Who are we?
An Icelandic and German couple, who studied in the Netherlands and is now living in Melbourne, Australia.
Confused? No worries, it's complicated :)
The reason why we decided to create a tumblr is to share our passion for travelling with the world.
Niko & Andrea
Day 9 (Sunday 17th of November 2013) - 270km
It was finally time to see the paradise of paradises; the most famous beach in Australia – The Whitehaven Beach! There are 74 Islands in the Whitsundays, of which only 8 are inhabited with resorts.
What makes it so special?
1. The beach consists of Silica, which means that the sand is white, never gets hot and can be used to clean your silver jewelry!
2. Even Geologists cannot be sure where the Silica sand on Whitehaven Beach comes from although there are several unproven theories.
3. The average water temperature in the Whitsundays is 26° C.
4. The beach is a perfect spot for stingrays lying in the shallow water and is not far from the Great Barrier Reef which is home of 1,500 species of fish, 360 species of hard coral, one third of the world’s soft corals, 41,000 dugong, 6 species of marine turtles (all listed as threatened) and 30 species of cetaceans (eg. whales and dolphins).
After two-hours wandering around the breathtaking beach and swimming in the turquoise water (n.b. the sun was not even shining!) it was time for a small bush walk to the most gorgeous lookout followed by an hour of snorkeling. Beforehand, we were afraid that Andrea might get seasick after terrible experience of open-water snorkeling in Thailand but fortunately it was not the case. We’ve been snorkeling (and Niko diving) in Thailand and Malaysia before but when Niko came back to the boat after ten minutes of snorkeling he was just speechless! Andrea then jumped into the water (in a stinger suite to keep off the jellyfish) and got lost in this endless beauty of corals and colorful fish of all sizes. Unfortunately, we didn’t see turtles or dolphins this time but the experience was obviously amazing enough! You just get lost and leave all (negative) thoughts behind.
Few years back, Tourism Queensland came up with a promotional campaign for the Whitsundays, which they named “The Best Job in the World”. They offered a job position, namely ‘Island Caretaker’ on one of the Whitsunday Islands, the celebrity Hamilton Island, which included responsibilities such as feeding fish. Needless to say, the campaign got worldwide coverage (6.000 news stories) and resulted in 1.4 million applications. We wonder why… You can see the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SI-rsong4xs
Day 9 (Monday 18th of November 2013) - 500km
In north Queensland, we found this amazing café/restaurant along the highway (close to Townsville) called Frosty Mango. Since driving early in the morning on an empty stomach is not advisable, we decided to stop for breakfast. It took us a while to get into the place because we saw something we’ve never seen before: Mango trees, black apple trees, and jackfruit trees. Between the trees there were kangaroos playing around and checking us out. It is so nice to stop in a place like that instead of gas stations or McDonald’s, which sells homemade products made from their own mangos (e.g. ice-cream) as well as other tropical fruits. We had pancakes and a mango shake and tasted some new fruits – yummy!
The goal of the day was it to drive through the Atherton Tablelands, which is one hour east of Cairns, our final destination. The tablelands used to be a remarkable rainforest and home to the rare tree kangaroos as well as the Cassowary, but sadly most of the forest was cut down over the years due to farming and mining. We took the waterfall circuit and Andrea took a swim in the famous Millaa Millaa Falls (location of many advertisements such as Herbal Essence). On the way to our last ‘night camp’ we stopped at a creek and spotted some platypus in their natural habitat.
Day 10 (Tuesday 19th of November 2013) – 22 km
The time went by and we found ourselves in Cairns. It was amazing to see a sign where it said “Cairns 22 km” after driving around 3.000 km! We decided to hand in the car earlier so we could enjoy the hot and sunny day by the beach lagoon. Like Mackay and Airlie Beach, Cairns has amazing pool area for people to enjoy for free (the government’s initiative to keep people away from the sea). Cairns is a city of over 150,000 people and seemed to have it all: A beautiful beach esplanade, tropical weather, and plenty of restaurants and shops. Let’s not forget that it’s surrounded by the Great Barrier Reef and rainforests… What more could you need?
It was time to go back to Melbourne. We had a flight booked at 6 PM but immediately after we arrived at the airport we got a text saying the flight had been delayed. We sat down outside the airport and took a deep breath of the tropical air. It’s amazing to see such a vast differences in nature and climate within one country.
Melbourne being the most southern metropolitan area on mainland Australia has much dryer air than the north and colder winters. Arriving in Melbourne felt a bit like coming from Spain to Iceland (during summer time). It was only around 11°C during the night when we arrived although during the day it was around 28°C. We have to say though that when it’s hot in Melbourne its much nicer heat (if that makes sense) due to the lower humidity compared to Queensland (and even Sydney!). However, one thing that all the cities have in common is the very sudden weather changes!
The rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne is nothing new. Niko had clear thoughts on this matter before our trip: There was no question that Melbourne is way WAY better! Andrea kindly asked him to leave his thoughts to himself during our time in Sydney so she could make up her own mind. From her perspective, Sydney and Melbourne are equally vibrant yet very distinctive cities, each with its own character, that simply compliment each other! The same goes for the other amazing places we visited on the east coast – they all have their own charm. After our trip, Niko is leaning more and more towards this perspective as well. Maybe it’s due to the fact that living in different places has taught us to appreciate different places for their distinctiveness instead of comparing them. The best thing about traveling is that you can experience it all!
-By Andrea Guðmundsdóttir
“I’m Icelandic and my partner is German, but we study in the Netherlands and currently we live in Australia”. Most people get confused but we simply answer by saying: “Don’t worry, it’s complicated!” Why should strangers understand how life has brought us where we are today if some people around us don’t even seem to understand it? I hear sentences such as: “What do you think about this relationship?” “What’s going happen to them when they stop being so adventurous and want to settle down?” and “How can they afford this lifestyle?”
Our story has made me believe that the world brought us together. In 2009, Niko met people in a bus in New Zealand, who told him about this hotel school in Breda, (a city on the border of the Netherlands and Belgium). Few days later, Niko had a phone interview at 3 am with a representative from the university while he was staying in Melbourne. He had no clue that this phone interview would lead him back to Melbourne three years later, with an Icelandic girlfriend and whatnot! And who would’ve guessed that this same representative would be sitting with us in a bar in Melbourne three years later.
If Niko hadn’t decided to take a gap year to backpack through Australia with his best friend, Basti, he would’ve never met this people in the bus who told him to go to the Netherlands to study. Moreover, he wouldn’t have gotten acquainted with Movember - the Australian prostate cancer awareness month, which got him the idea to organize Movember Breda. If he hadn’t organized Movember Breda, he wouldn’t have met Luis Hill, a well-known DJ from Berlin who happened to study at the same university as me in Rotterdam. If Luis and my friend, Sijentje, hadn’t come to the Netherlands to study and hadn’t dated few months earlier, I would’ve never met Niko that night in Rotterdam.
I’ve been asked: Isn’t it hard to be in a relationship with a person who doesn’t speak the same language? Well, we do speak the same language, although that language is not our mother tongue. It feels as normal as if we would be speaking our native languages. I do admit that when we go home there are sometimes language barriers but the people that matter the most to us are very understanding and do their best, and so far it has not been a problem. Of course we will learn each other’s languages at some point, but English will always be our language – in some way it’s neutral.
I remember that after I moved to the Netherlands and made friends with people from all over the world, an Icelandic friend got really critical of me writing Facebook statuses in English. After all, I am Icelandic! She even made jokes about it and wrote everything on my Facebook page in both Icelandic and English. Was I trying to be fancy writing in English or had my lifestyle simply changed? Should I stay ‘true to myself’ and my Icelandic identity and exclude half of my friends from everything that I post on Facebook or should I communicate with everyone at the same time in a language that almost everyone could understand? One could also say that writing this blog in English is disgraceful! But the fact is that English has become my bilingual language, and the language that I speak on a daily basis, both professionally and personally. It reflects my lifestyle choice! It doesn’t mean that I care less about my own language; in fact I appreciate it more. People are always surprised when I tell them that Iceland, a nation of 320,000 people, has its own language.
I think it’s strange that people doubt our relationship for the fact that we come from different countries. As if you fall in love with a person for his or her nationality instead of personality? We are aware that we do not come from the same country but in our daily life we tend to forget. Each time Niko is talking to his parents on the phone I think to myself “Wow it’s so weird he’s talking German!” People can be really ignorant when they take a person’s nationality for their personality. At university, I’ve learned a lot about the interplay between nature (genes) and nurture (culture); how we have a genetic predisposal to display certain characteristic traits that are further nurtured through culture. I believe that culture selects for its specific traits and thus that certain characteristic traits thrive in specific cultures. So to a certain extent, there are stereotypes. When Niko and I are walking through the streets in multicultural countries such as Australia, Niko is able to tell me where random people come from. I often don’t believe him until I get a solid proof and surprisingly, he’s most of the time right!
Yet, lifestyle choices shape who we are, and often more than we think. Are you a hard-worker? Vegetarian? Peacemaker? Spoiled-brat? Family person? Party animal? Backpacker? Fashionista? Career-oriented? Traveller? Computer geek? Sports freak? Animal lover? Nature child? The list is endless. Fortunately, there are enough lifestyle choices to accommodate us all. Unfortunately, we tend to be judgmental of other people’s lifestyle choices. This is especially true in the social media age we are now living in, since our Facebook page reflects our lifestyle. We superficially ‘like’ other people’s success stories and selective snapshots of their lives while feelings of disapproval and even envy burst inside us. Why do we ‘like’ it in the first place?
