Last winter/spring, I made the decision to not sign my contract for the following year. I have LOVED everything about my teaching job for the past three years, but it was time to move on to my next life adventures and go traveling! While I knew I would be doing SOMETHING different this year, I took a longggg time to decide what that “something” would be. I had so many different ideas and options. I considered flipping houses, teaching abroad, finding an online job and just traveling, getting a van and driving around the country…you see how undecided I was haha. After letting months go by, and letting everyone around me get super stressed about the fact that I had no idea what I was doing come August, I finally made my decision.
I logged onto aupairworld.com and created a free account. (Because I had such a good experience using the site, I wanted to share some details about it in case others were wondering about the process.) Creating an account is super easy. I would definitely recommend adding a lot of pictures, because that helps people get to know you better and see what your interests are. I tried to add a picture that matched up with each interest I listed in my profile. Many people commented on my pictures when they reached out to me, so I think doing that was a good idea. You can narrow down your search results to find families in the area you would like to live. I started out by reaching out to some families on that first day of making my account, and that worked fine, but I was quickly inundated with tons of messages from families who had found my account, so either way works fine. The site itself is easy to use. I was a bit skeptical because the site doesn’t do much other than let you see families and let them see you, which really, is all you need. But some people thought it provided assistance in helping you get to your country or added security measures or something, but really there was none of that. While it might be alarming to some people to fly across the world and move in with a random family from the internet, I really had no concerns haha. After emailing back and forth with a few families, I ended up skyping with two of them. They were both great, but I made a choice based on which family felt like the best fit for me. Over the next few weeks, we emailed back and forth about logistics. I ended up deciding to only stay for 90 days so that I wouldn’t need to worry about getting a visa. Like I said, this was a slightly last minute decision and I really just wanted to make everything as simple/smooth as possible. Even so, my host family and I had to do some paperwork for me to get there. I needed to get travel insurance and my flight details, and my host family needed to get me an invitation letter from the local police department, an au pair contract (this would cover the finances part of the 90 day ‘visa’ requirements), and a letter showing that I would be taking Spanish classes during my time there. Technically, with a different family this may have been my responsibility to find Spanish classes, but in my case my host mom teaches lessons, so she enrolled me in her class and sent me the paperwork.
Soon, it was time to get on the plane! I had my new birkenstocks on, my new stainless steel water bottle in hand, and my new purse swung across my body. Hey, maybe not everybody feels best when they have the appropriate accessories, but I certainly do. Although I will say I packed much better this time around than I did for Australia a few years ago. I remember my dad saying how I had overpacked by sooo much back then, while I explained that I needed 4 pairs of different colored pairs of jeans because having them all would make my trip that much better. While I don’t necessarily disagree with myself, and I don’t regret bringing all those pants…I did WAY overpack back then haha. This time I think I did an amazing job! And I also knew that I could buy anything I needed here in Spain, so I wasn’t worried about forgetting anything. My flights and layover were all perfectly uneventful (although very long), and the highlight of my trip was the dinner and then breakfast we got on my international flight. Although I did almost sleep through both of them because my dramamine pills really do their job well. Upon deplaning in Spain, I was nervous to get to immigration because I worried that I would be missing something I needed. When I did get there though, I walked up to the counter with my passport and all my paperwork, the agent opened my passport and then handed it back to me and sent me on my way. He literally did not say one word to me and did not look at my paperwork or anything haha! After I had been worrying that something wouldn’t check out with all the paperwork we had spent time working on, no one even looked at it. Obviously you should still have it all just in case, but definitely don’t worry too much haha.
Before I left, people had been asking if I confirmed that someone was picking me up at the airport, but I was like eh it’ll be fine. And it was! Haha. I could have gotten a taxi/public transportation if needed, but as soon as I walked out of the arrivals gate, my host dad ran up to me, kissed me on both cheeks, and brought me right out to the car. It was just him and I for the first few days since they were just moving to the area, and it was a great low-key way to sleep off my jet lag and get used to the area.
Since then, everyday life here has just been flying by! I am loving every second.
Overall, my experience using aupairworld was perfect. I honestly could not have chosen a better family and I am so thankful every day that I just decided to sign up and get going to be an au pair. Obviously, trust your instincts and be smart about the process, but I highly recommend being an au pair as a way to see a new country. In most situations, you’re provided with food, accommodation, and pocket money. In return, you provide childcare and speak with the child/children to help them learn English. In my experience, you really just become a part of the family. I help out around the house the same way I would with my own family, and I enjoy cooking dinner for my host family, too. You have the chance to learn the native language of the country you are in, while also being immersed in the culture and daily life of living in that country. I can’t say enough good things about being an au pair, and about the amazing experience it has given me to live in another country!
After hunkering down in the apartment for a few hours with the rain still pouring down, I decided to gear up and go out in it. Rain is what Seattle is known for and I was too stir crazy to stay inside any longer. The rain definitely had heavier and lighter bouts, so I waited until a lighter one started, wrapped my boot in two layers of trash bags, grabbed an umbrella, and set out.
