Today marks 3 years since we left Hanoi at the end of our 3.5 year posting. We have been back in Australia for almost as long as we were there.
Our life has changed so much since then. Our little boys who were 3.5 months and 2 years old when we arrived in Hanoi, were still so little when we left – and are now school boys. We’ve had our ups and downs adjusting to a new life in the Barossa. There are days where I do miss the challenge of my public service/diplomatic career and I wonder whether leaving it behind was the right thing to do. But then I think about our wonderful lifestyle, the new friends who have welcomed us into this community and supported us and the opportunities we have been presented. I look at two little boys thriving in this beautiful rural town, playing sport and learning so much and I appreciate the fact I do have the time to spend with them and create my own new career.
The photos below were just a quick sample, uploaded in between the boys Crossfit class and basketball yesterday. It would be lovely to sit and browse through the albums of thousands of photos we took during the years. But how do you sum up 3.5 years of your life in photos or even words. We grew as parents and as a family and made some big decisions. We had the most incredible experiences and we made friends from all around the world. There are so many wonderful people from Vietnam and beyond that really should be in the photos below.
Its been cold and rainy here in the Barossa today and so I can’t help but miss the Hanoi summer. We are so grateful to have had the chance to call another place home and while it was only 3.5 years, it will always be a very special part of our family’s story.
Banh My from Banh My Phuong in Hoi An – so sad I only discovered this on my last trip.
Beach in Danang
Hoi An Old Town
Hoi An Old Town
West Lake Hanoi – the morning we left in June 2014. One of the few places in Hanoi that didn’t feel crowded. In there distance you can see the 60 storey building that dwarfed my 3 storey office
Leaving Hanoi, June 2014
Leaving on our posting to Hanoi – and going back to full -time work with a 2 year old and a 3.5 month old, January 2011
As busy as it was, my job in Hanoi came with some great opportunities – like hosting this social media training session for local journalists
I have often wanted to blog about places we have visited but then I get overwhelmed by the feeling that I need to include all sorts of details and reviews.
As my word count on my Vietnam book increases and I start to think that I might actually write a book, I’ve started to research travel writers and especially those writing memoirs. Last week I came across this post, about how this travel writer was no longer going to blog, and it struck a chord. I do want to share stories about the places we visit but I don’t want to feel I need to provide pricing or details or tell you why I liked the food or the wine. She made the point – and I think this goes for all of us when we share about our holidays, that we can’t miss being in the moment and enjoying the holiday just because we’re too busy recording and writing down details. I have always taken lots of photos, even back in the days of film that cost precious savings to get printed, but I definitely take way more on my iPhone now, and I need to make sure that I don’t miss the experience of the holiday because I’m too busy recording in – and as another aside – must get myself in more photos – no matter how I look.
So with that in mind, I wanted to share a bit about our week in Normanville towards the end of the school holidays. We went as friends have been visiting there a lot and I loved her photos. My sister and her family were also joining us for a week and so I wanted us to have options if the weather was bad.
We were able to book 2 side by side cabins at the Beachside Caravan Park, and while it’s a little out-of-town, it was super quiet and our back corner position gave us lots of space. Our cabins backed onto the sand dunes so we also had some great views
Here are some of the we did during the week:
– lunch at the Victory Hotel on the way down to Normanville from the Barossa
– beers and chips at the beautiful Normanville Surf Life Saving Club high above the beach (run by volunteers, it’s always great to be able to support an organisation that keeps us safe in the water)
– dinner at the Normanville Kiosk and Cafe right on the beach – great wine list and enormous (and tasty) meals with a fantastic kids option
– cloudy cool day adventures visiting Second Valley climbing over rocks, Rapid Bay and then to Victor Harbor to watch the Tour Down Under
– snorkelling with friends at Second Valley – and discovering the great work Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries are doing. Free, guided snorkel tours with all equipment provided teaching people about the local marine life in various parts of South Australia
– A couple of visit to McLaren Vale that included Paxton Wines, lunch at S.C Pannell (the best duck curry, great wines, more good kids options and fantastic service), d’Arenburg (saw the almost complete cube and had a great tasting) and Beach Road Wines (excellent pizza).
