Brisbane, The Australian City I Hold Close to My Heart

Brisbane, The Australian City I Hold Close to My Heart

Brisbane is the capital city of the Australian state of Queensland, it’s also the most populated. I’m writing this today as it’s snowing in London… Strange feeling to think I was there at the same period of the year in 2020! January is one of their hottest months. I’ll tell you why I love this place so much and share my experience below.

It all started in June 2006

It takes me back to when I was still a student, in my 2nd year of university. As part of the program, we all had to choose between a regular internship or work experience in an English-speaking environment. There’s nothing like an immersive escapade to practise a language! So I picked the second option and I didn’t do it the easy way… I could have just gone to England but I always loved Australia and it was a great occasion to finally go. That’s how I spent 6 months of my life there, from June to December 2006. Among all the cities, Brisbane was the best choice:

  • It’s on the Gold Coast with easy access to plenty of other cool cities around (Surfers Paradise for example)
  • They have more than 280 days of sunshine a year
  • It’s a vibrant city, known for its youthful vibes
  • There is a nice river to cruise along with an iconic bridge (even more stunning at night)
  • It’s a pretty safe city
  • There are a lot of green spaces, a super cool artificial beach and many places to eat, drink and socialise
brisbane story bridge

There are so many reasons to visit Brisbane, it was by far my coolest experience in my 20s. Immersing myself among locals and working there as a charity fundraiser (ideal job to talk to people!) definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. Needless to say my level of English skyrocketed, I just got lucky I didn’t pick up the Aussie accent… But I kept the Aussie spirit in my head, dreaming to go back one day.

13 years later

Happy moments, good vibes, freedom feeling… It all came back to me. Time flies and it’s easy to be vacuumed into this big adventure called life. It was only in January 2020 that I had the occasion to go back and relive all these fond memories… with my fiancé this time. It was one of the stops during our road trip from Sydney to Cairns. We decided to stay 5 full days there, giving us enough time to suck in all the vibes of the city.

Memories vs New reality

It’s amazing how much Brisbane changed since 2006. South Bank was still under development back then, now looking amazing. They built more skyscrapers, new walkways, a big wheel… There was also a free ferry service to take you in and out the city (called the CityHopper), which we found amazing. It runs everyday from 6am until midnight and you don’t have to pay anything to enjoy great views. We definitely made the most of it. Below a picture of the stunning icons at night: the Story bridge and the Brisbane river:

brisbane story bridge by night

The 2010-2011 Floods

Unfortunately, there are some risks associated with a long river flowing through the city… Brisbane experienced floods in the past but the last time it happened was between my 1st and 2nd visit. Unprecedented and prolonged rainfall started in November 2010 in Queensland and continued into January 2011, causing river levels to peak at 4.46 metres. Approximately 200,000 people were affected by the floods state wide. In 2020, we saw many restaurants still displaying a high water line from this natural disaster on their facade. Back in 2006, I worked a few weeks in a restaurant that didn’t seem to exist anymore – Not sure if the flooding has anything to do with it but I remember it was located right in the middle of the most affected areas.

Mount Coot-Tha offers a great view of the city

This place is ideal to have a panoramic view of Brisbane city. Mount Coot-Tha is 287 metres above sea level and just 20 minutes drive away. Luckily, we had a clear view that day. There is a lot more to do over there than just admiring the views… You will find a lot of hiking trails to explore the area, so don’t forget to wear comfy shoes! Some are easier than others, but the time needed to complete them is indicated beforehand to avoid nasty surprises. You can also chill out in the café afterwards.

view of brisbane city from mount coot-tha

Australia Zoo, home of the crocodile hunter

When you visit Australia Zoo, you’re making a contribution to conservation. Their mission has been to protect wildlife and wild places for 50 years now. This type of place is vital to educate people at a young age and learn more about animals we’re responsible for. For the wildlife, we are their greatest enemy and their only hope! Located roughly an hour drive away from Brisbane, I’d say this place is worth a visit.

If you used to watch Steve Irwin on television, this is his legacy. His wife Terri and their 2 kids Bindi and Robert suffered a huge loss when he died, after being attacked by a stingray on the Great Barrier Reef in September 2006. I was actually in Australia when it happened…

crocoseum at australia zoo

Another thing I would mention about this zoo is how impressed I was with the African section! If I was a giraffe, a rhinoceros or even a meerkat for example (see below), I would love to live there. The space they have is huge, they can play, hide, run away… and stay protected without predators around. I would even say that being there made me feel like I was in The Lion King movie. The associated song stayed in my head all day.

meerkat safari australia zoo

Holding a koala is not allowed everywhere

Everyone has a soft spot for koalas… They’re so sweet, calm and soft, and you can only find them in Australia. But be aware that holding a koala is only allowed in 3 states (out of 8): Queensland – also known as the Australia’s koala-cuddling capital, South Australia and Western Australia.

It is possible at the Australia Zoo, I’ve done it myself. They have big claws but they’re such harmless creatures. They smell like eucalyptus (they eat so much of it!) and feel a bit like an old thick carpet to touch. You can’t really cuddle them for long, carers only let you hold them in a certain position. If you want to see koalas especially, the best place would probably be Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary though. It is the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary and is located just outside of Brisbane!