I took short steps and walked slowly, especially down the steep hills here to keep myself from falling. Just about everyone was staring at my trash bag (as to be expected – I look around and take note of unusual things, too), and I just gave them a smile and continued on. Coming to the bottom of the hill between George and Jessi’s apartment and Pike Place, I heard a shout. “Quite a fashion statement you got there,” a man standing outside a fish stand wearing a big apron and rain boots called out. “I’m jealous. I might have to get myself some of that style.” I laughed and agreed, and continued on my way.
Taking in all the hustle and bustle around me, I walked the length of the market before reaching my destination: the crepe place. I had this spot in mind because I knew it had a sit down area, and because crepes are delicious! The owner saw my Penn State credit card and struck up conversation. He suggested a few sights to see before handing me my huge nutella and strawberry stuffed crepe. I spent about an hour there eating, people watching, and listening to my audiobook.
By this time, the rain had died down again and I ventured out to a park overlooking the water. I took some pictures and took in the view before heading back toward the market. As I passed the very first starbucks store, I decided to stop in and grab a drink. The line is always suuuuper long, and I don’t even like coffee, so this wasn’t on my list of things I wanted to do. Still, I figured while I was just wandering around, it might be a fun thing to have done.
Heading back down the street again, hot chocolate in hand, I heard another yell. “There she is! Still at it I see.” I looked over and had to laugh. The same guy was calling out again. “I’m going to have to match you tomorrow!” I cracked up and kept walking. I really had been walking up and down the same street for a few hours now.
I saw some signs for public seating inside the market, so I followed them out to some stools overlooking the water. I sat next to an interesting couple discussing the pros and cons of getting married. The woman did not seem very into it, but the poor guy was trying to convince her. Man, I could people-watch all day.
I decided it was time to head back and rest my aching foot, so I started back down the center of the market toward George and Jessi’s street. “You sure are a trooper.” Looking up (and realizing I’m not as observant as I always think), I smiled to see the same guy walking toward me. We talked for a bit, and I learned that he’s buying the fish market that he had been standing in front of all day. He told me we should hang out before I leave and see where things go from there, and I couldn’t help but laugh as I walked away. Life is funny, and relationships with people are really the best of life. This guy entertained me all day, and I’d like to think our days were better because of our small interaction with each other.
These relationships and interactions are happening all the time, but I’m even more aware of them while traveling. I have plans to travel solo in my future, and I’m definitely interested to see how that works out. As much as I like some down time to recharge, I definitely thrive while interacting with others. Today’s walk up and down the same street for 3 hours is certainly a small view of what a solo traveling day would be like (even though I’ve done it before), but it was also a reassurance that strangers can be a great source of relationships while exploring.
To the people out there that I’ll come in contact with in the future, and to the ones who will make my days a little brighter, I can’t wait to meet you all!
Scene: A pull-out couch in a 6th floor apartment in downtown Seattle. Steps from Pike Place and the ocean. Rain pours down out the window in heavy sheets.
I’ve been in Seattle for a few days now, and I’m loving every second of it. (I also read the newest Harry Poter book yesterday which may have inspired how this post started. Also, go read it! It was good!)
I just can’t say enough about how beautiful Seattle is and how amazing the location is of my brother and sister-in-law’s apartment. They live right near Pike Place market, the waterfront, and pretty much everything you could want to be near! I checked out the weather before coming here, and based on what I saw in the forecast and knew about the usual stereotypical Seattle weather, I figured it would be rainy every day. We’ve been pleasantly surprised though with some gorgeous days! With George and Jessi having only moved here about 2 months ago, they said they’re kind of waiting to see how this rainy season is also. They’ve only had beautiful weather so far, but it’s the start of winter/rain right about now. Even though each day forecasted rain, we only saw a few hours of rain on Monday afternoon on our way back from the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. Having my boot makes it harder to just enjoy the rain because I have to wrap it in a trash bag and try to keep it dry, which makes it even nicer that we’ve had such good weather!
Yesterday was insanely beautiful with blue skies and the sun shining down on us. Jessi and I walked around while George was at work.
Now this morning, I woke up to rain coming straight down with no end in sight. We’ll have to see what we get up to today!
Flying with crutches turned out to be no trouble at all! Aside from making it impossible to explore the various airports and really enjoy the experience of flying/traveling, the actual process was smooth and easy.
At this point in my healing, I just got my boot on Wednesday and my flight was Saturday at 7am. I was able to walk a bit on just the boot, but had mainly been putting most of my weight on both crutches or just one.
