Bootcamp for your brain

The muru-d bootcamp weekend is complete and it’s been amazing. I stand in the kitchen with a small group of fellow entrepreneurs, all of us hopeful to make it through the final pitching round tomorrow, and one asks me what kind of development I do.

As I fumble to articulate an answer, I realise that my brain is exhausted from the intensity of back to back sessions of pitching and getting feedback and fielding questions and sucking up the knowledge and experience of people who have been through similar experiences and so somehow, must have all the answers, until you realise that nobody has actually done this before in exactly the same way and that’s why we’re here, we need to focus, get traction, and jeeeeeeezus where did this weekend go and can I go to bed now?

This weekend started in the same way as most: with three cups of tea in front of my laptop. At 9am we joined the queue of bright-eyed, hungry start ups for visitor passes at muru-d, then filed in to the office space to listen to Annie, Mick, Rachel and Gordon tell us what we were in for.

In the office, a mosaic of huge screens for presentations greets you as you walk through the door, whiteboard walls are everywhere, and there’s a nod at the destition of start up life with the cardboard stools piled up in the corner for guests. This is more like Atlassian in it’s current day than its early days though, with a fridge stocked full of beer, table tennis tables in a huge kitchen, a small gym and a newly refurbished outdoor space with two shiny barbecues and lounging chairs. Sadly, it’s so new that it’s still out of bounds for us this weekend, and we’re quickly told that the beers are reserved for events and people who make it in to the program. Being here is a very special kind of start up life, in more ways than one.

The first thing that happens is that everybody has to do a one minute pitch for their start up. Liz had warned us about this, and that either Phil or I may have to pitch since everybody’s seen her do it before, but luckily we’re let off the hook and she stands up. Annie asks if she’s going to sing – I still think that we need to write a musical pitch one day, but since we haven’t done that yet she sticks to the basics. Amazingly, everybody manages to pitch in less than a minute – Gordon, who has been waiting to play the bad cop and cut somebody off mid sentence, is probably the only one who’s disappointed.

There are 22 start ups that have made it this far, and 15(ish) will progress through to Monday, with 10(ish) making it on to the program. There’s quite a variety in the types of businesses, although there are four based around recruitment. We’re the only ones in the food industry. There are just seven women among the startups: Tripalocal is formed of two female founders, 100 Foxes and Freight Exchange have female CEOs and one more start up has a female Chief marketing officer.

Over the next hour, we get the rundown of what to expect from this weekend and beyond, and get some advice for our pitches. Annie advises us against demos. She highly recommends that if we want to do a demo, don’t. And if we still want to, she says, have a plan b that you will probably end up using. Luckily for us, we don’t want to demo.

For the last hour before lunch, we have a Q&A session with some of the “graduates” of Class 1. We dance around the question we all really want to ask: how do we get in? We’re told – not for the last time – to expect an avalanche of advice and feedback, all of it sensible and probably right, much of it conflicting, and that if we incorporate all of it then we will end up with a camel instead of a thoroughbred. I decide it’s probably best not to think too much into that metaphor.

For the afternoon, we meet with a series of mentors – I lost count but I think it was about ten in all. We are assigned a meeting room as our space, which is delightful because 22 start ups in animated discussions with mentors creates a lot of noise, and being able to close the door against the cacophony makes up for the rise in temperature.

Our meetings start, and I can feel excitement and a touch of nerves, the adrenaline’s building and we’re waiting anxiously to see what we’re in for. Our first mentor is an ex-colleague of mine from Atlassian, and we unleash our energy in a bombardment of ideas, pitch and waffle. He looks slightly stunned and correctly points out that we may want to narrow our focus.

Next up in Jeremy from Vistr, and we take the opportunity to sound him out on how to get in and what their journey was like. I berate Liz for not giving people chance to speak, then feel guilty, but there’s no time for niceties here. It’s like speed dating – intentionally – at the end of each 15 minute session Gordon pushes the door open and waves the bell at us, we all stand up, frantically trying to finish answering that one last question as we’re shaking hands and they’re leaving the room.

Many of the mentors already know Liz, and they are not shy about telling us that they’ve heard the pitch too many times and want to talk about something else. We encounter one in particular who appears to have been briefed to be a bad cop and shoots down our scalability ideas one by one. He throws in a couple of random questions about the technology and asks if we are in the cloud, and I get quite excited for a moment thinking that I might get a chance to talk about tech, but no, it’s back to scale again.

