Sunday, 24 May 2015

Hoi An Day 2

Day 2 in Hoi An started with another delicious breakfast and then Andy and I went to a yoga class. Hoi An Yoga is run by an English expat called Stepanie, who offers morning and evening yoga sessions everyday (except Sunday). Our class was held outdoors at a restaurant called The Field, on a covered pavilion overlooking the river. Absolutely stunning! We did a Hatha yoga session followed by a chia and ginger drink, and left feeling refreshed and ready for another day! We walked the 2km back to our hotel and by this time it was very hot and humid, so we immediately changed into our swimsuits for a dip in the pool. 

Hoi An Yoga 
The others went back to An Bang beach, however we'd had enough beach time over the past few days so we decided to use the hotel bikes to go into town. I love riding a bike! I really miss it now that I'm pregnant and don't feel completely safe riding to work anymore (to big of a risk of being doored on Church/Chapel street!). However Hoi An felt very safe and although a hot and sweaty experience it was nice to be on a bike again. 


We had lunch at Lanterns restaurant, some fresh and fried Vietnamese rolls and a mango and prawn salad that were all very good. In the menu they stated that they only used filtered water to wash food, make ice, etc. which was good. At Lanterns we learned that Hoi An floods every year in Nov/Dec. There were pictures from the restaurant along with lines showing the water levels in recent years. This place was particularly affected as it was right on the river. 


After lunch we walked around looking in some shops (there are a lot of those... Hoi An is a shopper's paradise). We came across Yaly Couture, which I had read was a very reputable tailors. Andy got a suit made and I chose a dress that I hoped I could wear to work through the rest of my pregnancy. We were measured up and then arranged to come back the next day for a fitting. We decided then to head back to the hotel pool to cool off for the rest of the afternoon. 

Our hotel stay came with a free massage each so we arranged to have these before dinner. As I can't lay on my stomach I had a leg, foot and scalp massage that was pretty good. I went into the massage with a headache and left without one so she must have done something right! Andy and the boys wanted to watch a football match before dinner so they and Mel went into town, while Claire and I decided to chill out a bit at the hotel before meeting them for dinner. I had a bath in our amazing bathtub... Why aren't all bathtubs designed like this one?! 

Best. Bathtub. Ever.
After my massage and bath I felt thoroughly relaxed and restored. Dinner was at Morning Glory, a very popular Vietnamese street food restaurant. I can see why! The food was delicious and it was very reasonably priced, costing us about $15 each for appetisers and mains (though there wasn't much alcohol included in that, most people were on water). We went back home very happy and full for another good night's sleep... Or so I thought. This was the beginning of "Delhi Belly" for me. I had a bit of a dodgy stomach that day and the next, and I swear it was due to the place we went to the previous day on An Bang Beach. More on that in the Day 3 post...

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Hoi An Day 1

What a place! I cannot tell you how much I loved our time in Hoi An. It was by far my favourite of the four cities we visited in Vietnam, and possibly one of my favourite travel destinations of all time.
Playing in the pool at East West Villas

Our hotel, East West Villas, is nearly perfect. I say nearly as it is a few km out of the old town, but this is not a huge problem as you can use one of the free bicycles, get a taxi for about $3, or hire a scooter for the day for $6. We arrived after our overnight train at 8:15am at Danang station and a driver from East West villas was waiting for us, taking us the 30 minute drive to Hoi An. Upon arrival our rooms weren't quite ready but we were given a welcome drink of Passion Fruit juice and then offered the hotel breakfast by the pool. The breakfast, which is included in our room price, is one of the best hotel breakfasts ever! It is made to order, and you get coffee, fresh juice (we had mango or cucumber most days), fresh fruit, a delicious hot baguette with either bacon or jam and butter, and then a selection of a hot food, either eggs or a Vietnamese dish. Every morning it is served to us in our room or by the pool at whatever time you want. It feels so luxurious!