When I first got to the airport in D.C. around 4:45am, there was a line at the Frontier counter with a sign at the front saying they would open at 5am. I got in line with my bag and my crutches. I had already called ahead (2 separate times actually) to tell them I would be on crutches and to ask if they did anything in particular for that. I also went on the website and clicked that I needed additional support. When I did call, the woman confirmed that I had added the extra assistance notification, and she said that someone would meet me at the ticket counter with a wheelchair. I also checked out how bringing some extra medical supplies would work since I saw that that was allowed on their website. I needed to bring a night splint, and bringing it made my bag bigger than what was allowed. The woman on the phone said that I could pack it in a separate bag and they would put it above with the carry on bags, and that this would be done free of charge. I followed these instructions and packed the splint in a separate bag, but actually ended up putting that bag inside my other bag (which fit “personal item” requirements when folded down, but that had extra room inside).
Back to waiting in line at the airport – I assumed that I’d go through the line and when they brought up my reservation they’d see that I needed a wheelchair and whatever other things they do for my situation. Instead, an airport employee pushing an empty wheelchair came by just minutes after I got in line and asked if I needed it. I was on my crutches at the time and only hesitated a moment before saying yes. He helped me into the chair and promptly pushed me to the front of the line. As soon as the employees came out at 5, the airport employee with me handed my passport to the Frontier associate and she printed my boarding pass and sent me on my way. She did confirm that I didn’t want to add my bag as a carry on, and I told her I had my medical supplies inside in a separate bag and that when I took them out my bag then fit personal item requirements.
The airport employee who was pushing me zig zagged in and out of lines, maneuvering me around different obstacles until we skipped the entire security line and I was right up front. The employee put my bags through the conveyor belt and they asked if I was stable enough to stand in the body scanner. I said I could at least try, and it worked out fine. My whole boot showed up as yellow…and so did another spot on my body. The TSA agent did a pat down of my whole body and then some separate wanding and testing of my boot. She wasn’t the kindest lady, but all the other workers there were great. Still not sure what caused the yellow spot on me, but I always appreciate security being thorough. The airport employee was standing at the other side of security with all my belongings, waiting for me to pass through. He helped me sit down, handed me my things, and pushed me to my gate. It was a long way so I was really grateful for how everything was working out. Once he got me to my gate, he helped me to a chair and left with the wheelchair.
I waited there until a Frontier employee showed up close to boarding time. I crutched over to his desk to ask how exactly everything would work. He told me I’d board early and he’d help me with everything. A few minutes later, he gestured me over and was so kind and helpful. He carried my whole bag to the plane and went ahead and put it in the overhead compartment above my seat all while I had only made it a few steps down the ramp to the plane. I tried to tell him about how I had separate bags since I didn’t pay to put that whole bag as a carry on, but he said it was fine to just put the whole thing above. The first flight attendant I saw asked me if I wanted her to order a wheelchair for me for when we landed, and I said that would be great. It took me a while to get to my seat, but I was excited to see that I had a window seat. The flight attendants took my crutches and stored them overhead, and asked if I was comfortable in my seat, mentioning that they could switch me to an aisle seat. I said that it was good where I was because I could stay out of the way and not have to move. I slept on and off and had a pretty uneventful (yet beautiful!) flight.
Upon landing, I waited until everyone was off the plane. Multiple kind passengers stopped on their way out and asked if I needed them to hand me my crutches, but I waved them on and said that I didn’t want to hold anyone up. As I stepped off the plane, a Denver airport employee was there with a wheelchair to take me to my next gate. While on the way there, she asked if I wanted to stop at the bathroom or to get food or drink, but I didn’t want to be a hassle so I said no. I had a full 5 hours until my next flight, so I figured I could hobble to the bathroom and food counter myself sometime in the next little while. Oh and one small thing, each airline employee pushing me needed to see my boarding pass to scan it. That must be to track how many people use this service or to see what the employees are doing or something.
When it got close to time to board my next flight, I stood up and asked the next Frontier employee if I could board first and was kind of just trying to see how it would all work again. This woman was NOT as kind as the first man I’d interacted with earlier in the day, and she dismissed me quickly after saying that I should come up when she called for preboarding. When she did call for preboarding, a HUGE line formed with older people and small children. Believe me, this time I got no special treatment for being on crutches. I did end up joining the line from the side and cutting a whole bunch of people because there was no way I could wait at the end of this huge line. No one seemed to mind, but this time as I crutched my way down the ramp there were people passing me and I felt flustered and my bag was swinging around and it was just not great. There was no flight attendant at the front to ask if I wanted to order a wheelchair, so I just continued on my way to my seat. As I struggled to balance my bag and keep myself upright, a flight attendant did come from the back of the plane and ask if it would help at all if she carried my bag for me. I told her that would actually help a lot and I thanked her, and she said that she would want someone to help her daughter if she was on crutches. I had a middle seat this time, and luckily I sat between two guys my age who were nice and easygoing. The one who sat down first was super friendly and we ended up talking for the full hour that we sat on the runway as we waited for some luggage. His name was AJ, and I always love meeting new people while traveling.
Another side note, my doctor told me to wear compression socks while flying (and actually I have to wear them constantly over the next 3 weeks as I wear the boot) and to take the boot off and move my foot around 4-5 times during each flight. This was all to prevent blood clots, and it worked out fine for me to take the boot off and put it under the chair in front of me during each flight.