Do I see myself living there? Yes, if it wasn’t that far away from Europe… Among other Australian cities worth visiting: Perth & Melbourne.

Big Girl x

What It Was Like to Celebrate Christmas 2019 in Australia

kangaroo looking at us

A lot can happen in a year… I can’t believe we’re almost Christmas already as it doesn’t really feel like it. I never thought we would still be going through a worldwide pandemic by now but here we go! Anyway, the topic today is to go back to Christmas period last year when we were in the middle of our big adventure in Southeast Asia & the Pacific. In December 2019, we were visiting several cities in Australia and we were in Melbourne for Christmas. As far as I can remember, COVID19 was not worrying anyone just yet.

Christmas doesn’t mean winter for everyone

First of all, it was weird to celebrate Christmas during summer… Yes, December is a summer month in Australia, I struggled to get my head around it too. When you know their winter (June, July & August) is already quite warm compared to what Brits are used to, I will let you imagine what summer is like. We had temperatures above 40°C on multiple occasions and it was difficult to cope with at times! To me, Christmas happens during winter. People are happy if it snows because they can build a snowman, cosy up with a hot drink in front of a log fire, etc. I was certainly not used to wearing a pair of sunglasses instead! And apparently, Santa wears shorts over there. I still can’t recover from that.

How we spent Christmas day in Melbourne

Probably because of the weather, people don’t tend to lock themselves at home in Australia. They’re not vegetating for hours in front of TV like in England. They’re out and about, sometimes even enjoying a barbecue. We expected a quiet city with empty streets (like you could expect in London), but it wasn’t the case at all. After a quick video call with our families, we had Christmas dinner at SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium. We thought it could be fun to eat in the middle of fish swimming around us. It was open on Christmas day and not too expensive.

In hindsight, I would say it was probably not the best decision we’ve ever made: the place was absolutely packed. Not only did it take us forever to move every metre, ditching an insane quantity of kids along the way, but the dinner experience was a bit underwhelming. If we ever have the occasion to do it again, we would simply go for a ride along the sea with a picnic. If we’re away from family on Christmas day, we might as well be away from a crowd of strangers too.

christmas 2019 in melbourne australia

During Christmas period in Melbourne – December 2019

What about Boxing day?

A cricket test match traditionally happens on Boxing day, people gather with friends and/or family there and spend the day eating (usually some junk food like hot dogs, fries, doughnuts etc) while supporting the Aussies playing against another country (usually either New Zealand, India, England or South Africa). The Boxing day test occurs every year in Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) as it’s the biggest stadium in Australia. It was also the biggest in the world until February 2020! As Brits travelling in Australia, of course we went there to live the experience.

melbourne cricket ground

Boxing Day Test 2019 at the MCG – Australia vs New Zealand

Christmas traditions around the world

It has always fascinated me how different this period of the year feels between countries. Now I can say I spent Christmas in France (where I was born and raised), in England (where I currently live) and in Australia (while travelling last year). Although I never lived in Japan, this is my mum’s native country and that’s where she experienced it during her childhood. I asked her what it was like over there at that time, but I’m sure it’s very different nowadays and I would love to spend Christmas in Japan some day and see for myself. Interested to read more about Christmas traditions in France, Japan and England? Check out my guest post on Merry’s blog!

Being in London during Christmas 2020

This year feels a bit like we have the cons of last year’s Christmas but not the pros. We’re still away from family but we’re not in Australia (and basically we can’t really go anywhere). We were supposed to be under relaxed rules for 5 days over Christmas but the Government changed their mind last weekend, given the worrying rise of infections in some areas. London has been put in tier 4, which feels like a complete lockdown and we’re not allowed to mix with another household. While isolation is perfectly acceptable when travelling, it feels a bit strange when you’re home! But like I said 2 months ago, it’s important to bear in mind this is just temporary. Let’s focus on what actually matters: being/staying healthy and being grateful for what we have.

Where in the world are you celebrating Christmas this year and what are you grateful for?

Big Girl x

How Our Big Adventure Changed My Mindset Forever: Memories, Regrets and Tips

This is the end of 2 weeks of daily travel throwbacks I promised to write about. Our big adventure happened between November 2019 and April 2020, but now I can finally say I have some closure. This experience ended like an unexpected breakup in a relationship, like I was forced to turn the page despite some unfinished business. We planned 6 months of travel but only managed to do 5 before the pandemic interrupted us. Some would say we didn’t have much luck. I would say we actually got very lucky because at least we completed the biggest part of it.

We travelled to Singapore (1 week), Kuala Lumpur (1 week), Bali (2 weeks), Perth (10 days), Melbourne (2 weeks), Sydney (10 days), then drove from Sydney to Cairns (4 weeks) and finally visited New Zealand (6 weeks). But we got stranded in Fiji, where we planned a 5-day holiday and ended up staying 3 weeks as we couldn’t fly anywhere because of the pandemic. Finally, anyone with a passport from Europe got their access denied to Japan, where we were supposed to visit many cities from Tokyo to Fukuoka during our last 6 weeks of travelling.

