What’s with the name?

Fifth grade. Mrs. Orten’s class. The teacher had two “clubs” posted on the blackboard – TC and WW. TC was “Talkers Club” and WW was “Waltzing Wanderers.” Beneath each acronym was a list of offenders. Occasionally, you’d find my name under TC but under WW? Let’s just say I was a chronic member.

Flash forward. I’m still antsy and perpetually curious. For the past 50 years I’ve lived within a mile of that fifth grade classroom but have had the opportunity to travel extensively, particularly with my husband Frank and our two boys, Nick and Andy. In turn, the boys have boldly gone off on their own adventures, those of which they can write about on their own blogs(!).

So they’re grown and onto their careers. We downsized our belongings, sold our home in suburbia and rented an apartment in downtown Milwaukee. It’s great being able to walk everywhere – to restaurants, church, the grocery store. I love the diversity of the people, the downtown “vibe” and the never ending number of activities, but… Yes, there’s a but.

But, I want to see what else is out there. But, I want to explore some places we haven’t been. But, I want to stay long enough to really experience a place. (Not to mention the “but” I hate Milwaukee’s dreadful winters!)

And we have this window. Frank is feeling 10 years younger after a successful kidney transplant 3-1/2 years ago. Mom and Dad are healthy. The kids are doing great with no one getting married, graduating, having babies, etc. And, not having the responsibility of a house any more, we can pay rent anywhere we want! So that’s what we’re going to do. We are putting our belongings in storage, our lease is up in a month and we will begin our great adventure! We will be gypsies or to put it more elegantly, Waltzing Wanderers.

Cheers!

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

So where would you live if you could live anywhere?

A few years back, Frank read an article in the Wall Street Journal about acouple who lived in different places around the world for a month at a time. Other than traveling from country to country, much of the living costs like rent and food were fixed and comparable to what they were paying at home. It sounded pretty exciting. We set aside the article for “someday.”

Well, “someday” has arrived and we are in the midst of planning for our big adventure. First, order of business — where do we go? We each have a wide-ranging “bucket list” of places we wanted to see so we began to whittle them down by setting some parameters:

  1. Places with warm weather = lighter suitcases
  2. Good public transportation options
  3. English speaking (at least for the inaugural leg of the trip)
  4. Good healthcare (as Frank needs monthly blood tests)
  5. Somewhere we’ve never been but always wanted to go

The verdict? We will begin with months in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa after a brief visit with Nick in LA. We decided to bypass the direct flight to Melbourne in favor of a 3-day layover in Fiji. Why? Because Frank always wanted to say he’d been to Fiji!

 

How do I decide which shoes?!

IMG_3576OK, so how do you pack for a 6-month trip? We’re each taking one big suitcase, one carry-on size suitcase (which we will probably check) and a “personal” carry-on — purse/camera bag tucked inside a backpack for me and Frank’s briefcase filled with his stockpile of pills, a few personal items and our must-have electronics. We are traveling light and no doubt will want to burn our worn-over-and-over-again clothes when we get back. My problem? Shoes. Tennis shoes? Hiking shoes? Shoes to wear with a dress? Etc., etc. I’ve whittled it down to eight pairs but will probably need to purge another pair or two.

 

La la land

IMG_0277

The view from Nick and Maddie’s apartment.

We had a wonderful weekend with Nick and Maddie despite them both being sick, the stifling heat and bumper-to-bumper LA traffic (which Nick adroitly navigated!). Their new apartment is modern and very comfortable. A wall of windows provides incredible views of the city. When you get Nick and Frank together, it’s all about food and they have their favorite must-have “eats” — a Godmother sub, a couple Wurstkuche exotic sausage sandwiches and dessert at the Pie Hole. We hit them all. Nick showed us around USC and his “second home” – the new state-of-the-art Annenberg School of Communications. The weekend also included a scenic drive along the Pacific Coast Highway to Thousand Oaks to visit our friends, Jim and Connie Olson. Jim was leaving for Spain the next day to begin the 500-mile El Camino Trek – the Way of St. James –  a Christian pilgrimage to the city of Santiago de Compostela. Poor Maddie, with whom Nick shared his flu, couldn’t join us but was well enough the next day to cheer on her fantasy football players as we hung out at the LA Brewery. Always hard to leave them, but much easier knowing we will see them over Christmas in New Zealand!