Inside our room at East West Villas
We were joined by Craig (Lee's brother) and his wife Mel for this leg of the trip. They live in Hong Kong so it was just a short trip over for them for the long Easter weekend. We spent the first morning at the pool,swimming, reading and the boys playing "skim ball", Andy's favourite water activity. We then headed off to An Bang beach, about 6km from our hotel, and 9km from the old town. There is a closer beach than this to Hoi An, called Cua Dai but apparently this one is nicer. The other four rented scooters to get there, but Andy and I opted to take a taxi as we were being very safety conscious due to the pregnancy. The others loved it though, and this place seems like a pretty safe environment to try riding a scooter for the first time in Vietnam. 






An Bang was a nice enough beach, but not as good as the beaches in Nha Trang  We ate at one of the beachside locations which I wouldn't do again without researching them. The food was average and overpriced and hygiene questionable. The food sellers are also quite pushy, offering you a free sun lounger as long as you eat at their place. If we went here again I'd read up on some places before going to work out somewhere to eat. 

After the beach the others went into town for some spa action; Andy and I were both quite tired from the train journey so went back to the hotel for a nap before dinner.   

Dinner was at a place called Mango Mango in the old town. We took a taxi down and I was taken away with how beautiful it was. There are lanterns hanging everywhere, their soft glow giving a magical feeling. No cars or motorbikes are allowed in this part of town at night so you can walk around without the stress and sound of constant beeping! We had a drink on a riverside boat before dinner, where a guy was playing guitar. As he went for a cigarette break he handed his guitar to Andy, who proceeded to play the three songs he knows while we sang along. Very cheesy and funny! 

Mango Mango came recommended to us by a friend, the hotel, and Lonely Planet. The location on the river was gorgeous, however it was by far the priciest meal we had in Vietnam. Mains were about $25, and the 3 course set menu was $35 (which I had). This was like having a regular meal out in Melbourne. The food was pretty delicious, I had red snapper crusted with cashew nuts, with mango salsa which was amazing, but there is so much choice for food in Hoi An that I would skip this place as you don't need to pay these prices to get an amazing meal. 

After dinner we went back for a fantastic nights sleep in one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in. Have I mentioned how much I loved East West Villas?!


Thursday, 30 April 2015

Overnight trains in Vietnam

To get from Nha Trang to Hoi An we decided to take an overnight train. I say "we" decided, however I think my fellow travellers were a bit more dubious about this method of travel than I was! I thought it would be fun! An adventure! A way to see more of Vietnam! I'm not sure they were convinced, but everyone went along with it anyway.


There is no train station (or airport) in Hoi An. The nearest city is Danang, where you can get a bus to Hoi An, I think. It's about a half hour drive away. We took the very middle class option of having the hotel we were staying at pick us up, for about $25 US.

We booked our tickets through Vietnam Impressive, who I would recommend. Originally we booked a 4 berth soft sleeper, costing $214 US total for all four beds. I thought this was reasonable, but apparently its way more than it would cost you if you went to the train station and purchased your tickets yourself, although of course you risk the trains being sold out. The train was to depart Danang at 8pm, arriving at 6am the following morning. Not the best time to arrive, but our hotel was willing to pick us up then and said we could still use the pool and everything until our rooms were ready. 

Unfortunately, about a month before our trip we got an email from Vietnam Impressive saying that they would not be able to give us those tickets anymore, as government officials had decided to book out the same train! After a lot of back and forth, they offered us all 6 beds in a 6 bed hard sleeper on a later train that evening. Reluctantly we took this, as the only other option would have been to fly, and flights were over $300 each at that point. 

The only difference between the 4 bed soft sleeper and the 6 bed hard sleeper is, as you can probably work out, that there are 6 beds instead of 4 in each compartment, and the mattresses are much thinner on the hard sleepers. Other than that they are the same, and both berths are air-conditioned, which was my main concern. Our train was now at a more reasonable time, leaving Nha Trang at 9:30pm and arriving the next morning in Danang at 8:30am.

Vietnam Impressive delivered our tickets to our hotel in Nha Trang. They came with a note warning us about a few things: mainly to not let anyone (conductors) tell us that we owed them more money, to lock the door to our berth, and if anyone was already in our berth when we got on the train to kick them out. Yikes! I actually hid this warning from Andy, thinking it would just stress him out. He found it about an hour before we were to get on the train and he was not happy!

