Lucky Adventures

We’ve well and truly wound up down here in Sydney, the six-week trip tying itself up with a nice little bow. The last two weeks have dissolved into the one day we have left to go, and I’ve already mentally jumped ahead to what needs to be done once we land back in Germany. Six weeks is a long time to be away, long enough to feel like you’ve started living somewhere else, for the tiniest of initial roots to push themselves into the ground. We need to yank them back up and get on a plane, Germany – the other home – is waiting.

It’s a good feeling to miss a place, even when you love the one you’re currently in, to feel the pull back towards a well worn routine and familiarity of home life. It means you’re where you should be.

Even though six weeks is a long time, in a country as big as Australia, it’s almost the minimum time you can spend here and see enough (once you block out the first week to get over the jetlag). We didn’t even leave the east coast, save for a week in New Zealand where our family gathered for my cousin’s wedding, spending our time catching up with family and friends in Sydney and Melbourne, and a few days up on NSW’s north coast. And we ended up with just one free day with nothing planned.

So it is we’ve started packing up for the trip home, the both of us filled up with Australianness and precious time spent in fortunate abundance with friends and family. We’ve eaten sushi every second day, and Thai curry after Indian curry after Malay curry. We’ve seen movies in their original versions, catching up on as many of the nominated ones as we could. We watched a rugby game, the Australian Open, played with kangaroos, spotted koalas, swam, absorbed the Australian sun, ate good Aussie fish and BBQs, road tripped, and drank as much wonderful coffee as we could, before heading back to the land of filter coffee. We visited the Hobbits, took in the sun on Waiheke Island, and spent Waitangi Day in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. I’ve had to purchase extra luggage to get things that have been waiting for me here, like old loved books, home to Germany. We are, and have been, so lucky. And it’s ‘lucky’ how I’ve decided to see this ongoing split between two homes, because the passport I have and the country I live in are both wonderful places, that afford us as people and our relationship so much, and to to-and-fro between them is a privilege.

A new German chapter is agitating to begin, and within its pages, already pencilled in, plenty of adventures. It’s time now to leave home and go back home to get started on it all.

All sorts of things await.

 

Comparing

It’s always dangerous to compare. One’s joy can be thieved by the very act of drawing together two things and attempting to find which one comes out best. But I love a bit of danger (sometimes I open the wine before it’s dark outside) and being between two countries means the urge to compare is a strong one. And, really, quite therapeutic.

There are a lot of things I love about Germany but of late I have really been thinking about the key elements of my lifestyle there, because ultimately, should you be fortunate enough to have the choice, it’s lifestyle you live somewhere for.

Sydney is a stunning city to live in. Fantastic weather, beaches, restaurants and bars, universities, the harbour, and coastal holiday towns but a couple of hours away. It’s difficult to compete with, even if it is hideously expensive, a real estate buyer’s nightmare, has dreadful public transport, and to earn enough to enjoy the fantastic restaurants, bars, cafes and shopping, or indeed pay rent or the mortgage, you live to work, not the other way around.

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So, when choosing to live in a city or country that is not the one of my birth, I am up against a long list of sun-coloured pros, which means I have to dig deep to find the things I love about the competing location. As I wrote a few days ago, I have recently realised how much I love my life in the competing location – Germany – and here’s why:

I walk a lot. Master of the mid-sized city, German cities of 250,000 people are so wonderfully livable. They have excellent public transport, bike lanes aplenty (not that I use them) and walking is both a pleasure and easy. In Kiel, we’d walk to our grocery shop. I walked to work. I walked to the harbour, to the parks, to restaurants and wine bars. A car, for me, in Germany, isn’t a necessity. In Sydney, you can’t get by without one and you drive everywhere. Because you have to. And that means sitting in the most appalling traffic and paying formidably expensive tolls ($6 one way, on one of our roads) day in, day out.

Public transport. If I can’t walk, I catch a bus. Busses are on time, lovely and clean and always tell you where you are going. In bigger cities there are U-Bahns and S-Bahns that are frequent and punctual. We complain about the DB, but it is generally an excellent system that means you can reach anywhere in the country, by rail. God forbid you rely solely on public transport in Sydney – you will never get anywhere, and spend a fortune doing it.

Travel. We’re in the middle of Europe. A drive pops us into one of nine entirely different countries. We can cruise to Scandinavia. It’s a little over an hour’s flight to London. Flights don’t cost a fortune or take twenty hours. Travelling is easy, relatively inexpensive and, so very luckily, part of life.

Cost of Living. It is, flat out, cheaper to eat, rent and exist in Germany. Yes, you get paid more in Australia, but the level of expense that you become accustomed to is ridiculous, and you’re more likely to accept an indecent price as normal, pop it on the credit card, and inch towards an unsustainable budget.

Healthcare and Insurance. It’s a good system, and Lord knows I’ve used it. A lot. And I’ve always been well looked after and barely out of pocket.

Free Education. When it comes to educating my future children, I know they will have access to very good schools, and a university education, for free. (And yes, I still say ‘free’ despite the very small semester fees that have recently cropped up in German universities, because it still beats $20,000+ per degree in Australia).

