Sunday, 22 February 2015

A Long Weekend in Euchca

We spent the last weekend of our summer holidays this year (Australia Day weekend), in a town called Euchca, which is located about 2.5 hours drive from Melbourne on the Murray river. Our friends Adam and Charlotte did an amazing job organizsng a whole weekend  for us and one other couple, Chris and Ness. We rented a 3-bed villa in the town, complete with hot tub, and drove up Friday after work for a long weekend of of fun activities. I knew pretty much nothing about Euchca before going, so had no expectations about what it would be like. I was very pleasantly surprised about how lovely the town was and how many things there were to do. Here are some of the highlights:

Wharf to Winery
Our first activity was a trip down the Murray River in a paddle steamer to Morrison's Winery. The paddle steamers leave from the Port of Euchca, a historic part of the town that transports you back to the 19th century. For $69 we had a relaxing half hour trip down the river, and then a 2 course lunch with a drink at the winery, followed by a wine tasting. The food was very good, and the service was great. Our waiter was especially good, very funny and was able to recommend some things for us to during our stay.  It was a very hot afternoon, and the wine tasting consisted of 9 different wines, so we all had a little nap on the trip back in the paddle steamer. A great way to spend the afternoon!
Historic Port of Euchca

Port of Euchca from the paddle steamer

On the paddle steamer

Andy and Adam steering the paddle steamer

Wine tasting at Morrison's Winery

vineyards at Morrison's Winery

Water Skiing
Water sports are really big in Euchca, so we had a 2.5 hour water skiing lesson with Josh from iwaterski. Josh was pretty funny and a great teacher. Most of us hadn't water skied before, but he got everyone up on their feet at some point. 
Adam getting ready to water ski
Andy wakeboarding

Enjoying the sun on the boat

Ok, so this is an actual thing in Euchca. You grab a lilo and let the current carry you down the river. This was recommended by our server from the winery, and we saw lots of groups of people floating. The more experienced floaters even had Eskies full of beers floating with them! With the temperature reaching nearly 40 degrees, spending a few hours floating down the cool river sounded very appealing! It was very relaxing, we all loved it except for Andy, who was bored after about 10 minutes. As it took us about 2 hours to get to our finish point where we had left one of the cars, this meant we had to endure quite a bit of his moaning about being bored. Perhaps not the best activity for people who don't like to relax!

We ate out twice for brunch and once for dinner. The rest of the time we had BBQs at our villa. Johnny & Lyle's was my favourite brunch place, with excellent coffee that was comparable with anywhere in Melbourne. The Black Pudding was another good brunch option. Our first night we had dinner at The American Hotel, which we were less impressed with in terms of food. However they had a good beer garden and it seemed like the place to be on a Friday night. Perhaps better for drinks and dancing than actual food!

Dinner at the American

All in all a great weekend, thanks mostly for our friend Adam for doing such a great job organising it all. I'd highly recommend this place as a good weekend away from Melbourne in the summer. 

Below is one of Andy's famous videos of our weekend:

*You may have noticed, but yes, loads of these pictures were taken on a selfie stick. Adam bought one for Charlotte for her birthday and we had a lot of fun with this!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Finally fully registered!

After 2 years in Australia, Andy has finally been given full registration from the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT), hurray! This has been a long process due to his original teaching qualification from England, a GTP (an 'on the job' qualification, rather than the more traditional route of the PGCE). Luckily, Andy was able to get provisional registration from the VIT, called Permission to Teach, which allowed him to work in a school that could not find a suitable fully registered teacher. He has been working at a Catholic school in west Melbourne since July 2013 with this registration, but would only be able to do that for a maximum of 3 years. 

With this in mind, and knowing that we would have the same difficulties with the GTP and teacher registration when we eventually move to Canada, we decided it would be best if Andy went back to uni to complete a Graduate Diploma in Education (Dip Ed). He started this in March 2013, while still working full time as a teacher. Although it was a lot of work for him, in many ways we've been fortunate with how things have worked out. First of all, his programme at Deakin University was a distance education course, meaning most of it was completed in his own time and he only had to go into the university for four 2-week blocks. Secondly, the school he was at supported this and gave him paid time off to attend these weeks at the university. This was also the last year that Deakin was offering the programme, as all teacher education programmes are now 2 years long in Victoria (this one was only 8 months long in total). And Deakin also gave him 'credit for prior learning' based on his GTP, teaching experience, and Masters in Education. (Yes, incredible that he was not able to get full registration here with those qualifications!) In the end he actually only had to complete about two-thirds of the course.

So everything fell into place quite nicely, including our Permanent Residence visas, which came just a few weeks before the uni fees were due. If this hadn't come through in time we would have been stuck paying overseas student fees, which were something like $22,000! Yikes!

