Welcome to our Christmas edition. We started this in November and now Christmas it knocking hard on our door. Like a good Christmas tale or the 80’s movie starring a DeLorean car (if you don’t know what I’m talking about then ask your parents), this blog is going to flash backwards and forwards through time. Actually this is not so much a blog but a Newspaper full of articles, a mini-series as opposed to an episode and a banquet as opposed to a degustation menu.
I’m sitting here on a rare rainy night in Melbourne, reflecting on our adventures over the last couple of months. We are still enjoying Melbourne but also miss our friends, family, Wellington and New Zealand as well. When we eventually return to NZ we will leave part of our hearts in Melbourne. There is definitely a reason why it’s voted the most liveable city in the world.
Melbourne is known for its entertainment, culture, shopping, sightseeing and food. When in Melbourne (whether a visitor or a local), food walking tours of Melbourne are common, interesting, take you to places you may have been past many times but have never seen, and good value for money. They give you a taste of some of the flavours of Melbourne and introduce you to the Laneways and street culture that pervades the city. The one we went on took us to a range of places that included a chocolate shop, a few bars serving a range of out of the ordinary food, or ordinary food like burgers or hotdogs that were done differently. We eventually ended up at a cocktail/dessert bar but the most interesting place of the day would have to be a bar called Ferdydurks on the 3rd floor in a lane in Chinatown.
We’ve spoken of parts of the Yarra River Trail before but it’s definitely a very scenic and accessible part of Melbourne. The part around the Yarra Bend area is definitely worth a look if you have time when visiting Melbourne. It contains the Studley Park Boathouse, the Fairfield Park Boathouse, Abbotsford Convent, Collingwood Children’s Farm, Dight Falls (it’s more a concrete spillway, but the only place you’ll see any white water on the lower Yarra), plus a smattering of playing fields, golf course and driving range and mini-golf.
If you’re in to markets then a quaint one is the Rose St Markets. They have stalls there with stuff you won’t see at other markets in Melbourne,
plus there is a lot of interesting street art graffiti in the area. Rose Street is off Brunswick Street in Fitzroy and the whole area is best described as ‘alternative’ (think Cuba Street in Wellington, but on a larger scale). Good café’s, Naked for Satan (a great rooftop bar), N2 Extreme Gelato (gelato made with liquid nitrogen – Bellissimo) and Johnson St that has a number of Spanish related food (Spain, Mexico, South American, etc) and which happened to be hosting a Spanish Festival when we were there last. The food looked and smelled delicious but unfortunately we were still full from breakfast we had at Three Bags Full (one of the many eating places recommended to us).
In the last couple of months we’ve tried a number of places to eat/drink in Melbourne and on some of our trips around Victoria and South Australia. We managed to get back to a few favourite places to eat such as Saigon Sally, Hanoi Hannah, The Top Paddock (with different people coming along – so we didn’t break our rule), but have also found some average ones (Duck Duck Goose – cafe, The Patchwork Teahouse – speaks for itself, Two Bouys – bar/restaurant), some really nice ones (Baby – Italian, Oscars on the Yarra – Modern Australian, Madam Brussells – a cute bar, Weylandts – café and African furniture store, European – need we say more, Fonda – Mexican, Super Normal – Asian, Maggie Beer – rustic country style picnic lunch, Hahndorf Inn – German Beer Hall food), and some that leave an indelible mark on your palette (Hellenic Republic and Gazi are both Greek inspired restaurants owned by George Colambaris of Masterchef Australia fame, Tonka (Indian food with a difference) and then finally Penfold’s Magills Restaurant in Adelaide would rate in the top 3 dinners we’ve had of all time, especially with a wine match that included a Grange. We’ve also found a couple of places that make ice cream on the spot using liquid nitrogen, so you don’t need to go to the Fat Duck Restaurant or a fancy cooking show to try some. Nitro Lab in Bourke Street and N2 Extreme Gelato (mentioned earlier) make what is really more an ice cream texture than a gelato texture that is very creamy and smooth. Both have a range of around 6 to 8 flavours.
Part of the reason why we came to Melbourne was to explore Victoria (and Tasmania – because it’s close, and we also got to Adelaide recently – but more about that soon), so we pick out various parts of the State and find out what’s there. If there is an event there then that’s an added bonus, or a good reason to visit.
