ciento volando

travel, stories, and other flights of fancy


the return to OZ

Was a fully saturated, action packed, emotional rollercoaster whirlwind of a visit – powered by vegemite, sunscreen and sushi.

Being at home again, after over two years away, was always going to be a bit of a surreal experience. The strangest part however, was that so much felt completely normal. My parents seemed unchanged, my little brothers still towered over me, even my brother’s fiancée (whom I’d never met before) was exactly as I expected, a natural addition to the scene awaiting me at the airport.

After a 36 hour journey with virtually no sleep (there was too much food and entertainment to indulge in during the flight), meeting and greeting the family, and ‘checking in’ to my parent’s place (again, unchanged), I had a shower and a quick siesta, and then went straight to a friend’s 30th birthday in Princess Park.

Prinny was my old stomping (and running) ground, just around the corner from Melbourne Uni. I arrived late to the picnic/BBQ to find my ‘north side’ friends clustered around a bunch of eskies and a fold out table laden with dips and mostly eaten birthday cake. They were sipping cider and bubbles and wearing summery clothes, as though that’s what they’d been doing ever since I left. Obviously that’s not the case – many of them have been busy being lawyers and having babies and doing PhDs in disciplines I can’t pronounce the names of. But this Sunday afternoon was super casual, yet picture perfect, and it instantly made me feel as though I hadn’t missed a beat.

Anyway, ‘off the plane and to a party’ pretty much set the pace of my entire stay. Except for when I was at a music festival, hiking, or on the road to visit rellies interstate, I was busy in Melbourne catching up with groups and individuals over breakfast, brunch, lunch, coffee, walks and dinner. Unfortunately for me, in early December almost everybody was still at work in the real world, so there was a fair bit of visiting people on their lunch breaks. It was actually quite nice to see where they worked – mostly in impressive looking glass high-rises. One morning I even begrudgingly met up with my brother at 7.30am, ‘the only time his schedule would allow’, which was a shock to my system and a telling reminder of the differences in our lives. Fortunately, despite the career disparity, we still got along as well as we always have, and fortunately this was the case with just about everyone. I’ve invested a lot a of time and effort into keeping in touch with people while away, and it was a relief to realise it’s paid off. Not once did I feel like a stranger.

Meredith, my favourite festival in the bush

So what were the highlights? Well there were too many to mention, and it wouldn’t be fair to single out one over others. Besides, this was a purely social holiday, and I doubt my personal life has anything new to offer the blogosphere.

Instead, to summarise my trip without having to write properly, I’m going to be very Gen Y and put my observations into lists; of things that surprised me, things that I’d missed, and things that I learnt from my visit to home.

Things about Melbourne that surprised me (or that I’d forgotten about)

  • Increased prevalence of beards – notably the full-blown Ned Kelly ginger bush variety, which I’m not particularly sold on, but is now ubiquitous in the northern suburbs and at hipster music festivals. (I don’t mind a bit of respectably trimmed scruffle though, and it was nice to see a lot of that around too).
  • Prices – despite having free accommodation, being cooked for, shouted, taken out, and chauffeured around, this was still one of the most expensive holidays I’ve ever had. I’d forgotten just how pricey Melbourne was. Ten dollars for a pint of cider? That’s a three course meal in Spain!
  • Internet and phone app dating – seems to now be the norm. I suppose that makes sense in such a modern, proactive society, where people know what they want, are ruthless in looking for it, and time is at a premium. However seeing this change (and meeting all the new +1s) made me realise not only how old fashioned I am, but just how incredibly passive my attitude is toward the whole question of finding a partner is.
  • The Australian sun – how it burns! I’d forgotten about the ‘no ozone’ thing, oops.
  • Trendy hipster trendiness (bluntly described by a friend as a ‘big w*** fest’, which is definitely one way of looking at it) – everything seemed so fancy, so designer, so elaborate. Especially what comes on your plate. I used to work in hospitality and I thought I knew all the food words. But things have changed. It’s been taken to another level, damn master chef and everyone wanting to be a ‘foodie’.
  • Urban sprawl – Melbourne apparently now spans over 100km. You can drive and drive and the city never ends.
  • My mum has become a cricket fan – Now this was a shock. She was always a kindred ‘non-cricket’ person, but now she leaves the TV on all day when the cricket’s on, and speaks cricket language (all fractions and innings and names of people I don’t know). I feel betrayed.
  • Public transport – a tardy, lumbering embarrassment. It’s hard for me to believe I used to spend up to 3 hours a day on trams (to get from one ‘inner city’ suburb to another), and never thought much of it. Compared to the metro of, for example Madrid (also 4 million people), Melbourne is light years behind. I’m not sure what the criteria are for ‘world’s most liveable city’, but given that Melbourne has won it, public transport clearly isn’t one of them.
  • Meat – at almost every meal. Seemed like a lot, in comparison to my usual passive-semi-vegetarian diet. I eat meat in Spain if it’s served to me as a tapa, or occasionally in a menú del día, but these are tiny portions compared to the quanity of meat served in an Australian main (at home or dining out).
  • Bigger people. Just sayin’
  • Strange new words like ‘totes’ (totally) and ‘fomo’ (fear of missing out).

