Monday, 15 September 2014

Hello Spring!

Over last few weeks we've been having some lovely spring weather here in Melbourne, and last weekend was no exception. Blue skies, no wind and temperatures around 20 degrees, making it seem more like summer to those of us used to UK weather! 

We took advantage this on Sunday by taking my new bike for a ride along the bay to Brighton. We started out slowly, heading south from our place, down Chapel Street to Balaclava. Chapel Street is, according to this article, one of the 10 most dangerous streets to cycle down in Melbourne! I think that is more based on the author's opinion than hard facts, but I would not be surprised if it were true. One lane of traffic each way (including tram lines), cars parked end-to-end along the curb, and a cycle lane squeezed in between, mean that you are constantly on the lookout for drivers opening their doors onto your and/or pedestrians stepping out into traffic to cross the road or board a tram. I have to cycle up and down Chapel and Church (which is what Chapel turns into once you cross the river North to Richmond) 5km everyday on my ride to work, and I breath a sigh of relief everyday I get home with no accidents!

St. Kilda beach
Once we made it, cautiously on my new bike, to the beach in St. Kilda, we headed East along Beach Road. Well, we actually stuck to the bike path as Beach Road is reserved for hard core cyclists in head-to-toe lycra, training for their next triathlon. Novice and casual riders take note: the ROAD part of Beach Road is not for you! Luckily the path along the beach has it's own cycling lane in some parts, and although there are some congested areas where you have to dodge pedestrians, the scenery on the way more than makes up for it. I got used to my new bike on the path and really enjoyed riding it - it was quite smooth and easy to ride, and soon I will hopefully get used to changing gears on drop handle bars. I've drawn the line at clip in pedals and shoes for now... perhaps I will upgrade to this once I've gotten used to the bike. 

In Brighton we met up with some friends for brunch at The Deck on Bay Street. Our friends have a new puppy, a chocolate lab named Maisie, who is very cute and every time we see her Andy begs me to get a dog. I am not a dog person, and am not sure I ever will be... is it horrible for me to admit that seeing the new puppy makes me want a dog even less? Yes, I am a terrible, heartless person. It just seems like a lot of work to own a dog!

Anyway, after lunch we wandered around Church street in Middle Brighton, which is a cute main street with lots of little shops and cafes. I have been looking for a cool backpack (rucksack for the Brits) that I can wear when riding my bike but that will also look ok when I am walking around, off my bike. I am not sure this type of thing exists, well at least not for under $100 it seems. That seems like an excessive price to pay for a backpack! The search continues...

Prahran Aquatic Centre
When I got home I continued the triathlon training-themed day with a swim at Prahran Aquatic Centre. This is a heated, outdoor 50m pool less than 5 minutes walk from our house! I did 1.2km with our friend Dan - a pretty good effort considering that was my first swim in months. Apparently the pool is a gay hangout most of the summer, however it wasn't very busy this weekend. It's not quite sunbathing weather yet I guess. I did enjoy having a lane to myself the whole time! That night we went to Dan and Laura's new place in Albert Park for a BBQ - the perfect end to a lovely Sunday!
Driving around Albert Park Lake at sunset

After such a nice weekend it was such a drain to have to get up at 5:30am and go to work. Today's weather was classic Melbourne spring weather, in that it was cold and rainy in the morning, but brightened up and was a mild 20 degrees during the day. I made myself ride to work in the rain and was rewarded with a stunning sunrise this morning. Four more days of term left until our school holiday (and the marathon... gulp!)

Sunrise during my morning ride to work

Sunrise over the Yarra River


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

2 Week Countdown...

Until the Sydney Marathon! And... I'm injured! How could this have happened?! I have been having some niggling knee pain for a while, ever since I started doing my very long runs, pretty much once I started doing more than 20k. But I kind of figured that's just par for the course when doing marathon training (probably a stupid assumption to make, more like I just ignored it and hoped for the best).  It's always gone away a few days later, and its never been THAT bad. I did my last long run a few weeks ago, 30k, and since then have been taking it easy, just doing some middle distance and shorter runs, along with a lot of yoga. On Saturday I did a fairly easy 8k run around Albert Park and my knee started hurting once I started walking at the end. Really hurting. Like sharp, intense pain, behind the kneecap, really bad pain. I can not believe this has happened. All my major training is over, I've had so many weekends that have revolved around my long run, and now I'm in a bit of denial. I can't not do the marathon!!