The train station in Nha Trang is pretty boring, just a waiting room with a small kiosk where you can buy a few snacks and water. Everyone we spoke to said NOT to eat the food on the train, so we had brought a few granola bars with us to get us through the night. We got there about 45 minutes early, although there is absolutely no need to be this early for your train unless you still need to purchase tickets. When the train came we got on and not surprisingly there was a guy in our compartment. I was the first one in and told him (loudly) to leave, and he did, without much fuss. I think he was drunk, there seemed to be a lot of drunk men on the train with us. We then had to get all clean linen from the conductors as people had already been sleeping in our berths - ew!

Once we had all new linen we locked ourselves in our compartment, and as it was already past 10pm we decided to just try and sleep. Claire pretty much slept the whole way, I was super jealous, that girl can sleep anywhere, anytime! She even slept through three separate occasions where drunk men managed to open our (supposedly locked) door and try to get in. Each time they were met with Andy jumping up and yelling at them to get out. They didn't seem aggressive, I think they were just drunk and didn't know where their berth was, but it was still annoying and a bit unnerving that someone could get in past the locked door. The toilets were pretty gross, and being pregnant I had to go a few times in the night. There were squatting toilets and Western toilets, and in this case squatting was definitely the better option. The smell was pretty terrible though!

Other than our drunk visitors the rest of the train ride was pretty uneventful. I felt like I was awake a lot, but it went by pretty quickly so I must have got some sleep in. I'd take the train again if we travel around Vietnam another time, but I would really have rather been in the 4 bed soft sleeper! We arrived in Danang on time, with our driver there waiting to take us to our amazing hotel in Hoi An. 

Monday, 20 April 2015

Nha Trang

Ah, what can I say about our time in Nha Trang? It's the beach capital of Vietnam, located on the southeastern coast. We flew there from Ho Chi Minh City, which took about an hour with VietJet airlines, Vietnam's low cost airline. I must say for a budget flight it was pretty good, nice new planes with decent legroom. If you don't want to brave the trains to travel around the country, this is a good option.

Our taxi from the airport took us along the beautiful coastline, past posh resorts and lush golf courses. And then, about half an hour later, you arrive in Nha Trang. I feel like Nha Trang is Vietnam's version of Surfer's Paradise, or Magaluf in Spain. A beautiful beach, but you don't really want to turn around and look at the city behind you. If you like bright, neon signs out front of every single shop/restaurant/hotel, you will love this place.

We stayed at the Dendro Hotel, on the main road Tran Phu, which runs parallel to the beach. Upon arrival, we were told we had been upgraded to a Sea view room. Fantastic! We did have an excellent view of the sea... unfortunately this also came with the noise of the road and Russian Karaoke until about 1:30am in the morning. I have a sneaky suspicion our "upgrade" came as a result other guests demanding to be moved rooms, as we did after the first night. There was nothing wrong with this hotel per se, and the staff were lovely as we'd come to expect in Vietnam. However there is no way I would stay here again, even for the low price of $35US/night that we paid! 

View from our Sea view room
Nha Trang Beach
After dropping our bags off we headed straight for lunch and the beach. We ended up at Louisiana Brew House, located beach side, complete with swimming pool, lounge chairs, pool table, and brewery. The food here was ok, not spectacular, with a range of Western and Vietnamese dishes. Andy and Lee had the tasting flight of beers, sampling four of the beers brewed on site. The sun loungers here cost 40,000 for the day, and there is no expectation that you will order food or drink from them (although of course you will). Around 5pm they start to pack up the sun loungers which was a bit of a shock as we were enjoying our relaxing beach time, so we went back to the hotel to rest and get ready for dinner. 

Louisiana Brew House
It was a bit of a mission finding a place to eat on our first night. Good old TripAdvisor recommendations didn't seem to help, and the neon signs and picture menus can really put you off a place. I forgot to mention that Nha Trang is very popular with Russians, as there is a direct charter flight straight in from Moscow. I'm assuming it's the quickest and cheapest sun destination for them. We ended up at Olivia, a really nice Italian where we all had satisfying thin crust pizzas. After dinner we headed over to the Sailing Club for a few drinks on the beach. There was a bonfire on the beach and pretty good music, I think this is the kind of place you would come if you were looking for a bit of a party!