S C Pannell
Duck curry at S C Pannell
The Cube at d’Arenburg
– lots of sand castles and beach walks
– a crazy windy walk along the beach felt like a scene from Star Wars
– watching the horse riding groups passing past the cabin window and along the beach
– totem tennis and games on the deck
– awesome cousin time (and a few late nights spending some quality time with my sister)
– first run in months to Carrickalinga and then back along the beach with my sister
It was everything a beach holiday should be. Lots of relaxing, exploring and just hanging out together. The cabins were simple but all we needed and worked well as my sister and her family were only there for 3 of the 7 nights. I think Normanville will definitely be a regular holiday spot in the coming years, especially as it’s an easy two hour drive away.
What did we miss? Any recommendations for next time?
I’d love you to leave your comments below. What makes a truly great beach holiday? Where are your favourite beach destinations?
25 years ago yesterday I started my first overseas adventure without my parents. I flew out of Sydney with a group of other Rotary exchange students, bound first for Melbourne (where we would pick up another big group), then Singapore and then Copenhagen. Arriving in Denmark, we flew on to Odense, where we would have a two week crash course in the Danish lanuage – not to mention the art of Danish dinner parties, nightclubbing, eating and walking in the cold and ice.
I can remember the day as clearly as it was yesterday. My parents and sister were there, along with friends, my Grandparents, and other relatives. After checking in, we met with the Rotary area coordinator to receive our HSC (final year of high school) results three days early. This was almost a bigger deal than leaving our families for the year. Opening mine to receive a score of 96/100, I could breathe easy knowing that entry to my prefrred course of Commerce/Law was pretty well guaranteed and that I could enjoy my year knowing I had a place to come back to. I knew the small group from our Rotary district as we’d had various get togethers and from memory, we were all pretty happy – although I remember one friend holding out until we were outside Australia to open her incredible result.
I was so excited that I didn’t even cry saying goodbye to everyone the first time, but then my sister’s best friend (who was like a little sister) started crying setting Dad off and then it was on. I vividly remember doing the rounds of the group a couple of times before deciding that I really had to go.
Excitement soon took over as the NSW crew met on the plane. We stood out with our bright blue or green blazers with big yellow name badges and the beginnings of our pin collections. We swapped business cards and the addresses of our host families and settled in for the flight to Singapore which included a trip up into the cockpit. In Singapore our numbers grew, and from memory, the 52 Australians all flew into Copenhagen together. It was on the flight that I finally met the gorgeous Olivia – who I would go to school with in Vejle and who is a friend to this day. It was hard to believe she was only 16 and had just finished year 10 because she had more confidence and spunk (and could dance better) than most of us.
We were billeted to various Rotary families for the two week language course. I stayed with a lady called Inge together with a girl called Nicole from Sydney. Inge’s daughter, who had died in her mid-20s a few years before, had been an exchange student with my Rotary Club in Australia and so she liked to have students from my clubs. He husband had also been involved in the exchange program and so the two weeks was a whirl of dinner parties as she introduced us to lots of exchange students, past and present. She even entertained the head of the Rotary Program in Denmark – “Onkle Arnie”who was ultimately responsible for all of us – and would enforce the rules – “no dating, no driving, no drinking, no drugs” (to which we may have added, “do have fun, don’t get caught” – but then Denmark was pretty relaxed compared to Australia. We would soon learn the concept of “freedom with responsibility”.
I’m sure I put on five kilos in that two weeks – the food was exciting and new, I couldn’t understand a word so I took second and thirds during dinner parties and Inge was determined to feed us up. Nicole and I would also buy danishes on the way home and then eat chcoolate cake with hot chocolate (with cream on top) for afternoon tea when we got home. Dinner usually involved large amounts of pork, fat, butter and potatoes – and dessert.
We had two weeks of lessons and I can picture my classroom so clearly. Like many of my classmates, I had never learned another language which put me at a disadvantage as we struggled with the grammar, not to mention wrapping our Australian accents around the complex Danish vowels. Lunchtimes were spent eating hot chips, drinking beer and mucking around on the frozen lake outside school.
