Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I FOUND MYSELF THINKING A LOT ABOUT LIFE IN TORONTO WHILE WE WERE IN AUSTRALIA. Culturally, we aren't so different, both fussy members of the British Commonwealth and quaint cousins to America, with our funny-accents and aggressive politeness. This leg of our trip was, by and large, spent in urban areas. It was easier to compare life at home to this part of the trip, as it looked more familiar. Spending a month in these new cities, I was reminded of something I've known to be true for a while: I'm not sure cities are where I thrive.

I'm prone to anxiety, swept-up into chaos, and cities are where those things find footing and where deep breaths are laced with smog and doubt. After a rather rural New Zealand experience, the return to metro-life was nerve-wracking. A couple of things came immediately (and neurotically) to mind: I had shorn off my hair and I hadn't packed "city-appropriate" clothing. In a flash of mental muscle memory, my urban-dwelling vanity-insanity rushed back. Driving through the hills and valleys of New Zealand was easy and lacked the panic of living an impressive life; it didn't matter what my job was or what I was wearing or what I was doing this weekend. Cities demand a base-level glamour and engender competition, and so I was unexpectedly and suddenly distressed.

In the last year and a half, while full-time freelancing in Toronto, this urban anxiety has become more palpable, the city thick with apprehension, wondering about jobs or payments or what success should feel like, and how to measure it within the wide bounds of creativity. Our weekends at the cottage or jaunts to Florida lifted the worry of keeping the pace of big city life. Leaving altogether made it almost disappear.

This trip will take us to many corners of the world, those that are loud and very quiet. I will return home able to decide what I want my life to feel like. This trip has reminded me that I can choose.

After a few days, the uneasiness subsided and I realized Australian cities weren't quite like Toronto at all. There's an imperturbable quality to the people who live there. I could live in Melbourne or Sydney in a heartbeat; they're friendly and sunsoaked, walkable and easygoing, and they certainly seem to balance work and leisure in a way that North American cities do not. For every urban experience, there are fifty activities outside the hustle. There's a natural inclination to relax. I don't think I had one discussion with a local person about their job and even the bustling city centres came with a healthy tan and a pair of short-shorts.

With a cock-eyed smile and an affable accent, Australia reminded me to take it easy, and a little less seriously.

Sailing in Newcastle. Jeff was in his glory until he sliced his foot open on a stanchion. We spent 3 hours in the emergency room and 2 weeks nursing his wound and staving off infection.

Water, water everywhere. The Bondi Icebergs, left, and Newcastle's Bogey Hole on the right. Incredible saltwater pools are common.

A Sydney highlight. Bondi Beach and the Bondi Icebergs. Beautiful.

One of the world's great buildings. The Sydney Opera House. Did you know it's covered in over 1 million tiles? We saw La Boheme

No shortage of gorgeous men in Australia. It's nearly overwhelming.

The Tasman Sea.

Surf watch on the single sunny day in Gold Coast.

Beautiful Brighton Beach, a suburb of Melbourne. The Brighton Bathing Boxes are just about the quaintest things I've ever seen. They sell for over 200K when they rarely become available.

Another of Jeff in the Bogey Hole. It was carved out of the coastal rocks by inmates in the 1700s. It's quite small and rarely very busy.

The lovely and varied architecture of Melbourne. From Brutalist government buildings to the most ornate neo-Gothic mansions. It's a spectacular place.

1) We spent many days in Melbourne lounging in the beautiful parks reading our books. I blew through Nigel Slater's Toast while Jeff read Benjamin Law's Gaysian, a pop-sociological study of gay culture in Asia. Both excellent, I can attest, as I'm now reading the latter.

2) Gold Coast was battered by epic storms during our stay. The beaches were closed, which is certainly rare. In a matter of hours one night, the beach receded by many, many meters and left a ragged scarp which we had to scramble down just so we could walk along the rough shoreline.

3) We stayed with my Dad's cousin Brenda in Newcastle, which is a small city just north of Sydney. We had a terrific time and I'm still digesting the wonderful talks I shared with Brenda. I had never met her kids or her husband, though I had a wonderful relationship with her parents throughout my childhood. It's incredible how genetics make us so similar yet we've never really spent any time together.

4) Our customs officer at Sydney's airport was named Jeff Hudson. We found this to be entirely crazy and he was very sweet. He showed me his pinky ring, which was the Hudson crest, before thrusting our passports at me, "You should look after these. The Hudsons are the responsible ones."

5) The Oscars® air live in Australia at 11:30am on Monday morning. We watched, shuttered indoors by the aforementioned Gold Coast weather, though I wasn't really upset; I haven't missed an Academy Awards telecast in at least 20 years.

6) We ate a kilogram of prawns on the rocky coastline of Newcastle, tearing off the heads and removing their bowels. It was way outside my box and delicious.