Andy finished the course in October last year, and then had to go through a process that all first year teachers here have to do. This involves putting together a portfolio of evidence to demonstrate that you meet the teaching standards, along with an Investigating Student Learning project. As he was working in a school while doing his Dip Ed, he was able to submit this just after finishing his course, instead of waiting another year to do it. This is normally something that the school assess and signs off on, and the VIT don't have much to do with, however of course Andy and his school were audited by the VIT and had to send in all his evidence and his project! So the full registration was delayed while we waited for them to check over his work. Thankfully it was all fine and the registration came through last week. It is such a relief to have this all done and dusted. I don't think Andy will be signing up for any more qualifications or courses anytime soon...

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Port Douglas

We spent 4 days in Port Douglas at the end of my parents' four-week trip to Australia at the beginning of January. They were flying back to Canada from Cairns, however on the advice of a lot of friends we chose to stay here instead of Cairns itself. And boy am I glad we did! I loved Port Douglas. Basically, it looks and feels like you would expect all of Australia to look like -  lush vegetation and beautiful beaches. It is about an hour from Cairns, and we drove here from Airlie Beach (not recommended!)

January is probably not the best time to visit. It's the wet season, and we did have rain while we were there, although it was warm rain, which is a nice change from the cold and windy rain we get here in Melbourne! It is also extremely humid, and so you basically need to be by water too cool yourself off at all times. Unfortunately January is stinger season, so you are limited to a small section of Four Mile Beach that has a net around it for swimming. We had a pool at our apartment so opted to use that instead of going to the beach one day. The upside is that it is not overrun with tourists at this time of year, so there is plenty of accommodation and it was pretty reasonably priced (less than $200 per night for a really nice apartment for six).

The main street has plenty of very good bars, cafes and restaurants to choose from, along with some decent shopping. But the main draws are two beautiful World Heritage sites: The Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.

We did an Outer Great Barrier Reef cruise with a company called Quicksilver. We were on a 45 meter Wavepiercing Catamaran, which has to be one of the biggest boats I've ever seen. They advertise the smoothest ride possible out to the Outer Reef, however we had some quite choppy weather and there were plenty of people looking very green on the way out! My parents, Mike and Ashley decided to do an introductory dive once they got there, and Andy and I opted to go on a helicopter ride as we both have done some diving in the past. The helicopter ride was stunning, however the water was high so it was difficult to see any sea life from above. It was pretty cool, however I'm not sure it was worth the $165 cost!

Learning to Dive
Helicopter ride!

There was an area to snorkel roped off beside the boat. Getting in was pretty crowded; lots of people that didn't seem to know how to swim flapping around everywhere, but once you swam out a bit it was much better. The coral here was pretty spectacular, especially as you swam further out. However there wasn't a lot of fish here, and the water was pretty wavy so I did prefer the snorkeling we did around Haymen Island in the Whitsundays.

Pretty coral
We spent a lazy day around the pool before saying goodbye to Mike, Ashley, mom and dad. Very sad times! However, my mom and dad have already booked flights to come back and visit in August, hooray! (More on that to come!)

Last night together selfie!

Mossman Gorge swimming hole

The last day of the holiday was just Andy and I, and we decided to drive up to the Daintree Rainforest. I don't think Andy could take another day of just laying by the pool. Our first stop was Mossman Gorge, about 20 minutes north of Port Douglas. We actually could have stayed here all day. You get a bus through an indigenous village (or you could walk, but it was extremely hot and humid) to the start of numerous walking tracks and an amazing swimming hole. We didn't stay long as we had already planned to drive further into the Daintree, but this was well worth the stop and I do wish we had brought the others here!

 Leaving Mossman Gorge we headed further north and got the Daintree Ferry to cross over to the Cape Tribulation area. The ferry is not cheap ($23 round trip a pretty short ride) but it is the only way to access this part of the rainforest. Our first stop was to get some lunch at Mason's Cafe. This place was a pretty crappy run down diner, serving all sorts of Australian delicacies such as kangaroo, crocodile and emu burgers. I was not feeling particularly adventurous (partly due to the fact that this place was pretty run down) so stuck to something normal like a BLT. The main reason we stopped here was that this is an amazing swimming hole behind it. This was probably my favourite thing we did on this leg of the trip. The water was clear and cold (again, the heat and humidity was getting unbearable) and there were rope swings into the water. After spending some time here, we drove on to Cape Tribulation and then headed back to Port Douglas for our last night on holiday. There were lots of cool tours advertised for the Daintree, so I think if we went back here we'd check out one of those as you would probably learn a lot about the flora and fauna in the rainforest.

Really??? Ew!!