Weekends, Feierabends and Free Time. The 24/7 culture, that seems to pervade the USA, UK and Australia, hasn’t quite reached Germany, and I think one’s lifestyle there is all the richer for it. Everything is closed on a Sunday in Germany. The day is for spending at home, or with your family and friends. Often, Friday afternoons are ‘Feierabends’ – you clock off work early and enjoy the afternoon and evening, instead of staying at work until 8pm, or answering emails at home until after ten. You can if you want to, but overall, it simply isn’t expected or encouraged.

Germans also value free time. Along with the French, they’re one of the European countries that clock up the most hours of free time in a year. They also have one of the highest number of holiday days (on average around 25, depending on where you work).

The weather. Okay, so just spring and summer. And maybe parts of autumn. This is a stretch, but … the winters are so long and gross and generally depressing, they make spring seem like a gift from the Gods. The flowers rush out, the birds suddenly return, and everyone beams at each other for no reason at all. Summer in many parts of Germany are lovely and warm, and if you live on the coast (as we shall!) summers are almost as laidback and beachy as they are in Sydney. And autumn, well, you know – leaves turn red and crunch underfoot, and for a while, it’s all quite cinematic. But then, winter comes …

 Why do you live where you live? What do you like about it, or miss about your competing location?

Coming and Going

It’s a peculiar thing, going home, when you no longer live there. Much like most of the landmarks, your history remains, intact and untouched. So do, give or take one or two as the years pass by, the people who preserve it. Many of them want to know when I’ll be home and it takes a moment or two to discern what they mean. When am I going home? Or when am I coming home? I’m going home in a couple of weeks, but I’m not coming home at any point in the foreseeable future for a variety of reasons and a motley collection of hard-earned or accidentally-collected anchors.

This trip has been a different one. Up until it, we have always talked about the possibility of us moving to Australia – a move that would entail ripping up more roots than I did when I moved simply myself and a suitcase to Germany on a wing and a prayer and a working holiday visa. We have talked about the lifestyle Australia can offer us, with the mild weather and beautiful environment of Sydney tugging with quiet but relentless strength. Up until this trip, the answer to ‘and when are you home?’ has been along the lines of, ‘we’d love to come and live in Australia if we can, perhaps a few years down the track.’ Up until a few weeks ago, I was comfortable with that quiet, relentless tug that creates the oft-repeated answer. It’s simply a part of how I have chosen life to be. And I always assumed that, one day, and probably not too far in the distant future, that one final tug would win, toppling me sideways and pulling me back down here. And if that meant pulling my relationship and that motley collection of anchors with me, then we’d try and make that work, haul ourselves over that bridge when we came to it.

But then, a few weeks ago, we were walking along the Yarra river in Melbourne on a scorching summer’s day, jetlagged and sticky. The conversation that, by now, is worn with use, familiar as a winter coat come February, bubbled up between us once more; would we, could we, make the move to Australia. And as we talked, about costs and employment and education and property and lifestyle and the logistics of relocation, I waited to feel it, that obvious little twinge that always reminds me of where I come from and how brightly that burns inside. And I felt it, I always will. But I also felt something else. Something else that had bumped in alongside that twinge. Something had picked up the other side of the rope and was matching Australia, pull for pull, tug for tug. It was a simple realisation, one almost too simple to pass comment on, one I feel strange even calling a realisation, because how had I not known it before? Or was it so simple, so normal, it wasn’t noticeable, or rather, worth noticing?

It was a realisation of like. I like my lifestyle in Germany. All of the little pieces that make it what it is, I like them. In fact, many of those pieces, I love. And beyond like and love, there is the even simpler issue of capability. I can do it. I can live here. I can, and I have, made a little patch of a foreign country, my own. Even before listing the positives, the obvious ones, the ones that go head to head with those of Australia’s list, the fundamentals are there. The cement has dried on the foundations; I like it and I can do it.

So we will, for the foreseeable future. And how lucky I am, that I can come and go and always find a home, and people who will hold my history while I’m gone.

Islands

Coming to you live from a very small island nation that is extremely good at rugby and claims the pavlova as their own. New Zealand. It’s good to be here. And it’s as good a place as any to get writing again, having been wifi-on-a-laptop-less since arriving in Australia two weeks ago.

Our family gathered on Waiheke Island this past weekend, for the wedding of my cousin. Waiheke Island, covered in vineyards and hemmed by expansive bays and little beaches, hosts something like 64% of all New Zealand weddings.

And, you know, you can kind of see why.

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Wine flowed, family danced – it was spectacular, and everything you fly halfway around the world to get to.

Melbourne and Sydney prefaced our NZ jaunt, and Sydney will come around again after our time in NZ. The weather on both islands – Australia and NZ – has been stunning; big blue skies, hot sun. Jetlagged in Melbourne, we caught some fantastic Aussie Open matches and a curry at our favourite Indian place. We breakfasted with dear friends and met their new baby. In Sydney, we were overwhelmed by family and friends, seeing who we could, while helping Mum and Dad pack for their own international move. Change, huh, the only constant we have.