What my best memories are

This travelling experience by itself was the best project I’ve ever put together. Among the 6 countries we went to, the only 2 places I’ve been before were Brisbane and Surfers Paradise (Australia) so 99% of it was a complete discovery. I’ve been impressed by Singapore and enjoyed New Zealand way more than I thought I would do. My best memories overall would include:

  • Singapore – Admiring the illuminated super trees in Gardens by the Bay and listening to the evening Rhapsody show
  • Malaysia – Being spoilt for choice in various food markets
  • Bali – Enjoying a private romantic diner for two when I got engaged
  • Australia – Driving along the Great Ocean Road, arriving just on time to watch the sun set over the 12 Apostles
  • New Zealand – Witnessing the natural beauty of the turquoise glacial water of Lake Tekapo

Apart from specific places, I would say my best memory is how I felt when we were travelling: free, happy and very lucky.

What I would do differently

In hindsight, there are always some things you would do differently when you put a plan in motion for the first time. I have no regrets in general, but if I knew better, I would have…

  1. …picked a better time to travel. We left when it was convenient in our calendar but sometimes overlooked the season in the country we were going to. In Southeast Asia & the Pacific, their winter is our summer. So their summer is something we’re definitely not used to and it was a bit difficult for us to cope with so much heat and humidity at times.
  2. …planned ahead for events to celebrate. Our Christmas plan was a bit last minute and my birthday was overlooked. You don’t think of it when you’re planning an entire trip but on the day you can regret it. I would have planned better for these special occasions!
  3. …worked harder to be in a better shape. Fair to say we were not in our best shape when we left travelling and I think we missed out on some physical activities that required a good fitness level, which was a bit of a shame. No need to be able to run a marathon but improving our cardio beforehand would have been a good idea.
  4. …allocated some rest time in the planning. When you’re travelling you also need some time to properly rest. We neglected that part and as a result we felt like it stopped us from enjoying our experience fully. Also, I wouldn’t book accommodation for only 1 or 2 days anymore – or only if it’s just a stop to break down the journey.
  5. …travelled lighter. As much as we tried to take only the minimum in our backpacks, we realised there were some things we never used during our trip. We took too many clothes for example, travelling is not a fashion show and we wouldn’t have minded wearing the same thing regularly if it meant carrying less heavy bags with us.

What you need to know before doing it

If you’re thinking of going on a similar adventure, I thought I would give you some tips (on top of what I would do differently from our own experience) as some things can be easy to forget:

  • Do your research properly: watch videos on YouTube, read travel books but also blogs because they will give you more personal advice, ask people around you who have already done such a thing.
  • Check the vaccination(s) you’ll need early on: sometimes there are several injections needed per vaccine and a deadline for when you need to be vaccinated by, depending on the country you’re going to.
  • Book popular excursions or activities in advance: don’t wait until you’re there as it can get fully booked easily and read reviews carefully before you book, to avoid nasty surprises.
  • Work out how much cash you need with you: some countries are not very familiar with card payments and the airport doesn’t offer the best exchange rate, also keep your cash in various places (in case you get robbed).
  • Pick carefully what bank cards you want to bring: when travelling, traditional banks are not necessarily the best option – Monzo worked great for us as it matches the live market rate with no extra fees when you pay abroad. Take several cards if possible (preferably a VISA and a MasterCard) just in case.
  • Talk to the locals when you’re on the road: they would know some cool places to go to that are not in any travel books, they would also know about the local events happening during your stay.

Finally, you have to accept some level of uncertainty, some things will remain out of your control and you’ll have to adapt. We haven’t always been lucky with the weather or natural disasters ourselves for example… We drove through burning trees in Perth, breathed smoky and unhealthy air in Sydney due to bushfires, drove through torrential rain and got stopped by flooded areas. As a result, there are some places we wanted to go but couldn’t: The Pinnacles near Perth (bushfires), The Blue Mountains near Sydney (bushfires), Cedar Creek Falls near Airlie Beach (flooding), Whitsunday Islands (storms) and Milford Sound in New Zealand (flooding) to name a few. I’m not even mentioning the 6 weeks in Japan we couldn’t do because of the pandemic.

How it changed my mindset forever

This season in Australia has been a very dark summer for the country who’s suffering first from the global warming and climate change. It’s been a real eye opener for us, it’s always easier to face the truth when you witness it yourself… It was not only in the news, it happened just in front of us. We were not really worried about our holidays, we just felt sorry for the locals who lost their homes and all the defenceless animals we couldn’t save. It made me want to care more for our planet, because if we don’t, there will be nothing left to visit for the next generations.

It also taught me how important it was to be grateful in life and how to prioritise things better. Having a healthy body and a healthy mind offers you the best chances to make the most of everything, not only when you’re travelling but in life in general. That’s what triggered my drive to become the best version of myself.

Travelling is key in self-improvement and this is why it’s one of the main categories in this blog. Travelling makes you a better person, it’s the only real way to unlock your mind from preconceived ideas and be more open to the world. Would I do it again if I had the chance? Yes, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. Have you done it yourself or is it in your plans too?

