Getaway with Soleil: Phillip Island

               If you’ve been wondering where the detailed accounts of my travels have been, look no more. Unfortunately, as with many adventurers of old, I was beset with fatigue and a mysterious illness that kept me away from my writing—but not from exploration. While my journey to Phillip Island and the seaside community of Cowes was planned well in advance, I couldn’t help but think of Little Women and all those other examples of the unwell being put near a beach to convalesce. While I can’t say my time near the shores completely healed me, it was a much-needed break from the constant movement of our travels.

               We left Mooloolaba via plane early on Wednesday. Our seatmate was quiet and most of the flight was spent reading or listening to music as loudly as we could to cover a screaming child who really wanted to be set free. Our time in Melbourne proper wouldn’t last long, and I was already a bit tired. We bought bus tickets to Cowes, and had enough time to grab food at Bon Bon Boi across from the station. Perhaps it was an impending omen of my upcoming illness, but I made sure to order the wagyu beef pho in the hopes it would rejuvenate me. The broth was delicious, and the fresh ingredients and noodles were slurped all too quickly.

               This trip has had its shares in firsts of public transportation. For this leg, I had my first ride on not one long distance bus but two. Unfortunately, I spent most of the first bus asleep with my head on Soleil’s shoulder. When it came time to change buses, Soleil discovered one of my less fine traits. That is, if woken from a nap taken while tired, I will be cranky and, if in an unfamiliar, confusing place, it will double. While I could lie and write over the less happy parts of the adventure, I won’t. I’d rather be honest that we spent that second bus ride listening to music and staring out separate windows. I think there’s a pressure on long distance couples to always be happy and optimistic when you’re in-person, but real relationships have highs and lows, ebbs and flows to the days. After weeks of traveling together, we needed a few moments to ourselves and our thoughts.

               The interesting thing about Australia is how I found bits and pieces of the familiar in its landscape and buildings. If Brisbane reminded me of Reno, then the drive through the Victoria countryside was a bit like northern California or southern Oregon. Swaths of farms and ranches with cows or camels or sheep grazing. Small towns along the bus route. Eventually, a glimpse of the ocean. When we crossed the bridge to Phillip Island, it was almost like crossing to another plane. This Victorian island, best known for its penguins and grand prix, is an odd choice of destination, but it was also Soleil’s childhood.

               Since we’d spent a lot of the trip packing and unpacking our bags every few days, it was nice to relax and settle for a time. We made a rough meal plan and bought groceries. Our first night, Soleil made mushroom ravioli with garlic toast. It’s always interesting navigating a new kitchen, and—two smoke alarms later—we enjoyed dinner with our usual mix of re-runs and Amazing Race Australia. And, honestly, many of our days in Phillip Island were like that: cooking meals (I made lots of breakfast bowls of varying success), listening to Double J radio, watching movies like Kingsman or The Devil Wears Prada, and reading. This isn’t to say there isn’t anything to do in Phillip Island, but that we had some much-needed time to be on vacation without necessarily doing vacation things. (And that we were limited by walkability).

               We walked along the shore, and I was once again spoiled by another beach. Victoria, unlike Queensland, was colder and I often found myself wrapped in layers or bundled under a blanket. So not quite the weather where I wanted to take off my shoes, but similar to the Oregon Coast in its own way. Children and dogs played in the water, people walked along the pier, and hundreds of seagulls hungrily stalked any tasty morsel they could find. Cowes has plenty of interesting shops and restaurants, and we window shopped plenty. As usual, I found another bookstore and could have spent hours investigating all the finds at Turn the Page.

               Soleil and I had another makeshift crawl on Friday and went to three different bars for drinks. We started at Ocean Reach Brewery and enjoyed saucy wings with our brews and a gorgeous view of the ocean. Then, we checked out Shaka for my first espresso martini and great cocktail menu. We ended the night at Cohiba Bar for some celebrity-inspired drinks. Creating your own crawl out of happy hours or nearby places wasn’t really something I’d thought of prior to this trip, or something I’d thought could be done anytime other than a special occasion, but it’s something I might continue doing (occasionally) in Reno.

               On Saturday, we had breakfast at the Fork N Waffle, which played hits of the 00s at random with occasional song skips like someone on a road trip. I had a tasty vegan tart while Soleil had a salmon eggs benny waffle. It seems as if every country on this trip has its own flavor for me, and Australia seems to have chosen pumpkin. As someone missing the beginning of fall, I was all for it. We spent the afternoon with Soleil’s sister, who lives nearby. It’s interesting, as an outsider, to notice all the ways families can be made up and how many stories are kept in them. On Saturday night, Soleil and I made dinner together. He made a chicken schnitzel, another thing that’s big in Australia, and I contributed the mashed potatoes. And I know I’ve said don’t take the little things for granted, but being able to make dinner together, in-person does mean a lot when you’re long distance.

               Sunday, however, is where my relaxed vacation took a turn for the sick. You know those days where all you want to do is stay in bed and sleep? It was a bit like that. So, instead of any wild adventures, Soleil and I napped on the couch and read for most of the day. He was adamant, however, that I had to have some “authentic” fish and chips on the island, and we went out for dinner. We got a deal on two giant well-breaded and fried fish, a heap of chips, and two dim sim. We found a table with a view of the beach and were besieged by a flock of seagulls that has obviously learned to find weakness. While I can’t say it’s the best fish and chips I’ve ever had, it was nice to eat something warm amidst the cold breeze and to throw the occasional fry at a one-footed seagull.

               We left Phillip Island on Monday. We’d eaten most of our groceries, finished the last of our personal stash of tea, and packed more of our stuff. In the five days we’d stayed in Cowes, I finished Lauren Oliver’s Broken Things and read Courtney Summer’s The Project and Rory Power’s Wilder Girls. So, obviously I have a certain vacation reading genre I’m drawn to, and the power of Libby has granted me relatively unlimited access. Soleil ran a few errands on Monday morning and, while he was gone, I had the full-denial realization I was feeling sick. That sickness, unfortunately, would come to determine our last days together (whether we liked it or not).

               Two buses later, we arrived back in Melbourne. That chapter, however, isn’t part of this one, but I can promise it contains celebration, some exploration, attempts at rest, and (as always) lots of food and drink. One of the things I’m most grateful for on this trip has been the ability to see Australia, big and small, and Phillip Island was a different kind of familiar. If I’ve learned anything by now, it’s that, maybe, things aren’t so different on the other side of the sea.

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               If you would like to follow my adventures on Instagram, please check out: @karleypardue (for writing updates, bookstores, and more) or @karleycooks (for culinary flair).