The next day Lee and Claire left for a day and night at a very posh resort. Little did Claire know, but Lee was going to propose to her! She said yes, so it was all very exciting when they came back the next day. Andy is going to be best man, and so we will have our third wedding in three years to go back to the UK for next year!

   

Andy and I spent the morning getting coffee and breakfast (Our hotel offered breakfast but Lee and Claire told us it was pretty bad so we decided to go out). We loved Cuppa Coffee for our Vietnamese drip coffee, where we discovered there was a TOMS shoe store. I love TOMS. If I could just wear them and Havaianas for the rest of my life I'd be pretty happy. Anyway we had a great time trying on loads of different styles, unfortunately for Andy they did not have big enough sizes for him. I ended up getting 2 pairs, and at about $30 (Australian) each I was pretty happy that I'd got a bargain. Until later, when we came to the realisation that they were probably fake :( Devastated! I went online and there is no record of stores in Vietnam on the TOMS website. The store looked so legit, I can't believe we were totally scammed! There is nothing wrong with them or anything, it's just that one of the great things about TOMS (besides being super comfy) is that for every pair of shoes you buy they give a pair of shoes to someone in need. So, if these were fake, then obviously this hasn't happened. Sigh. Well, there is nothing I can do about it now. 



That afternoon we decided to go to a different beach, called Bai Dai, about 20km north of Nha Trang. This beach was beautiful and much quieter than the main beach in Nha Trang. We hung out at a place on the beach called The Shack, which is a restaurant and also a surf shack owned by a French couple where you can rent surfboards, stand-up paddle boards, jet skis and kayaks. We spent the day reading and dozing in deck chairs, which was just perfect!



Pho!
For dinner back in Nha Trang we had one of the cheapest/best meals in Vietnam. At Galangal they serve street food and authentic Vietnamese cuisine in a "safe" environment (aka not from some dodgy street vendor - critical when you are pregnant!) Highly recommend this place, the food is not adapted to Western tastes, and like I said it was really cheap, the two of us feasted like kings for under 300,000 dong.

For our last day we decided to hit the sun loungers at Louisiana Brew House again. We briefly considered checking out the Egg Mud Baths, but it was just too hot to do anything but lay around and take occasional dips in a pool! We feasted at Galangal again for dinner, this time taking Lee and Claire, before heading back to the Dendro to clean up and get ready for our overnight train to Hoi An.  What an experience that was!
Pork wraps at Galangal
Overall, Nha Trang was good for a beach stop on our trip. However it was our least favourite place in Vietnam and not somewhere I would return to if we were back in the country. 


Friday, 10 April 2015

Ho Chi Minh Highlights

We arrived in HCMC on a Saturday night around 6pm. Lee and Claire were meant to arrive half an hour later, but unfortunately their plane had been delayed nearly 2 hours, so it was quite late by the time we set off for our hotel. We changed over some money at the airport, as the research I had done prior to the trip said we'd get the best rate if we changed our money once we got to Vietnam. The rate we got was $1 AUD = 16,500 dong, which was close to the rate quoted on xe.com, which was just over 16,600 dong. Other than change money, there is not much to do at this airport - it's big and clean but pretty boring! 


This trip is the first time I've visited Asia so I wasn't sure what to expect. HCMC is huge; much, much bigger than I thought it would be! Traffic is what I imagined, seems chaotic to a Westerner, but actually compared to India it seems pretty tame. Our first couple of times crossing the street were pretty scary, but we realized that you basically just have to go... walk straight and keep a steady pace! Those on scooters will slow down and avoid you. Once you've been here a while you realize that the way traffic flows is pretty impressive. Everyone seems to drive the same speed not many are swerving in and out, and there is little to no road rage. A sort of organized chaos. 


HCMC is very hot and humid this time of year, temperatures were in the mid-thirties and so you basically start sweating the moment you walk outside. 

The city is divided up into Districts, making it sound like you are in the Hunger Games! We were staying in District 1 which is where most tourists sites are, along with District 3 which is apparently the posh bit of the city.

