Sunday, January 31, 2010

We're here!

Riding into Melbourne last night in the taxi was really strange. I've come to the city so many times just for the day for work, that it made me panic a bit to realise that I wouldn't be flying home to Sydney 12 hours hence. I live here now. I think the short 1.5 hour flight time makes the distance between Sydney and Melbourne seem minimal, but driving it in 11 hours last weekend brought it home: this is no different really from our move from Colorado to Minneapolis. There will be no going back to Sydney for the weekend just for dinner with friends. Maybe that hadn't really hit me yet because it looks like I'll be back in Sydney Monday through Friday for most of April and May. I still really have one foot in each place. Or maybe just a few toes in Sydney.

Anyway, I felt much better once we got into the house and went for a walk around our amazing neighbourhood. We walked over to the bay in about 5 minutes, which was closer than I realised, and then found the amazing St Kilda Public Baths. They are a gorgeous swimming and exercise facility on the bay, and they host outdoor movies on the roof all summer. How cool is that? And the path along the esplanade looks ideal for more knee-skinning skateboard action.

This morning is my first morning working from home. I keep feeling pressured to settle into a routine, because I'm so worried I'm going to lose my mind working from home. But how does one settle into a routine when the only furniture you have is an air mattress? I think for now I need to just focus on living in the moment, as my good friend Justine used to always (try) to remind me to do.

I did walk up the road for coffee about 20 minutes ago, and I felt the greatest sense of well being that I have in about two years. I know this sounds a little crazy, but the air here feels like Florida in the Fall. Not just today, but every time I've been out here in the last few weeks. I just want to breathe it all in. Anyway, Melbourne is famous for its coffee, and I was in no way disappointed by the cup I had this morning. And the barista was really friendly. For lunch, I'm going to take a sandwich and a book to the public gardens, just about a minute's walk away. Ahhh...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Man and cats in Melbourne...time to go

The day after my last post, the estate agent I had been stalking throughout the weekend left me the saddest voice mail ever: the owners had decided to go with another tenant. I tried to cheer myself with the news that we'd gotten the lovely four-bedroom house we'd applied for, and for at least a year, space wouldn't be an issue. Each cat could have their own bedroom if we liked.

Now, given our luck with real estate, wouldn't you guess that the real estate agent from the first place called saying the owner had "re-considered our application" just as soon as we'd paid the first month's rent on the house online? However, we hadn't yet signed a lease, so I figured it would really just be bad manners to back out, and I was willing to be the Ugly American. The estate agent for the house was really cruisy about the whole thing and agreed to transfer the first month's rent back into our account.

Until, as you may have guessed, we hit a speed bump. We were the only people at the showing for the house, and I don't know how long it had been on the market, but the owners decided to interpret email exchanges and the deposit of the first month's tent as a legally binding sign of intent. Why then, I asked the estate agent, were we suppposed to come into sign a lease in a few days, if email exchanges were considered legally binding?

Anyway, a day of intense stress followed, with me afraid of losing my dream apartment and being forced to live in this house against my will. All's well that ends well, though, and we settled with the owner of the house by letting them keep one week's rent to make up for the time lost between the showing we attended and the one they could schedule for the following Saturday. It was a crazy 36 hours.

Eric flew to Sydney for the weekend, and in the 109 degree heat (remember, no one here has AC!) we boxed up our entire apartment. After staying out til 3am Saturday evening/Sunday morning, we loaded the Turquey, the camper van, with our most valuable items (cats for me, TV for Eric) in a very hungover state on Sunday. On Monday, the temperature had dropped to about 90 and we set out on the 11-hour dive through the hills of New South Wales and Victoria.

Now, Turquey isn't a spry young van - she's more of a vintage model - and she had one scary hiccup going up a long hill. She jerked a couple of times, and then Eric was slowed to about 15 mph despite having the gas pedal on the floor. We rode in the shoulder for a bit, afraid to stop since she might never go again. In a few minutes, she pepped up and was willing to give it another go. Needless to say, every time she shuddered for the rest of the afternoon, we held our breath. On a positive note, these injections of adrenalin, along with signs constantly warning me to be on the lookout for koalas (I was!), kept us from falling asleep!