When this plane landed, I again waited to deboard until everyone else was gone. It was kind of nice to not be in the rush to get off. As I stepped off the plane, an airline employee with a wheelchair was waiting for me! I’m still not sure if this was just a weird coincidence or if it was because I had made the note on my online booking abut needing assistance, but it worked out perfectly. This last employee took me the whole way to where Jessi was waiting for me, and it was all around an easy experience!
I normally love the whole aspect of exploring airports and just expierencing all the little things that have to do with travel, and I definitely didn’t get that this time. But the airports and airlines certainly work together well to make flying accessible for someone who can’t get around easily on their own. I did notice that the amount of help/comfort/peace of mind provided did differ depending on who was assisting you, but that’s the case with pretty much everything where you’re interacting with a human – it all depends on their individual personality.
All in all, it was quite easy and nothing to be worried about! I’d recommend making the notation online with your last name and booking number, and calling ahead if you need to bring extra supplies. Everyone was very helpful and I’m hoping the flight back goes just as smoothly!
Ah! I love flying so much, and my flight to Seattle leaves at 7 tomorrow morning. It’s 8pm now and my Uber is picking me up to bring me to the airport at 4:30am!
I normally only feel excitement before a flight, but this time I’m a little bit nervous! And the only reason is because of my foot. I called the airline multiple times and arranged a few different things. First of all, I have an allowance to bring my crutches and a sleeping boot and any other medical things at no extra charge. This means that I have an extra bag to carry around though, which isn’t so great when I already have a bag with my clothes and a coat on and crutches and everything. I’m also trying to get through without checking a bag or purchasing a carry-on. My bag right now definitely fits the personal item requirements, but only when it’s on a flat surface and squished into those dimensions haha. It’s just a large bag, but I chose it over another one because it does have extra room for my other medical bag, too. I’m just worried they’ll charge me for having a large bag! But hopefully the fact that I have the medical allowance will let everything work out fine. The other thing I arranged was for someone to push me in a wheelchair around the airport! I honestly feel super weird about this and I’d rather it wasn’t necessary, but I know that I shouldn’t push myself to walk and end up hurting my foot.
Before I get a few hours of sleep, I should go look up where I need to go once I get to the airport!
I’m looking forward to posting an update here that says, “Everything went perfectly!” So let’s all hope for that!!!!!!
I started this post shortly after returning from Ireland, and I’ve decided now is the time to finally finish it!
From October 2015 –
Yes. Yes. Yes. Ireland was everything I could have imagined! Breathtaking views, the kindest people, and new experiences.
In these pictures, you’ll find everything from a full Irish breakfast to kissing the Blarney Stone to horseback riding at the Cliffs of Moher to hours spent on Irish busses crossing the country. We also fit a flight delayed for 24 hours, a Guinness factory tour, museum visits, new friends in different cities, shopping, and general sister shenanigans, among other adventures! Such a good trip ❤
>>> I’m back in town for the week, although it’s already Thursday night so another week is almost gone!! Being back in Grafton means these are my running views:
>>> Being back in town also means I get to go out to coffee (aka hot chocolate in my case) every day, and I can’t complain that Heidi and I have shared a caramel slice for the past two days!
>>> It’s fall here:
>>> I made Anzac biscuits a few nights ago!! The oven here at M’s house doesn’t work right now, so we went over to C’s for dinner and then to make the cookies. Dinner was DEEELICIOUS also and it was a lottt of food haha.
>>> And then I promptly fell asleep in a chair while watching Australian Celebrity Apprentice after baking. Thank goodness there’s photographic evidence of that, but not of me actually making the biscuits!
>>> While still staying with K and J, we went on a rainforest walk on Saturday and that was really fun! Actually we did tons of stuff on Saturday and squeezed in so much sightseeing. It was really foggy that day, but once we were in the rainforest it actually added to the effect and was quite pretty. I didn’t mind the rain at all. There were also some beautiful waterfalls along the walk.
>>> In terms of teaching, I’ve been on the Infants campus (grades K and 1) for the past two weeks. I spent my first two weeks on the Primary campus (grades 2-6), and I’m spending my last weeks 2 there as well. Since I student taught in 6th grade, it was definitely good to spend some time over on the Infants side. There’s so much to see while I’m here and I feel like I’m running out of time!