Big Girl x

Our Road Trip in Australia, From Sydney to Cairns

our road trip in australia

Rather than taking the plane again to the next big city, we decided to drive all along the East coast of Australia, from Sydney to Cairns. You need 3 things for the perfect road trip: time, a good car and a good partner. Australia is a vast country and sometimes you drive for long hours on very lonely roads with nothing around, you need to stay focused as wildlife doesn’t warn you before they cross your path. From Sydney, we stopped at 8 places before we made it to Cairns. For us, everything was planned ahead just to make sure we stuck to our budget and time frame but also to get the best accommodation in advance.

Stop 1: Port Macquarie (4 1/2 hour drive)

australia port macquarie

Our first stop was a city known for its lighthouse, you’ll get a stunning view from it. There is also the only hospital for koalas in the world in Port Macquarie. Only 4 paid employees and more than 150 volunteers are doing a great job to preserve this threatened species. They were particularly busy as it was in a middle of the bushfire crisis. Otherwise, you will find the Breakwall along the Hastings River, displaying painted rocks that people originally created for an art competition in 1995. Nowadays, anyone can contribute their own way with diverse messages on it. I spotted one that I liked, saying: “Maybe you’re the lighthouse in someone else’s storm”.

Stop 2: Byron Bay (4 hour drive)

australia byron bay

A lot of travellers stop in Byron Bay for the beaches and the atmosphere that I would qualify as hipster. The Cape Byron Lighthouse offers a really nice walk with great views of Tallow Beach and a pathway to the most Easterly point of mainland Australia. If you’re not really into surf, you wouldn’t necessarily love this place as much, but there are some pretty cool trendy restaurants too.

Stop 3: Surfers Paradise (1 1/4 hour drive)

australia surfers paradise

Surfers Paradise was not new to me, I’ve been there before and I loved the vibes of this busy city… It literally is a paradise for surfers, as its name indicates, quite dangerous for swimmers if I’m honest, but the beach itself is stunning. Go on the 77th floor of the Q1 Tower Observation Deck and you’ll be able to see the Gold Coast all the way from Byron Bay to Brisbane. It’s simply amazing and probably the best viewpoint I’ve ever been to. It’s not really a place you go to relax though, the city is busy and there is always something going on.

Stop 4: Brisbane (1 hour drive)

australia brisbane

Brisbane is where I lived, back in 2006… I was only 21 at the time, I was using a working holiday visa and didn’t care about how difficult my paid-by-commission job was (I was doing door-to-door for charities), I was just so happy to be in Australia. This is pretty much where I learnt English, there is nothing like full immersion. I’ve had so many good memories in this city, so we stayed there almost a week to add even more memories, together this time. Brisbane definitely deserves a full post so I’ll write about it in more detail another time!

Stop 5: Noosa Heads (2 hour drive)

australia noosa heads

After we left Brisbane and on the way to Noosa Heads, we stopped at Australia Zoo for its famous Crocoseum and because my partner used to watch Steve Irwin on TV when he was a kid. When you visit Australia Zoo, you’re making a contribution to conservation. Their mission has been to protect wildlife and wild places for 50 years now. You can also hold a koala – it’s allowed in Queensland but forbidden in some other states – if you fancy your picture taken with the most adorable Australian animal. Also, the safari part of the zoo is incredible, you feel like you’re witnessing a scene of the Lion King in real life. It’s one of the best zoos in Australia and really sets the bar high!

We originally planned to stay in Noosa Heads to access Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island. We heard about this place so much that it was very frustrating when we realised we didn’t book ahead properly enough and that we had no choice but to give it a miss. It’s very tedious to organise a full trip and sometimes you miss some parts of it. This is what happened to us at that time, lesson learnt for next time! Instead we went for a wander along Hastings Street which seems to be full of beach-style clothing shops and restaurants. Noosa Botanic Gardens were empty at that time of the year.

Stop 6: Seventeen Seventy, or 1770 (4 1/2 hour drive)

australia 1770 kangaroos

Once arrived at 1770, we stayed in a secluded place surrounded by kangaroos. This area was home to the Aboriginal group before the arrival of Europeans. On 24th May 1770, James Cook had set foot on Australian soil, landing at the south point of the bay. This is a very quiet and peaceful small town where there isn’t much to do, but it was a nice place to rest before the longest part of the trip the next day.

Stop 7: Airlie Beach (8 hour drive)

flooding in airlie beach road

This was the riskiest part of our plan… So much driving in one day! I imagine most people use a campervan and sleep in the middle of nowhere to break it down in smaller parts. We experienced 700 km of nothingness, just plenty of wildlife coming up from nowhere: frogs, lizards, turtles, kangaroos, emus… And just to entertain us, we had various road signs reminding us how “fatigue kills” (probably also boredom as you just follow a straight road for hours). The weather was very changeable too, from clear sky to heavy downpours. When it started to get dark, that’s when it became really dangerous. We arrived at Airlie Beach safe and sound but mentally exhausted.

We were not really lucky with this stop as our 2 day stay had bad weather pretty much all the time. Australians never complain about the rain though, because they need it so much! We had a full day plan to go to the beautiful Whitsunday Islands but it got cancelled due to the weather. Some roads were closed due to flooding so we couldn’t even visit the area by car (and don’t even think about crossing on foot, it’s full of crocodiles!). So we decided to do a Scenic Flight instead and luckily we managed to find an hour window where the weather allowed us to fly. We had an awesome view of the Great Barrier Reef from above (the famous Heart Reef is only visible from the air), as well as the Whitehaven Beach which has the reputation of being the most beautiful beach in Australia.