It was my (lifestyle) choice to study abroad, to take a student loan from the Icelandic government and spend all this money on tuition fees, rent, electricity bills, transport etc. I could’ve stayed at home, lived with my parents, worked part-time with university and graduated with no burden of student loans. I am perhaps the only student in my year that funds my studies myself through student loans. Most of my ‘foreign’ friends get free governmental support, have parents who have saved for their education their entire life, or live at home and work part-time. Naturally, it sometimes bothers me that my government does not support students financially, e.g. in terms of scholarships or ‘free’ funds, but on the other hand everyone in my country has equal rights to student loans, regardless of their families’ wealth and/or social status. For instance in Germany you do not have the rights to student loans if your parents’ income is above certain point, irrespective of whether they can actually finance their child’s education, especially abroad. Thus, I cannot be anything else than grateful for getting the opportunity to study abroad.
Also, since I put all my resources into my studies, I automatically became more motivated for my studies and decided to gain as much experience as possible out of it. As a result, I became an honour student of my university, a mentor for first year students and exchange students and decided to go on an exchange to Australia! The best part of studying abroad though has been the changes to my life that it has brought about. Not only have I met the person I want to spend my life with, but also the people that I’ve gotten to know and become close with over the years have made my life so meaningful. I have friends from almost every corner of the world, and each and every one of them has changed a piece of me to the better! Studying abroad is a lifestyle choice, and an expensive one. Yet, the experiences associated with it are worth so much more than some student loan. It was the best decision of my life so far and something I would never take back!
Another lifestyle choice is travelling. As might be expected, my interest in the world and meeting new people was the underlying factor for my decision to study abroad. But it seems to me that when you start getting ‘out of your comfort zone’ (e.g. by moving abroad) you open up a gate and once you’re through there’s no turning back. Why should I stay in the Netherlands when I could take an exchange semester ‘abroad from abroad’? I could experience something new, see new things and meet new people! Naturally, this lifestyle choice is expensive and for that reason people wonder how I can afford this. But what people often tend to forget is that when you make choices you sacrifice something else instead. Most of my spare money goes into travelling and birthday and Christmas gifts are often plane tickets. I do not buy myself designer clothes, expensive brands, or eat at the fanciest restaurants. I also do not spend money on cigarettes and hardly go out and spend all my money on partying. Some people my age wake up on Sunday morning and realize they spent all their money on booze the night before. Who am I to judge that lifestyle choice, but that is a sacrifice I’m willing to make for my lifestyle choice.
Some people see my ‘paradise photos’ on Facebook and think ‘Oh what a good life she’s living’ while getting the feelings of disapproval I mentioned earlier. Last year, I was ‘lucky enough’ to travel to Malaysia twice to visit Niko while he was doing his management training at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Kuala Lumpur. Without a doubt, these two trips were among the best trips of my life. I stayed in five star hotels, ate the best food and was treated like a princess! Yet, few people realized that Niko and I had been months apart at the beginning of our relationship and that was the price we paid. We would’ve given anything to be together every day instead of ‘having it all’ for few days. And for these few days together, Niko worked like a slave 12-14 hours a day, 7 days a week. While I was there, he only got 3-4 days off out of two weeks and that was because he saved his days off for me. And all good things come to the end – the Kuala Lumpur International Airport is a place of both the best and the worst memories from these trips.
We also have ‘our own lil reality life’. Last semester I took double study load (56 ECTS instead of 30 ECTS), which led me to the point where I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The last week of June, I was writing my three honours program essays after just finishing exams and moving out of two apartments at the same time. I remember using every second of the day, even in a doctor’s waiting room! Imagine my face when I realized after finishing all the essays that I misunderstood the requirements! Anyways, the exchange semester in Australia has been way more relaxed and now I have my ‘summer break’ in December before going back to Europe – that’s a good life! Niko on the other hand, is working 12 hour shifts everyday at the Westin hotel here in Melbourne so we can book the tickets home and perhaps travel a bit more before.
It’s a good feeling to know that all the resources we have put into our studies abroad are starting to ‘pay back’ (although it has been worth it the whole time). ‘Internationality’ is increasingly valued as a critical asset on the job market and thus our experiences are being increasingly appreciated and are now starting to result in great opportunities. Niko has secured his career within the Mandarin Oriental hotel chain and I have gotten internship opportunities e.g. with the European headquarters of Nike and United Nations. At the same time, we think it’s important to spend time with friends and family back home, especially when you’ve been away for a long time.
The purpose of this blog is not to excuse myself for my lifestyle but simply point out that we can sometimes be unfairly judgmental towards other people and their lifestyles. It’s hard to judge from social media what kind of life people are living – after all it’s just a snapshot of their lives. For that one ‘perfect’ Instagram photo, it is likely that you have few versions of that same picture on your phone that you edited and filtered. If there is one thing that I’ve learned from my experiences is that when you’re away you realize more and more who your real friends are – who are the ones who really ‘like’ your photo and know what life is behind it.