We went along to Rotary and made speeches, were introduced to the now trendy concept of “hygge” (which is probably closest to cosy and comfortable – think open fires, low lighting, candles and Scandinavian design), before parting ways and getting on trains to head to the towns we’d call home for a year.
This was the era before email and mobile phones, so we swapped addresses and telephone numbers of our host families and planned to catch-up at the first exchange student catch-up in March. Unfortunately I missed that thanks to a school excursion to Italy! Imagine Mum and Dad’s reaction when I rang after my first day of school to get permission – and the funds – to head on a week long tour to Italy the following month. Apart from Olivia and a few people close by, we’d next meet up on our crazy European Tour in May – 50 exchange students, a yellow bus, 2 chaperones and 8 countries in a couple of weeks – aka – a recipe for disaster! Might save that story for another post.
Before I finish, a note on the title. Danes are big performers and a few weeks after arriving at school, all the classes in my year performed at assembly in advance of our upcoming study tours around Europe. I’d never heard John Denver’s Leaving on a Jetplane, but by the end of the first verse, I was in tears for the first time since leaving Sydney two months before.
For the first time, I realised that not only did I miss my family, but that at the end of the year, I’d being saying goodbye to all these amazing new friends and host families who had made me feel so welcome. Now whenever I hear that song, I’m reminded of how bittersweet travelling and making new friends can be – but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I still consider my Danish host families as family, and I’ll be forever grateful for the experience they provided a young girl from Wollongong.
My exchange year developed my love of travel, gave me the confidence to travel and live overseas on my own and would eventually lead to my diplomatic career (and coincidentally, yesterday also marked six since years since our first adventure as a family when we headed off to Hanoi).
P.S: When I set out to write this post yesterday, I thought it would be a general post about expat life and friendships – instead, I took a lovely long trip down memory lane. So over the coming months, I’m going to share a few more posts about my exchange year – going to school in a foreign countries, living with my host families, travel, turning 18 and making friends. Maybe they’ll inspire a whole new generation of exchange students!
I cannot believe I haven’t written since last year. That said, I’m not sure where the first two-thirds of this year disappeared. Writing a blog post about all that has happened might seem like a whole lot of excuses – so instead, here’s a month by month snapshot and some photos with the promise of more to come.
January – a great Christmas in Sydney, sold our house in Canberra and came back ready to start the year. A few days in Port Hughes making the most of a great summer. Decided I really needed to get a job so started looking around for cellar door roles. Got the boys ready for school. Simon finally decided to see why his arm was bugging him so much – and bought a ute. Finally we had 2 cars.
February – 1st of the month saw our youngest join his brother at school and I got a job. Simple. Met for a coffee, chatted, walked to the office – organsied handover. I like to decsribe my job with Schwarz Wines as anything but making the wine – which isn’t entirely true but it’s an awesome mix of office administration, finance, marketing and recently, even some selling. We got back into the groove of working and school and I got ready to run my first training session on free trade agreements as part of a China Ready program run by the local regional development association. Great presentation – not such a great day. Turns out the pain in Simon’s arm was a tumour.
March – day 1 of the month was Simon’s biopsy and 11 days later his amazing surgeon confirmed the worst. A 9.5cm tumour (chondrasacoma) in the cartlidge in his upper arm bone.. The treatment – removing about 20cm of bone and replacing with titanium and so another 11 days later, Simon was under the knife. Amazing doctors and nurses at Flinders made us very glad of our choice to move to South Australia – and thankful my Mum could come down and help. After a week in hospital, brough Simon, his bionic arm and his sling home to start rehab. Fortunately with this kind of tumour, treatment was limited to cutting it out – and as he went into surgery, we learned it hadn’t spread.
April – no idea what we did. Simon went back to work pretty quickly. His employers and colleagues at Artisans of Barossa were amazing. The boys took it in their stride. Friends were amazing. Teachers and after school carers a huge help. I started Crossfit because I needed some exercise after Easter! The Dawn Service in Tanunda was lovely and I realised it was the first time I’d attended a local service. We had a wonderful visit from old Beijing/Canberra friends and again got to play tourist in our own town. Lots of great wine was drunk. Simon’s first follow-up appointment showed all was looking well and the surgery had removed all the cancer. Went on my first decent bushwalk in the Barossa – so beautiful.