>>> Speaking of running out of time, I only have 2 weeks left here in Grafton!!!! I can’t believe it! This weekend C, M, B (an aide from the school) and I are traveling up to the Gold Coast! I’m really excited and glad to be getting to experience the Gold Coast while I’m here. We’re staying in a hotel for 2 nights and it should be really fun. When I get back on Sunday, I’m spending next week in Yamba, another coastal town around here, about 50 minutes from the school. Then that weekend, I’m spending Saturday in Yamba and Sunday I’m going up to Tenterfield with C and G and Heidi. My hosts in Yamba thought I’d be staying all the way till Monday, but we’ve had the Tenterfield trip planned for a while so I felt bad but I had to say that I could only stay till Saturday. Then that last week I’m coming back here to the first house I started in with M and J (which is where I am right now too). And THEN, I had originally been catching a train early on Saturday to head to Sydney, but now I’m getting a train later in the day so I have one extra day here. I had mentioned that I would love to go horseback riding back when I had first gotten here, and C asked around and found a teacher at the school who said I could come up and ride on that Saturday! Heidi is gonna ride with me and I’m excited about that too! So I have a full schedule until I go – both outside of school and in school – because I haven’t even been into a year 6 room yet! So I have to cram in a lot of observing/teaching in these last two weeks at the school. Then there’s one more week here in Australia, during which Frankie and I will be up in Cairns! I really can’t believe how little time is left here. I knew this would happen, but I still can’t stop saying it and thinking it haha. Time really flew by!!!
I was in Sydney from Monday, April 15th to Friday, April 19th. Frankie and I did so much with our time there and it was an absolute blast! Here are some pictures from the trip – I really will try to narrow it down and only include one or two from each day!
I’m finally in my home for the next few weeks in Grafton, NSW! It was quite a journey to get here, but I’m happy to say that everything worked out and I’m here safely! While traveling, I journaled about my experiences. I knew it would be fun to look back on later, and it’s even already fun to see what I was thinking just yesterday. Since I didn’t have internet access during any of that time but I still want to record everything here, and since I wrote everything down in my journal, I figured I would just transpose that writing here. I don’t plan to always do this, as I think it would be fun to have a more private record of my thoughts and feelings in my journal with a more public record here on this space, but at this time copying from my journal seems like the best way to get everything documented and caught up here.
So, I don’t like flying much! The takeoff made me feel sick exactly like I do in a car. Now that we’re flying steady it’s much better though. I don’t feel like I could read on my kindle (I have a kindle!!!!!) yet though, so I’ve just been dozing on and off. My neck pillow doesn’t fit with my two sweatshirts or my seat so my head is just flopping everywhere and it keeps waking me up. This is probably really attractive to everyone around me. It’s still sunny out, I think it’s around 5 or 6 or 7. With the time change I’m not really sure! I’m on the outside of a row and Frankie is next to me with another woman on her other side in the window seat. I don’t mind being in the aisle very much. The seats on this flight are small and pretty uncomfortable. I’m using Dad’s/Diana’s headphones (they’re awesome) to listen to the playlist Matt made me. I love it! I still can’t believe I’m on a plane to Australia! It’s even cool that I’ll be in Texas in a few hours. Going through security was pretty stressful, but I think I’ll be better at it now that I’ve done it once. At the end of this trip, I’ll have flown 6 times! I’ll be a pro.
2 months/9 ½ weeks is a long time! I think if I didn’t have people to miss at home it’d be so much easier to just let go and have complete fun. Of course, I’m sure I’m going to have an amazing time and I’m sure it will be eye-opening and overall amazing. There’s just a small part of sadness to miss everyone for so long and I feel some excitement for June 8th when I’ll see everyone again!
A really nice man helped Frankie and I put our carry-ons up in the overhead compartment, and mine fit right in! I was happy to see that because I had been worrying about it! The captain just turned on the seatbelt light ahh! This flight has NBC playing on the TVs, which are hanging down every few rows. I’m hoping the next flight (for 19 hours!) has individual TVs (and comfier seats!) like I’ve heard some flights have. The one thing making me nervous now is having to get to Australia and get my bag and go through customs and get to the train station and get on it for 10 hours! Once I get to M (my first host), hopefully all my worries will be gone. I told everyone I’d update my blog so I’m going to try really hard to do that. Lots of people are wanting to hear when I get there safely – it’s nice to feel so loved!
I feel fine writing so I think I might try reading later. I was thinking to wait till the next flight and take some motion sickness medicine but we’ll see.
I haven’t taken a break since finishing student teaching, so I want to jot some notes about it:
-crying on my last day (so not like me!)
-P and O making me a cake
-checking EACH student’s understanding – having everyone respond
-working with Kel
-lunch – S’s container haha
-time!! So much time spent planning and preparing
-P’s comments about my hard work
-loving my students
I seriously loved student teaching. It was tons of work and exhausting, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. ❤
I think we’re almost in Texas!
4/4/13 (I think!)
I love Qantas! This flight is 10,000,000 times better than the last one. I’m watching Julie and Julia right now on my personal TV, and I just finished my complimentary breakfast. I chose the cereal meal and it came with Raisin Bran and OJ and milk and yogurt and fruit and I chose tea over coffee. I didn’t eat the yogurt or finish the fruit because I wasn’t super hungry, but it was all yummy! Oh it also came with a weird bread thing – it had a few apple chunks and some kind of nuts on top. It was crunchy on the outside and soft inside.