Cape Tribulation
The next day we flew out of Cairns at 4pm, so we decided to drive into Cairns for the day. What a mistake! Not only was it hotter and more humid than Port Douglas, there was also not much to see or do. We spent sometime in the outdoor lagoon pool on the Esplanade. The facilities around here are great for kids, the most amazing playground nearby and and a safe place to swim, along with toilets and showers which are all free. We stayed for about an hour but it was just too hot! I don't know how people live here in the summer, I was dying to get back to Melbourne weather! (Who would have thought I'd ever say that?) We ended up going to a shopping centre just so we could be in some air conditioning for the afternoon before heading off to the airport. I think we were at the point where we just wanted to get home!

Back in Melbourne we had 2 weeks off until school started, the first of which Andy was ill and spent in bed! We've now been back to reality at work for a week and this holiday seems like such a long time ago now. I loved Port Douglas though and would go back in a heartbeat, however I would probably pick a different time of year next time!

Check out Andy's video of our holiday here:


Thursday, 22 January 2015

Day 2 Sailing and a LONG Drive to Port Douglas

We woke up on the second day of our sailing trip to fluffy white clouds and blue skies, hurray! No more rain! However our joy was somewhat short-lived, as the boat seemed to be infested with March flies. I took my breakfast and tea above deck to try and get away from them but they were just as bad as inside the boat. Breakfast was a less than serene affair, trying to balance my plate of food and swat flies at the same time. The deck of the boat soon looked like a fly cemetery with dead flies everywhere. I could not wait to get the boat moving! A shame as the weather was beautiful, the water was calm, and the view of the surrounding islands beautiful, however I was finding it a challenge to appreciate it all. I know it sounds like I'm complaining too much here about these flies, but they were pretty incessant, constantly buzzing around you and landing on you, and just generally very irritating.

Anyway we finally got going, no sailing again to begin with, heading toward Blue Pearl Bay, on the northern end of Haymen Island to do some snorkelling. Haymen Island has a luxury resort and is apparently where all the rich and famous go when they visit the Whitsundays. Weirdly, the flies were almost non-existent around the island. Our crew speculated that the air is spayed with something to get rid of the flies for the guests staying on Haymen Island. I'm not sure how true that is but it wouldn't be surprising!

In order to get ready to snorkel we had to put on our stinger suits. These look sort of like wetsuits but are not nearly as thick, all lycra with a fleece lining inside. They are to protect you from the deadly Box and Irukandji Jellyfish which are prevalent in the waters around northern Queensland at this time of year. Risk of being stung by a deadly jellyfish aside, the water is absolutely beautiful in the Whitsundays. The temperature is a lovely 28 degrees and so clear you can nearly see the bottom even without your snorkel mask. The coral here is fringing, which means it grows directly from the shore, and the range of fish we saw was amazing. The craziest thing we saw were Mauri Wrasse fish, which were huge, at least a metre long. Andy and I spotted a few and I sort of freaked out and tried to swim away, only to turn around in circles and realize we were surrounded by about 15 of them! Only we weren't really surrounded as they were below us; it's funny how the water doesn't seem that deep when it is so clear.

The rest of the sailing trip was pretty good that day. We had nice weather, stopped at another snorkelling site, and had some pretty epic sailing on the way back to Airlie Beach. The wind was strong and the boat was angled so steeply that as we were sitting on the edge our feet touched the water! Mike and Andy helped to put the sails up again, and I think our captain Mark did something wrong with the position of the boat, as one of the sails was loose and flapping in the wind. A rope at the end hit Sean (crew) on the face and Mike on the back. Sean was not too happy with Mark about that! He had a cut just below his eye that was bleeding and Mike had a pretty nasty bruise on his back. Luckily Mike was not too upset, rather he was very proud of his sailing injury!

All in all I enjoyed the sailing trip, but having bad weather can really put a damper on things. And in the end I was glad we only did one night on the boat instead of two - I'd had enough by the time we got back to Airlie Beach and was happy to be back on land. Recently I read the book Love With A Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche. The author is an Australian who initially has a fear of the ocean but decides, after much deliberation, to sail across the Pacific with her Argentinian boyfriend (it's his lifelong dream). After a harrowing crossing of the ocean, they sail to various islands in the Pacific, and live for months on their sailboat. Although you do read about all the horrible bits, it does sound amazing and I remember thinking "maybe I should learn to sail". This trip totally turned me off of this idea, I now have absolutely no desire to ever sail or live on a boat!

Back in Airlie Beach, where we missed the rain and arrived to a double rainbow, we had dinner at Beaches Bar & Grill as they had a $15 dinner and drink deal. We learned here that you get what you pay for in terms of food and weren't very impressed with our meals, but it was pretty cheap and so I guess you can't complain. Mike, Andy and Dad went to go play Big Buck, this arcade game, and Ashley, Mom and I were left alone at our table... but not for long! A rowdy group of boys (ok, men) found their way over to our table. We found out they were on a Stag do, and they absolutely LOVED it when they found out that we were with my mom! They would not leave her alone, everyone in the party wanted to talk to Barb! Needless to say they were pretty embarrassed when our men came back to our table, and hastily left us!

