You know, I was really worried it would be difficult to return to normal life overnight. But just as I learned on the road, I’m surprisingly adaptable, and so maybe it’s not surprising that I also slipped back into the folds of our old life fairly quickly.
I think we’re both still revelling in coming home to the same bed every night, being able to see friends on a whim, marathon TV shows … I’m even enjoying the leisure of lingering over the stove.
T threw out the idea in passing the other day that we should do another RTW trip when we have kids. I can’t even begin to contemplate such an undertaking … but that sure would be an adventure.
It’s a little scary, actually, how fast those memories fade. I’m glad I kept a diary, and blogged, and took photos, because those essentially all we have as proof now.
Except for the remaining bug bite scars (are smooth unblemished legs a small price to pay for six months of RTW travel?) as a daily reminder, in some ways it’s like we never left.
After nearly three weeks at my parents’ house, moving into our new place definitely came at just the right time. It’s maybe two-thirds the size of our last place, not to mention much closer to the neighbours and minus a front and back yard, but downsizing hasn’t been too hard, since we’ve spent the months in between living out of backpacks, in dorms, motel rooms, living rooms and guest rooms.
Best of all, I could finally wear clothes to work beyond the approximately three outfits I had in my pack!
But we had to buy SO MUCH STUFF. Pillows (which have desperately needed replacing for years, but I was too cheap to do so. After six months in a garage, though, they were definitely beyond salvage). A new frypan (same sad story. Our new one is amazing – corn fritters, pancakes and eggs come out heart-achingly perfect). A good knife (again, turned out to be worth its weight in gold). All the small things – oils, spices, cleaning products….
I quickly found myself nesting, organising the house, finding places for everything, relishing the simple joy of having a place to call home.
The two biggest changes are the fact that we have a dryer in our new place, and no garden. These things combined make me feel like a bad global citizen. I can’t compost as there’s no earth to bury our scraps in (and I’m not going to buy a crazy expensive composting bin system). It’s ridiculous how smelly your kitchen bin gets when you’re putting food scraps into it! We do have one very small clothesline that doesn’t get much sun attached to the side of our house under the eaves, so I’m going to make more of an effort to line dry items like towels and sheets. But for general use, the dryer is just so handy, especially in Auckland’s climate, and because our stove and water run on gas, our electricity bills are crazy low (around $30-40), even with occasional/regular dryer use.
We’re still working on getting into something of a groove in regards to keeping the house running. Cleaning has always been a source of friction for us. Lots of bloggers brag about how equally they share cleaning duties, so it’s kind of shameful to admit that we don’t (though I would be interested to know if they also split cooking equally).
At first, he did all the cooking and I did most of the cleaning while he was job hunting. Now he’s working 10-20 hours a week more than I am (earnings are another matter; he’s commission based so he definitely has the potential to outearn me). Taking on the lion’s share of household tasks given his schedule has proved the easiest solution thus far.
I don’t like cleaning by any means, but having a clean house is much more important to me than it is to him, unfortunately. Despite being anal about a few select things, like crumbs in bed, he has an insanely high tolerance for filth (and from what I’ve seen it’s a family thing – they occasionally go on cleaning binges but generally exist in a state that I find disagreeable). I’m also the one with all the dust/pollen/etc sensitivities. I’d love for us to see eye to eye on cleaning … but I honestly don’t think this will ever happen.
Naturally, I feared this might be the hardest readjustment to make. Not so! It’s like I never left. Afraid I have no real advice for other RTWers coming home on this front. That said, I was able to do a little freelancing while travelling (and of course blogged the whole time) so it’s not like I was totally out of the game for six months. I imagine if you were, say, an accountant, cop, or engineer, things would be different. The first couple weeks were a bit of a shock to the system, but now all is gravy. And when things get frustrating, I remind myself that it’s ridiculous to expect work to be unicorns and rainbows 100% of the time.
Adjusting to work has been harder for T. This is possibly the least physical job he’s ever done, but he’s still on his feet all day, and coming home looking like a limp rag. We’ll see how this goes.
We’re back to working quite different schedules, so our time together is mainly limited to evenings. It’s lucky that we now live within easy walking distance of multiple supermarkets and grocers, or this whole one-car thing would be a huge pain in the ass.
One negative side effect of travelling, which obviously messed with our routines and eating/sleeping patterns to some extent, is that I no longer seem to know when I’m full. My calibration button is broken. Even when I’m insanely stuffed, I don’t feel the heavy bloat I used to, so I’ve learned to stop and check myself in case I overdo it. Related: my appetite overall seems to have shrunk. I still need decent sized meals at frequent intervals, but I can’t do all-you-can-eats justice anymore.