Kyneton is one such place. Why would you go to Kyneton – good question? We didn’t know either but I think it might have been an article in the Weekender newsletter we subscribe to. It’s off the main highway but is at the cross-roads of some the bigger towns in the area. Well, it was a quaint place to visit. The older part of town had some interesting shops and café’s (like visiting Martinborough in the Wairarapa). We had lunch at the first place we saw ‘Duck Duck Goose’ (mentioned earlier, and it was pretty average), but we saw some places down the street that looked better. We then took a drive to the Black Hill Reserve out of town that had great views of the surrounding countryside and some interesting rock formations. While working out our route to get to Kyneton (using Uncle Google) we saw a place called the Organ Pipes National Park just off the motorway so we stopped there on the way back. It definitely had some interesting rock formations (about 10 – 15 min walk down a hill on a sealed road from the carpark) that is worth a visit. The Organ pipe rocks reminded us of the rocks at the Giants Causeway in Ireland but as they say in Bali, same same but different.
Another place we visited was Warburton. John had signed up to do the Big Forest ½ marathon but due to his calf injury was unable to do it, which is a pity as it was an off-road event that John prefers to do. Since we’d booked the accommodation we went anyway so we could explore the area as we hadn’t been to that part of the Yarra Ranges before. Warburton itself is a bit of a one-horse town but is definitely worth a quick stop if you are passing through that way. It’s an aspiring tourist town that has lots of natural beauty on its doorstep but hasn’t developed the upmarket shops or cafés and restaurants that you’d get in the more developed tourist towns. So what was there to see in the area? Lovely bush to start with. While we didn’t have time to take in the bush walks because of John’s injury and the scattered showers we did things that we could easily drive to. One was finding the source of the Yarra River which starts at the Upper Yarra Dam (go figure?). While nothing more than a small obscure stream, we joked at being a little bit like Livingston finding the source of the Nile (although with a first world problem like is there a road there?). We also drove to Lake Mountain which is close by in the Victorian Alps and somewhere we’d tried to visit during the winter but the road was closed by too many Melbournites checking out the fresh snow. The weekend we went to Warburton, the weather on Friday at home in Melbourne after work was a baking 32C, while less than 2 hours’ drive and 120km away at Lake Mountain on the Saturday the temperature was 0C and had a slight dusting of snow. We decided to drive some of the less travelled roads in the area and while on the Acheron Way we came across an usual sight – a guy standing with his hand leaning against a tree, he was dressed in FULL fishing gear (hat with hooks, fishing jacket, etc. – you get the picture), holding an unfurled fishing rod and looking very nonchalant. We both did a double take as we drove by and after a quick check of the map figured that he’d been fishing in a nearby stream. The only stranger sight we’ve ever seen was around 6am in the dark in London driving up the entry ramp onto the M1 and we shot past a bearded guy dressed as Jesus dragging a very large cross (2m at least) on his back.
We also visited Arthurs Seat on the Mornington Peninsular that has sprawling views of the Peninsular and back toward Melbourne (if you can find the gaps between the trees). It used to have a chairlift that were chairs as opposed to Gondola’s. They closed it down after someone fell to their death and the place looks a bit run down and ho-hum, although on the news tonight they had a story about someone seeking planning permission to put in a proper gondola and revamped café and visitor facilities. We walked around some of the tracks and lookouts but found little to inspire us. One thing about visiting places is you never know what you’ll find. If you didn’t like it then at least you’ve seen it and know that you won’t visit again, and other times you’ll see or do things like you’d never imagine (like seeing a guy in the woods in full fishing gear).
A couple of weeks ago we took a 3 day weekend trip to Adelaide with some friends. It’s a great place to visit but we don’t think we could live there. It would feel like moving from Melbourne to Ballarat, Sydney to Newcastle, London to Reading or Wellington to Palmerston North. We visited Hahndorf (a pretty German style town in the Adelaide Hills) and sampled some of the German beer and food for lunch. In the afternoon we saw the Panda’s at Adelaide Zoo. Because the Zoo was due to close in hour we thought we’d missed the Panda’s as they were nowhere to be seen, but the keepers coaxed them out about 15 mins later with a food trail and we soon had great close up views of them exploring their outdoor area looking for treats that had been tucked into rock crevices or under logs. You can see why people warm to them as an animal as they seem friendly, gentle and cuddly. Dinner that night was a gastronomic experience at the Penfolds Magill’s Restaurant. Supposedly a 7 course degustation menu, we counted around 11 courses (not taking into account a range of items that came out as the petit fours). John had the accompanying Sommelier wine match selection that included an option to have a Grange as one of the wines. All four of us were transported to Heaven that night and when we left it took us awhile to float back to earth again.
