. I mean, my first weekend I went to my first Swans game, a sweet music festival to see Flight Facilities in one of Sydney’s main parks, and then went with my friend up to a beach town the next day to relax and eat healthy foods and watch movies. ?

(not everything was perfect-- I discovered a massive cockroach in our kitchen and realized these are my new friends. Also it’s been in the 60’s up until the past week...a bit chilly eh?!)

As things started picking up at work, I slowly started assimilating to my new ‘normal.’ On my fourteenth day I had an off-day. I was slightly over having to adjust to everything. Sometimes you just want things to be familiar and easy. That day I felt very ‘meh’ about this ‘exciting’ expat life I’m leading.

BOOM- then suddenly the start of my third week here, I had a very social week with my work and with friends, and it went so fast. I got into the groove with my job and the gym and was joking with friends back home and making plans with friends here and blahblahblah I was having a blast!! A new thought: “Things are good. I made the right choice to move to Australia.”

My first Sydney sunset with my friend Anna up in Avalon, a beach town My first Sydney sunset with my friend Anna up in Avalon, a beach town

After my third week being amazing and fun, I had a moment where I felt really bad that I wasn’t constantly thinking of my life back home anymore, like I didn’t care about my family or friends as much. That’s not the case. I can still become a better Emily and have a great time without losing that. After all, what a waste it would be to have flown all the way to Australia on a sponsorship and not have a great time ?

My girl Mia at the start of an awesome weekend in Jervis Bay  My girl Mia at the start of an awesome weekend in Jervis Bay

We just had a long weekend (for the New South Wales’ Labour Day, Monday off!!) and I took a last-second trip up to the legendary Byron Bay with my friends Anna and Erin. You’d think for smallish beach town, three days would have been enough. But having to fly back to work was so sad. Beaches, delicious hippie food, amazing Aussie clothing (ooooh went on my first shopping spree oops) and the cool chilled out people up there. ?  Oh also I SAW MY FIRST WHALES EVER!! So many of them. The most exciting magical wonder I’ve ever seen. That’s the kind of experiences I want! It made me so excited to explore even more and continue getting to know my cool peeps here. And seeing more whales. ? ? ?

But a funny thought I had coming back today (after getting over the sadness of leaving Byron): “Stinks to leave but I’m excited to be back. I’ll get some more sleep and back into my gym routine and working on my website and flossing and starting to cook again (bc I literally can’t afford anything)” Like...I was thinking about all the things you think about in your normal life, when you’re at home. Finally the thoughts going through my head weren’t anymore “holy shit I LIVE HERE???? What am I doing?!?! This is cool!! Wait this is scary!!! Ahhh!"

I guess I have settled into my new normal a bit more. It’s not forever but good to feel settled for a minute. And don’t get me wrong, I still can’t believe I followed through with this and am living the dream in Sydney. The jury’s still out whether/not I’m cut out for this whole other side of the world thing, but I’d say my Aussie future is looking bright ? ?

Trees overlooking Bondi Beach. I LOVE Aussie trees <3 Trees overlooking Bondi Beach. I LOVE Aussie trees <3

Some of my new coworkers on double denim day Some of my new coworkers on double denim day Friends and flames Friends and flames pics from home :)  pics from home :)

Did anyone not see this coming ??

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My new ride I found on gumtree, the Aussie version of Craiglist My new ride I found on gumtree, the Aussie version of Craiglist Ocean viewz Ocean viewz There's tons of pop up shops and cafes in Sydney which is kind of cool--get to try new things. This pop-up coffee shop was outside of my work for the first two weeks I was there.  There's tons of pop up shops and cafes in Sydney which is kind of cool--get to try new things. This pop-up coffee shop was outside of my work for the first two weeks I was there. Aussie trees <3 Aussie trees <3 on the new running trail on the new running trail


Budapest is so cool

Nine busy days full of sightseeing, activities, late nights ? , long driving days and dwindling bank accounts left our crew with a small amount of traveling enthusiasm. When we arrived in Budapest Thursday night, the last three of us standing (John, Brad and myself) were a little envious Chris and Jesse had flights home the next morning, leaving us in Budapest for three more nights (they hit Budapest at the start of the trip before I got there, so they didn’t totally miss out).