Saturday night Andy and I met up with some friends for dinner at The Prahran Hotel, and someone there mentioned trying Rapigel for my knee. I had never heard of it... and for good reason - it's actually for horses and dogs. It's meant to reduce inflammation and swelling in joints and tendons, and ease muscle soreness. The girl who told me about it works in a pet store and said that most of her sales are for people buying it for themselves, not for their pets. Anyway, I was feeling pretty desperate, so after doing minimal research on the internet, and finding this Today Tonight article, I headed to the pet store and bought myself a container of it. It's a topical gel that you rub on, and you get that tingly feeling, like when you apply something like 'Deep Heat'. I have to say, my knee pain is almost non existent 2 days after using it (and I was limping around in some serious pain on Saturday). I'm not sure if it's just a placebo effect, but whatever it is I am SO happy that my knee pain has gone - or at least its being effectively masked by this magical gel!

I think I am going to take it easy and not run for the rest of this week, then maybe try an easy run next week before the marathon. I am fairly certain I am still going to at least attempt the run, and my strategy at the moment will be to take walking breaks at every water station. I'm trying to ride my bike to work all week to get some cardio in - although this morning we had a crazy windstorm and I thought I was going to get blown into traffic - pretty scary. I ended up jumping on a train halfway to work as I actually thought I might die.

After this marathon I am going to take a LONG break from distance running. Andy and I have already signed up for a sprint triathlon in October, so I already have a new goal to work towards. Oh, and at the weekend I bought my first road bike! I bought it used off Gumtree, from a girl who also got it just as she was getting into triathlons (she is now obsessed and has upgraded to a carbon fibre bike) so its the perfect beginner road bike for me as I am tired of doing triathlons on my hybrid - it's just not cool!

Ok 2 more weeks... I just need to stay healthy for 2 more weeks... I can do this!

Me and my new bike! 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

10 Week Terms are LONG

Ok, I know this is not going to gain me any sympathy amongst my non-teaching friends, who think I am constantly on holiday. Which, I get it, we have a lot of holidays compared to normal working people. I’m not going to apologize for that, or try to defend it by saying "but we work  SO HARD the rest of the year that we need these holidays to recharge”. Teachers do work hard, but so do lots of people in other jobs. The long holidays are just one of the perks of teaching, sort of like the insane bonuses some of my friends get who work in the private sector, or the ability to put things on an expense account. I will never have those things, but it’s ok! I’m not bitter! I’m happy with my lower pay and more holiday time, not to mention that I (mostly) love my job.

But anyway. I digress. It is currently week four of the third term here in Australia. The school year is split into four terms here, each 9-10 weeks long. In between each we get a two week break, or three weeks in between terms three and four. So yes, I’m in the fourth week of work after having had three weeks off, which we spent in England and Spain. Boo hoo. Poor me. It’s just that, after working in the UK for so long, where there are three terms that are split into half-terms, so the most you ever work is six or seven weeks in a row before there is a week or two break. (And you will not believe how moany teachers get when we are in a seven week term. It is the worst.) So now, four weeks into term, I’m thinking, I would be more than half way through by now if I was in the UK. But I still have six and a half LONG weeks to go!

Ok. I’ll shut up now. It’s not that bad. Really.

What probably does not help things at this time of year is that it is winter, and dark, and cold. Yes, cold. I moved to Australia hoping for some better weather and yesterday it was 2 DEGREES in the morning! 2 degrees! Freezing! My colleagues always look at me like I’m crazy when I say I’m cold, like because I’m from Canada I shouldn’t get cold. I should just be used to walking around in the cold all the time, and enjoy it!  So yesterday was the coldest it has been in 16 years apparently, and by the afternoon it was about 14 degrees and sunny and actually quite a beautiful day. However London seems to be having the best summer EVER, and in Toronto summer is pretty much always nice, so it’s fairly annoying to go on Facebook and see everyone enjoying the nice warm weather, and of course all my teacher friends are on holiday and jetting around Europe, and I am here stuck in this LONG 10 week term.