The next day we collected our rental cars from Europcar and commenced the longest drive EVER from Airlie Beach to Port Douglas. When we were planning this trip we looked at various options in terms of transport for this leg of the trip. Flights would have been good, but they were pretty expensive by the time we looked at them, nearly $400 each if I remember correctly. Plus flights would only get us to Cairns, so we still would have had to rent cars or take a bus from Cairns to Port Douglas, and then back again. There is a bus option as well, but we thought that having cars would be a more flexible option. This was still pretty expensive though, renting 2 cars plus petrol for the drive plus the 4 days in Port Douglas ended up costing just under $1200 for the six of us. Still cheaper than flights though, and it meant we had a car the whole time we were in Port Douglas as well. But the drive was pretty long and boring. The only benefit was that I actually drove about half the time, giving me some good left side of the road driving experience, and a bit more confidence to start trying to drive more in Melbourne again. I don't think I've driven at all since last summer, and the more I put it off the more stressed I get about it. 

We made a stop for lunch in Townsville, which is about 4 hours from Airlie Beach. Not much to say about this place except that our lunch was excellent, at a place called The Balcony. I highly recommend the waffles, which came with grilled bananas, honeycomb, ice cream and caramel sauce. They almost made this drive worth it. Almost.

We were actually making pretty good time until we were about 40 minutes from Port Douglas, on Captain Cook highway. It had started raining pretty heavily and was dark out when we started being passed by police cars and ambulances. That could only mean one thing... there was an accident up ahead. A few minutes later we were stopped by police and told we would have to take an alternate route. Captain Cook highway is a one lane coastal road and there are frequent accidents which close down the highway. The detour around is an extra two hour drive. This was pretty demoralizing, as we were all pretty tired at this point and we were so close to Port Douglas! We stopped at a nearby beach cafe which had just stopped serving food (of course!) but they were so nice and offered to make us some chips and wedges anyway. After refuelling on carbs and coffee we headed back to our cars to make the journey. We ended up arriving in Port Douglas after 11pm absolutely exhausted, but delighted with our accommodation, a three bedroom apartment just off the main street. We pretty much went directly to bed, looking forward to waking up and exploring what Port Douglas had to offer.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Airlie Beach & Day 1 Sailing in the Whitsundays

Ok so I've had a nice long break from the blog, owing mainly to my parents, brother Mike and his girlfriend Ashley coming to Australia for a visit. We visited Hobart, Sydney, Melbourne (of course), Apollo Bay, The Whitsunday Islands and Port Douglas over the 4 weeks they were here, and I am going to attempt to write about all these places before we start back at school in less than two weeks. This first post is about Airlie Beach and our first day of a two-day sailing trip through The Whitsundays Islands. The day after New Year's we flew into Proserpine airport from Melbourne and from there got a shuttle bus ($18) to Airlie Beach. Proserpine is probably the best airport to fly into if you are visiting the Whitsundays as it is the closest to Airlie Beach, or you can also fly directly into Hamilton Island, which is the most popular island in terms of resorts etc.

We stayed at Magnums Backpackers in Airlie Beach for the nights before and after our sailing trip. We booked our trip through them which meant we got one night free. I was a bit wary when we first entered Magnums through their huge outdoor bar and entrance to the nightclub (advertising Jelly Wrestling that night) thinking it would be really noisy at night. But, I was pleasantly surprised by this place. The rooms closest to the bar were the dorm rooms, and then the double rooms, where we were staying, were a little further back. They were (crucially at this time of year) air conditioned, and every 3 rooms share a bathroom, which isn't too bad. 

Rum Tasting
After dropping our bags off in our rooms we decided to get dinner, and using my trusty Urban Spoon app, we decided on a place called Fish D'Vine. What a find this place was! I highly recommend it, delicious fish and seafood that you can pick out yourself from the counter, and within the restaurant was a Rum Bar, which boasts 200 different types of rum. My dad, Andy and Mike basically drank rum non-stop this whole trip, so they were in their element here, and we spent the evening tasting different rums.

The view from our room in Magnums - rainy morning!
The next morning we woke to torrential rain - not a great start to our sailing trip! Thankfully it cleared a little by the time we boarded the boat. The forecast had called for non-stop rain for the whole time we were in the Whitsundays, so we were trying not to get too despondent about this, as out on the islands the weather can be very different to on land. The company we booked with were called iSail Whitsundays and we were sailing on the Iceberg, a racing sailboat that raced in the Sydney-Hobart Yacht race in the 90s. There were 12 people on the boat, a family from Germany and a couple from Switzerland, plus the two crew, Mark and Sean. 