And so it continues. There’s no breaks, no reflection time, just bam-bam-bam-pitch-suggestions-questions. We know our biggest issue is convincing people that we can scale, and we pick a lot of entrepreneurial brains, some already believe we can do it while others simply won’t be convinced. It’s difficult sometimes to not take it personally and stay positive, and eventually it’s difficult to even take in any more information. We have a break when no mentor comes in for one session, but somehow it works against me, because I slump down from the high I’ve been on all afternoon and lose some of my energy. Luckily Liz can always keep talking, so we make it through the final sessions.

We finally head home, tired and feeling a bit cranky, and with several hours of pitch rewriting still to do. We throw up flipchart paper and post its on the windows and try to distill the things we need to say about scalability into a five minute pitch. We find the energy for a lively debate about repeatable customer acquisition and vendor procurement, and we are starting to sound like we know our shit. I go to bed happy. And knackered.

Sunday starts at 6am with tea – obviously – and keynote. I take the opportunity of being up early to get some time out, and go for a fast walk along the water in the early morning sunshine. At 9, we’re back on the cardboard stools, this time to hear from the legal eagles – we have a golden opportunity to hit up these experts for free advice on a variety of legal issues. Not surprisingly the Q&A could have gone on all morning, and all of the six lawyers are quickly booked out in 15 minute sessions.

We use most of the morning to write and rewrite our pitch and slides. At midday, we all file hungrily into the cafeteria ready to grab a sandwich and keep writing, but Mick has other ideas. We sit at the tables and look longingly at the cling filmed sandwiches as he talks – slightly ironically – about focus. Luckily, Mick is a good presenter and it’s an interesting subject, and one that You Chews certainly needs to keep in mind when we refine our pitch. As it ends, I grab three mystery meat sandwiches and scoot back to the desk.

We pitch to Annie at 1:30 for a spot in the final 15(ish). It’s still too long, which we knew, although Liz does an admirable job of fitting in about five hundred words per minute so that we get through all but one of our slides. Annie gives us a couple of areas to continue work on but generally positive feedback, so we walk out with smiles all round.

Back at our desks, and Gordon brings us a new mentor. Liz runs through the new pitch – again – and we have an indepth discussion. I get to talk a bit about the platform, and he asks me how long it will take to build, then why it will take so long. It’s the first time anybody’s actually asked, so I have to think on my feet – I’m used to justifying why things will take a long time when I need to convince my boss to understand, but this is a different ball game.

We meet four other mentors, all of whom are serious investors with decades of experience in business, and they all poke holes in our pitch and our business until we’re feeling wrung out and stacked full of information. I’ve barely had chance to digest and appreciate the calibre of people I’ve met over the last two days, but suffice to say this is why we are here – whether or not we make it into the final ten, it’s an unbelievable opportunity to get an audience of incredible people who we’d find it much more difficult to meet otherwise. Even as our pitch stands by the end of the afternoon, over time and incomplete, it’s a world away from what we’d started with on Saturday. This is what will happen to our company if we get in to this accelerator, week in week out for six months, and we’ll be unrecognisable by April. Bring it on.

The final part of the evening was when we were told who was in the final 15(ish), which I can finally confirm turned out to be 16. Gordon sends each company into a room as we sit patiently waiting until he has finished, then remind him that he’s forgotten us. We’re not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

We sit down across the table from Ben, who is wearing a serious face and I wait to hear him say sympathetically that we’re out. I feel like a reality TV show contestant, but thank goodness he doesn’t milk it for too long and tells us straight up that we’re in to the final! Hooray! And now we have to come back and pitch tomorrow …

I’ve quit my job to join a start up.

A few months ago, I remember having lunch at work, chatting with my colleagues about working in start ups. I was reminiscing fondly about my first job out of university, working as a developer in a small web design agency, in a team mostly made up of graduates or people a couple of years out of Uni. There were times when it was frustrating and hard, but I look back fondly on it being a lot of fun, the steepest learning curve, and among the most pride and ownership I ever felt in my work.

I left that job to go and find out how bigger companies worked, then I went on to work in a consultancy because I still didn’t have enough of a breadth of experience. And then the start up bug came knocking.

Somewhere along the way, I had got used to earning a good salary, travelling, living well, got financial responsibilities; then I moved to Australia and became dependent on having an employer to sponsor my visa. Those things aren’t really conducive to working in a start up. And yet, that bug was still there, nibbling away at the corners of my brain.

The perfect opportunity turned up … at a decidedly inconvenient time. I was waiting on my new visa, and had just taken on a management role in a team that was taking on a new project with all kinds of demands for learning new technologies as well as leadership skills – and so, it nearly passed me by. Somewhere deep down though, I couldn’t let it go – I had to try, and if I failed, at least I’d know it wasn’t right.