Poor me.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

New Half Marathon PB!

On Sunday I participated in Run Melbourne, a half marathon race around the city. The run was part of my training for the Sydney Marathon, which I'm running in 8 weeks (yikes!) I was going to use this race to see if I was on track to run my goal of a 4-hour marathon, which meant I had to run it in around 1 hour 55 minutes. (That time is based on this marathon pace calculator, which gives you predictions for different distances based on the intensity of a 4 hour marathon. Obviously it's just a prediction and not an exact science, but at least it gave me something to aim for.)
Waiting at the start


My support crew (Andy) and I were up at 5:30am Sunday morning so that I could have time for a decent breakfast before the race started at 7:15am. I had my new favourite porridge recipe from Deliciously Ella, a food blog that I love, which a focusses on plant-based, whole food recipes. The porridge is made with coconut milk instead of regular milk, and has bananas, almond butter and coconut oil mixed in, and I topped it with cacao nibs and blueberries. SO good.

Andy dropped me at the start, outside the Arts Centre on St. Kilda road, at about 6:45am. Best thing about this race start was that the Arts Centre was open and so you could use the toilets pre-race, much better than other races I've done with limited portable toilets. It was still dark and pretty cold when I arrived but the sky was clear and the weather report predicted sun and a high of 16 degrees. 

I knew that to run it in 1:55 I would have to run at a pace of 8:46 per mile (or 5:27 per km). My first mile was really slow, over 9 minutes, mainly due to the amount of people in the race who were all running a bit slower than I wanted to run. But it was a good warm-up and at least made sure that I didn't start out too quickly. The route started with a loop around Flinders Street station, and then back to the Arts Centre, heading south on St. Kilda Road towards Domain Road. I was able to pick up the pace after the first 5 kilometers so that I was on track to meet my target. The route was two laps, so for the first half it was a bit disheartening seeing all the kilometre markers for the second lap, but that was the only criticism of the route. Otherwise it was very scenic, taking in the the Shrine of Remembrance as the sun rose, and then running around the Botanical Gardens and along the Yarra River. There were bands and music stations around the course and the looping around meant that I saw Andy after 3km and 14km. It's always nice to hear someone cheering you on! Our race numbers actually had our names printed on them which was a nice touch, but only ONE person besides Andy shouted out "Go Wendy!" while I was running. I love when spectators are cheering when I'm in a race, but I have found so far that in Australia that doesn't seem to happen much.

At the 14km mark

I felt pretty good during the race and gradually my average pace got down to about 8:31. I was getting pretty excited after about 11 miles as I was pretty sure I was going to beat my 1:55 goal, but I didn't want to get overly excited and push it too hard and then injure myself right before the end. So I just maintained my pace and ended up finishing in 1:52:13, a new PB! My Nike watch said I'd run 13.23 miles, which is .13 miles longer than a half-marathon should be. I know that seems negligible, but it amounts to an extra minute of running. Oh well. 

Heading towards the finish

After the race we got a nice medal and an apple - no goody bags here in Australia! Oh I forgot to mention that along the course there were lots of drink stations and they were handing out water with Nuun electrolyte tablets in them. It's like having a Gatorade without all the sugar and calories. 

We had a few friends doing the 10k run which started at 9am so we hung around and waited for them to finish, before going for brunch at Self Preservation on Bourke Street. Amazing food, I had the special which was some sort of chickpea and feta smash on sourdough with poached egg, but the service was SO slow. By the time we finished I had pretty much hit a wall and needed to get home to rest. Andy was also complaining about being tired, I guess watching a half marathon is just as exhausting as running one?!

All in all I really enjoyed Run Melbourne and would definitely sign up again next year, and I'm feeling more confident about my marathon training. 

Run Melbourners!

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Last Weekend of Saturday Sport!

