Australia is My “Happy Place”

 

The Thorn Birds The last time I was in Australia was in 1988, just after college, when I backpacked dragged a suitcase around the country for 6 months. I was not a backpacker. I needed my blow dryer and curling iron, hair products, and more than one pair of shoes.

Lured by the rugged landscape and romance portrayed in the movie The Thorn Birds, I spent a couple of weeks in Sydney before traveling up the coast to see Brisbane, Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. I went all the way up to the rain forests of Cape Tribulation. Then I took a bus across the vast desert to Mount Isa, a dusty little town near Ayers Rock, where I worked in a youth hostel for a few weeks waiting on the big rodeo to come to town.  After that, I went to Darwin, and then hitchhiked down the west coast to Perth.  It was an amazing experience. When I returned to Sydney, I got a job in a bar in King’s Cross, planning to stay forever. When my visa expired, and I wasn’t able to renew it, I was devastated. I didn’t want to leave.

This time was no different, except I wasn’t by myself. And I didn’t end up working in a bar.

Australia is officially my “Happy Place.”

It’s the only country (so far) that ticks all the boxes on my “must have” list:

  • temperate climate
  • beaches and mountains
  • big cities for entertainment/airport access
  • great food
  • lots of outdoor activities
  • lots of places to see and things to do
  • nice people
  • low crime
  • affordable

G and I flew over to Australia a couple months ago, to help his brother celebrate his 75th birthday. His brother lives just south of Brisbane, in Sanctuary Cove, a beautiful, master-planned community near the Gold Coast. It’s a resort, but with full-time residents, and everything they need is a golf cart ride away. Somehow, it felt like stepping back in time. It reminded me of what it was like growing up in Saudi Arabia, in a community that cared and looked out for its members. People in Sanctuary Cove love to socialize, and dinner parties are occasions to dress up and actually interact with each other. You don’t see everyone checking their cell phones every five minutes. Friends go on trips together. Women play bridge and tennis and have weekly coffee dates. The guys fish and golf and go to Happy Hour together. No one cares what anyone else does (or did, if they’re retired) for a living. It’s very social, and everyone is accepted for who they are, as part of the community. Even the kangaroos.

Kangaroos

Kangaroos on the golf course!

What struck me the most was how fast we were accepted into the fold. We felt so welcomed and included in the various activities – dinner parties and birthday lunches and golf games. It takes years to achieve that kind of acceptance in the States, if you haven’t grown up in a particular place. G and I both grew up in expat communities, so we have always felt pretty much like outsiders wherever we have lived. But Sanctuary Cove immediately felt like “home.”  We absolutely fell in love with it. Now we’re trying to figure out how and when we can return full time.

The only down side to living Down Under, as far as I can see is, is that it is so far away from the U.S. and Europe. With all our kids located on this side of the world, it doesn’t make sense for us to move any time soon. We would be spending our lives (and money) just traveling to see everyone (all eight of them)!! But I know that some day, I will be living in my “Happy Place.”

Here are some of the highlights of our recent trip…

 

 

Sanctuary Cove:

Sanctuary Cove

Sanctuary Cove

A pool that looks like a beach!

Brisbane:

Downtown Brisbane

The waterfront area had so many cool buildings and restaurants.

SouthBeach, Brisbane

South Bank was such a great area, with a huge public pool and playground, and lots of pubs and eateries.

Brisbane - Old vs New

I love the juxtaposition of old and new.

Sydney:

Double Bay

We stayed in Double Bay, or “Double Pay” as it is also known, and took the ferry to the harbor.

Sydney Harbor Bridge

The French flag was being flown on the bridge due to the terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris.

 

Oysters at The Rocks

Oysters!

Sydney

The Rocks

Sydney Opera House

Of course I had to have a picture of the Opera House

The Rocks

This building is right behind the train station.

Icebergs Pool, Bondi

Swimming in seawater at Icebergs, Bondi

Cool rock formations on the Coastal Walk, Bondi

Cool rock formations on the Coastal Walk, Bondi (I was able to do some research for my current novel!)

Manly:

Manly Beach

Manly

See you soon, Australia….

Water Dragon

Water Dragon

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Austria in Autumn

G and I went to Austria for 10 days in late October. It was unseasonably warm, and we got to see some of the country before the winter snow sets in.

First, we went to Zell am See, which is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. In fact, there are many visitors who come to this village precisely because they believe it is “Heaven on Earth” – with its pristine lake set against a backdrop of mountains, it just doesn’t get much better than this ….

Zell am See

After a few days exploring the region around Zell am See, we went to Kitzbühel – a favorite ski town of the rich and famous. We stayed in a fantastic Tablet Hotel – the Q! Resort – which is located right on the river just a short stroll from the center of town.

Kitsbühel

If you’re not familiar with Tablet, it’s a website that only features boutique hotels. This one did not disappoint: it was decorated beautifully and the interior was warm and welcoming. Upon our arrival, we were greeted with a glass of Prosecco by the fire!

Our next stop was Innsbruck, famous for its ornate and pastel-colored buildings. We strolled around the Old Town and then took the train up the mountain to see the city from a higher perspective.

Innsbruck

Innsbruck Church

Innsbruck Villagers

Innsbruck Panorama

From Innsbruck, we took a day trip to Seefeld, a small, charming ski village about 30 minutes away. Even the drive was beautiful!

Driving in Austria

Seefeld was getting ready to close down for a few weeks before the start of ski season, so we were lucky to get there when we did. All the outdoor cafés were full of people enjoying the mild weather.

Seefeld

Seefeld AlpenHotel

 

Charcuterie & Wine in Seefeld

We had to stop and try some delicious local food and wine !

Our last stop was Salzburg. On the way, we took a detour to visit St Johann in Tirol. It was November 1st, the Day of the Dead, and there were soldiers everywhere in full dress. It was a little unsettling, to say the least. (It didn’t feel right to take a picture of them.) The church bells were tolling, and the little cemetery in the center of town was full of people paying their respects to lost loved ones. We walked through quickly before driving on.

St Johann in Tirol

St Johann in Tirol

 

Salzburg was my favorite city of all. This year marks the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music, the movie that some say put Salzburg on the map. But I don’t think it needed the movie to do that – it is picture perfect!

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We took an elevator up to the top of the mountain, and walked above these crazy houses which backed right up to the rock face ….

Salzburg Houses

 

 

I was so happy to get my castle fix, visiting Hohensalzburg Castle, one of the biggest – and oldest – fortresses in Austria. It was STEEP!

Hohensalzburg Castle

Hohensalzburg Castle

Walkingto Castle

 

There were some pretty cool exhibits inside …

Cloud Sculpture

Cloud Sculpture with Plates

Castle Warriors

Warriors

Chastity Belt - Ouch!

Chastity Belt – Ouch!

 

And the view from the top was a-ma-zing!

Church Spires

 

 

I now know where Mozart got his inspiration!

Cow

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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