Day 1 of our trip was less than perfect, to be honest... but this was mainly due to the weather. Although it wasn't constantly raining, we did have periods of rain and it was a bit cold above deck. Once we hit open water the water was pretty choppy and I went below deck for a while to get out of the rain. This was a big mistake as I was then feeling pretty seasick so had to go back up top. After quite a few hours of being on the boat (we weren't able to sail at this point as the winds weren't blowing in the right direction) we had our first stop on Whitsunday Island. I was pretty happy to get off the boat at the point, although that was short lived. As soon as we stepped on the island we were attacked by monster flies... we later found out they are called March flies, and they bite you looking for blood just like a mosquito does. The six of us were the first lot to be dropped off on the island while Mark went back in the speedboat to get the other six from the Iceberg.  We must have looked ridiculous, dancing around trying to swat at the constant flies. Mark and Sean advised us to let them land on us and then whack them, they are pretty stupid and easy to kill once they have landed, although it takes a little time to get used to letting them land on you. I think it would have been nice if the tour company had advised us to bring some bug spray, as we were totally not expecting this!

More rain in the distance

Anyway, we hiked up the island for about 10-15 minutes to Hill Inlet lookout, giving a breathtaking view of Whitehaven Beach. Whitehaven Beach is regularly voted one of the best beaches in the world, due to the pristine white sand which is so fine it felt like you were walking on silk. We were dropped off at the beach for 2 hours which normally would have been heaven, if it wasn't windy and raining!! We were pretty much the only people on the whole 7km stretch of beach and had no idea what to do for 2 hours in the rain on the beach! The water was pretty warm at least (28 degrees) so you could still swim, and the rain did stop so we ended up just walking up and down the beach. Its a bit of a disappointment when you visit one of the world's most beautiful beaches and it's raining, but it is the wet season in this part of Australia so we should have been expecting something like this might happen.

The view from Hill Inlet lookout

After Whitehaven beach we headed back to water that was protected from the wind and waves and had dinner on the boat under the stars. We were actually able to sail during this part of the trip, and Mike and Andy got involved in putting up the sails. Dinner was pretty nice, and we were very impressed with the food that Sean made for all our meals on the boat. Nothing fancy, we had Gnocchi and salad, but it was pretty tasty. We did have to be prepared for "Bullet" winds however, these huge gusts of wind that would come out of nowhere through the funnel created by the two islands we were docked in between. We also had a bit of rain in the evening, and would have to race around the boat closing all the hatches so that our beds wouldn't get wet down below. Thankfully though it didn't rain throughout the night, as if we had had to sleep with all the hatches closed I think we would have suffocated down in our tiny cabins all night! I actually had a great sleep that night, which I was totally not expecting, rocked to sleep by the gentle waves and cooled off by the breeze off the sea. 

Captain Andy!
Stay tuned for day 2 of our sailing trip, my mom being hit on by a bunch of guys on a stag do, and our dreadful drive from Airlie Beach to Port Douglas.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Just kidding. It's really not. There are a few decorations up around the city, but because of the weather and how light it is in the evening, it all just seems so wrong! As do the Christmas songs playing in the shops. It makes me a bit sad... Is it weird that a big reason I don't want to stay here forever is because I want to have Christmas in the winter again?!

Massive Christmas wreath outside Stonnington Council
I've been a bit slack with writing on the blog lately. Work has been busy, busy, busy. It's the end of the school year, the students finished on Friday and we only have 5 days left... not that I'm counting down... Ha! Of course I am, every teacher is counting down at this point! You would think that these last few weeks would have been nice, easy weeks, winding down to the summer holidays, but not at my school. We have an Early Commencement Programme (ECP), which basically means that we start the new school year for the last 4 weeks of term. So that means that I have got all my new classes for 2015 already, and have had to go through the exhausting task of setting up new routines and culture for my new classes. I have to be stricter than usual and on the ball with checking homework, following up lateness, etc. so that the students don't develop bad habits for the rest of the year. Normally all this is done at the start of the year, when you've just had 6 weeks off for summer, so you have lots of energy, but at the moment I just feel tired all the time. The school does this so that learning time is maximized, mainly for Year 12 students who have their high stakes exams to prepare for, so they get an extra 4 weeks of lesson time due to ECP. It is the best thing for student learning, so I am on board, but it is totally exhausting and I am ready for a break.

I also did exam marking this year for the exam board. Very good professional development, but not fun to come home to a few hours of monotonous marking after a full day of work. As I had to spend a few weekends getting this done, Andy had to amuse himself with various activities... including a "Boys Weekend" in Lorne. 

Cycling along the Yarra River
Kayaking along the Yarra
Beer Tasting at Matlida Bay Brewery
Other than that we have just been preparing for our upcoming trip with my family. My parents arrive next Sunday, I am SO excited! Only 1 week to go until they get here and school's out for summer! (Dad shout-out!)