Day 2 was spent mostly in the Barossa Valley having some wine tasting at a couple of vineyards that looked interesting. A simple lunch of pate, bread and pickles at Maggie Beer’s Country Café and then off for more touring. Our friends were keen to do a Helicopter Flight over the valley so we did too. Helicopters are a great way to see the scenery as they give a wider and more uninterrupted view of the landscape than looking out of a plane. That night we were tired and after a few drinks at a pub in town we went to nice Italian Restaurant called Cardone’s at Glenelg feeling in the mood for seafood. Day 3 was a leisurely day with a few hours in the vicinity of Rundle Mall and then back to Melbourne in the early afternoon.
Closer to home around Melbourne we visited the Jean Paul Gaultier Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria. Even for someone with little appreciation of Haute Couture such as John, it was incredible to see the boundaries that were pushed with what is more art than clothing, the style you can bring to things like Punk, and the incredible level of work required to produce the garments. Many of the clothing dummies had faces projected on to them that spoke or sang. Freaky!!!
Through work John got some free tickets to ‘The Comics Lounge’ in North Melbourne. The venue features many of Australia’s well known stand-up comics and many overseas acts. The main act that night was OK, and well worth the price we paid J. The MC wasn’t quite so funny. His opening line was ‘I just got off a plane from LA this morning’ and John’s reply straight back was ‘When are you leaving?’. Consequently we came in for a bit of attention as part of his act, but he was a bit of an amateur, certainly no Billy Connelly.
Last weekend we went to see the musical ‘Once’ at the Princess Theatre in Spring Street (an area worth a visit with the Parliament, Cathedral, Old Treasury buildings, Hotel Windsor and some quant gardens in the vicinity). The Siglo rooftop bar is great place to see parliament as the sun sets or when it’s lite up at night but you have to know which door to push to find the bar as it’s not marked). We’d heard great reports about the show from a couple of different people who’d seen it so decided it was worth checking out. It’s hard to say much about it. We didn’t know the story or the music before we went but knew it was Irish in origin. Johns Mum was visiting and we thought it may have been something she might like to see. We enjoyed the foot tapping Irish music at the beginning more than the show itself. It was ‘nice’ but quite slow paced.
After the show we caught a tram down to the Town Hall in Swanston Street to see the Christmas Light projection and sound show on the side of the building. Jaw-dropping beautiful and spectacular is all I can say. Photo’s and video can’t do justice to being there and now we can’t wait for the White Night festival to start on Feb 21st where even more buildings will be lit up, as well outdoor music acts and other events around the city and on the river. If we hadn’t been to see ‘Once’ we might not have made the effort to check out the light show and would have missed out on something special. We are going to go back and see it again when Tristan and Judy get here.
Since we’ve been in Melbourne we’ve enjoyed the temperate weather compared to where we’ve lived before. We haven’t yet had the extremes but have had the occasional dose of cold or heat and an amazing thunderstorm a few weeks ago. In Brisbane or Sydney they are worse but this one was very wild and pretty, with lightning and thunder rolling through the night until mid-morning the next day. The rail system was in chaos and John was stuck on a stationary train for an hour on his way to work. He could have walked to work faster.
For anyone living in Australia or New Zealand, or bet on the horses, if you don’t know anything else about Melbourne you do know about the Melbourne Cup, the horse race that stops a nation (well two nations if you count NZ as well). You can’t live in Melbourne and not at least attend the Melbourne Cup or one of the other large cup days that are part of the Melbourne Spring Festival. It’s not a cheap day out and if you include the ticket, transport, food and drink it will cost you anywhere from $100 into the $1000’s per person depending on how lavish you want to go. We spent the day with friends in an enclosed area behind the grandstand (no direct view of the track but did have a couple of large screens showing the races). Almost everyone dresses up in their best clothes or smart casual at least (maybe the 7’s in Wellington could try this as an alternative dress style one year – it might help with the behaviour of the crowd). Most of our group walked away about even or with a good profit on the betting for the day. Some of us also had a chat with Shane Cortese (a reasonably well known actor in NZ) who was with a group of friends at the table next to us. He was a nice guy to chat to and Heather and Emma managed to score some selfies with him.