Stop 8: Townsville (3 1/2 hour drive)

the pier restaurant in townsville australia

The only reason you would stop at Townsville is to access Magnetic Island, a ferry will bring you there within 25 minutes from the harbour. Once arrived, we hired a 4X4 to drive around the island but we didn’t realise how badly the roads have been affected by various flooding. Some parts of the road even collapsed so sometimes we had no choice but to leave the car behind and keep going by foot to access some remote areas. All the efforts we had to make to access those places all paid off with plenty of incredible views. The island is really full of scenic spots!

Stop 9: Cairns (4 1/2 hour drive)

australia cairns

Finally, we made it to Cairns! “In the middle of nowhere” would be a good way to describe where we spent our last few days in Australia. We had access to a huge green space, beautiful mountains in the background and a nice creek full of fish and turtles. This part of Australia is very humid and tropical, fresh water is not lacking and they don’t suffer from bushfires. We found the weather there similar to Southeast Asia, a good aircon makes a big difference. Fun fact: I’ve never seen so many bats than in Cairns, at day or at night. In the high street we just had to look up to see them everywhere!

Don’t forget to visit Kuranda if you’re in Cairns. The 35 minutes drive to get there is a visual feast: tropical coastline on one side and the rainforest on the other. Kuranda village offers many things, from local market to wildlife experience. The Aboriginal influence is strong via street art and various shops. It’s a perfect way to immerse yourself in the history and heritage of Australia.

All in all, it’s a bit risky to have a tight schedule when you’re road tripping, you never know when something unexpected could compromise your entire plan… We got lucky! I would still recommend doing it that way to people who already have a return ticket back home, it removes the stress of running out of time. People say: It’s the journey that counts, not the destination… So it’s important to plan it well! For us this road trip took 4 weeks, 9 stops and 3,700 km all in all. Have you ever been on the road for so long yourself? Or are you planning to do it soon?

Big Girl x

Being in Sydney During the Disastrous Bushfire Crisis

I wish I was able to use a title a bit more positive about Sydney… Like for example: “Sydney, the most popular city in Australia”. But it wouldn’t reflect our experience there, the timing was just wrong. We had our next few months of travel already planned ahead, and a couple of friends who lived in Sydney told us the city was not so impacted. The Government was debating whether or not to go ahead with the NYE fireworks, creating controversy… I should have known 2020 was going to be a shit year by the way it’s been celebrated! We were initially excited to be in such a cool city for NYE but at the end it was a bit underwhelming.

Celebrating the start of 2020 in Sydney – Pyrmont Bay

At that time, Australia’s Black Summer due to the unprecedented bushfires was all over the news. It did prevent us from exploring outside of Sydney as it was really not recommended or safe to do so. But even in the city the sky was smoky… It’s not like we could enjoy our accommodation either, it was by far the most expensive and at the same time the smallest room we booked in our entire trip! We couldn’t breathe in, we couldn’t breathe out, we felt a bit like we were suffocating in this city and it was difficult for us to fully enjoy our stay. That being said, we couldn’t let that jeopardize our chance to be there so we tried to make the most of it anyway. Who knows when we will go to Sydney again.

Sydney Opera House

Coming from a family of musicians, I’ve been immersed in classical music since a young age, so I was pretty happy to see the most famous opera house in the world other than on a picture. It needs to be heard too, not just seen, so we went inside… The theatre we saw “La Boheme” in didn’t look as impressive as we expected, but the acoustics were brilliant. Sydney Opera House offers 7 performance venues which seat between 210 and 2,679 people.

Sydney Opera House – Joan Sutherland Theatre

Sydney Opera House on one side, the Harbour Bridge on the other, and in between lots of ferries coming in and out: Circular Quay is a busy area. From there, you can go to many places but you better not be sea sick as most options require taking a boat. We also saw several big cruise ships stopping there. Due to the shape of Sydney, it’s often quicker to take the ferry to go pretty much anywhere.

The Harbour Bridge

If you take the ferry and go to Manly, you’ll have a choice of plenty of nice little beaches where Aussies seem to go for a chill. We went there for the scenic walkways and ended up doing 3 hours of hiking along the cliffs. It was a bit steeper than expected but the view was so beautiful that we didn’t really feel the pain. We even met a water dragon on the way.

Water Dragon at Manly

A few km East of Sydney CBD, Bondi Beach is a worldwide famous ocean beach which features Sydney’s most famous pool: the Icebergs. Waves from the Pacific ocean regularly fill it in and it’s quite entertaining to watch. I imagine it must be quite cold (hence its name?). I’m not a good swimmer so I didn’t really fancy trying it but it was fun to watch people regularly being taken out by strong waves! No wonder why this swimming pool is the most photographed in the world…

Icebergs at Bondi Beach

Finally, the cat lovers go-to place would be the Catmosphere Cat Cafe… They offer cinema sessions where you can watch a movie surrounded by cats. When we were travelling and needed our cat fix, this was the solution for us! It’s pretty much like a therapy session, you get comfy, you watch a nice movie, plenty of cats come to cuddle or play with you and they also offer a very good variety of drinks. If you also love cats, then trust me and go.