Today was the last game for my school soccer team. One of the joys of working in the Independent School system here in Victoria is Saturday Sport. When I say 'joy', what I really mean is 'most annoying thing ever'. At our school, and most other independent schools, students are required to play two nine-week seasons of sport, one in the winter and one in the summer. Training is once a week after school and the games are on Saturday mornings. And of course, all of these teams need coaches and teachers to manage them. As a teacher part of my contract is that I manage a team for one season. This was something the school neglected to tell me when I signed on, and it is very elusively referred to as 'extra-curriculars' in my contract. I think most Australians know that this is a requirement in private schools, but it came as a complete shock to me. I actually think I would have reconsidered working here if the school had initially told me I'd be coaching sport on Saturday mornings! 

A winter game at my school

Last year I was given the Intermediate (14-16 year olds) girls soccer team. They had a 'real' coach during training sessions so I just had to turn up and mark attendance every Tuesday after school. That coach wasn't able to make the games so on Saturday mornings I was on my own. It was a pretty awful experience to be honest, as I know nothing about coaching soccer. Yes, I know the general aim of the game (score goals and don't let the other team score), and I even know the offside rule, but I had no idea about who should play where, what they should be doing, when I should make a substitution, etc. All the other teams we played seemed to have 'real' coaches who would be shouting out instructions during the game, and I was just on the sidelines saying things like "good try!" and "well done girls!" Pretty lame. I felt like the girls were getting a bit of a bum deal with just me as their coach, and as a result I felt pretty crappy after every game, as if I had taught a really bad lesson. The one good thing was that the girls didn't take the games seriously and didn't seem terribly upset when we lost almost every game.

At the end of the season I asked the Head of Sport if I could have a real coach during games, as I felt it wasn't fair on the girls that they weren't getting proper coaching. Their parents are spending a small fortune to send their children to the school after all, and the sport programme is one way we are different to a state school. They were really receptive and as Andy did some coaching for my school when we first arrived in Melbourne (he coached the First boys team who went to the Grand Final) it was agreed that Andy could coach my team this year.

What a difference that has made! Andy coming to the games made Saturday sport so much less stressful for me. And, not only that, our team improved so much over the season. We still didn't have a great record (we've ended up with 4 wins and 5 losses, although we were back in England for one of the games so to Andy we were 4-4!) but the difference in how the girls play from our first game until today has been remarkable. It's also been so nice to see Andy doing what he loves. I think this team was a challenge for him as these girls were not very 'serious' about soccer and they just wanted to have fun. However I do think he got them a bit more interested in actually winning as the season went on, and our last game today was a real nail biter! Sadly we lost, but it was a close game, and considering we lost to this team 5-0 earlier in the season it was a huge improvement. We went to Nandos after the game with some of the girls, and one of the parents told us how much fun her daughter had playing that season. That is the main goal for me, that they enjoy themselves each Saturday, so it was nice to hear from a parent.

Anyway, as much as I have enjoyed seeing Andy coach, and even watch the games, I am NOT sad that we don't have to wake up early anymore on a Saturday morning to go to the games! I have 41 more weekends to enjoy before the start of next season, hurray!




Giving instructions at half time




Thursday, 24 July 2014

Would we move back?


So, just a few thoughts on going back to London for the first time in 18 months. I was a bit nervous that either myself or Andy (or both of us) would not want to return to Melbourne once we got back to London. We have both struggled with missing our friends and have found it challenging to find similar bonds in Melbourne - although that is getting better and we are slowly starting to feel like we have made some real friends here. I am also frustrated with my job at the moment, and have questioned whether being head of department is really what I want to be doing with my career. It's frustrating because it was a position I enjoyed in London but the structure in my school here is quite different and the role is very administrative. Anyway, I am happy to report that while it was great to see all our friends and family, visiting London made us realize just how good we have it here in Melbourne. Here are some of the reasons why:

London is too busy! I don't know why I didn't remember this. We initially stayed in Brixton and also spent some time going in and out of central London and it just felt like we were constantly dodging people. Even weekdays during the day it was ridiculously hectic. That said, we did have a morning back in Herne Hill, which was probably my favourite place of everywhere I lived in London, and it was lovely and peaceful there. I do miss Brockwell Park and the Lido! 