I had fallen in love with the idea behind You Chews almost instantly – a catering company providing quality, artisinal food for corporate events and meet ups – probably because I’d eaten pizza at so many meet ups, and encountered the mystery meat sandwich at many training courses, conferences and meetings. Or perhaps it was just the idea of being able to sample new suppliers … mmmmm.

I just had to convince them that I was worth waiting for …

Fast forward a little, and here we are: in two more weeks I will finish up to go and dedicate myself full time to You Chews. We’re in the final 20 for both muru-d and StartMate, so the next six months could take us anywhere. It’s exciting, and scary, and it’s pushing me to learn and do things at a speed I haven’t experienced in a long time. It’s bloody fantastic.

We’re part of a community of people who all know what it’s like, and even though they’ve probably got to do lists as long as both of their arms, they’re willing to spend time to talk about our difficulties and lend their advice – from investors, to fellow founders, nobody is too superior or too busy to lend an ear.

I’m on board the crazy start up ship! Let’s start the next adventure :)

Wine tasting in the Yarra Valley.

As you may know, I’m a big fan of wine … so after moving to Melbourne, the Yarra Valley was high on my list of places to visit. Having found a group of likeminded friends and a nice place to stay, we were off for the weekend!

Wines at Allinda

Wines at Allinda

The particular weekend we picked was going to be one of those crazy hot ones that were pretty common this summer, with temperatures reaching over 40 degrees. Some of the group had signed up to go possum spotting, but I had decided to forgo the woodland and mosquitos in favour of an evening by the barbecue with wine …

So, we arrived on Friday night loaded up with snacks and meat for the barbecue. We were staying at a place called Serenity @ Healesville, which was a beautiful, huge house – I claimed organiser’s privilege and took the nice ensuite bedroom with a big, claw-foot bath tub! Sadly I didn’t get to use it though, it was just too hot.

The house was ginormous, with three huge living rooms, and enough space to sleep eleven people. There was a nice big fridge in the open plan kitchen, which was already half stocked with beers and cider from the other group who had headed out to find possums. Once we added our supplies and it was pretty jam packed …

The fridge full of beer and cider

The fridge full of beer and cider

After we settled in and got the snacks out, it was time to chill outside and watch the sun set over the garden – wonderful. Silvio got the burgers going, the beers came out, and then so did the mozzies … luckily Kate produced some pretty effective bug spray, as I usually get eaten alive otherwise.

Friday night sunset

Friday night sunset

Later in the evening, all of us little bit tipsy, it was the perfect time to play one of my favourite card games, known as Cards Against Humanity. It’s terrible and hilarious, and Tom has enough expansion packs to last … well, at least a weekend.

The possum spotters were late home, and we were ready to head off to bed and get a good night’s sleep before hitting the wineries! Yay for wine!

Hurry up guys, we want some wine

Hurry up guys, we want some wine

The main living room in the house had a good supply of maps and leaflets, so we picked a winery a bit of a drive away to start from, and were a couple of routes back where we could stop and continue the sampling. The sun was already beating down on us as we arrived at Yileena Park, we were grateful for the cool, dark, air conditioned room upstairs!

At Yileena Park

At Yileena Park

We got off to a good start with some delicious sparkling wines, while the owner Dianne explained some of the workings of the vineyard. They have underground irrigation for their vines, which had helped keep them watered during the insanely hot summer days this year, and also protected their plants during the bushfires, although they lost the crop from the smoke. The sheep ate them instead.

View across Yileena Park

View across Yileena Park

We tried a beautiful reserve Cabernet, which despite the $60 price tag was so good that several of us bought a bottle or two.

Ooooh, this is rather nice!

Ooooh, this is rather nice!

After the dessert wines – which I was not so keen on at the start of the weekend – Dianne produced some special smoked food, produced using wood chips from old wine barrels, including strangely delicious merlot infused salt which we bought too!

Trying smoked food

Trying smoked food

As we left, Dianne handed us a leaflet for the smaller wineries of the Yarra Valley, most of which weren’t featured on the main map. There was a special offer where if we purchased a dozen bottles from at least two wineries, we would be able to get one free, which seemed like a pretty good deal – and quite likely too!

Relaxing outside at Graeme Miller

Relaxing outside at Graeme Miller

We changed our plan for the day to head to another small winery not too far away. This time there was one gentleman behind the counter, who seemed a bit overwhelmed by our large group, particularly when a hen party came in ten minutes later!

At Graeme Miller (Dixons Creek)

At Graeme Miller (Dixons Creek)

From the tasting room we could see down to the wine storage room, barrels and barrels of wine. Magda fell in love with the Pinot Gris and bought a caseful, I continued to indulge with the Chardonnay and Tom and Kate added to their collection too … then we were off again, this time to one of the larger wineries: De Bortoli, where there was also tasty cheese on offer.