On a tangential note, on a break from packing on Saturday, Eric and I went out for a quick swim to bring our blood below the boiling point. We both looked at this bird bobbing about 10 feet away and turned to each other at the same time to ask, "Is that a freaking penguin?" I am not sh*tting you, we swam with a penguin. Not a March-of-the-Penguins-syle Emperor penguin, but the little fairy ones we have all around the southern part of Australia. There's a penguin reserve about a half mile from our new house in Melbourne. Just a reminder that our nearest neighbour to the south is Antarctica!

When we arrived in Melbourne, I was delighted to find that our apartment was every bit as wonderful, better even, than I remembered from the viewing. I feel kind of like a guest at a really nice b&b. Eric and I are upgrading some of our furniture to be worthy of the place. It's one quarter of an old house on a lovely tree-lined street a block from the St Kilda Botanic Gardens. While it has all of the charm of an old place (stained glass in several rooms, fireplaces, carved ceilings), it's been completely modernised. I have a dishwasher for the first time in years!

Similar to my last visit, it was tough to come home today. My life is now divided between Sydney and Melbourne. I arrived back in Cronulla tonight just minutes before the Australia Day fireworks were shot off from the beach right in front of my house. From my third floor balcony, I had the perfect view with a glass of wine. But I'm alone here now, and I don't even have furry little faces to greet me. I'm homesick for a place I haven't left yet, but I'm anxious just to GET ON WITH IT. Time to move to Melbourne.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Move to Melbourne

I stopped adding to this blog after my trip with my sister, because I thought that we were all settled and I had nothing of interest left to say (did I ever, you ask?). Am I completely unable to learn from the past? Isn't that some kind of sign of mental illness? Sometimes I wish I was that kind of Psychologist. Clearly my life is destined to be a constant progression of changes, admittedly mostly brought on by my own decisions.

Just before Angela's visit, we decided that we'd like to live near the beach, both to reverse our commute times (shorten Eric's, lengthen mine, which was only a fair swap) and to improve our surfing (have only sustained one black eye recently). After an exhausting search of several Saturdays, running from showing to showing while Eric worked, I came to the conclusion that real estate agents choose the only decent vantage point of any given property to post on the web. Naive much? Was I the last person to figure out that truth doesn't live on the internet? The larger issue was that 100% of properties in Cronulla don't allow pets.

Angela came, and we resigned ourselves to another few months of living in our shitbox in Erskineville. One weeked shortly after she left, Eric posed the query on a Friday night, "So have we officially given up on living in Cronulla?" I half-heartedly searched the web, found two questionable properties with inspections the next day, and agreed to give it one last shot. As you'd expect in any good fairy tale, one of the properties the next day was dramatically underpriced and had an amazing view of the ocean. At the urging of all of our friends, we decided to jump on the bandwagon of lying about the cats. "Everyone does it," they said.

Now because Eric and I have been huge dorks our entire lives, we were a little sceptical about this lying gig, but it seemed like the odds were with us. WRONG. Part of the deal with the new place was that the landlord would keep a few things in the garage. As it was a double garage, this was not really a concern. He sent me a text to let me know he was going in on Monday, so I figured we were good for a while after that and took the cat cages down on Monday night. On Tuesday I received this text: "Not to be pedantic, but can you please confirm that there are no animals in the unit." Shit.

While I was down (mostly) with the lie of omission of leaving the cats off the rental application, direct lying was really beyond my experience. I moved on to pleading. Similar to the time my best friend and I were pulled over in high school in some rather compromising circumstances and promised to go to the movies every weekend until we were 23, I just began offering things: additional bond, covering the sofa (the place was furnished), keeping the cats out of the bedroom. To be honest, I was pretty proud of my salesmanship, and in the end he decided not to exict us. By "in the end," I mean that the negotiations continued over several days, days when I couldn't eat without feeling nauseous. At work, I became known as the "crazy cat lady," and I was afraid Eric would finally follow through on the promise to chuck one of the cats off the balcony.