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The German is sinking more and more into Australianness – he asked me to explain the rules of cricket, and now watches it intently – and I am realising more and more how much Germany has influenced who I am, now, at 29 (that also happened in Sydney. Aren’t I still 25 and trying to figure out the Münsteranians?) several years after I first moved there. There is always something in flux, and that something is usually us.

It’s another beautiful summer’s day out there. The cicadas are singing, the sun is waiting to get its hands on my pink nose and burnt shoulders – one forgets how bloody strong the sun is down here. I am going to go out into that day, start it with a fantastic coffee – one doesn’t forget how good coffee is in Oz and NZ.

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I’ll see you guys very soon.

 

The Beach House

Last weekend, precious time, snatched from a whirlwind beginning to what promises to be another enormous year, was spent at a beach north of Sydney that may or may not be my favourite place in the world. It is where, since I was a child, we’ve been spending weeks and weekends of long, hot summers and I wanted SG to see what it’s all about. The scratch dinners and late brunches. The summer fruit and beers on the balcony. Salty skin and hair, sandy feet and skin sticky with sunscreen. The rainbow lorikeets screeching overhead. Lazy minutes spent reading new books from Christmas stockings. The cold, rough, foamy, minty ocean with its annoying blue bottles and sneaky rips. Family. Uno. More beer on the balcony. Drunk Uno.

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SG has left now and I will follow in a month. We crammed in as much Australia and as many Australians as we could over the nearly 6 weeks he was here. It was huge and exhausting and fun. So fun. Coming down off the back of it, off the back of the reef and Melbourne and a huge Christmas and far too much wine, time and space to clear heads and enjoy each other and close family before another separation was desperately needed. So that precious time, snatched from this whirlwind year’s beginning, spent at a place of great peace, was perfect. Gentle, lazy, all too quick, but perfect.

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Month of Australia: A Little Bit of Sydney

She is a bit of a show off, my city. She is good looking and she knows it, indeed rests a little too much on those laurels. Less naturally attractive cities in this country that have to try a little harder have better theatre and richer, more vibrant arts and music scenes. But Sydney, with her harbour and white sails, with that huge coat-hanger that connects the opposing suburban sprawls, the big old sandstone buildings and blue beaches, she’s a looker.

I’ve been back now for 4 months and a lot of what I’ve written in that time has been preoccupied with settling back down in this town, reacquainting myself with all of its facets and layers, both tangible and intangible, the ones that make it my home. I have also found myself so sensitive to its colours and tastes and rhythms. Being away from home heightens everything about your attitude towards it. And dragging someone around, whose first time it is in your home city, is even better. Everything thrills. Everything bursts with feeling and colour and memory you are desperate for them to see through the same lens as you do. SG has been here for 2 weeks now and with every slice of Vegemite and cheese toast he eats, with every ‘no worries’ or ‘just a tic’, with every cup-of-tea-with-milk, a little part of me sings for both my country and my relationship.

I’ll leave her again soon and it will be harder than the first, second and third times, somehow more indefinite and definite at the same time. Until then, though, every colour, every scent, every moment will burst.

Here she is – or a tiny part of her anyway – on a cloudy, humid Saturday, showing off as usual.

 

Month of Australia: Koalas & Wombats & Wallabies, Oh My!

Not far from my home lies something of a Sydney institution, if only because it has been going for so long most of those who went to school in Sydney have, at some point, been bussed out there for a school excursion alongside camera-toting tourists, desperate for a glimpse of a real, live koala. This place goes by the name of Koala Park and has been around, quietly and unassumingly, since 1930. It was founded by Noel Burnet as a sanctuary for Australia’s iconic eucalyptus lover, a species which was, at that time, in real danger of extinction, thanks to a booming fur trade.

Eighty years later, twenty after I checked it out as a young thing with Vegemite sandwiches in my school bag, it is a real little gem of a place, ten acres of well maintained land called home by some of Australia’s most significant species. Plenty of wallabies, koalas, emus, birds, a few dingoes and a couple of ridiculously cute wombats are well looked after – there are even a few sheep who partake in the shearing shows (done by a shearer nearing retirement who can no longer maintain his sheep-a-minute pace but can throw a boomerang with reasonable success. I was impressed.)

We went because, just like you can’t come to Australia without seeing a crocodile and kangaroo (hopefully the latter not in the mouth of the former), you can’t come without checking out a koala. Koala Park has four feeding times a day, during which you can take photos and give the little guy having a snack, a nice and gentle pat. We came back after the crowd had dissipated somewhat and had a lovely little interlude with an extremely well-natured female koala by the name of Tadpole.

If you don’t have time to do a big zoo, or all you really want to do while you’re here is cut to the chase and pat a koala without spending a small fortune (nothing out here comes cheap and that includes zoo tickets), then head to Koala Park. Australians, this includes you too – pretty sure today was the first time (that I can remember, anyway) I felt that deliciously soft and dense fur.