My palate has totally changed. I can no longer tolerate even the thought of eating a kebab wrap (had way too many of those in certain, less culinary parts of Europe while trying to save dosh). I actually want to eat healthy, because I really feel the difference, physically, when I don’t. I’ve become a lot more sensitive to sugar in my food – for example, I used to adore Patak’s curry, but now it’s painfully sweet and downright inedible to me. I still like to indulge in the odd piece of rich cheesecake, mud cake, brownie, etc, but I no longer want any middling/substandard baked goods to pass my lips. Go hard or go home.
I desperately miss fresh Italian ingredients, Mexican joints, New York delis, and sloppy BBQ. But I am glad to once again have humble Kiwi suburban bakeries in my life (mince and cheese pies! butter chicken pies! custard pies! pizza bread) and real coleslaw (not the creepy sweet stuff that passes for coleslaw in America). Also – unrelated – I miss the amazing, nature-defying, non-sticky sand of Santorini.
On the upside, it’s nice to be back to eating a full variety of foods – while the main allure of travel for me is dining local, eventually you need to mix it up, hence our eating Indian food in Las Vegas, Chinese food in Rome (a city that blew me away in regard to multiculturalism) and Western food in Ho Chi Minh.
I’m back to living inside a hayfeverish hell – such is the price I pay for living in the land of the long white cloud. My sinuses hate this country. Along with the occasional pill, steaming and exercising seem to help – the first time I tried steaming it was like opening up a whole new world. I could breathe through my nose effortlessly, feel the air in the back of my throat, all those connections inside as it circulated, down to my grateful lungs. It’s funny how quickly you get used to things and forget how they’re really meant to work. I haven’t been able to breathe freely like this since 2011. Only wish I’d tried it sooner.
But I AM loving the mild summer and looking forward to an equally mild winter. I don’t own a hat or gloves and I can still wear ballet flats during winter. It won’t be like Iceland, or even summer in London/Scotland, or Canada (guys, stop trying to convince me that Canadian winters are not that bad, I know how low temperatures go there). Just ignore me when I start bitching about the rain, okay?
Life in general
At first, everything seemed so small. All our buildings, so short – the towers, the one-storey houses. Our hills (volcanoes) looked almost low enough to leap over. From Tamaki Drive, the North Shore felt stiflingly close – like we could swim over to Devonport with just a few strokes, or pop over to Rangitoto in a kayak (which I believe you can actually do, but it would be pretty arduous going in reality).
Yet in the relative absence of terraced houses and streets of apartments, it almost felt like we had more room to breathe somehow. What would previously have felt like a long distance is nothing now; anything within Auckland seems nearby and traffic is pretty dreamy. Drivers are still sometimes rude and erratic but better than anywhere else in the world we’ve been. Tap water here is amazing, and free – it’s nice to dine out without having to think twice about ordering water, or whether it’s worth eating in once we factor in tipping.
Everything is crazy expensive but we’ve learned to grit our teeth – it’s all about tradeoffs.
Auckland is home. On sunny days, as Sense points out, it’s downright stunning. Just this week we headed out to Piha for a post-work swim and chillout session on the beach – it’s afternoons like those that remind me what’s great about living here.
“That’s the problem with only having one real city,” a friend remarked recently as we bemoaned the state of the property market in Auckland. While that isn’t really true, in some ways it feels like it is. We have a third of the population, after all. And there isn’t anywhere else in NZ I’d live. Beyond the deep ties (our family is here, all the job opportunities are here, the roots of familiarity in general), we have the best variety of food and culture, and in order to find better weather or public transport we’d have to move to a tiny town or out of the country altogether. And from what I’ve seen, there’s nowhere else in the world that would be our perfect city, either.
Even if we criticise it nonstop, we do it out of love (is this a uniquely Auckland thing? Because I noticed that not a single commenter on my post about tradeoffs deigned to voice a complaint about their own city).
Simon Pound sums it up perfectly in his opening letter in Aortica #2:
Ah, Auckland. You immature doe of a city. Nowhere else in the world are inhabitants of a place at once so disparaging about their hometown yet so worried about what a visitor thinks. “There’s not much to do here,” locals will say apologetically, before asking with great pride if you liked the West Coast beaches, Hauraki Gulf, island escapes, coffee, fresh food, mountain landscape, Pacific flavour, Chinese restaurants and so on and so on…
…Auckland is a city where people smile at you on the street and then avoid eye contact on the trains. It’s a small big city with the spread and scope of a metropolis, but often the horizons of a province…
…I love Auckland like any true Aucklander: equivocally. The truth is that you have to work at having a great life here. You can’t simply step out of the door and get caught up in activity. You have to spark it yourself.”
Truer words were never spoken; it’s enough to make you laugh and weep simultaneously.
I’ll leave you today with a quote from artist Dan Arp’s passage in the magazine:
“After travelling around a bit and coming back here, I realise that Auckland is a city that is made up of lots of little bits that feel very much like a lot of other places, so if you know where to go, it can feel like the place you might want to be in at that moment, but you can always change your mind and go somewhere else, and there is always the beach or the forest or somewhere that couldn’t be anywhere else.”