Back in the U.S. of A!

Welllllll…’s been a couple of months since we’ve been back in the good ol’ U.S of A. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that it actually felt like our trip ended mainly because we’ve spent the last few months in cities all over the States catching up with friends and family.And boy have they spoiled us rotten since our return!

After departing Seoul, we flew to San Francisco where we stayed for three nights to catch up with friends. We met our friend Georgeanna and set off to find our favorite craft beer and later had our first taste of a home-cooked meal. Not only did we experience wonderful hospitality, but the next evening we were treated to our first real restaurant experience in several months. Georgeanna, manager of SF’s Nopalito, made us reservations at her sister restaurant NOPA where we were treated to whatever we wanted on their menu….for FREE! We ate and drank like kings but the fine dining experience was definitely our first dose of reverse culture shock – the portions, prices and buzz of activity at the popular hot spot was completely overwhelming. We didn’t take any photos in SF…except of the food at NOPA! Thanks for the awesome time, GA/Mike. We miss ya’ll! 1 (1024x768) 2 (1024x768)From San Francisco, we flew to Chicago to spend a few days in the burbs with my family before heading downtown to see some of our besties. A cookout, followed by drinks on the rooftop at Vertigo and Citizen landed me with a lost credit card the next day… yikes! It was totally worth it in the end.20 (1024x768)While in Chicago, we made sure to fit in a trip to visit my grandparents on their beautiful farm in Iowa. We helped my grandparents throw a bingo/pizza party for some relatives, shot some guns and spent time in their awesome garden.5 (1024x768) 3 (1024x768) 6 (1024x768)13 (1024x768)It just so happened that we celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary while in Iowa which was extra special for us because they weren’t able to make it to our wedding last year. Love you grandma and grandpa! 19 (1024x768)Back in Chicago, my girlfriends surprised Chris and me with a one-night stay at the Hard Rock Hotel downtown (not just any room but the ‘platinum suite’!) to celebrate our anniversary. After spending the last year in some really yucky places, we loved and fully appreciated our luxurious digs. 7 (1024x768)It’s been nearly five years since we’ve lived in Chicago so we hit up some of our fave spots in the city before gearing up for another night on the town. Thanks again for the hotel room Cami, Jess and Rach – what a super thoughtful gift. We had an amazing time with you guys…as always!12 (1024x768) 4 (1024x768)Our next stop was Raleigh, North Carolina, where I was anxiously waiting to see my brother, sis-in-law and adorable nephews! We also got a chance to head over to nearby Chapel Hill to see Chris’ sister and nephews in a swim meet.IMG_0603 (1024x768) 10 (1024x768)And of course, we made the rounds to see family and other NC buddies, too!18 (1024x768) 8 (1024x768) photo(13) (640x480)From Raleigh we made our way down to Ocean Isle Beach to visit with Chris’ parents. A couple weeks later, we drove up to meet them in the Appalachian mountains for some hiking and QT! ???????? ???????? ???????? photo(2) (1024x768) photo(3) (1024x768)We finally made it to Kure Beach, on the coast near Wilmington, where we are temporarily living while we look for jobs and settle down into our own place. Until that happens, we’ve been spending time with friends and family in the Wilmington-area and have been having a blast boating, fishing, playing tennis, running on the beach, going to concerts and enjoying our last few weeks of funemployment!photo(11) (1024x768) photo(12) (1024x768) photo(14) (1024x768)photo(9) (1024x768) IMG_3516 (1024x768) 14 (1024x768) 16 (1024x768) 11 (1024x768)IMG_5364 (1024x731)IMG_6561 (1024x731)A big thanks to my dad and step-mom for letting us crash at their beach house until we are back on our feet – what a view!photo(8) (1024x768) photo(7) (1024x768)All of the above has been taking up our time, which is one reason this post is overdue! The other reason it has taken so long for us to post is because we needed to marinate on our experience and to filter through all of the emotions we’ve experienced returning to life in the States. At times it was stressful and overwhelming, especially not being on-the-go every day and preparing to rejoin the workforce. What has really grounded us is our drive to be successful in our career and continuing to enjoy time with our loved ones.