We only have 1 hour left until we reach Brisbane (where I think we’re refueling), so that means we’ve been on this plane for 14 hours! Let me catch you up since I last wrote:
I felt pretty sick after the last flight, but Frankie and I grabbed our carry-ons and got off the plane without issue. We got a skylink train thing (which I wasn’t too excited about because I already felt sick!), but we decided to get it to get to our gate faster and without worrying about not knowing where to go. Good thing my mom told us we were going to Terminal D because our tickets didn’t say a gate or anything. So we just took the skylink to D (which was terrible on my stomach, but I’m glad we took it) and on the skylink it said Qantas was in gates 1-22 so we got off there and followed signs for Qantas. We made sure we were in the right place and sat down for a minute. We were pretty hungry so I sat with our stuff while Frankie went to check out where we could eat. Some places were closing because it was around 8 at night. When she got back we decided on an Irish pub type place because we were in the mood for something light, like soup and salad. I didn’t feel too hungry since I still felt sick, but I thought something light might help me feel better. We sat down with all of our stuff at a booth and looked at the menu. Frankie got a mozzarella sandwich and I got roast beef and cheddar. It came with a delicious small salad on the side. I couldn’t decide between what I got and a grilled cheese with bacon and some other stuff that also came with soup, but I went with the cold sandwich because I was still hot from the flight, which made the waitress laugh. We spent about an hour sitting and eating and relaxing. I started feeling better when I ate so I took a Dramamine to prepare for the next flight. On the way back, we stopped at a candy shop (Frankie had seen it earlier and of course I liked the idea of getting candy!) and then made our way back to our gate. It was only 9:10 or so, and we didn’t think boarding was till 9:55, so we were surprised to see people standing around and some people even boarding. I asked a woman near the front who was boarding, and she answered (in an Australian accent!) that business class was. Well, we were glad to have gotten back right then! We had wanted to sit and get situated before leaving, but we just had to wait and do everything on the plane. They began boarding by rows then, and we went in that first group because we were row 68. As we boarded, everyone was saying “Welcome aboard!” and “Enjoy your flight!” in Australian accents. It made me really excited and reminded me what we were actually doing! When we got back to our row, a man was sitting in it, but he realized he should be in row 67 and quickly moved while apologizing (in an accent!). We put our bags up and settled into our seats. We were really excited for the personal TVs and the comfier seats and the pillows and blankets that were provided! There are 3 seats in our portion of the row, and no one in our 3rd seat, so that was nice to be able to spread out a little while sleeping. Frankie and I were both texting as the rest of the passengers were boarding since this would be the last time we could really text freely. The flight attendant was bringing more goodies (eye-mask, headphones, toothbrush, and mini toothpaste!) and she was jokingly making fun of us for texting each time she came around. I told her it would be the last time we could text for a while and she just laughed. Frankie and I were both pretty tired, so we figured we would just sleep for now and watch a movie later. They had tons of free movies to watch including Lincoln, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Avatar, Life of Pi, and so many more. As we heard the safety instructions and took off, I felt a little sick but not too bad. I watched our flight path for a while and it was fun to see. We had 15 hours till reaching Brisbane, and then a few more to Sydney. After using the super small bathroom, I settled in and fell asleep listening to the playlist Matt made me with the 30-minute sleep timer on my iPod. Over the next many hours, I woke up tons of times to switch positions. I wore the eye-mask and it was really good. One of the times I woke up, I peeked out of my eye-mask and saw all the lights on and people eating dinner! I also saw two bags of snacks next to my feet on the chair beside me, but I didn’t think much about any of it and just went back to sleep. When I finally woke up for good, it was about 1am Brisbane time and 11am home time. When I went to sleep it was about midnight at home so I think I slept for around 11 hours! When I got up, I freshened up in the bathroom and then came back to watch a movie. I chose Julie and Julia and that’s pretty much up to now! Looking back, it’s funny that we slept right through dinner and that the attendants just laid small bags of snacks for us to eat later. The bags had water, chips, a fig bar, and some kind of chocolate snack thing. The captain just announced that we’re almost in Brisbane and that we have to get all our stuff and go through security again (ugh! So not fun the first time, and luckily we didn’t have to do it again in Texas). Brisbane is nearer to Grafton so I should have probably just taken a flight here! Oh well, I’ll think of the train as something I wanted to do (and if I hadn’t already been traveling for so long at this point, I think I would definitely love a long train ride as a way to see the country!). Time to pack my stuff!
4/4/13 – Flight to Sydney after switch in Brisbane – about 4am
Highlights from Brisbane
-met a nice couple who had been on holiday in Texas for a month – we talked with them while waiting to deboard (I’m going to start saying holiday instead of vacation – it sounds so much cooler)
-had to go through security again – although it was much slower than in the US. It was also 3am so that could have had something to do with it
-got picked for a random explosives test – I was brought into a room and wanded and patted down – and I passed so I went back out and Frankie was waiting for me. She said she almost followed me in lol but then decided to wait. It took about 45 seconds maybe.