But the second we dropped our bags and strolled the streets to find our last dinner as a group, the three of us stragglers were stoked to be in this city.

Budapest is so dope.

The architecture is mesmerizing. Budapest served as a crossroads between Eastern and Western civilization, so you sense a unique mix of the two cultures. There’s classical, roman, gothic, and modern architecture everywhere. There are vast green parks in the city and it’s very bicycle-friendly.

The day I arrived was the day after Sziget, one of Europe’s largest outdoor music festivals. I met a lot of cool people who attended the festival. We visited the island in the middle of the river flowing through the city–the festival is held here. So nice ?

The culture is really fun to be around. Great music and art. We did have a traditional Hungarian dinner–not for me. Really heavy meats, pasta and stews…. eeeeehhhh but I tried it ?

We of course went to the bath party out at one of the geothermal spas. It was indeed epic.

We also got 90 minute Balinese massages for like 50 bucks each. SO WORTH IT ??

Budapest, I’ll be back!!!

The rocks are really old The rocks are really old

Going out to some cool pubs Going out to some cool pubs

Budapest!! U r cool ??

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Image from http://www.bathsbudapest.com/budapest-bath-parties We definitely took showers after the bath party. Image from http://www.bathsbudapest.com/budapest-bath-parties We definitely took showers after the bath party.

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BROATIA 2016

August 2016: After three spectacular days in Slovenia, we drove through Croatia to start exploring in the old city of Dubrovnik. The drive from top to bottom took about 6 hours. The gas stations were very clean and each included a full-service bar and cafe. Even when I bought an apple they served it to me (not sliced or anything) on a plate… But the Dalmatian coast is very mountainous and beautiful, and we caught an epic sunset as we drove into Dubrovnik

~roadtrip vibes~ #broatia2k16

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We stayed near the Old City, which is an enclosed palace, with narrow alleys and old castles and such. Never been in anything like it. Super cool. We even went to a club that is in a castle!! During the day we did the Game of Thrones tour–a lot of well-known scenes were filmed in Dubrovnik. Then we bought some brewskis and rented kayaks to paddle to Lokrum, an island that looks close to the coast but when you’re paddling for ages to get back it feels pretty far. We did some cliff jumping and rock-climbing ?  Pretty epic!!!

 

I was nominated as the world’s most awkward diver but let’s assume I looked like this #croatia #cliffjumping #gopro A photo posted by Emily Griffith (@emigriff) on

Then after being pretty good tourists in Dubrovnik, we drove up to Split, parked our car and hopped on to a ferry to the island of Hvar. This is a popular destination for the ‘Sail Croatia’/yacht week sort of things, so we met a ton of wild Europeans and Australians on this island. This was essentially the party leg of euro-trip ?

Lost odds and had to get cornrows...  Lost odds and had to get cornrows… Spent a day at Hula Hula Beach bar. You can jump off the dock at the bar and swim whenever you feel, and then get right back to your table for some more drinkies. Pretty nice....  Spent a day at Hula Hula Beach bar. You can jump off the dock at the bar and swim whenever you feel, and then get right back to your table for some more drinkies. Pretty nice…. view from our place in Hvar  view from our place in Hvar

After a wild time in Hvar, we were pretty tired. We spent a day exploring Split, another old city in Croatia, before dropping off our car in the capital city of Zadar so we could catch a train to Budapest for the last leg of this euro-trip. ?

If there is one lesson to be learned: if you are a female traveling with the boys, doesn’t mean you can always drink like the boys ?