I always complain about the lack of public transport in Melbourne and I still think the system in London is awesome in terms of being able to get anywhere in London (well within zones 1-2) without having to wait long for the tube or train. But boy is it overcrowded. Victoria station is a total nightmare even in the middle of the day and being anywhere near the tube during rush hour (which seems to last from 4-7pm) is insane. I was pretty lucky in London in that I didn't ever have to take the tube to work daily, but I can't imagine being in that situation on a daily basis, it is so stressful! Everyone is out for themselves on the tube, and God help you if you don't know where you are going or hesitate while in the station. It really makes my train ride to work here seem quite peaceful and civilised. 

We've also become quite big food and coffee snobs since being in Melbourne. We are so spoiled for choice in terms of caf├ęs and restaurants here and it really made the food in London restaurants seem average at best. Don't even get me started on the coffee. The only good coffee we found was Federation Coffee in Brixton Village, run by Kiwis I believe. 

All that said, London is an amazing city and I really did love seeing everyone again. It has highlighted just how far away Australia is from the rest of the world, which is why we can't see ourselves here permanently. It's a shame as Melbourne is such an awesome city, so we will just have to make sure we are taking advantage of living here while we can.
Drinks above the city at Paramount Bar

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Portsmouth and London - the first week

We are now at the Starbucks in Kuala Lumpur airport, waiting for our connecting flight to Melbourne. I have ordered a Green Tea Latte which is pretty weird tasting - I would not recommend it! Our flight is 15 minutes delayed at this point - desperately hoping that it doesn't get any further delayed. The post-holiday/going-back-to-work stress is starting to set in. We arrive back in Melbourne on Sunday morning at 6am and then are straight back to work on Monday, and I am vaguely starting to remember all the work I left behind. I did a pretty good job of forgetting about work these past three weeks, which was needed as my first 6 months as Head of Maths have not been the easiest, and I was in desperate need of a break. 
I am also feeling quite unfit and unhealthy at the moment, which is a worry as I am running the Sydney Marathon in 10 weeks time. My training was going really well until we went on holiday. The longest run I managed these past 3 weeks was 10k, when really I should be over the 20k mark by now. These next 10 weeks are going to be a good time to refocus on exercise and nutrition after 3 weeks of indulgence!

Ok so back to the trip... We spent our first night in Brixton as mentioned and then headed off to Portsmouth to see Andy's family. We met for lunch at Old Thorns in Liphook, where we got married over 2 years ago. It's always nice to spend some time reminiscing about your wedding day and having lunch brought back some good memories. The next day we headed out to walk along the seafront in Old Porstmouth and have lunch with Andy's high school friends in Gunwharf, and then back to one of their houses for a BBQ that evening. One of the couples just had a baby and the other just got married, so it was a great opportunity to see the baby and to watch a few video highlights from the wedding we missed. It is hard being so far away and missing these important events - this is where we have struggled the most with our move to Oz.
Old Portsmouth

I headed back to London the next day for a spa day with Kristin. We went to the ESPA Life spa at the Corinthia and I could not recommend it more. I usually find hotel spas disappointing as they don't always have the full 'day spa feel' but this one definitely did. A bit pricier than others but it was a pretty special occasion as Kristin and I are rarely in the same country at the moment. We had the City Hideaway Spa Experience (basically the cheapest package available!) and it was bliss. Lunch first in a completely white room (white marble floors and tables, white leather chairs) and everyone in their bathrobes. I don't know what it is about eating lunch in a bathrobe, but to me it feels like such an indulgence. That was followed by a massage, facial, pedicure and then time to relax in the thermal heat area: hot tub, sauna, steam room, along with giant bowl of ice shavings to cool down with. The area is dimly lit and all black so very chilled and relaxing. The only criticism was that this area is open to hotel guests so there were a few kids in the pool, which ruins the mood a little!

Betty met up with us after the spa for a drink, and then her and I went to Gordon's Wine Bar on Embankment for a glass of vino, massive plate of cheese and a catch up. I cannot tell you how much I miss having Betty and Jon in Melbourne to hang out with. It makes such a difference having friends that know you well and I think Jon put it very well when he said our company was 'effortless'. Good friends are effortless company, what a lovely thought!