“Catflix” session at Catmosphere

As usual, I’ll add below some extra points worth mentioning if you’re thinking of visiting Sydney. These only reflect my personal opinions:

  • The first thing that blew our mind when we first took public transport in Sydney was the interchangeable seats in trains… You can move them one way or another, depending which way you want to face. Brilliant! Why don’t we have that system everywhere in the world?
  • Chinatown is a very interesting place to go. There is Paddy’s Market where you can buy literally anything (1,000 stalls selling all sorts of things at good prices). Above it, we found a great arcade hall where we played plenty of games and had good fun. Finally, the Street Food Night Market is the place to go for food! I really liked the vibes there, I even had a roti canai prepared in front of me.
  • The Sydney Tower Eye is the highest point of the city. We like seeing panoramic views of cities from above so of course we went there but it’s not that impressive. Sydney’s icons already stand out even from the ground. It’s so popular that the queue is always big so not ideal if you don’t have much time.
  • The Royal Botanic Gardens are only a few minutes walk from the Opera House. It’s super nice to wander around there!
  • In my opinion, don’t waste your time at the Taronga Zoo. It’s only a short ferry away from the city centre but if you’re not staying a long time you should definitely prioritise other things. We found animals didn’t have much space and compared to wildlife parks we visited in Asia, it did not compare.

To conclude, I would say Sydney is worth the visit if you dream of going to the Sydney Opera House (UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007), you want to see friends who live there or if you just want to tick that big city off your travel list. Whatever your reason is, you need to have the budget for it though! If we ever go again, I think we’ll try winter instead.

Big Girl x

Melbourne, One of the Most Liveable Cities in the World

Actually, Melbourne has ranked THE most liveable city in the world seven years in a row until 2017, based on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) Global Liveability Index. Since, Vienna (Austria) has stolen the spotlight but Melbourne is still a close second. If it wasn’t that far away from Europe, it’s definitely a city I would see myself living in… It has a weather I can cope with and gives access to all sorts of Asian food due to its proximity to Asia. What’s more to ask?

A sunny day in Melbourne

Skyscrapers are rising everywhere in the city, we rented an Airbnb on the 62nd floor just to see what it was like. Maybe because of the height, we didn’t have any balcony – It would have felt quite dangerous anyway. This is the view we had from our flat:

View from our flat on the 62nd floor – We’re practically flying!

On top of everything that’s going on within the city (rooftop cinemas, high streets, artists coming from anywhere in the world… etc), I also love Melbourne because of its variety of food options. The iconic Queen Victoria Market offers tons of fresh products (it’s only the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere). It really is a paradise for foodies! There is a very strong Asian influence too so one of the things we miss the most is a Japanese chain you can find mostly in Asia-Pacific, a Pepper Lunch classic: beef, egg and rice that you sizzle yourself on a super hot iron plate…

Pepper Lunch

And if you want to find a place a bit quieter and further away from the vibrant city, Albert Park is the perfect place to go. You have a stunning view (probably the best view of the city?) and you can cycle around the lake in peace, away from the crowd.

We stayed in Melbourne during Christmas season last year… Which means we were able to attend the Test Match that traditionally happens on Boxing Day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). It was Australia vs New Zealand last year. I’m not particularly fan of cricket but it’s worth going just for the experience. And why not order a hot dog just to feel like a local?

Boxing Day Test 2019 at the MCG

What I want to tell you next is probably my favourite experience in Australia: driving along the Great Ocean Road. It’s the largest War Memorial in the world, dedicated to soldiers killed during WWII: 243 km of zigzag road along the South coast of Australia. We did 12 hours of driving that day. In hindsight, we should have done it over 2 days, it’s a very long drive and stopping somewhere overnight would have allowed us to visit more places along the way.

It took us 7 hours of driving to reach the most popular spot in the Great Ocean Road just before sunset: the 12 Apostles. They were actually never 12 but 8 limestone stacks, created by erosion due to the extreme weather conditions in the Southern Ocean. They’re now only 7 as 1 collapsed in 2005.

The 12 Apostles

A little bit further away, there is a stack which used to form a double-span natural bridge but the first span collapsed in 1990, thanks to erosion. It used to be called “The London Bridge” (due to its resemblance to its namesake in London), but it’s now called the London Arch. I wonder what they will call it once the second span will eventually collapse too…

The London Arch

It’s impossible for me to summarise our 2 weeks in Melbourne in a single post, I would have too many things to say. But below a few more places to visit and some additional facts about this awesome city:

  • Some trams offer free travel to city sights and attractions, with audio commentary on points of interest along the route. A complete journey takes around an hour, it’s a free and easy way to have a quick overview and decide what you want to visit!
  • Eureka Skydeck will give you a 360° view of Melbourne, the lift takes you at level 88 in less than 40 seconds. And if you feel silly – I mean, courageous – you can also try the Edge experience: a glass cube which projects 3 metres out of the building, 285 metres up, while you’re in it. I still don’t know how I convince my fiancé to do it…
  • One thing you notice in Melbourne is the variety of street art. Graffiti, drawing, posters, stickers… Hosier Lane is famous for its colourful pathway that made Melbourne’s urban art scene known across the globe.
  • If you like mini golf, don’t miss Holey Moley Golf Club where the décor is impressive, from the sweet candy walls to the spooky room…
  • We spent Christmas day at Sea Life Melbourne and it wasn’t a good idea. Not because of the place itself but because it was super crowded that day… We kind of expected an empty attraction but it was all the opposite, Christmas is apparently not a day people stay at home in Melbourne!
  • At the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, you have an attraction called Punting on the lake where you feel like you’re in Venice. It’s very relaxing and informative!