The Melbourne Marathon seems so long ago now. Leading up to the marathon John had a number of months with little or no training due bad shin problems. The physio eventually sorted him out and with not much time to train he was able to run it in 4 hours 13 minutes. Being inspired by this John didn’t take a break (against his good wife’s sound advice – and the Physio also said later) and he went on to post faster and faster times while training for the Queenstown Marathon. That was until his calf decided it had enough strain and gave way. Needless to say it was a number of weeks of rest and visits to the physio (who advised not to run the Queenstown marathon). We had tickets booked so flew to Queenstown for a holiday anyway. John managed two 5km runs in the week leading up to the marathon and decided to run it (with his injured leg heavily strapped by a local Queenstown physio). It was the inaugural Queenstown Marathon and an event not to be missed. It was great to catch up with some close friends in Queenstown who were also there to participate or be a supporter. Everyone participated in the pre-Marathon training session (drinking their favourite wine, beer or cider, followed by generous lashings of tequila and Sambuca shooters). It wasn’t a messy night but there was one (not John) the next morning with a foggy head, unexplained bruises and not able to eat their breakfast. Everyone who ran enjoyed the marathon, with varying degrees of success despite the horrendous wind and rain that came in toward the end of the race. Toward the end of John’s run he was dodging branches being ripped off trees and pinecones plopping around him as he ran through the pine forest at the edge of the Queenstown lakefront. He finished in 4:43.
The flight back was very pretty as it was a stunning day as we left Queenstown. It was calm and clear because a Southerly had blasted through the previous day (during the Marathon) and cleared the air. The mountains still had good coatings of snow that had fallen a couple of days before, and the ranges seemed to extend forever in every direction as we climbed out of Queenstown. The clouds across the Tasman looked like white coloured pork crackling with groups of small clouds with puffy centres bulging up from the centre of each cloud. The weather was still clear when we hit the Victorian coast and we could clearly see a number of places we’d visited over the last 9 months. The girl sitting in the row with us was Ricki-Lee Coulter, an Australian pop singer (with a Kiwi heritage and love of kiwi sweets – judging from the bag she was nibbling from) who is a contestant in the Australian Dancing with the Stars show and has made it to the finals of the show. She seemed like a nice down to earth person and she gave us a good insight to some of the behind the scenes effort that goes into the show and how demanding it is. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricki-Lee_Coulter).
For the Block Heads out there the new series of The Block is being filmed about 10 minutes walk from our place. The new Block is at 27 Darling St, South Yarra. The series that finished here a couple of months ago ‘The Block Glasshouse’ (in High St Prahran, about 20 min walk from here) has just started showing in NZ. One of the more controversial couples on that Block series are in this new series as well and we saw Darren being filmed when we walked past the other day. So if you are a Block Head then come and pay us a visit and we’ll take you on a tour. It’s been great to get visitors come and stay and would be good to see some more of our friends and family visit.
Heather has had a couple of trips away – 1 to NZ to see WOW and had a great time catching up with friends. He show was good as always. It was nice to be back even though it was such a short trip. A few weeks later Heather headed to Brisbane for a week to catch up with some old friends from her work days in Dunedin. She had a lovely few days reminiscing and looking at old photos as well as catching up on the last 30 years.
Well it’s that time of year when everyone is preparing for Christmas. Melbourne certainly does decorate the city well. The light show mentioned above was absolutely fabulous, but there is also a large Xmas tree at City Square along with Santa’s grotto, there are a myriad of different decorations along the streets, and some of the buildings are done up with decorations too. Then there is the Meyer store window display. That’s if you can get anywhere near it! The queue to see it at any time of the day is very long. We were able to look over people’s heads and watch each window animation luckily. We are so looking forward to having Tristan here for a week as well as our friend Judy until 2nd Jan. The tree is up (you’ve heard of wall flowers, well we have a wall tree), the presents are wrapped, and we have a list of places we want to take them both to. Xmas lunch will be the 4 of us at our apartment and we are doing a mini version of Xmas Eve here too with 4 other friends joining us. Won’t be anything like our Xmas eve get together in Wellington but we will be thinking of you all with fondness. Have a very merry Christmas everyone and be safe. Good wishes for 2015!