Thanks again to everyone for all of the love, prayers and happy thoughts. Here’s to the next chapter!17 (1024x768)


Australian Wine to Christmas Time

Thirty minutes from Melbourne is the Yarra Valley, the city’s own wine region which is chock-a-block with wineries, breweries, flash restaurants and eateries. We were impressed with Chris Jay’s jam packed itinerary to hit up six wineries, two breweries and one sparkling winery in just one afternoon. The wine, cider and beer were all delicious and we even tried something new – sparkling red wine from Chandon. What really stole the show was the beautiful landscape. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I may be convinced the Yarra Valley beats out Napa/Sonoma for the best scenery.    S S S After lunch and a few games of bocce ball, we retired back home for another amazing dinner cooked by Mr. Jay.S SThe next day, we planned and prepped for a three-day road trip. The plan was to drive along the southern coast of Victoria on Great Ocean Road, then head north to Grampians National Park before returning to Melbourne. We packed all of our camping gear and were off the next morning on our mini adventure…driving on the left side of the road in the Jay’s borrowed car. S
Driving Great Ocean Road is similar to driving the Pacific Coast Highway in California. The road hugs the coastline as you pass beautiful beaches, impressive cliffs and parks. It’s incredibly beautiful. S S S S SI am prone to falling asleep in the car, so when I was taking a quick doze Chris pulled into Cape Otway for a surprise detour. When I awoke, I looked out the window to see heaps of koala bears sitting in the gum trees! For those of you who don’t know, bears are my favorite animals and although koalas aren’t technically bears, they are close enough!S S They were so cute sitting on the tree branches! They would hold on to the limbs with their claws so they wouldn’t fall off while they slept. Adorable! SOne of the main attractions on Great Ocean Road is the Twelve Apostles. The apostles are limestone rock stacks formed by the erosion of the coastline. Despite the name, there are only nine apostles and they continue to shrink and crumble as the ocean tides erode them away.S S S In addition to the well known Twelve Apostles, there are several other natural limestone rock formations along the coast including Loch Ard Gorge and London Arch.S S SThere are so many nice lookouts, beaches, bays and towns to stop along the way. The drive itself takes approximately three hours but we spent nearly 12 hours so we could take it all in and enjoy the views. I should mention that this day was also my birthday. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than with a road trip across a beautiful coastline! S SWe finally arrived at our holiday park (campground with the works) to pitch our tent for the night. Our campsite came with it’s own bathroom and shower…very fancy. Every year for my birthday, Chris takes me wherever I want for dinner. I usually choose White Castle because Chris hates Whities and so I rarely get to eat there. Given that there isn’t a White Castle in Australia, I chose the next best thing…a foot long turkey sub from Subway. Yumm-o! And that my friends is a happy camper!SThe next afternoon, we starting driving north to Grampians National Park. Once we reached the park, we had lunch and made our way to a few scenic overlooks. The overcast skies scared us into making camp for the evening. S S SThe next morning, we packed up camp and headed out to view some nearby waterfalls before driving back to Melbourne.S SONY DSCWe had one day to do laundry and rest before we were off again. This time, our destination was to the Jay’s beach house in Cape Schanck for the weekend. Cape Schanck is located just south of Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula and is a mecca for wineries, cheeseries, fruit orchards and beaches. We had delicious barbies, played on the beach and enjoyed the sunset each night. S S SOur last morning was spent fishing off the local pier. It was fun fishing with different types of bait (squid and clams) and trying to catch different species of fish found in Australia. We witnessed a fellow fisherman catch a huge squid that was blowing gallons of ink all over the place which was quite entertaining. We only caught two small wrasse that we had to throw back but we still had a great time. Chris loves to fish and he had fun just being outside on the ocean holding his fishing rod.SONY DSC S We arrived back in Melbourne on Christmas eve afternoon, which is when the Jays celebrates Xmas, just in time for a pool-side barbie. Lunch was followed by a huge game of tennis, a massive feast of tiger prawns, turkey, ham and of course, the opening of presents. We must have been good this year because Santa still found us all the way in Australia. I originally thought that we would be homesick this time of year because of the holidays. Surprisingly, we haven’t and I suspect it’s because of a few factors…(1) it’s summer here in Australia so it’s hard to believe its Christmas time. We’ve been having barbies and eating outside in shorts. This would never happen back home. Christmas in summer is definitely not a bad thing. (2) There are so many people around to keep us company and the Jays have been so gracious and welcoming, how can we feel lonely or sad? (3) We’ve been so incredibly busy with day trips and weekend trips, we haven’t had time to get homesick. Of course we still miss our friends and family back home immensely, but we find ourselves blessed to be on this journey. We’re lucky to have a family to stay with on the holidays and the opportunity to experience new traditions and a different side of Christmas!SONY DSCHappy holidays to all of our friends, family and fellow travelers. We hope your Christmas was as wonderful as ours. Cheers!