Here are some high (and low!) lights from our 2 days spent here:

The hotel we stayed in was the Beautiful Saigon 3 (there are 2 other Beautiful Saigons nearby). Our rooms were small and windowless, but are clean and relatively modern with good air-conditioning, free wifi and free breakfast. All of the Beautiful Saigon hotels are in the main backpacker area called Pham Ngu Lao, in District 1. It's pretty noisy and hectic at night. In this way I'm glad for the no windows as we can't hear a thing from the streets! Also for $50 per night including breakfast it was a pretty good deal. The staff were very good here, and I'd stay here again if it wasn't for the no windows (I think if you pay for a better room you get windows).

Beautiful Saigon breakfast area
Bui Vien from above

Our first morning here Andy and I both woke up at 3:30am and could not get back to sleep. We finally got up around 6am and ventured outside for a coffee and walk around. We discovered Sozo, a coffee shop about a five minutes walk from our hotel on Bui Vien, one of the main streets in the Pham Ngu Lao area. The Vietnamese coffee was a bit more expensive there than you'd pay at some other places - 25,000 dong for a black coffee and 40,000 if you want it with condensed milk (which I did - so yummy!) but we went here as this cafe trains and employs disadvantaged people to work there. Getting up early to enjoy the slightly cooler mornings and less traffic, walk around and go for a coffee turned into a routine for us while we stayed in HCMC; it was a great way to people watch and start the day.

Watching the world go by at Sozo Cafe
We discovered that if you go to a Western looking coffee shop you pay Western prices for a coffee! We made the mistake of this once, but never again!

Traditional Vietnamese "drip" coffee
Our first morning we headed to the War Remnants Museum (which used to be called the Museum of Chinese and American War Crimes). It was a very confronting experience, and I must admit I know very little about the Vietnam war. There are American war planes and tanks outside, and inside are photographs from the war. The ground floor shows posters and photographs from antiwar movement internationally, while the top two floors are mostly photographs of those affected by the war. It is pretty horrifying to see the civilian cost of war in such detail, however it is an important part of history and I would recommend checking it out. Entry is 15,000 dong.

Walking through Culture Park on our way to the War Remnants Museum
Fighter jet outside the War Remnants Museum
After the museum we were so hot we decided to pay $6 US to use the rooftop pool at the Rex Hotel. It was a lovely afternoon spent relaxing, swimming, reading, and drinking overpriced beers (for the boys) and coconut juice (for Claire and me). We also ate lunch here which was a HUGE mistake, it was expensive and not very good. They also had an amazing looking gym however it was about $20 US if we wanted to use that as well which was pretty steep! I'd pay the $6 again and again on a hot day though!

Chilling out at the Rex Hotel
Ben Thanh Market is a huge covered market selling pretty much everything and anything. I could only last so long in here, it was very hot and stuffy and mainly full of knock-offs and tourist junk - not my kind of thing! They also sell food, kitchenware, candy, fresh flowers, etc. I think the key here is to know what you want and to bargain as apparently they will quote tourists 50-100% more than what they would normally sell things for, no surprise there! 

We treated ourselves to some spa treatments at the Beautiful Saigon Spa, which was affiliated with our hotel chain. There are millions of spas around HCMC ranging from dirt cheap to comparable to what you would pay at home. This one was somewhere in the middle, I had a spa pedicure and foot massage for 270,000 dong, and Andy had a 45 minute massage for about 300,000. Both were well worth the price!

Eating was a bit hit or miss for us. I've decided (after our first night) that I am pretty much done with just wandering around a new city hoping to find an amazing restaurant to eat at. I guess that makes me a pretty unadventurous traveler, but frankly I don't care! There is so much information on the internet now, between other bloggers and sites like TripAdvisor, that I feel like a little research can go a long way. Our first stop after dropping our bags at our hotel was at La Casa, which was a Mexican on the corner of Bui Vien and our hotel. I know, I know, Mexican?! But it was really just to stop and get a drink and catch up with Lee and Claire, who we hadn't seen since July. We had some nachos as a little appetiser before moving on to find dinner. 
First beers with Lee at La Casa Restaurant
Bui Vien is full of small restaurants that are packed with people, with seating spilling out onto the entire pavement. We went to a BBQ place that looked ok, and was just that, ok. Hence the desire to actually look something up the next time we ate! The two restaurants we ended up at over the next two nights were called Papaya and Propaganda. Propaganda was by far our favourite, a self-described "Vietnamese Bistro". The food is not traditional Vietnamese apparently, but we were all very satisfied with our meals. Dinner with appetizers and drinks ended up being about 300,000 each. Papaya was highly recommended, as the chef has a lot of experience working in top hotel restaurants. The food was traditional Northern Vietnamese. We were less satisfied with this, our meals were good (although Andy hated his) but nothing amazing