7) A group of kangaroos is called a "gang". We saw a wild one in the Hunter Valley wine region.

8) Jeff cut his foot open on Brenda's sailboat on Lake MacQuarie. We had to sit in the emergency room for 3 hours and paid $90 for the pleasure. Because the deep wound was between his toes, they opted to wrap it rather than stitch, as the natural resting position caused the wound to close over itself. It has finally healed and we are no longer terrified of a Balinese staph infection. This injury, however, meant Jeff couldn't really walk very much in Sydney, and couldn't get his foot wet. To those who know him, this was devastating when we visited the Bondi Icebergs.

9) We stumbled upon and fell in love with a sitcom called Please Like Me written by comic, Josh Thomas. It's about a newly-gay 20-something and his circle of misfit friends. It's the most heart-filled and charming (and hysterically funny) show we've seen in a long time. Watch episodes here. The 6th and final airs this Thursday.

10) The Sydney Opera House is even more magical in person. Like Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum, it's garish and probably ugly to some, but to me it's spectacular. It's covered in over a million tiles!

LOCATION: Lovina, Bali, Indonesia
DATE AND TIME: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 9:50PM Central Indonesian Time/Tuesday, March 26, 2013 9:50AM EST

Again, please keep up with my Instagram feed for daily bits and bobs. I try to tell stories as they happen, as it's hard to distill 30 days in these places into a single blog entry.

Location: Surfer's Paradise, Queensland, Australia
Accommodation: Emerald Sands Holiday Apartments 
A great location. While the owners were extremely nice and welcoming, the building and apartment were a little dated and dingy. We're not particularly fussy travelers, but we certainly found it to be a bit ... stale. We were upgraded to a two bedroom suite, which had 1½ bathrooms and two levels. This was a great surprise. The pool was small and a bit cold, and one particular family of 15 kind of hogged the whole area most of the time which was disappointing.
Food: We prepared most meals at the apartment and were pleased to find grocery prices were much more reasonable in Australia than New Zealand. The kitchen was fully-equipped, though home to many, many ants.

Location: St. Kilda Beach, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Accommodation: St. Kilda Beach Apartment 
The apartment (through AirBnB) couldn't be in a better location, near the beach and both main arteries, Fitzroy and Acland. St. Kilda is a very walkable town but major transit lines run right through as well. We used the trams and trains a lot to get into the city centre and to venture out to Brighton Beach. The apartment didn't have air conditioning and with western exposure and evening temperatures lingering around 25ÂșC, it was a teensy bit warm. A fan helped, though we found ourselves uncomfortable. Jamie, the owner, was super nice and attentive.
Food: This was the first apartment with a BBQ so we were able to mix up our menu a bit. Melbourne is a Food City, with a terrific-looking restaurant on every corner. Budget-wise, we opted to have a couple of lunches rather than more-expensive dinners and The Pelican offered really tasty tapas. We were also happy to stumble upon the South Melbourne Market which is huge and has everything you could ever want for fresh, local meat, seafood, and produce. We stocked-up for the week and saved a ton of money. The food was great quality. Notably: Tasmanian salmon from South Melbourne Seafood and fresh pasta and bolognese sauce from Market Fresh Pasta. The tricky part about trying to cook on the road is being without a pantry full of supplies: herbs, spices, oils, etc. I appreciated being able to snag a well-seasoned, fresh sauce for a hearty pasta meal.

Location: Potts Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia  
Accommodation: Potts Point Studio 
A great little studio apartment in a terrific neighbourhood. Close to great parks, the water, terrific restaurants and really good transit lines. Well-designed and outfitted for rental. 
Food: We were only in Sydney for 4 days, so ate most meals out, including a great picnic. The Fish Shop offered the best fish and chips we've had on the trip so far and one of the best meals I've had ever was at Sean's in Bondi, generously "shouted" by the charming Tim

Thanks for reading!


In America (September 25, 2011)
This City (July 1, 2010)
Quiet Please (June 22, 2011)


  1. I absolutely felt the same way upon first landing in Sydney. There was a palpable thrill of big city activity without judgement and without any sense of competition. Everyone I ran into was friendly - and they were genuine about it. I think that Australians just don't take themselves TOO seriously. And they have great priorities - like closing up shops on Thursday evenings to have a week night for themselves. If I could move to Australia, I would. In a heartbeat.

  2. I am so glad you managed to catch the Oscars! It's also good to hear you enjoyed Australia, even though there weather on the Gold Coast was terrible - we are only an hour up the road and got hit by the storms too. Next time check out the Sunshine Coast, it is much more laid-back and chilled. Have fun on the rest of your trip!

    PS. I just watched the movie Toast, and have just finished Gaysia By Benjamin Law, I would recommend his other book Family Law too, and check out his boyfriends music - his name is Scott Spark.