May – continuined the juggle of work, my business, trying to stay fit, kids sport etc etc. Went to Sydney for my sister’s 40th – great to spend time in their newly renovated house and catch up with some many friends. On a whim, booked the trip to Vietnam we’d thought about earlier in the year. More walking and the rain began….
June – June was just June. Winter so cold and so wet. The countdown to Vietnam was on. More fantastic walks, work, work and family stuff.
July – The countdown to Vietnam continued and Mum came to look after the boys for the first week of the school holidays. It was freezing. I got hailed on going to the toilet at work one day and Mum pointed out it was colder than Lithgow or Canberra. We got our work done and finally we left for Vietnam. 10 amazing days. We landed in Hanoi exactly 2 years and 1 month after leaving – but I’ll save that for another post. We came back and it was still cold, wet and there was work to do. But then a friend pointed out a house that was on the market.
August – The first week was jam packed. Did our tax (yahoo money back), saw the mortgage broker and I went to Sydney to sell wine. Was glad I’d listended to Simon over the years. Sucked at getting public transport (even with apps on my phone I missed trains) but discovered Uber. Caught up with friends as well as my family. Came home and got serious about buying the house (more on that to come). Simon’s recovery continues and he’ll hopefully be behind the wheel again soon. I’m getting clearer about the work I want to do with my consulting business and got to work with my execllent B2B colleagues on a fantastic conference (more on that soon too).
September – its trying to warm up but it’s still wet. The canola and blossoms are beautiful. I’m working on a great project that will helpo business to understand how to create better value for consumers. Settlement it later in the month. Right now its all about booking tradespeople, deciding on colours and choosing lights.
It’s definitely been busy, and had it’s ups and downs. I’ve wanted to write but couldn’t work out when or where to start. But while we were in Vietnam, I suddenly had this huge urge to write about our posting experience and the experience of my three trips to Vietnam – first as a single girl in my 20s (during my posting in China – so lots of comparisons), then our posting which started with a 3 month old and a two year old and me going back to work, and then going back.
So, it’s time to start writing blog posts again, and while there might not be a theme (and expect lots on rennovations, gardens and decorating), I’ll try and make it fun – and include lots of photos.
It’s a very hot day here in the Barossa and I can’t help but wish the warm weather had appeared this time last month when we headed off to Victor Harbor for our “beach” holiday!
Not long after arriving in Tanunda, it suddenly seemed like people around me were booking summer holidays. Fresh from 3.5 years of regular breaks (due to the need to escape Hanoi’s pollution, chaos and weather), I figured we had better book a beach break too. As it turned out, we now have a lifestyle where we don’t need to escape so often and we probably didn’t need the expense of a holiday, but the idea of the beach sounded great.
Unfortunately we left Tanunda in pouring rain, and I tried to tell myself it would improve. Unfortunately the weather forecasts proved right, and apart from a few beautiful days, we shivered through most of the week away.
But we were determined to make the most of it. We had a nice apartment with a view of the harbour and the steam train going past a couple of times a day. It was only a quick walk to the centre of Victor Harbor so we visited many of the tourist attractions. And with the Fleurieu Peninsula being rich in food and wine, we of course enjoyed some day trips to taste wine in McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek (which I’ll post separately).
Here are some of the highlights of our time in Victor Harbor:
Harbor or Harbour?
Victor Harbor was a former whaling port so there is a lot of history around the whaling industry. It was interesting to realise that while Australian’s generally use the English spelling of “harbor” Victor Harbor is still spelt without the “u” – unless you’re on the train.
Watching the steam train go past our apartment every day, we had to go for a ride. Unfortunately we chose a freezing cold day for the trip to Goolwa, so after a quick beer at the Steam Exchange brewery it was back on the train back to Victor Harbor.
We did visit Goolwa again later in the week and found a beautiful beach – although the first time I have seen a warning about snakes on a beach!