The last four months in the place have been amazing. One morning, I saw dolphins from the balcony, and I was able to run down to the beach and be in the water within three minutes. We can walk to go surfing, I jog along the ocean every morning on the path that runs right in front of our house, and I've been able to do some cycling again, none of which was possible when we were living in the city. We live so directly on the sea that our address is 14 The Esplanade, The Esplanade being the path that runs along the ocean. There isn't even a road in front of our apartment block.

Cronulla is referred to as "The Shire" by Sydneysiders, and upon mention of liking the area, the response is always, "Have you heard about the riots?" Apparently, some years back, there were some race riots. Groups lower on the economic ladder tend to flock to Cronulla at the weekends. As in most places, this includes a mix of bogans and people of various ethnic backgrounds. This was an explosive mix that was set afire one day by the warm summer sun, and suddenly Cronulla had made a name for itself. Other than the preponderance of scantily clad teenage girls who flock to Northies on a Sunday night and teenage boys with faux hawks and rat tails, we haven't really been much bothered by the seedier side of Cronulla.

When we moved here, we signed a six month lease since a possible move to Melbourne had been on the cards since late May. However, my firm hope was that I would eventually be buried in Cronulla. That's how much I love it, despite the 3 hours of daily commute time. On 10 December, though, we got the news that Eric was expected in Melbourn on 4 January. At least they gave us plenty of notice. I picked my parents up on 11 December from the airport having barely absorbed the news. The next month I was conveniently distracted by all of the fun activities I had planned for their visit, even when Eric took off a couple of days after New Year's.

Now it's all becoming real, though. I spent the first couple of weeks of Eric's time in Melbourne scouring the internet for places to live without a real idea of what areas were nice. This weekend, though, I went down for a crash course in Melbourne suburbs and to see as many properties as possible. We found several nice places, which we've applied for, one of which I've become obsessed with. The real estate agent has to think I'm some kind of stalker at this point given how many voice mails and emails I left her this weekend. Come to think of it, if she wanted me to do her laundry or rub her feet, I'd probably be down for it. I really love this place.

But then I got back to Cronulla tonight. It was really sad leaving Eric at the airport after being there with him all weekend and feeling like Melbourne was almost a normal place for us to be, but it was also really sad sitting on my balcony with a glass of red wine listening to the ocean thinking about how soon that would all be over. I mean, look at the pictures of this place. Who in their right might would want to leave it, right? But then again, how bored do I get with any place in about 6 months? Every place I live, I convince myself that it's the best place in the world, and I never want to leave it. Then, at most a year later, I want to move just to be somewhere different. Charater flaw? Probably. But it's just reality. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit that this entire weekend in Melbourne, I was convinced that it was going to be a fantastic place to live, particularly the little neighbourhood that I fell in love with, which I've already dubbed "The Triangle."

It does make it easier that we're not starting entirely from scratch. Since engineers who have worked on other desalination plants are in short supply, many of Eric's colleagues from the Sydney plant will be moving with us. In particular, a couple with whom we've spent a fair amount of time and who we both think are fantastic are going, as well as another guy who has a new girlfriend in Melbourne. God willing she'll be cool, and then there will be at least two other couples with whom we can hang out. I'm not sure I have the energy to start all over again so soon.

One big stressor is that I'll be working from home in Melbourne. I did it for Sun Microsystems for a year, and I very nearly lost my mind. And that was only part time while I was writing my dissertation and had lots of stimulating interactions with the university library staff. I mean, a good three hours of my work day on average is spent chatting and making idle comments about things that don't really concern me. I'm not sure I'm cut out for spending all day in the house by myself, no matter how lovely that house may be. For now, I'm trying to focus on the positive: Without the three hours of commute time, I should be able to cycle for an hour and a half in the morning before work. I can work in the park or at a coffee shop. I won't be exposed to the negative atmosphere that exists (partially created by my constant whinging) in our office. On the other hand, I may turn into a gross person who never wears makeup or puts on a dress. And I may be so lonely that I die. We'll see.

I'm fairly certain that none of this is of interest to anyone, but the good news is that I think everyone stopped reading this blog ages ago. And it serves the same cathartic purpose as a journal, but I don't get the hand cramps I do from writing in a journal since the only hand writing I do these days is to-do lists at work. How long before pencils and pens are phased out all together?