The next few days consisted of Andy and I frantically trying to find some clothes to wear for the wedding in Spain. I think we both thought it would be easy to shop in London for something to wear, like we would just pop up to Oxford Street and get two whole outfits and be done with it in an hour. I think we somehow forgot how ridiculously busy Oxford Street is. Even in the middle of the day on a weekday. It also didn't help that the sales had just started, so all the stores looked like a jumble sale. Total nightmare! I think all the stressful shopping completely undid any sense of relaxation I had from the spa day.

In the evenings we got together with different groups of friends, including Andy's uni friends and old co-workers from pretty much every school I worked at in London. 

Ok I didn't get a chance to add pictures to this post before boarding the plane, so we are home now as I add this last bit. We are TIRED and had a 3 hour nap when we got home from the airport at 8am. I feel like we may regret this in a few hours when we try to go to bed. Anyway I will finish up the details of our trip this week - am now off to get myself ready for a week back at school.
Portsmouth Harbour


Friday, 11 July 2014

Leaving London... again

We are sitting in Heathrow airport after a fabulous 3 weeks back in England (and Spain), visiting Andy's family and  our friends. It has gone by SO quickly and I'm afraid we are going to have post-holiday blues once we get back to Melbourne. We were very lucky to be able to catch up with so many people that we have missed since moving down under 18 months ago, not to mention the opportunity to attend a wedding of one of Andy's childhood friends in Javea, Spain at the same time. (It would be great if the rest of our friends planning on getting married soon could do so during Australian school holidays... ok? Thanks.)

We left Melbourne the Friday school broke up for the holidays at midnight. This was our first flight with Malaysian Airlines, flying from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur and then direct to London. We arrived at the airport to find a crazy long lineup at Malaysian despite being there 3 hours before our flight was scheduled to take off. We soon found out this was because the check in system was down, so everyone was being manually checked in. Yikes! Even though we had checked in online we still had to wait over an hour to drop our bags and receive a handwritten boarding pass. This also meant they weren't able to issue the boarding passes for our connecting flights in Kuala Lumpur. Our flight took off over an hour late and we were quite stressed we would miss our connecting. On arrival in KL the transfer desk was absolute chaos. We only had about an hour till our next flight, and were convinced we wouldn't make it. (Little did we know there were about 100 people in the same situation as us so they were holding the London flight). Andy somehow went straight up to the front of the desk and get someone to print out boarding passes and we rushed over to the gate and were quickly ushered onto the plane. Relieved, we settled into our seats only to hear the captain come on the loudspeaker informing us we would be delayed while waiting for the rest of the passengers from our flight! We proceeded to sit in the plane for 2 hours before taking off on our 13 hour flight. Needless to say, it was not an enjoyable experience! The food and movie selection were also pretty mediocre. We are not big fans of Malaysian at the moment but I am reserving final judgement until our return journey as the delay may have clouded my judgement.  I was wearing Skins compression leggings which I thought would be a comfortable choice but by the end of the second flight my knees were absolutely killing me. I am not sure if this was due to the  compression element or something else, but I've chosen normal cotton leggings for this flight.

When we finally arrived at Heathrow at 6pm we jumped in a black cab hoping to make it to my friends rooftop party before it got too late. WHAT A HUGE MISTAKE. I am not sure why we did this as I would never take a black cab in London, they are far more expensive than getting a mini-cab and there is a perfectly good underground system that goes from Heathrow to anywhere in London. Anyway I think we were just tired and not thinking straight but we will NEVER do that again, as not only did it take over an hour to get to Brixton, it also cost about £90. Ouch! A very expensive lesson learned.

On a positive note, the weather was absolutely gorgeous when we arrived, and nothing beats warm summer London nights. Especially those spent on a rooftop garden with all of your favourite people. We had arranged to meet my group of friends at Guillaume's infamous flat in Brixton, and everyone was there in good form. Even better, one of my best friends Kristin, who has since moved back to Toronto, was also in London for a visit. Her and her boyfriend, (now fiancee!) Dan, just got engaged so we were able to celebrate with them. We had a fantastic first night and I was just so so happy to be back in London with my friends who I have missed dearly. And I must say Andy and I did well, staying up until 3am before finally succumbing to jet lag.

Our lovely friends!