Nice stuff that I’d missed, and some new pleasant surprises

  • Home-style Aussie food – all those yummy things that sound weird when you try to explain them to foreigners, like curried eggs, curried sausages, cucumber dip, yo-yos, Pavlova, and chicken Parma. Even Vita Wheats got me excited.
  • Lemon lime and bitters
  • Real milk – none of that UHT nonsense
  • Asian food – is so much better in Australia than in Spain. Or maybe it’s just about what you’re used to. I must be specifically hooked on ‘Australian style Asian food’, cos I’m sure it’s different in Asia. Anyway, I did my best to eat my fill of sushi, Bombay By Night’s ‘Chicken Makhanwalla’, and every kind of stir-fry, dumpling, mooncake noodle goreng I could get my hands on. New Year’s Day involved an epic Yum Cha feast…I think I’ve now had enough chicken’s feet and Shanghai pork buns to last me until 2015.
  • Variety, variety, variety – Segovia is a hot spot for ‘traditional Spanish food’, so that is what 99% of bars and restaurants serve. But Melbourne offers food from every continent (well maybe not Antarctica). It was refreshing to be able to choose what type of cuisine I felt like eating. Bless multiculturalism!!!
  • Jobs – In Melbourne it seems like every one has one, and most students even work part time – something unheard of in Spain, where about 50% of my age group is unemployed.  I know that my Australian peers work incredibly hard, and not all of them have ended up in their chosen fields, but I really hope they understand how lucky they are.
  • Gardens – I’ve missed back yards!
  • The music – Aside from friends and family, good music in bars is probably the single biggest thing I’ve missed about Australia, and the terrible music in bars (as in ‘discotecas’, the places you go after 3am cos you want to dance) has been the single biggest disappointment of Spain*.
    *at least the Spain I’ve lived in. I know there’re plenty of famous Spanish clubs that are renowned for their top notch DJs, but in your everyday venues where the normal people go, it’s latin Top 40 plus Rhiannon, at deafening volume, with nobody dancing… so it was really nice to sit around and listen to ambient electronica, at a volume that still permitted conversation, and realise it was so beautiful I never wanted to leave
  • Cider – As much as I loved my Asturian experience, I’ve got to say, I prefer cider the Australian way: on tap, with the bubbles already in it.
  • Coffee – I know I’ve already complained about Melbourne’s overly expensive and overly trendy bar and cafe scene, and coffee is one of the biggest culprits in regards to this. But the endless cupfulls of creamy swirly works of art were really quite delightful, and possibly even worth the price.
  • Nice looking bars – awesome decor and design. With mood lighting, great music and hypnotic coffee swirls, you can disappear into another world. Cool.
  • Beaches – I went for a morning run along a beautiful beach near my Great Aunt and Uncle’s place on the east coast, and I was the only person there, bliss! Even though I’ve never been a surfer/swimmer/beach babe type, I’ve missed living by the sea. Two years inland is making me feel a bit, dunno, claustrophobic.