These signs are up all over Prahran. Home is coming to me this Christmas! Yay!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Once the Musical

For Andy's birthday a few weeks ago, I bought him tickets to see "Once", a musical playing at The Princess Theatre in Melbourne. We used to go to the theatre quite a bit in London, but haven't done at all since living in Melbourne. Partly because a lot of the bigger shows we've already seen, and partly because it can be pretty expensive. But I'd read some good reviews about Once and didn't know anything about it (I didn't even know that it was based on a movie), so thought it would be nice to get tickets for us.

We made it into a bit of a date night, with dinner and drinks at Melbourne Supper Club first. It was a beautiful night so we were able to sit outside on the rooftop garden, called Siglo, which was busy even when we arrived at 6pm. (I'm not sure why it has a different name as it's the same place). We had some delicious tapas: the prawn wontons were my favourite, and Andy just had to order the gourmet sausage rolls. Unfortunately the service was pretty poor - our waitress seemed pretty out of it, she never smiled and would take plates away or put things on the table without saying a word. The kicker was that she took my wine glass away while there was still wine in it - unforgivable! She was so fast about it I couldn't even say "I'm not finished with that!" and was just left stewing about my unfinished wine. I had read some really good reviews about Melbourne Supper Club so it was disappointing to have such bad service, but we did leave with full bellies and the atmosphere was really good so maybe we will give it another try sometime.
Siglo, Melbourne Supper Club's rooftop

The Princess Theatre is just a few meters down the road from Melbourne Supper Club. We had tickets in the Dress Circle, which was the first level up. Those that had tickets in the Stalls (the floor) are invited on stage before the show and in the interval to have a drink with the cast, as the stage is set up like a bar. (Those tickets were pretty pricey though... I settled for a more moderately priced ticket for us! I actually considered getting a restricted view ticket as they were REALLy cheap, but thought that might be a bit of a rubbish birthday present!) The whole cast can play a musical instrument, and they are onstage playing throughout the whole show, which was pretty cool. The story line is simple: A Czech girl meets an Irish boy in Dublin, and she recognises his talent as a musician and songwriter. He is about to give up music, but she pushes him to pursue his dream. It's a romantic comedy; the two are both nursing respective broken hearts whist falling in love, and there are a lot of laugh out loud lines. The main difference between this musical and others is that most of the songs don't advance the plot much, they are actually songs that the main character wrote, but of course the lyrics have meanings parallel to the storyline. Also the music isn't really cheesy-musical like music, it's got more of an Indie/pop/folksy feel to it.

I really enjoyed it, although the second half was a bit of a let down compared to the first. Also the theatre was freezing, we had air-conditioning blowing right on us, and the seats were pretty worn and uncomfortable! It was worth seeing though, and I think it would appeal to people who don't like traditional musicals as well as those that do.

Monday, 3 November 2014


Escape Rooms have been popping up all over Melbourne since about April of this year. I read an article in last month's Time Out magazine reviewing 6 different Escape Rooms in the city, and promptly forwarded the article to Andy with an excited "Let's do this!!!" at the top. An escape room is basically a live, interactive puzzle, where you are locked in a room for a set amount of time, and you have to work out different codes and puzzles in order to get out of the room. 

Yesterday we went to Escapism, which is located in Strike Bowling Alley at QV in the city. There are 3 different rooms to choose from here, each with a different scenario. We went as a group of five, and chose the "Forensic" room to solve. This is the scenario given about this room:

You are part of a team of investigators on the trail of a serial killer. You are close to identifying him and he knows it. Can you catch him before he gets to you?

This room is meant to be the most challenging out of the 3, with a difficulty rating of 9/10. In fact, when we got there we were told that less than 10% of groups had been able to solve the puzzle! You have a time limit of 50 minutes, which goes by super quick. It's not a cheap activity, on weekends the room costs $150, but split between 5 people that wasn't too bad. 

I won't go into too much detail as that would ruin it for anyone else going. We were blindfolded and led into a room, the door slamming shut behind us. Taking off the blindfold, we looked around and were in a police station. There are clues and information all around the room, but in the beginning we had NO IDEA where to start. We were given a phone so we could call and ask questions if we were stuck, but they wouldn't just give us information, rather they just sort of confirmed whether or not we were on the right track. We were encouraged to call before going in actually, as this room had such a high failure rate. 

Anyway it probably took us 15-20 minutes before we cracked the first clue. But what an amazing feeling we had when we did it! I actually solved it in the end (although the whole thing was a great team effort) and jumped up and down for joy when I opened a locked drawer that gave us another clue. We got a bit of confidence from that, and worked pretty solidly for the next 45 minutes. There were actually 3 different rooms that were opened with different clues, and ultimately we had to work out who the murderer was in order to escape the room. With about 5 minutes left we were SO CLOSE, we were in the last room and on the cusp of figuring out the clue that would lead us out. Andy phoned them and asked if we could have more time... I thought they would definitely say no but there was no one booked in after us so they said we could have 10 extra minutes. Shortly after we ESCAPED THE ROOM, so I'm not sure we actually used that extra time, but it did give us some breathing space. 