We are about to board our plan now so I will update the blog once we get back to Melbourne. *Apologies in advance for any spelling and grammar issues, no time to proofread!

Friday, 23 May 2014

The Joys of Moving in Melbourne

We are moving out of our first Melbourne flat today. Exciting, but a bit sad, and shocking to realize we have been in this flat for almost 16 months, which means we've been in Melbourne 16 months. Crazy how fast time flies. In four weeks we will be heading to London and Spain for 3 weeks to see our friends, Andy's family, and to go to the wedding of one of Andy's childhood friends. I am so so so looking forward to the trip. But first things first, we must get through this move.

The pool in our old flat... I will miss this!
The area we are moving to is called Prahran, which is the suburb just south of where we live now (in South Yarra). So, it's not a huge move in terms of location, about 1.5 km south of where we are now. Our main reason for moving is we are tired of not having any outside space. There is a communal area outside our building for residents but it is not the same as having your own private area. We also have absolutely no view, our flat looks onto the roof of the Woolworths at the bottom of our building. We have been missing out on way too many beautiful Melbourne sunrises and sunsets. The third reason is that our landlord is trying to sell our flat so there are people constantly coming around for viewings. That in itself is pretty annoying, but we also didn't know if it would be another investor buying the flat or someone wanting to actually live here, so we might have been kicked out at some point anyway. Interestingly, we have found out our landlord is having a very hard time selling... I'm sure the view onto the roof is not helping things. He bought it about 2 years ago brand new for over $500,000 and we overheard the real estate agent saying he is willing to accept around $460,000. I was surprised to hear that, as it seems the real estate market is pretty healthy here in Melbourne. Just goes to show that real estate is not always a sure investment, especially if you find yourself in a bind to sell. 

Ah, a lovely view of a roof. I will not miss this!

Nice rainbow, crap view. This was taken by Andy, I am not tall enough to see those buildings over the roof!
Our new place is in another new build, I think this complex opened in August 2013, so we are only the second tenants. The rent is cheaper, so we will be saving some money, and we are on the 9th floor with a nice big balcony and uninterrupted views out to the bay (I sound like a real estate agent...). The flat itself is small, although pretty comparable to what we have now. I think we have realised since moving here that we don't actually need that much space or that much stuff (and if you have a lot of space it just compels you to buy more stuff). I constantly shake my head at all the things we shipped here from England only to throw away or give to charity. Having outside space was a priority when looking for a new place, and we also wanted to save some money, so this place ticks those boxes. Oh, we also have WINDOWS in the main bedroom which we don't have right now. I know, bedrooms without windows, how awful. They are surprisingly common in the new builds around here. 

I really really hope we like this place to stay for a few years as moving pretty much sucks. First of all the process of flat hunting here is just ridiculous. I long for the days of flat hunting in London, which I found pretty dire at the time - however I didn't know how good we had it. Oh, to walk into an estate agent, give your budget and specifications, and to be taken around to view flats (sometimes the agents would even drive you there). Sure, you saw some crappy flats, but there was something nice and personal about the service. You felt the estate agent was actually doing something to earn their commission. Ok, maybe I didn't feel that when we were in London, but I do now!

Here in Australia you spend hours on websites like realestate.com.au or domain.com.au looking through the rental listings. Don't even bother going into an estate agent as they will just tell you to look online. Each flat will have an 'Open for Inspection' which is a 15 minute time slot where the 'estate agent' will open up the flat so you, and anyone else who is interested, can have a look around. Sometimes there are 40-50 other prospective tenants there for the inspection. I am not sure what the purpose of that estate agent is, except to unlock the door, as they never have any additional information about the flat. Sometimes they don't even turn up or they turn up with the wrong keys, and the whole thing will have been a major waste of time. Usually it will be the first time they have been inside the flat themselves. With older places the flat barely resembles the pictures on the website, as pictures have all been retouched or taken years ago when the flat was in better condition. In one case Andy questioned the estate agent as the flat looked nothing like what was advertised online and she admitted they had used pictures of a different flat. Surely that can't be legal?!