-Frankie exchanged the American cash she brought and it worked out fine. I checked to see if I should just use an ATM to get money and the lady said yes. I tried both my cards and it said they weren’t recognized! So I went back to the lady and she asked if they were Visa because Visa has been having issues. She said the issues should be resolved by the time we get to Sydney. I was still worried about having no money so I tried to call my mom to ask her to call the banks to make sure my cards were ready to work here, but my call wouldn’t go through twice! I really think I did it right (1 + 10 digits) so I don’t know what the problem could be! Now I’m worried about being able to call M if I’d need to. Anyway, I texted my mom and she said she’d check on it. That was right before this flight, so I don’t know if that’s resolved or what yet. This flight only has 27 minutes left – and wait let’s talk about how there’s an hour time difference between Brisbane and Sydney? I thought time zones went vertically, and I know that Sydney is a little more to the west, but I didn’t know a zone change occurred between them. When I get off in Sydney I have to go through customs and then get my checked bag and then get to the train station and get on the train! Once I successfully do that (hopefully), the last worry I’ll have is meeting up with M at the station! Hopefully we find each other right away and that goes perfectly. I’m not stressing too much, but it would be nice if everything did go perfectly.
I still don’t think it has fully hit me that we’re in Australia! It did a little when we were deplaning in Brisbane and I saw a palm tree, but now that we’re in the air again I’m again at the point where it hasn’t hit me.
4/4/13 – around 11:30 am – On the train from Sydney to Grafton
So I’m feeling quite a bit more stranded seeing as my phone won’t make any outgoing calls! Not even to the free Verizon help number. I’m on the train to Grafton now and I really like my seat! It’s a window seat in the back near my luggage. I really wish I had a water bottle right now.
The train is leaving Sydney Central now! I can’t believe I’m in Australia! I keep going through such a range of emotions – right now I’m definitely excited!
Okay, so going back to getting off the plane in Sydney, we deplaned and followed signs for baggage and customs. We picked up our luggage (and the luggage tag ripped off of mine like I had thought it would!) before heading to customs, which was very simple. We just gave our incoming traveler card (we had filled it out on the plane, and it had asked what we were bringing into the country – we had to check yes or no for everything and all our answers were no) and we showed our passports and got right through. Oh and I told the guy I had a granola bar when he asked if we had any food and he said it was okay. So we went toward the exit and as we walked I saw signs for a train that took me from the airport to Central Station. We met N (Frankie’s host – who is so, so nice) and talked about how to get me where I had to go. I told her my cards weren’t working in the ATMs so she got some money out for me to borrow from her – again, so nice! N and Frankie walked with me to where I could buy my train ticket from the airport to Sydney Central Station – we just followed signs to get there, and then we separated.
Now, I was on my own! As I almost fell down the escalator with my huge bags (Dad, you were right, I may have packed too much), I couldn’t help but smile at how much everything seems to be an adventure for me. I’m sure other people feel frazzled in the same way that I often do, but they really don’t seem like it on the outside! Okay, so I wasn’t quite smiling yet, but I would be soon. I struggled to put my ticket in the little contraption while juggling all my luggage, and a nice worker came to help me get it, and myself, through the tiny gate. When I got through, I followed signs to another escalator and gracefully harrumphed myself and my bag onto it – if you’ve never tried to bring a large wobbly item with a smaller wobbly item balancing on top down an escalator, let me tell you, it’s hard! Your huge suitcase takes up a whole step and you have to get it on just right or the step behind it catapults the bag and you down a few steps until you hopefully catch your balance – red faced and sweaty you now stand uneventfully as the escalator reaches the bottom and your heart rate returns to normal.
I got off and rolled my bag to stand next to a bench. I didn’t want to lose all my CountryLink confirmation papers, but I wanted to be slightly prepared so I pulled out the map that I my mom printed out for me (what would I do without that woman?). I saw that CountryLink info was near Platform 1, which is what the ticket man had told me also, so I stood and waited for the underground train. Two young women were standing a ways off from me and they asked me if this was the right place to be to catch a train to Central. I’m glad I looked like I knew what I was doing enough to be asked a question, and my reply was that I was heading to Central, so I hoped this was the right place. Their faces looked like they were hoping for a little more confidence, so I added that I had followed signs for Central down this way, so I figured they wouldn’t lead me astray. The pair seemed more satisfied with this answer, and I must have seemed sure enough because they followed me into the train car.