A great rainy day activity and a so well set up for the kids. While the boys weren’t particularly keen about posing for a photo in the shark cage, they loved the digging for fossils activity and the kids corner.
We left this excursion until the end of our week and were lucky to have some good weather, although it started out quite cool. The horse drawn tram was great fun and having walked across the causeway myself, I realised that while the tram was running this was the best option with kids as the “footpath” on it is quite narrow. The penguin centre was amazing. The main keeper Dorothy was so passionate and worked their 6 days a week. She knew all the 10-11 penguins by name. I was really surprised and sad to hear that they are only allowed to care for the penguins and are not permitted to breed the penguins. This is despite the population dropping to around 40 in recent years, no doubt due to decreasing fish stocks.
The penguins themselves are gorgeous and it was the first time I had been close enough to see that their fur is actually a shiny blue colour in the water. I was also blown away by these tiny little things devouring whole fish. Well worth and hour to listen to Dorothy and watch the antics of these beautiful endangered creatures.
After a windy walk around and up to the top of Granite Island, we enjoyed beers and ice creams as the sun came out and we were even treated to a bit of a show by some dolphins. It was a beautiful spot and we were disappointed to hear that the lease on the restaurant and kiosk had not been renewed. It really should be a premier tourist attraction for Victor Harbor, so hopefully this changes and someone can come in and make the most of this beautiful location.
Beach and bakery at Port Elliot
The beach at Port Elliot and the fish and chips from Flying Fish Cafe on the beach were my favourite. It is a really pretty little town, about 5 minutes from Victor Harbor and would be my pick for our next beach holiday in that part of South Australia. Lots of beautiful old buildings, great shops and restaurants and amazing views. Thanks to Instagram, we discovered the Port Elliot bakery and made several trips back for the most incredible donuts. The boys also had a great time in the surf, although us grown-ups decided it was way too cold to swim!
Drive to Cape Jervis
One afternoon, I decided we should go for a drive to Cape Jervis where the ferry takes people across to Kangaroo Island. I probably underestimated how far this drive around the tip of the Fleurieu Peninsula would take but it was worth it for some beautiful views starting at the Bluff near Encounter Bay and heading down to Cape Jervis, glimpses of Kangaroo Island and back past through Carrickalinga and Yankalilla.
Relaxing with the family
Although the weather meant we weren’t on the beach every day as I’d imagined, it was great just to spend time together as a family. One of the best things about our location was being across the road from the harbour and having 2 great playgrounds so afternoons usually involved a trip to the park while I did 30 minutes of exercise as part of the World Vision 30-for-30 challenge that I was doing to support child and maternal health.
So while we weren’t on the beach each day as I’d imagined, it was great exploring a new part of South Australia. I thought we’d actually covered quite a lot of ground, until I looked at the map of South Australia againand realised there are many more adventures out there waiting for us
Was there anything we missed in Victor Harbor? Any recommendations on where we should visit next?
We decided to make the most of the beautiful weather on the last day of the last school holidays and head up to the Clare Valley for the day. My husband was also keen to use his day off from pouring wine to do some tasting.
One of the advantages of the Barossa is its proximity to several great day trips being only an hour away to Clare, Adelaide or the Adelaide Hills.
Our first stop was O’Leary Walker, which we’d visited on our last trip to Clare back in 2007. Back then they were still doing tastings in the large shed, so we were excited to see the beautiful new cellar door. It was a good start for all when pens and paper were offered to the boys who could sit at a low table close to the tasting bench. They soon decided that running outside under the sprinklers was more fun, but either way they were amused for long enough for us to taste some really great wine. The riesling was as good as I’d remembered as it was interesting to taste new release 2014, 2013 and 2008 wines.
Next stop was Crabtree Wines which is one of the prettiest cellar doors I’ve visited, and had a great set up with individual tasting “stations” atop barrels with the cellar door person moving between groups. A beautiful cellar door dog, a Whippet named Tiger kept the boys happy along with some chocolate from the lady running the tastings. As expected, the riesling was good and we also came home with some nice clean skins.