If you like the flat, you then have to fill in a lengthy application form, detailing your salary, current and former places of employment, current and former residences, and a few references. They are a pain to fill in, although some places now use an online form through the realestate.com.au website which takes a while to fill in but then can be used for multiple applications. The process is fairly competitive if you are applying for a popular place, and people often say they are willing to pay more than the asking rent in order to secure the place. We have never done that, but we know people who have offered an extra $25 per week for a place they really liked. Other than extra money and secure employment, I'm not sure how the tenants are chosen. Before we found our new flat, we applied for one other place we didn't get, and we felt pretty rejected! For this one, after some prompting from Andy, I called the estate agent a few days after we put our application in. The agent happened to go to the school I teach at now, so we had a nice little chat about that, and he said he thought we'd be good tenants and would phone the landlord to check. Half an hour later, the flat was ours. If we hadn't phoned who knows if we would have got it. So, if you're reading this and flat hunting in Melbourne, it's always good to phone the estate agent after you apply. 

Moving is also ridiculously expensive as you usually have to get the flat professionally cleaned - including steam cleaning the carpets. I don't mind that too much as it also means you move into a nice clean flat. It's also usually necessary to hire movers as most flats are unfurnished and so moving furniture yourself (including fridge and washing machine) is not really doable unless you have super helpful friends who don't work during the day also happen to own large vans. So even though we are saving on rent it will be about 2 months before we start saving if you count all the moving costs.

Ok well I'd better get back to it - the movers will be here in about 4 hours and Andy has had to work for the morning so it's just me doing all the last minute things. I have just finished my coffee so its time to pack up our beloved Nespresso machine. I think I am mostly done but want to be prepared for any last minute jobs. I am looking forward to a nice wine tonight on our balcony (that is, if it stops raining...)

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Le Grande Cirque

About a month ago while I was in India I got a text from Andy reading "Just saw MANU!!!!!" For those who don't know, Manu is a celebrity chef here in Australia, one of the judges on My Kitchen Rules. Yes, ok, so we've been watching the show rather religiously, which is a bit embarrassing to admit, but there is just something that about the show that makes it hard to stop watching. Perhaps it is the sexy French chef, Manu? Who knows...

Anyway turns out he has opened a restaurant about a 3 minute walk from our house with fellow celebrity chef George Calombaris (of Masterchef fame). The location is on the former site of Mama Baba, where we took Alison to eat when she visited last July

So of course we had to book reservations at Le Grande Cirque to check it out for ourselves. Andy has a 'man crush' on Manu that I didn't quite grasp the extent of until we visited his restaurant. We took our friends Alan and Aaron with us, who before going seemed unimpressed with the whole 'Manu' thing, as they aren't as into My Kitchen Rules as we are (probably a good thing!)

We had an amazing table right across from the open kitchen and to our surprise Manu was actually working! He was like, right there, coordinating all the orders, occasionally cutting up bread faster than I've ever seen anyone cut bread before, and at times having a strong word with some of his chefs. (To be fair, from my days of waitressing in fine dining, he seemed pretty calm and relaxed compared to the chefs I have worked with.) Well, if Alan and Aaron were not fussed about eating at Manu's restaurant they certainly changed their tune once they saw him! The three of them were totally embarrassing as they tried to covertly snap pics of him on their phones.

Pretending to take a pic of Alan

The food was 'down-to-earth French food' that was meant for sharing - sort of a tapas style french menu, if that makes sense? The food did not disappoint, it was all amazing, especially the 'Friture de Crevettes' (crispy prawns with aioli) and the 'petites betteraves, carottes & chevres' (baby beetroot, carrot and goat's curd salad). Aaron and Alan were doing a 'detox' so we tried to stay on the healthy side, although Andy and I did order the beef special which came with a blue cheese sauce (not healthy but soooooo good). We also didn't order any dessert, however they looked amazing and so we will definitely need to go back. Good wine list as well, and the prices were pretty average for Melbourne. 

At the end Manu came and took a few photos with us - he was a pretty good sport about it and was taking pictures with lots of customers when he had a chance. He was very funny and chatty and even pretended to kiss Andy in a photo once he heard about the man crush (I was cut out of this photo!) We also got his cookbook which he signed, which was totally an impulse buy but I will enjoy trying out some of his dishes.
Me, Andy and Manu

I was cut out of this one