Things I learnt (or think I learnt)

  • That I can still finish a whole chicken Parma, even when topped with kangaroo fillet. (Thanks Pub Club and the Napier Hotel)
  • That as much as I like bushwalking and I like camping… bushwalking and camping at the same time is not for me. Even when the boys are carrying the tents.
  • That eating “scroggin” (fruit and nut trail mix with MMs) whilst hiking is a sure fire way to not lose weight whilst hiking.
  • That inflatable mattresses need to be inflated, if you want them to adequately serve their purpose as a mattress.
  • That it’s impossible to spot koalas when you’re looking at your feet.
  • That Melbourne has it’s own special variety of cold, that gets into your bones and makes it feel at least 15° colder than it actually is. Why else would I be shivering myself to sleep on a 20° Melbourne summer evening, and, upon my return, finding a 10° Segovian winter night “balmy”.
  • That Emirates are overrated.
  • That I’m a lot more materialistic than I thought I was. Many of my peers in Melbourne have nice stuff (cars, houses, iPhones), and I began to notice envy creeping in, something I hadn’t felt in a while. And when my suitcase was delayed for 3 days on the way home, I started to overthink and worry about what would happen if I lost all my things. Perhaps I’m not such a free spirit after all.
  • That at home I feel much more susceptible and reactive to…everything. It’s not just jealousy. The terrible public transport stresses me out. Elevated prices disgust me. The new government’s policies revolt me, make me angry and ashamed for my country. On the flip side, the positive aspects (such as good music, art and produce, beautiful gardens, and friends and family doing inspiring things), make me swell with pride and joy and optimism. When I’m overseas, it’s much easier to detatch. I don’t feel subject to pressures (not that anyone pressures me at home) or responsible for shit governments (not that I’m responsible at home). I just take things for how they are and then choose if or how much I want to engage or react emotionally. Perhaps an attitude I should work on maintaining next time I’m in Australia.
  • That seeing people one-on-one, and catching up with large groups of people in which you want to talk to everyone at the same time, are both very exhausting, but in different ways.
  • That being ‘on holidays’ at home, with all your family and friends, is awesome. Ex-pat or not, I recommend it to anyone! (stage your own disappearance for a few months, come back, and everyone will buy you beers!)
  • Most of all, I learnt that I had been denying to myself the extent to which I missed everyone. I tried to convert it in my head to “missing situations or moments”, such as watching QI on Tuesday nights at my parents’ house, playing scrabble with friends in winter, or getting Thalia Thai or fish ‘n chips on hangover days. Wrong. I missed people – my parents, my brothers, and my friends. With or without QI and Thaila Thai. But I guess that’s a good thing, and I’m lucky to have people to miss. Very lucky.

a pretty nice view to brush your teeth to, at Wilson's Promontory National Park

Leave a comment

more on Spain and MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

To: People on the old mailing list
Subject: more on Spain and MERRY CHRISTMAS
From: jean

So… I have the feeling that my last email is still sitting in some people’s inboxes, pending a spare few reading hours…

But given that it’s Christmas, I thought I’d be so bold as to spam you again with a bit of festive cheer.

I’ll try to keep it short

  1. Merry Christmas
  1. Happy New Year
  1. My ticket number in the Lotería de Navidad is: 0943510509. Apparently it’s very important to advertise this fact, and if had a shopfront I’d be displaying a huge blown up photocopy. If the lottery ‘touches me’ (and my colleagues), Hinojosa will have one less primary school, and I’ll be able to fly home every year for Christmas… or maybe sail, in my own private yacht!

As it is, for Christmas I’m flying easyJet to England, dressed in as many layers as I can humanly wear. I’ll be spending most of my time in London, catching up with distant rellies and long lost ex-pat and British friends (for a country I’ve never been to, I somehow know a lot of people there).

I’m crossing my fingers for my first ever White Christmas. If it must be cold, it may as well be beautiful!

Either way, I’ll be thinking of you all.

Stay safe, happy, warm (Northern hemisphere-ers), and cool (Southerners), and have a wonderful, relaxing (or exhilarating, depending on what you prefer) break.