There were stairs going up and down for seats, but with my huge bags I had to just stand with a pole with some others with big bags. I had seen on the large display maps throughout the airport that Central was right after domestic, so the 2nd stop. When we got to the 2nd stop, it said Morgan or something like that, so I did some kind of nervous shuffle, like I was about to get off, hit 3 people with my backpack, and asked into the crowd, “Do you know if this is Sydney Central Station?” I made eye contact with an older gentleman and his wife at the end of my plea, and he reassured me that Central was in 2 more stops. I’m normally the type of person to grab a map and double check, so I definitely regretted not doing that in this case. I thanked the man and he said I could follow him and his wife since they were getting off there. As the train continued on, I now smiled, thinking about the fact that I was alone in a foreign country on an underground train! I still couldn’t believe I was actually here and doing something like this. At the next stop, another younger man standing next to me told me that my stop was the next one while pointing on his map. I thanked him, too, and repaid him by thwaping him with my bag while shuffling my belongings out of that small space at the correct stop. I quickly apologized as he smiled and said, “No worries.” (I’ve already heard that a lot.) The man and his wife that said I could follow them caught up to me as I was following signs to get to where I needed to go, and they asked where I was going. I told them Grafton via the CountryLink service and they again said they’d show me the way. I had been eyeing the stairs down from the platform I was on right as I saw a sign for the lift when the couple had come up behind me to tell me there was a lift at the end of the platform. We chatted as we waited for the lift and they pointed me in the right direction at the bottom. I thanked them again as they wished me well.
I had to follow stairs up this time, and I walked with confidence to the escalator because up escalators are much easier than down ones. When I got to the top, there were people and signs everywhere. I kept looking for CountryLink signs but I didn’t see any. I knew I was still trying to get to Platform 1, so I followed signs for that. Those signs brought me around a corner and up to more gate things that needed a ticket like what I had put my airport train ticket in. I asked a worker standing by one of them how to get to anything to do with CountryLink, and he told me to go look at a timetable to find the platform I needed. This wasn’t the information I needed, but I looked anyway and was at least glad to see that it said CountryLink to Grafton at 11:35, which was familiar – and it said Platform 3. I continued to look around for signs, seeing none, I remembered my map. I had crumpled it in my hand after remembering about the fact that having a map out alerts others to the fact that you’re a tourist. Since I was traveling alone, I had quietly crumpled it in my hand while on the train from the airport to here. Now, I zigzagged my way between the throngs of people to an empty space a little away from the crowds.
I set my bags down and took a breath as I uncrumpled the map. I saw that all the CountryLink information booths really were right next to Platform 1, which really was through those gates. I got all my CountryLink paperwork out at this time (feeling like I was on the Amazing Race) in case I needed to show the gate people my papers. I went to the big gate for people with bigger bags that had a person sitting in a booth next to it and I told him I needed to get to CountryLink offices. He waved me through and told me to make a left. I did and I saw platforms 1, 2, and 3. I also saw a little booth with the CountryLink name and logo and my shoulders sunk when I realized there was no one inside. I began walking toward it anyway, because what else was I going to do, when I saw some motion to my right. The motion happened to be the electronic doors leading to the CountryLink office. Regripping my 75,000 pounds of luggage, I walked inside. As I waited in line, I grabbed every map and info packet, although they’re all still sitting next to me on the seat as I write this. I was able to get my 3-month Backpacker pass and my ticket for today’s train. I asked about luggage and was told to head next door to the baggage office. Once there, I mentioned that I thought you had to check your bags. The woman told me that you didn’t have to, that it was up to me. Since I had said that I thought my bag was a bit heavier than 20 kg (their maximum limit for checking luggage), she suggested I weigh it anyway. It ended up being 21.5 kg and she said that would have been fine to check. I decided to just keep it with me though as that would make it easier when I went to get off. I found a bench on Platform 3 and gladly sat down to get all my things together. I tried calling my mom because she had called me earlier, but a voice still said the call couldn’t be connected. I texted her (50 cents!) and she called me and we talked for about 10 minutes. She called Verizon and then called me back and gave me a help number to call and I couldn’t call that either. Long story short, Sarah learned to put a plus sign in front of the 1.
And that again brings us to now. I got lunch a little while ago by walking up 2 cars to the buffet car. I got a water and a sandwich and it cost a little over AUD$7.00. I wanted to try using my card to pay, so I tried pushing checking and then entering my pin and it didn’t work. I told the buffet car worker about the ATM issues but he told me to try again and push credit and then my pin. This time it worked! So yay! He said he thinks you always have to push credit if you’re using a card internationally, so we’ll see. It’s 1:25pm now (time really flies when you write!) here outside Sydney. Grafton is a little under Brisbane so I wonder if there’s a time change while on this train. I hope not because that would mean this journey is another hour longer! [UPDATE: I looked it up and the time difference is because Brisbane doesn’t do daylight savings time like Sydney does, so Sydney is one hour different in the summer months (from the first Sunday in October to the first Sunday in April – which is in two days!)]
Train travel is really interesting – it’s so old fashioned. Plus everything out my window looks like Jurassic Park. I haven’t seen any animals yet, but the trees are pretty interesting in their own right. Bill Bryson wrote In A Sunburned Country about an Australian train journey (or at least that’s what the part I’m reading now is about) so it’d be fun to keep reading that right now. I think I’d get sick though so I might just listen to music for a little.