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See pretty Instagram picture ➡️ go to Slovenia

In honor of Instagram inspiring our spectacular 3-day visit to this country:

Slovenia is for the boys #slovenia #ftb #plusg

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After seeing an awesome picture of Lake Bled on Instagram, I tagged my friend John and suggested a sneaky lil day trip from Croatia up to Slovenia. With plans to travel Budapest and roadtrip in Croatia, figured might as well stop by this less-visited country. We ended up staying for 3 days, and man, I wish we had at least 5 in this amazing country! We chose Ljubljana (loob-lee-ana) as our home base. It’s only a 45 minute drive to the well-known Lake Bled (at least in the summer. This is near the alps so some roads may be closed in the winter). In retrospect we would have liked to spend a couple nights near Lake Bled or somewhere in Triglav National Park so we could more quickly access all the fun outdoor activities and adventures, but hey, it was still awesome. We also wish we had at least one more day to explore Ljubljana more during the day, but we got a great taste for it at night after our fun days in the Triglav area ? The crew minus 1. Doing some explorin. The crew minus 1. Doing some explorin. Highlights of Slovenia:

    • The food was delicious! Turns out, Slovenia is extremely close to Italy, so we got a nice taste of Italian food just by stumbling into an Italian restaurant for dinner our first night in Ljubljana.

 

  • The people were very nice. We got a few comments from locals – “what are you doing here??” Just because Slovenia is surrounded by more popular destinations–Italy, Budapest, Croatia, etc… locals were surprised to see our big crew of six Americans spending a few days in their country. Of course there are backpackers but it was nice to be a little ahead of the tourist curve for this one. We got a better taste for the actual Slovenian lives before the tourist industry takes over–seeing that is one of my favorite parts about traveling.

 

 

  • Going out to the bars in Ljubljana was a blast. Lots of songs in Spanish/other languages that people would go nuts for. Pretty funny.

 

 

  • Ljubljana reminds me of Venice. I mean, I haven’t been to Venice, but the center of the city features beautiful old buildings along the river.

 

 

  • Triglav National Park RULES. The mountains were steep and magnificent.

 

 

  • There’s tons of adventure to be had in Triglav National Park… Climbing, hiking, camping, kayaking, canoeing, rafting, canyoning, ziplining, mountain biking, regular biking (big bike culture in the Triglav area), watersports (lots of beautiful lakes) and in the winter, a bit of skiing! Such an equally beautiful adventurous destination.

 

 

  • Definitely kept me wanting more ?

 

 

Image from https://ibellhop.com/2014/02/21/destination-slovenia/  I failed to get any great pictures of Ljubljana so others' will have to do.  Image from https://ibellhop.com/2014/02/21/destination-slovenia/  I failed to get any great pictures of Ljubljana so others’ will have to do.

 

It seems like every country is interested in drinking #slovenia #travelettes A photo posted by Emily Griffith (@emigriff) on

At the top of a massive hill we biked up, at a castle overlooking Lake Bled. At the top of a massive hill we biked up, at a castle overlooking Lake Bled.

WHERE WE WENT IN SLOVENIA:

Modelling at Lake Bohinj Modelling at Lake Bohinj Biking around Lake Bled Biking around Lake Bled More modelling at Lake Bohinj More modelling at Lake Bohinj

Yayyyy sprained my ankle on the first day at Lake Bled... oooops Yayyyy sprained my ankle on the first day at Lake Bled… oooops

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A Roadtrip in Ireland is a Must

In 2015, my family visited Ireland for Easter. We rented an embarrassingly large van that my dad insisted on driving down narrow pedestrian streets in Dublin, but it got us through the hilly one-lane dirt roads throughout Ireland. Don’t just visit Dublin when you’re in Ireland, a roadtrip to the West Coast is unbelievably beautiful. We were also lucky to visit some family who still live in a small town in County Clare, and saw the graves of our ancestors on the windy Atlantic coast.

What we did: Dublin ➡️  Killalou ➡️  Cork  ➡️  Killrush  ➡️  Galway  ➡️  Dublin  ❌  Entire family somehow missed our 11am flight back to U.S.A. to stayed in Dublin an extra night ➡️  Chicago.

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