Oh man, the feeling when we got out of the room! It was such a buzz. The whole thing was super fun and engaging from start to finish. It was such a great way to spend an afternoon with some friends, and when we went for dinner later on we could not stop talking about it. We were of course super proud to have actually escaped given the failure rate. I think we will definitely be doing another one of these sometime soon, and this looks like a possible activity for when my family comes to visit in December (only 6 weeks from now!) Anyway if you are in Melbourne, or here on holiday, I would highly suggest doing one of these Escape Rooms.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Crazy Thunderstorm

Last night Andy and I woke up around 2am to the loudest thunder I have ever heard in my life. We went out on to the balcony to watch the most spectacular lightning completely light up the sky over Melbourne. The thunder was so loud, you could tell exactly when the storm was right above us and when it had travelled further inland (it seemed to come from the bay and work its way inland). 

We stayed up watching it for about half an hour and got a few pictures, but they don't do the enormity of the storm justice.

When we woke up this morning there were still passing thunderstorms. Of course the trains were a mess - I considered tweeting metrotrains but plenty of other people were already doing that for me:

I ended up calling a colleague who lives nearby who picked me up thankfully, as when I tried to journey plan my route it was saying it would take nearly 2 hours to get there. Public Transport Victoria has actually issued an apology today, saying it failed commuters. Obviously this was an extreme case today; it would be nice to get an apology from PTV every time it rains and it's trains are delayed! (Actually it would just be nicer if the trains could cope with heavy rain, seeing as this is a place where rain is pretty frequent)

Other people were without power, flights were all delayed this morning, and a house in Prahran was hit by the lightning and burnt down. Crazy.

Here's a video of the lightning from our balcony:

I found this video on Youtube which captures the storm quite well, and has some funny subtitles as an added bonus:

In true Melbourne fashion, the skies were clear and blue by the late afternoon. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Healthy Eating

So about this time last year Andy and I decided to try to change our eating habits so that we were eating more whole foods and less junk food. (Well, let's be honest... I decided we were going to do this and Andy reluctantly agreed seeing as he didn't have much choice). I was inspired by the website '100 Days of Real Food' which I 'liked' on facebook about a year prior and so constantly see updates on my news feed about Real Food.

The aim wasn't really to follow any sort of diet, but just to try and avoid highly processed foods and eat more natural, whole foods.

The general guidelines we tried to follow were:

- No refined/added sugar. 
- No white flour, bread or rice
- Full fat foods instead of low/no fat
- Use natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup
- Coffee, tea, water, milk as beverages
- No pre-made foods with more than 5 ingredients listed

In terms of alcohol we've tried to stick to wine and beer, and I've pretty much cut out cocktails completely, which I used to LOVE. (Here in Australia this also has the added benefit of saving you a lot of money!)

This is all the food we got rid of when we first started our Real Food Challenge. 

The first step was to clear out our cupboard and hide all food on the banned list. As you can see from the picture there was quite a lot! Mainly white pasta and rice, white flour, sugar from baking, and sauces that have sugar added to them. Since this clear out the HP sauce has somehow found it's way back into our cupboard... Hmmmm who could have done that? 

We originally spent a lot of money buying some staples - real food is expensive! Things like raw cacao, all natural honey, organic fruits and veggies, quinoa, chia seeds, nuts, and all things coconut: flakes, oil, milk and butter. We actually found most things we needed in Woolworths. We have tried a few times to shop in Prahran Market instead, but have found it to be much more expensive than Woolies. Which annoys me, as I would like to try to shop more locally, but it is hard when you are also trying to stick to a budget. I also don't get this, why is local food at markets MORE expensive? Shouldn't it be cheaper?! 

Since trying to eat better dinners haven't really changed for us much. Partly due to the fact that when we eat dinner at home we generally cook from scratch, so that meal was pretty healthy anyway and we can continue to eat most of what we were already eating. For example, for dinner the other night we had a favourite from 'Jamie's 15 Minute Meals', the Blackened Chicken San Fran Quinoa Salad. (I love Jamie Oliver, and I don't even mind that none of his meals take anywhere close to 15 or 30 minutes, because the recipe instructions are so clear and everything always tastes amazing.)

The most difficult part has been packing lunch and snacks for work. We need to plan ahead for that, something we are both not great at. Also we need enough snacks to keep us from getting hungry and then eating sweets or biscuits - things that are always around from other people that can be tempting during that afternoon slump! One of my colleagues who I share an office with has a constant stash of 'lollies' ('sweets' in England, 'candy' in Canada) in a container on his desk, in full view. The lollies are for the office and prior to our Real Food eating plan I ate my fair share every afternoon. I am pleased to say that over the course of this year I have almost always resisted the afternoon biscuit or lolly. The one main exception is "Friday Tea", which we have at morning break every Friday (duh) at my school. It's used as informal staff briefing, and there is always an amazing spread laid out, and I've decided that Friday Tea is my one free pass every week!