As far as drinking goes, there is a huge variety in prices depending on where you go. The main beer here is called Saigon, and the cheapest price we found was 12,000 for a bottle at a little stand on across from La Casa restaurant called Coffee Break. On the other end of the spectrum, we went to the rooftop bar at the Sheraton Hotel where you pay for the spectacular view. Cocktails here were about 180,000 (still way cheaper than in Australia, but expensive for Vietnam). I was obviously a very cheap date this whole trip being pregnant! I must say I've had enough fruit juices and smoothies to last me a while, although I did love that you can get fresh coconut juice pretty much anywhere! 

Cheap beers and deep conversations at Break Time Coffee


On our second day we went on a tour of the Mekong Delta. We booked this hastily through our hotel, and it think it was through TNK Travel. It was probably our least favourite day in Vietnam. Probably not worth doing just a day tour as it was over 2 hours of driving each way and even then you are just at the start of the Mekong Delta. We stopped at a pagoda, went on a boat ride, ate a horrible lunch, then visited a coconut farm. This was probably the best bit, they showed us how they made delicious coconut candy and we bought some to take home. We also went on a smaller boat ride through narrower rivers and saw a group of men hunting amongst the huge reeds which was cool. We then visited a beekeeper who helped people dip their fingers into a swarm of bees to taste fresh honey, and then listened to a live performance of traditional Vietnamese folk music. It was a full day tour, we were picked up at our hotel around 7:30am and then dropped back at 5pm. It was only 210,000 dong each, so I guess you get what you pay for! I would not do this again, or find a better tour company. 

Biggest Buddah ever!

Mekong Delta


After 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh we packed up and headed off to our next destination, Nha Trang, to get some sun and beach time. I really liked HCMC and would spend time exploring more of the other Districts if I ever go back. We also didn't have time to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, however my pregnant belly would not have fit through them anyway! 


Saturday, 28 March 2015

MEL - SGN

Hello holidays!! Term 1 is finally over and Andy and I are on our way to Vietnam for 2 weeks. We both had really busy ends of term and are very glad for the break from work. At our morning tea briefing our Head Teacher thanked us all for our hard work and getting through such a busy term. He does this at the end of every term... I don't think I've ever worked at a school and thought and the end of term "well, that was an easy one!" Do schools like that exist? I don't think so. I woke up with a sore throat this morning, which used to happen to me ALL THE TIME at the start of school holidays... I would be so exhausted from the term that I would enivatably spend the first few days of the holidays sick! Thankfully that doesn't happen to me as often here in Oz, as I have a much better work-life balance than I did in London. I've been drinking lots of water today since getting up and it feels much better, so hopefully it was just a temporary thing. 

Anyway, after some last minute packing yesterday after school (I don't think I've ever actually packed my bags earlier than a day before a flight, and very few of my clothes fit at the moment, so it didn't take me long) we were up at 4:45am for our flight this morning. I am pretty impressed at how light we've managed to pack, this is all we have between the two of us (plus 2 small carry on backpacks):

We drove and parked at the airport, and got through security and immigration pretty quickly, especially seeing as it's the start of school holidays. We had a tasty (but overpriced) breakfast at Bar Pulpo by Movida and then boarded our Malaysian Airlines flight to Ho Chi Minh City via Kuala Lumpur. 

