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

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

Stuck in Paradise? Not Really…

Stuck in paradise

Let me go back to the most traumatic experience of my life. It was something that on paper most people would probably dream of… Which makes it even worse. Let me explain.

Earlier this year my fiancé and I were travelling. We were in New Zealand when the pandemic was officially becoming a worldwide problem. Our next destination was Fiji and they had no case at the time. We thought we would be much safer there, perfect occasion to rest a bit before our last destination (Japan). But things didn’t go as planned and everything escalated so quickly… We didn’t see it coming. Maybe we underestimated the danger at that time. Maybe we didn’t feel anxious enough to make a better decision (the right dose of anxiety can be useful sometimes!). But most importantly, we refused to let go so easily on our once-in-a-lifetime travelling experience. We paid the price for it though, we got stranded for 3 weeks in Fiji.

Our first days in Fiji

For the first few days we were in a rather empty holiday resort. Their first case of coronavirus was diagnosed a day after we arrived. Day after day, everything closed down: the gym, most of the restaurants, even the swimming pool. Of course no activity was available and the number of employees at the resort was decreasing quickly. It was pretty scary and we started to feel like we shouldn’t be here. 3 days later, our flight to Japan was cancelled. We had to accept the fact that we had no choice but to go back home earlier than planned… Although it was not so simple.

How we tried to leave

We booked ourselves a last minute flight to London via Brisbane and Singapore. But once at the airport and ready to leave, we found out Singapore has closed its borders, even for people transiting only. We were also informed we needed an authorisation from Australia to stop there too, which contradicted what the British embassy told us the day before when we called them for reassurance. So we couldn’t board on that plane and there was no other flight available for us. Breathe… The next day, we came back to the airport and talked to the embassy again. They were clearly overwhelmed by the situation. A handful of trapped tourists was doing the same thing but no one had any idea what to do.

stranded in Fiji

How we got stranded

A couple of days later, the Fijian Government made the decision to close the airport completely. No planes were authorised to fly off abroad. That’s how we got trapped in a tiny island far far away from home. It was not pleasant at all, we didn’t know how long the situation was going to last… The uncertainty was difficult to cope with. It wasn’t like we could ignore the situation and enjoy our holiday no matter what, everything was closed and the atmosphere not so good.

So we rented an apartment near the airport and stayed inside all day, only going out for necessary food shops around the corner (our diet was mainly based on rice, tuna and sweetcorn). We were using our free time to reflect on things we were grateful for, things we wished we could do (so we could appreciate them more once back home) and what changed in our mindset. The list is long but the main thing we took out of this experience is that when everything is uncertain, everything that is important becomes clear. I’ll come back more in detail to the entire list in another post.

How we finally escaped

It’s actually a tropical cyclone that saved us. The Fijian Government wanted to protect their brand new planes and agreed to let them fly abroad, using desperate tourists to absorb the costs at the same occasion of course. That day was 6 months ago today, the day we finally escaped that nightmare. I feel like I can relate to people who have been released from a foreign prison for a crime they didn’t commit.

This experience taught me many things. Sometimes you just don’t know what people are really going through. I heard so many times: “Well I would love to be stuck in Fiji, it doesn’t seem so bad!”. Although I can understand why some people would say that, I think it’s also particularly inappropriate and shows a lack of empathy. It made me become less judgemental and more understanding of others. I don’t make the mistake anymore to underestimate the impact that words can have on people. We need kindness now more than ever. Stay safe all!

Big Girl x

We Got Engaged in Bali, in a Pre-COVID World

How I Got Engaged

You may be wondering… “Ok, she’s decided to focus on her health and change her lifestyle for good. Any particular trigger?”. Of course, the fact that unhealthy people tend to be the most likely to die from the virus is one of the reasons. I love my life and I don’t want to take the risk to shorten it. Especially if I have the power to increase my chances to live longer. But there is something else… I’m a bride-to-be and I want to look my best for the wedding! Let’s go back to how it all happened for us.

Communication is key

I would like to think this article will not interest only girls but guys as well. There is so much pressure on men’s shoulders to make it right! Let me tell you something guys, you don’t have to do it all alone. After all, are we not evolving towards an era of equality between genders? When you’re in a serious relationship, you know it’s inevitable to talk about your future together. Do you want to get married? Do you want kids? It could compromise your entire relationship if you disagree on one of these questions. Nowadays, it seems like couples don’t invest so much on relationships and tend to call it off too easily. Are you scared of being hurt or missing out by committing too soon? You better be aligned on these two points before you invest too much time in it.

We made our own rules

Now that you know that you both want to get married, it’s a matter of when to pop the question. My boyfriend (now fiancé) and I knew we were at that stage of the relationship and discussed about when would be the right moment for him to propose. It’s a formality we didn’t want to skip (he even asked my dad’s permission beforehand) but we also wanted it to be at our image.

So we agreed on the following: he picked the moment and the location (but we decided it was going to happen at some point during our 6 months travel) and we picked together the ring I was going to wear for the rest of my life. The ring is a big investment so I don’t really think it should be left to one person only to decide. You know what, it’s actually a lot of fun to compare options and agree on what to buy together. Don’t forget this symbolic ring reflects your relationship, whether you go discreet, extravagant, unique or traditional etc.

Tip for those who are planning to propose abroad: Bring a fake temporary ring with you! It’s not worth the stress to bring THE ring with you and worry about losing it!

The element of surprise

I left him to decide the date, the location, the setting etc because it’s important to leave these decisions to the one who’s proposing: it kind of maintains an element of surprise when you’re making sure you’re at least aligned on the bigger picture. So here we are, he proposed in Bali! He booked a dinner experience with a rice terrace view at sunset, we had our own waiter at our disposal and a sophisticated set menu of 5 courses… You get it, we’re both foodies and we could enjoy our meal in all intimacy! The setting was amazing and they even made a heart with flowers on the floor.

Kupu Kupu Barong Bali

Happy memories

This place is called Kupu Kupu Barong, in Ubud. It takes me back to December 2019, just before the pandemic started to affect us all in the world. I can say these memories will stay in our heads forever. Are you also engaged? If yes, please do share your experience in the comments below!

Big Girl x