Best wishes

Xx Jean

PS: ‘tis the season to be homesick:


  1. Honey. For some reason it tastes completely different here. I guess the bees eat (?) different flowers and that affects the flavour.
  1. Watching QI on Tuesday nights at Mum and Dads
  1. Sushi-Sushi, Kake de Hatti, Almazette’s, Bombay by Night, Thaila Thai, Ambrosia, Nam Loong, and Shanghai Dumpling Palace…
  1. Good coffee, in funky little cafes. Even if it does cost three times as much. I’ll always be a city girl at heart.
  1. Understanding what’s going on around me, and not just ‘getting the gist’.
  1. Being able to meet people without having the same conversation over and over. I’m beginning to tire of the inevitable ‘you’re not from here, are you?’ ‘oooh Australia, that’s very far away, isn’t it?’ Yes. it’s the other side of the world. ‘how many hours in the aeroplane?’ ‘do you get a stopover?’ ‘are there kangaroos there?’ ‘are you married?’ ‘then what are you doing here?’. It’s like Groundhog Day. And the only way to avoid it is to somehow disappear my accent and improve my vocabulary to include an infinite number of everyday words like ‘grouting’ and ‘lint remover’. Plus learn a whole cast of idioms. And master the subjunctive tense. And remember to use second person plural. And stop using possessive pronouns to talk about body parts (it’s ‘the hand’ not ‘my hand’). And remember the gender of every damned inanimate object/abstract concept ever to have existed in the history of the world, and then make sure that all the relevant particles and modifiers correctly correspond to said object with said gender. And then slur and blur and lisp it all together into a mush, drop all the ‘d’s and ‘s’s, skip the ‘h’s, cough up the ‘j’s like phlegm, and clip the end off all the words… even though Spanish is supposed to be phonetic. But really, it’s a beautiful language, and that’s why I’m here, politely responding to all who ask about Australia – ‘yes, we do have lots of cute little kangaroos, they actually make quite good meat’.
  1. Being able to regularly and fluently vent my frustrations at the end of the day with friends or family. Rather than bottling them up for self indulgent written spiels.
  1. Reading The Age cover to cover on Saturday mornings (even if it takes me until Thursday)
  1. Aussie Rules. Especially how the players fall over and then get back up again, without crying to the umpire.
  1. ‘fresh milk’. Well, I know our homogenised pasteurised stuff is probably nothing like it was in the good old days, but it’s closer to what comes from a cow than the UHT you buy here.
  1. The pace of service. Service here is mostly good, but it’s ever so slow.
  1. BBQs.
  1. JJJ. I know it can be streamed online, but my computer says no. Which is for the better, I’m trying to avoid having too much English around me.
  2. Running Prinny in the mornings and watching the balloons over Brunswick.
  1. Smoke-free bars. The new laws haven’t yet reached Hinojosa.
  1. Normal business hours. Don’t get me wrong, I love siesta, but it’s very frustrating that all the shops close at 2pm, exactly when I finish school, and open again just after I start my evening classes. And running out of tea/coffee/milk on a Sunday is nightmare material. I guess that’s where all the UHT milk comes in handy.
  1. Australian beaches. Not that I went that often, and I can’t say I miss the blow flies and Antarctic water and potential for sharks and jelly fish and the ozone-less burning sun. But Aussie beaches seem so much bigger and cleaner than those I’ve encountered since I got to Europe. Then again, I was on the tourist trail in high season. I’m sure there are better beaches here, and if it was beach weather then maybe I’d go looking for them. I guess what I’m really thinking is that I miss camping at Wilson’s Prom and watching the waves in front of the fire at Apollo Bay… I know I know. I’ve gotta learn to make some sacrifices!
  1. Summer in Melbourne. In rooftop bars and the Botanic Gardens, drinking on balconies and fire-escapes and in backyards (backyards!), with people I know and who ‘get’ me (or at least do a good show of pretending to). One thing about speaking a foreign language is that it totally cripples your personality… it’s hard to edge into conversations, whenever you want to make a snappy little comment the moment is lost before you can form your sentence, and sarcasm is totally out of the question. I feel so boring. But I’m ever so much more polite!
  1. Peanut Butter. There’s only one brand here in the supermarket here and it doesn’t quite cut it. Though I’ve never had a healthy relationship with peanut butter so that’s probably for the best. As for vegemite, I’m hanging in there with half a jar left. Fortunately I’m not a ‘vegemite every day’ person, just ‘vegemite in case of emergencies’. Think I’ll survive.
  1. My family and friends. AWWWWWW

Lots of love and hugs