Andy absolutely hates flying Malaysian, even though they are the same as any other major airline to me. Flying economy on a long haul flight is just never going to be a fun experience! Obviously they have had a disastrous year, but it means they are waaaaaay cheaper than any other airline by far. These flights were about $300 cheaper (each) than the other option, which was Vietnam Airlines. I would much rather have that extra money to spend while we are on our holiday than spend it on a flight that may or may not be more comfortable, but would get us to the same place anyway!

The first part of our flight has been fine, and we are now in Kuala Lumpur Airport waiting for our connecting flight. We've sat down at Starbucks to have a snack, coffee, and most importantly use their wifi. (KL airport supposedly has free wifi but I've never been able to get it to work).

I had it in my head that I hated this airport, but I think that was because the first time we were here was when we went to London last year. Our flights from Melbourne were delayed - their system was down and they had to hand-write everyone's boarding passes - and then it was a nightmare getting our connecting boarding passes when we got here. It was very stressful and disorganised and so my first impressions were not good. But now that we're more relaxed this time around I actually think it's not bad! There seem to be lots of shops, including Lonely Planet shop that is good for killing a bit of time while daydreaming about your next trip, it's modern and there is a jungle walk in the centre which is kind of cool. The "jungle" is actually outside so it's nice to get a bit of fresh air while hanging out in the airport. Only the air is about 34 degrees and humid so we only lasted a few minutes before wanting to go back into the air-conditioning!


Our next flight is only an hour and a half long and then we will have arrived! Really looking forward to this, our last child-free holiday for a long time!


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Last days of summer?

Autumn in coming! Ok, it's actually already here. The mornings are getting colder, only 10 degrees in the morning earlier this week! But we are still having some lovely sunny and warm afternoons. We took advantage of what could be our last hot weekend and went to the beach on Saturday with Adam and Charlotte. They took us to Mills Beach on the Mornington Peninsula which was both stunning and empty. It was about an hour drive out of Melbourne, but totally worth it to avoid the crowds in St. Kilda, Elwood or Brighton. 

Mills Beach, Mornington Peninsula
On the way there we introduced them to the Serial podcast, which I mentioned in my last post, and Andy and I are both hooked on. They are also now hooked, to the point where when we arrived we had about 6 minutes left of episode 1 and we had to sit in the car and wait until it was finished before getting out and going to the beach. Podcasts are like my new favourite thing, they are making my commute to work much more interesting!

The beach was great, like I said there were not many people there, and it was lined with those pretty painted beach houses. We saw an older couple outside of theirs, with their table and chairs and newspaper, basically just living the life! A very peaceful and stress free way to pass the afternoon. 


Sunday we woke up and it was absolutely freezing! The temperature said 14, but it was super windy and felt a lot colder. They never give you a "windchill factor" temperature here which I feel is misleading! I trekked out to Flemington Racecourse on public transport (never again! There is no direct train if there is no race on so its a pain to get too) to a Baby and Kids Market. Stalls and stalls of people selling new and used baby and kids clothes, toys, furniture, etc. We have bought nothing for the baby yet so I thought old go along and see what was on offer. Lucky Andy was coaching soccer that morning, as I don't think he would have enjoyed it! It was very packed with parents and kids and prams, but there were some excellent deals. I ended up buying some second hand clothes, all in great condition and at a fraction of what they would cost new. Going there made me think I never want to buy new baby clothes when you can go to things like this and buy them so much cheaper!

Andy spent the day at the Grand Prix, for the 3rd year in a row. This time he splashed out and bought James Boags VIP tickets, a special reserved area on one of the turns, with its own bar and seating. I think he had a pretty good day - although he always says his favourite part is seeing the fighter jets fly overhead. We can see that from our apartment (for free!) so... the point of going to the actual event is beyond me, but I suppose atmosphere and all that has something to do with it! I have zero interest in going, I went once, in our first year here, and that was enough for me.





This is our second last week of term until Easter Holidays, hurray! This term has actually gone by quite quickly, but I am definitely looking forward to the break and our trip to Vietnam!




Monday, 9 March 2015

A Weekend at the Wineries

This weekend was both a bank holiday weekend (Labour Day) AND my birthday. It is so great that my birthday falls on a long weekend here in Australia, and also that it's still pretty much summer. You definitely can't complain when you have a day off work on your birthday!