Melbourne is indeed a very liveable city, I can’t find anything I don’t like about it. But maybe spending 2 weeks there is not long enough to have the full picture. If you live(d) there, I would love to have your feedback!

Big Girl x

Perth, A Great Reason To Visit Australia’s West Coast

After Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bali, we flew to Australia with the aim to visit several coastal cities from West (Perth) to North-East (Cairns). The country is so big that it’s not really possible to travel from a big city to another without taking the plane (unless you have a lot of time!) so we decided to make the most of each place we visited. We started off with the west coast and stayed 10 days in Perth.

Perth City

I’ll start by saying that we were so relieved to leave the heat and humidity we had in Southeast Asia since the beginning of our trip. A month spent sweating like never before was becoming a bit difficult to cope with (we’re from London, remember!) and we were really looking forward to a drier climate at least. Perth is a super cute city with some tall buildings but not in an overwhelming way, and many pretty pathways along the Swan river. It feels small and big at the same time, there is a free bus within the city but it’s probably a good idea to rent a car if you also want to discover the surroundings.

Kings Park War Memorial, with a view of the city in the background

It’s a dynamic city with cool events being organised, we were really happy to just sit on the grass and watch a Christmas Symphony Orchestra with locals. It was free to access for everyone and there were a lot of food stands around to give us more summer vibes – in December. Also, Perth has amazing sunsets. You can see it from parks, rooftops, or even walk along the coast. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a cormorant drying its wings.

Waiting for the orchestra to start in Langley Park

Perth is a bit isolated from the rest of the country, with no easy way to go anywhere (Indian ocean on one side and the Australian outback on the other) but there are many places to explore within driving distance. The wildlife is amazing in Australia, who doesn’t like a big cuddly koala for example? In Caversham Wildlife Park, you’re not allowed to touch them but you can take nice pictures. If you want more proximity with animals, there is a pathway among kangaroos too where you can feed them directly from your hand.

Sleeping koalas at Caversham Wildlife Park

Now I’m sure you’ve heard about quokkas… They’re famous for their constant smile on their face and their selfies with celebrities. Take a ferry from the harbour and head over to Rottnest Island to see them! We attempted to cycle around the island but it was so hilly and hot – around 40°C that day with no shade at all – that we eventually had to swap the bikes for the hop-on/hop-off bus instead. The island is surrounded by stunning beaches, you can go for a dip or just enjoy the scenery. Many quokkas live on this island (estimated between 12,000 and 15,000) and are really easily approachable. You just have to give them a berry you picked up from a tree and they’ll let you take a picture! You’re not allowed to touch them or feed them anything else though. The flora and fauna is under protection.

Smiley quokka willing to take a pose

Rottnest Island is very popular and therefore particularly busy so I would also suggest the slightly less popular Penguin Island. There are no quokkas there but wild penguins, pelicans, albatross… And maybe a few lizards. Penguins can be hard to spot in the wild but there is a conservation centre with an indoor pool to help penguins who wouldn’t survive on their own. This species is the smallest in the world, they’re only 30 cm tall. The ferry to get there is a very nice few minutes trip, I wouldn’t miss it if I were you!

Penguin island – Conservation Centre

Only 30 minutes drive away, there is another city often associated with Perth due to its proximity: Fremantle, famous for its fish & chips. You can feel the British influence there! But portions are HUGE, Australians do eat a lot. There isn’t very much to do there other than restaurants and shops near the port but it’s still worth a visit.

Was it for only 1 person??? Yes, it was…

Finally, below some additional random facts about Perth and thoughts on our stay:

  • The city of Perth offers free wifi around the CBD, quite convenient when you’re not using a local sim card in your phone.
  • There is also a free bus service called CAT (Central Area Transit), operating 7 days a week, apart from Christmas day.
  • We found fresh gluten free doughnuts in a market that we haven’t found anywhere else…
  • The Bell Tower is one of the world’s largest musical instruments, located in Barrack Square (5 minutes walk away from the CBD). We’ve seen lots of love locks attached to the fence there!
  • There is a shopping arcade in Perth called London Court with many small shops inside and a big clock at the entrance. It almost felt like we were back home for a moment!
  • “The Blue Boat House” is considered the Australian icon for Asian tourists. It’s just a boathouse but it’s painted in blue and is quite photogenic so Asian tourists come to Perth just for the purpose of taking a selfie in front of it! Social media can be quite powerful… You might have seen it among your Windows screensaver options too!
  • Perth is known for being the most isolated city in the world, but it’s also the sunniest with no less than 8 hours of sunshine a day in average.
  • One thing we wanted to do but couldn’t do is visit the Pinnacles. There were some fires blocking the route to get there… It happens when the weather is particularly dry. Unlucky this time but it’s a good excuse to go back someday!