Not pretty but it works

IMG_3686We knew the journey to Oz would be brutal so taking a break in LA and another in Fiji ginormously helped. The 11-hour LA-Fiji leg made for a LONG time to sit on a plane. The Fiji Airways flight was packed but armed with an eye mask, a blowup neck pillow and a “white noise” app on my phone, I sacrificed style for comfort and did my best to try to sleep for most of the flight. It doesn’t help that you lose a day when you cross the international date line. We were still a bit discombobulated upon our 6am arrival but relaxing under sunshine and palm trees is the ultimate remedy for jet lag.

IMG_4795

Fiji, Election Day and the concept of resorts

IMG_3706

Bula! That’s hello from Fiji! Frank and I usually aren’t “resort people” but considering that our 3-day visit to Fiji was basically a scenic jet-lag reliever, the Westin Denaru Resort provided a relaxing and pleasant stay. Denaru Island is connected by causeway to Fiji’s main island of Vita Levu and is 10 lm from the international airport. Vita Levu is pretty big, with 600,000 residents (60% of Fiji’s population). Most tourists stay in this area but many others use it as a jump-off point to other islands. You can find countless boat and helicopter day trips as well. The natives are very friendly and we met many tourists (mostly from “nearby” New Zealand and Australia) who gave us great tips for the rest of our trip.

Wednesday was Fiji Election Day, a public holiday. You think our ballots are confusing? Fiji voters had a choice of over 300 candidates! After marking a ballot with the number of their preferred candidate, each voter has one of their fingers dipped in ink to prevent voting twice. Other than tourist spots, businesses were closed and newspaper ads encouraged people to report employers who would not allow them time off to vote.

It was a very important day for Fiji citizens but on the resort, you’d never know it. It was business as usual. I think the concept of a resort as an isolated and insulated paradise is probably why we tend to shy away from them. Frank and I both prefer being out among the locals and exploring. It tends to be a much richer experience.

 

Fiji, continued

OK, I take back some of what I said about resorts. This is heavenly. Fiji IS a wonderful place to relax as you cross the Pacific. It’s very affordable and features everything you’d want in an island paradise — sunshine, palm trees, ocean breezes and gentle surf. I have seen better beaches but those on the other islands might be nicer. Frank and I were more than content with the pools and our seaside lawn chairs.

The best feature of Fiji is its locals. Those who worked at the resort and the few we met outside it (our cab driver and cafe workers in the marina area) were so kind and extremely helpful. They were engaging and really appreciative of the few extra dollars Frank would slip them. Our favorite waiter, Net, actually gathered his co-workers during our final breakfast and they sang to us!

 

G’day from Melbourne!

We have settled into our new home away from home and couldn’t be more pleased. Our airbnb apartment, billed as “Fitzroy St with the WOW factor,” did not disappoint. The wall of glass doors open to a sweeping view of the Melbourne city skyline and the ocean. The one bedroom space is comfortable and seems to have everything we need for our 2-month stay. It is located in Melbourne’s St. Kilda neighborhood, a lively and eclectic area of restaurants, bars and great people watching. Directly across the street from us is scenic Albert Park. On our second day here, I took a bike ride around the park’s lake, utilizing the city’s handy bike rental system. Albert Park also has a golf course, sport fields and an amazing Olympic aquatic center. Frank is trying to stay in his routine with his new “swim heaven,” enjoying its many lap lanes (two 50m pools!). We have picked out our favorite grocery store (a Woolworth’s, which everyone calls “Woolie’s), identified a nearby church for Sunday Mass and are learning to navigate Melbourne’s convenient transportation system of trams and trains.

PS I haven’t actually heard anyone say “G’day” yet but there are some unique “Australian-isms” I will write about soon.