I've done a lot of reading about food over the past year, and although sometimes some of the advice is conflicting, I've come to some overall conclusions that seem to be shared among lots of the experts:

1. Sugar IS EVIL. Fructose, more specifically. It should be avoided, even in fruit in the opinion of some. I don't think we will ever be that extreme, but we don't ever have white sugar anymore, and try to avoid as many products as possible that have sugar of any form added to them. I still use honey and maple sugar in my baking, which I know have almost as much fructose as table sugar. I'm not sure why I think that is ok, maybe because they are more natural or something. I have also tried things like rice malt sugar which has less fructose, and coconut sugar (not sure why... it seems like the in thing?) but have definitely avoided agave as a sugar substitute as it has more fructose than table sugar.

2. White bread/pasta/rice are ALSO EVIL. Again, some people also advocate for avoiding grains altogether, but we eat whole wheat bread, pasta, rice etc. Although it is VERY difficult to find bread that has no white wheat in it at all. I've tried to cut down on bread but it is hard, as Andy loves it and actually I do too!

3. Counting calories is not the answer! I've just read the book "Why we get fat, and what to do about it" by Gary Taubes and although I'm not sure I agree with everything in there, he discusses why the calories in/ calories out theory is not quite right. Our bodies metabolise calories from fat, protein and carbs differently. Basically he says that simple carbs turn right into fat. He says a lot more, in a very scientific way that I have no desire to try to summarise here, so I recommend reading the book if you are into this sort of thing.

4. Fat will not make you fat! Fat is good for us, and fills us up, so stop buying low-fat products that often have added sugar in them. We now drink whole milk (no more skinny lattes for me!), eat full fat yogurt, full fat cheese, and love things like avocados and nuts as filling and healthy snacks.

Both of our families have asked for some recipes and examples of the food we've been eating, so I thought I'd list the blogs I frequent along with some of our favourite recipes so far. These blogs have been so incredibly helpful, especially when trying to find some healthy treats to satisfy cravings for something sweet. I am so impressed with how creative people are with food. Unfortunately I am not one of those people. Fortunately we have the Internet and I'm able to follow a recipe so it doesn't really matter!

Good Blogs:
Iowa Girl Eats (delicious recipes, not all totally healthy but good home cooked meals)

Our favourite Real Foods:
we take a jar with natural yogurt and frozen blueberries to work every day!

Very filling, this is one of my go to green smoothie breakfast recipes, although I use plain almond milk and plain Greek yogurt

Very yummy, filling cookies. A bit of a cheat as I add dark chocolate chips, but cacao nibs could work if you wanted no sugar at all.

Almond Joy Cookies

I use feta cheese instead of the cheese listed in this recipe.

One of my favourite dinners, this is so easy to make, cheap, and really, really tasty. It's one of Andy's favourites too. Also good as it makes enough for leftovers for lunch the next day.

Very yummy with coconut butter on top!

Cheesy Biscuits
Very filling, a good alternative to bread. We had these with avocado, tomato and a poached egg for breakfast the other day and it was so filling!
You can't get the recipe online (I have her cookbook) but they are made of LSA, coconut flour, eggs, cheddar cheese, salt and paprika.

This is perfect for when you want a bit of a treat after dinner. I prefer it to 'real' chocolate now! It is equal parts almond butter, cacao powder, coconut oil, a half measure of maple syrup, and a little bit of vanilla extract. Melt together, pour into muffin molds and freeze. They only take about 10 minutes to freeze and then are ready to eat! Keep them in the freezer or fridge as they will melt otherwise.

I use Parmesan cheese instead of nutritional yeast in this as I'm not vegan, also don't use a lot of apple cider vinegar as it overpowers.

(I wish I had some more pictures of these foods we have cooked but I'm not a great food photographer. Something to work on!)

We still go a bit off the rails at times, caving and buying chocolate as an after dinner treat. And when we go out to eat or have dinner at a friend's house we just enjoy ourselves and not worry about whether we shouldn't be eating something. I do enjoy preparing and eating (ok, mostly eating), healthy meals for us. Sometimes it is time consuming and I'd much rather just get a take-away,  but I do notice a big difference in my mood and energy levels when I eat properly, and so the time invested is worth it. Interestingly TIME magazine had an article out this month by Mark Bittman on the rise of convenience food in the 50s and 60s and how home cooking can improve our health. Mark focuses on making healthy home cooked meals easily and fast... I might have to pick up his cookbook! You can read the article or watch an overview of it here.