This is another city we can’t wait to go back to, whenever it will be possible… Here’s a little secret: we watched all episodes of MAFS Australia just to recognise the places they were filmed in, it was our guilty pleasure. It says a lot about how much we miss this country. Tell me what you like or dislike about Perth if you know this city!

Big Girl x

A Year Ago, We Flew Away on Our Big Adventure

This is throwback time, I’m feeling nostalgic as exactly a year ago I was at the very beginning of this extraordinary journey. My boyfriend (now fiancé) and I were working in the same company and were both suffering from a bad company culture that impacted our work-life balance a lot. So one day we decided to quit our job and go travelling together for 6 months in South-East Asia & Pacific. It took us several months to organise everything: sell most of our furniture and stock the rest in a warehouse, sell the car, donate things we didn’t need to charities, terminate or pause any contracts we had and wouldn’t use for 6 months, find a place to keep our cat safe and happy while we’re travelling, estimate our budget and organise our trip… Among other things.

It was a strange feeling to see our flat completely empty

Everyday whilst we were completing our 3 months notice period, we were really excited to get home in the evening just to keep planning everything. Some travellers only book their first plane ticket and then decide when and where to go next on a whim. But we opted for a very organised trip, we knew exactly where we were going and when, everything was booked ahead of time (accommodation, flights, trains etc). Doing it this way allowed us to stay on top of our budget and prioritise all the stops we really wanted to make during our trip, as well as securing the best places to stay in advance. We had 2 backpacks each, one on our front, one on our back, a bum bag for important papers and a neck pillow.

So this is a teaser for what’s coming up in the next 2 weeks on the blog! I’ll come back to each country we visited and tell you all about our best memories in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Australia (Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and the Gold Coast all the way to Cairns) and New Zealand (both islands). Most of us can’t go anywhere at the moment thanks to this pandemic so if you want to travel via my stories, you should definitely stick around. For me, it will be the occasion to live again what were probably the best moments of my life!

Our travel itinerary, using Polarsteps

I already covered Fiji which was unfortunately not our best experience as we got stranded there during lockdown. Our last country was supposed to be Japan but they closed their borders on us before we had a chance to get there so I’m afraid we’ll have to reschedule for another time (maybe for our honeymoon in 2023…).

I’m really looking forward to telling you all about our first 5 months of adventures. Stay tuned!

Big Girl x

The Great Barrier Reef Is Shrinking… It’s Time to Act

In January this year I’ve been lucky enough to see the Great Barrier Reef during my trip in Australia. I could have snorkelled there but I wasn’t comfortable under water and I was worried about hurting the fragile coral. So I did a scenic flight instead and saw it from above. It was probably the best way to appreciate how big this natural wonder of the world is. It stretches over 2,300 km!

I took this picture from the scenic flight tour, you can see the famous “Heart Reef” on the right. How beautiful is this?

David Attenborough talks about the impact of climate change on sea life in his movie A Life on Our Planet (hope you’ve watched it by now) and this is pretty alarming. The world’s largest reef system has lost half of its coral since 1995. They provide habitat for fish and other marine life, so if coral disappears it means sea life also disappears. Too much stress on these corals drives them to “bleach”, meaning they lose their algae which normally gives them their colour.

“We used to think the Great Barrier Reef is protected by its sheer size – but our results show that even the world’s largest and relatively well-protected reef system is increasingly compromised and in decline.”

Terry Hughes, Professor of Marine Biology

You may think that the Planet warming up by only 1°C is not much… But according to an IPCC special report, 90% of the world’s corals would be wiped out if it reaches 1.5°C by the end of this century. How do we stop this path of destruction?

The Government can always put in place new measures to try and save the planet but it is not going to be enough… I personally believe the biggest part has to come from individuals. It’s the general mindset that needs to change. This is a list of ideas of what we can all do:

  • Buy less meat, milk, cheese and butter
  • Buy more locally sourced seasonal food
  • Throw less food away
  • Walk or cycle when possible, instead of taking the car
  • Prioritise trains and buses instead of planes
  • Use video conferences instead of business travels
  • Make sure our home is well insulated

There are so many ways to contribute, I found a very good article from another blog here for example: 22 Ways to Save the Planet in 2020. On my end, I completely banned cow milk at home or products made with it. Various milk alternatives are so much better anyway that it makes it easy to replace. I reduced my consumption of red meat to once or twice a month only and prioritise fish more. I cook fresh products, from a farm or market whenever I can, and don’t throw anything away (it’s easier when you know what portion you need!). I include plant-based meals in my diet like Huel once a day. Since we moved in London, we don’t own a car anymore. This is not much but if it doesn’t represent a big sacrifice it should be done!

“You might say you don’t have control over land use, but you do have control over what you eat and that determines land use.”

Doctor Debra Roberts, IPCC Co-Chair

What is your way to contribute in this battle to stop hurting the planet?

Big Girl x