Lunch was our next stop and we all had great meals at the Seven Hill Hotel. Great service, tasty kids meals, a cellar to view (where you can select wines to open there or take away), wines by the glass and great service made it somewhere we’d happily return to.
After lunch we drove further on to visit Knappstein, a beautiful cellar door and brewery. Apart from the rieslings, the standout for me was the 2008 sparkling shiraz (which kicks off our collection for Christmas lunch). The beer was also really nice – but I think part of that was my excitement of having an ice cold beer fresh from the tap, rather than a bottle or the warm beer I was used to in Hanoi. We also brought some beer home with it and I am happy to report it was just as good from the bottle!
After a quick detour to a great shaded playground, we visited Mr Mick. I love the story behind this. Veteran Clare Valley winemaker Tim Adams took on the old Leasingham site on the edge of Clare, and renamed it Mr Mick in honour of his mentor Mick Knappstein. I really enjoyed the Rose and the tapas menu looked great, so I think we’ll be going back there in the future.
Finally, on our way home we stopped in to the Clare Valley Brewing Company were we tasted a few beers and the Good Catholic Girl Riesling, which I’d actually had in Wollongong on my 40th. I’m not sure how I feel paying to taste, but the beer was nice, and we brought home a 6 pack of the Red Ale. I also liked the Miss Molly cider which I was surprised to find out was made with grapes. I was curious how it was then cider and not wine but the brewing technique and the alcohol content for the cider is much lower than for wine.
All in all it was a nice day out, and while the boys got a bit bored at the end, most places had somewhere they could either sit to draw or play on the ipad or they could run around outside. There is definitely a lot more we would like to explore in the area, including a few cellar doors that are only open at weekends, so I think it will be a regular day trip for us and probably something we’ll do with family and friends come to visit.
Have you been to the Clare Valley? Any tips for our next visit?
Saying goodbye is pretty tough and it can be even tougher when the place you’re moving to is a whole new place.
For some expats, and especially in my former life as a diplomat, the next assignment, apart from those lucky few who get a cross-posting, is heading back to home base usually where you have a house, friends, schools for your kids, family. But even then, things change while you’re away. Kids grow up, people make new friends, things change. And you change too. I don’t think anyone could spend an extended period living overseas without it having some impact on the way you view life and the world around you.
For others, moving on from the place you have spent the last few years means starting from scratch. In our case, it really was a new start – me quitting work, my husband finding a new job, moving to a new town (and a new state) and my eldest starting primary school.
For us we’ve experienced reverse culture shock in many ways, moving from a big bustling overcrowded noisy city to a rural town of about 5000. I can no longer walk out of my lane and walk across the road for a coffee, call the bakery for delivery or walk down to the convenience shop. I can’t walk outside and hail a taxi (although I couldn’t afford it) but at least I can quickly get myself on a nice running track surrounded by vines, which is almost as good (and sometimes just as smelly) as West Lake.
At least moving back to Australia the cultural and language barriers don’t really exist – but even then Australia has still prices go up, service offerings are more complex (don’t get me started on setting up internet!) and if like me, you’ve moved from somewhere with help, the washing, cooking and cleaning is never ending.
But all those changes are pretty easy to adjust to and as an expat you get used to making new friends.
So, the hardest thing I’m finding right now is thanks to world of Facebook. Don’t get me wrong I am a huge Facebook fan and I love being able to keep in touch with friends all around the world, many of whom I’d lost touch with for years. And I have loved sharing updates about our life here.
But sometimes, watching groups of friends hanging out in Hanoi, seeing them visiting a favourite restaurant or discovering a new restaurant, seeing snaps of a rare blue sky Hanoi day or any of the sights of street life that kept me enthralled for 3.5 years, I get a little sad and I realise just how much I miss those people and those places. Fortunately for us, we always knew our posting was 3 years (and were lucky to have a short extension) so there is never the question of “should we have stayed”?
Anyway I’m sure I’m not alone seeing those Facebook posts and feeling like I left the party a little too early and everyone else is having fun while I’m hanging out washing, vacuuming and doing the groceries!
But even when that feeling of jealousy starts to creep in, I just have to remind myself about all the positives of our new life and be thankful for all those experiences in the first place.