We basically spent the weekend at a few different wineries. Sunday we travelled to Trofeo Winery in Dromana on the Mornington Peninsula with Laura and Dan. Both of them have been travelling a lot for work lately so it was great to have a catch up with them. Also, they are most likely going to move to Sydney sometime this year for Dan's work which is a bit sad, so we have to spend as much time with them now as we can. 

We arrived and the restaurant was packed, and the hostess pretty much told us that there was no chance of us getting a table that afternoon. She helpfully gave us a map of the wineries and we started calling a few other places to see if there were tables available, figuring they would all be just as busy due to the long weekend. Booking things like restaurants ahead of time was not something we really had to do in London, and I still forget that on weekends you need to do that here. Australians love to plan ahead!

Trofeo Winery



Anyway we had only called one other place when the hostess came back to us and said that actually a few tables had left so she could now squeeze us in. What?! I'm not sure how we she didn't know a few tables were just about to leave... the ex-restaurant worker in me was instantly critical of her hostessing abilities... but anyway we happily sat at our table outdoors overlooking the vineyards. The weather was beautiful, a perfect blue sky and not too hot. The food was pretty good, and we all went for dessert after our main meals. Laura and I ordered a salted caramel chocolate mousse with peanut brittle which was divine but VERY rich and by the end we were both wishing we had shared it instead of getting one each! After lunch we had a little rest on the lawn by the vineyards, digesting our lunch and enjoying the weather.






Today we headed out to the Yarra Valley to the restaurant Tram Trak Winery, Zonzo. This time I was smart and called and booked ahead, and it was a good thing I did as the place was absolutely packed! They were only doing a $45 set menu with Antipasto, salads and pizzas, which were good but I think a little over-priced. Although being at a winery I guess you have to expect a bit more of a mark-up. Downside was I couldn't eat the amazing looking blue cheese and prosciutto on the Antipasto plate... not eating and drinking certain DELICIOUS foods/wine is definitely the biggest downside to pregnancy! (I know, I know, it's a small price to pay. I'm not complaining, but I am looking forward to when I can enjoy these things again!)

Zonzo Restaurant at Tram Trak Winery

Boys discussing boy things (probably football)

Beautiful view at Tram Trak

Andy and the girls!

Mmmmmm Chocolate@



After lunch we headed to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery. I'd never been here before and was looking forward to something sweet after our lunch. However it was completely packed, and crawling with kids! Everywhere! I guess it is really the only kid friendly attraction in a wine region, but still, we were a bit overwhelmed. We ventured into the Chocolate shop (forget queueing for ice cream!) and it was HUGE and packed with loads of... well, chocolate. They have massive bowls of white, milk and dark chocolate chips at the front that you can taste for free, so we loaded up on those and then got out of there! To be fair, the chocolate WAS pretty good, but I could not be bothered to pick something out and then wait in a huge line to pay. Also, they sell some of their products at Coles at cheaper prices than at the shop, (one of our friends that was with us is a chocolate buyer for Coles), so it seemed silly to buy it there overpriced. 




Adam on the way home... the wine was pretty good!
Andy and I then had to go home as he coaches soccer on Monday nights now... A bit ridiculous that they still had practice on a long weekend, but whatever. I went home and listened to the first episode of the podcast Serial... wow, I am already totally hooked and can't wait to listen to the rest of the episodes. If you don't already know (as I'm a bit behind on this one, I think it came out in October and has been hugely popular), Serial is a re-investigation of a murder of a high school student that happened in Baltimore in 1999. She was strangled and buried in a shallow grave, and discovered about a month later. Her ex-boyfriend was charged and convicted of the murder, but has always maintained his innocence. The story is told by the journalist investigating the murder 15 years later, and she has doubts about whether or not the ex is the murderer. Anyway, I really enjoyed the first episode and had to stop myself from immediately listening to the next one. I highly recommend, it would be perfect to listen to if you have a long commute to work!

Anyway, a pretty good long birthday weekend... oh and I forgot to mention the best part... that as a present Andy and I will be enjoying a spa day at Weribee Mansion later this month. Can't wait for my pregnancy massage!

Thanks Binns for taking all these great pictures!