Gorgeous grounds at De Bortoli

Gorgeous grounds at De Bortoli

The grounds at De Bortoli were absolutely stunning, brightly coloured flowers and loads of green, all helped by the lovely sunshine.

Tasting at De Bortoli

Tasting at De Bortoli

After two tastings, some people had had enough and went straight for the cheese, but Tom, Kate, Jen and I were still going strong. The wines were pretty good, but the tastings were much less personal than in the smaller wineries – there was not much explanation of the wine or the vineyard, we just had a taste poured then left on our own. Silvio brought me a piece of the cheese, which made the wine taste even more amazing … mmm, my mouth still waters at the memory while I’m writing …

Yummy salty eyebrows

Yummy salty eyebrows

We followed the tasting with more cheese, sitting outside in the sunshine, and some very special anchovies (they should be too, at $15 a tin …!) Or as Tom called them, salty eyebrows.

Vineyards at Allinda

Vineyards at Allinda

Half of the group decided to head back to the house after that, but the more determined among us – including me – felt that we had one more winery in us at least, so off we went to Allinda, back on the small winery trail again, run by Al and Linda.

Tom and Kate trying the wine

Tom and Kate trying the wine

I don’t know if the wine starts to taste better after I’ve had that many, some say that you can’t tell anymore after two or three tastes anyway (but why stop when it’s so much fun?) Either way, the wine at Allinda was delicious, and we bought several bottles including Chardonnay and a more unusual Savagnin, as well as some red, it was too good not to! I also began to appreciate dessert wines more, and we had enough stamps now for a free bottle – so we took one back for that evening.

Silvio was very tempted

Silvio was very tempted

Before heading back, it would have been sad to miss the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie, especially since they were selling ice cream too …

Yes, this is ONE SCOOP

Yes, this is ONE SCOOP

I asked for one scoop in a cone, well that was the largest scoop of ice cream I have ever seen. We wandered around the chocolate shop finishing our ice cream, I was very tempted … but we had indulged enough for one day.

Temptation.

Temptation.

We stopped for groceries on the way home, Tom had offered to cook for everybody but was looking for inspiration in the supermarket. He found it with some pork belly, and we stocked up on veggies and flavourings, and got some prawns to cook as well.

Sunset in Healesville

Sunset in Healesville

Back at the house, we sampled some of the wine and some G&Ts, Kate and Tom prepared the food for dinner, and then we watched the sun go down over the garden … fabulous.

Enjoying the sunset

Enjoying the sunset

With a little more wine, the Cards Against Humanity soon came out again with the entire group this time – once again, it was hilarious, far too many cards played that are very unsuitable for my blog …

Pork belly, yum

Pork belly, yum

Then it was time for dinner – wow! There was piles of food, soft, tender pork belly, salad with feta, potatoes, veggies, and all of it tasted amazing, we were spoiled. It was a long, lazy meal finished off with the dessert wine, and finally collapsing into our big comfy bed.

Rob was excited for dinner

Rob was excited for dinner

On Sunday, we were allowed a late checkout, so we could hang around the house until 3pm – wonderful. Rob and Jen had frozen some bananas to try and make a kind of healthy banana ice-cream, but not peeling them before freezing turned out to be a bit of an error … I believe it tasted pretty good in the end though.

Rob looking for ways to peel a frozen banana

Rob looking for ways to peel a frozen banana

Most people were happy to stick around the house, but Andy, Tom, Kate and I were up for a bit more tasting, so we headed off to “just one winery, maybe two”. Boat O’Craigo was just a couple of minutes’ drive from the house, so we started out there – they also had some lovely looking food, I almost wished we’d come there instead of eating at the house.

Andy waiting to get in and taste some vino

Andy waiting to get in and taste some vino

I was under strict orders from Silvio not to buy any more wine – “We don’t have space in the car for any more! Let alone at the flat …” – so I felt slightly guilty, but the Cabernet was so lovely, and they also had an unusual white Gewürztraminar which was rather nice …

Fruit covered at Boat O'Craigo

Fruit covered at Boat O’Craigo

Badgers Creek was also really close, so we stopped by there – it was a very small tasting room in lovely grounds, with a restaurant attached too. They had a delicious rose, well, I was already going to be in trouble, in for a penny in for a pound, as they say.

Wine choices

Wine choices

The trouble was, I still hadn’t found a really good chardonnay to take home … and it wasn’t all that far to Yering Farm, so … whoops, just one last stop.

Tasting at Badgers Brook

Tasting at Badgers Brook

Yering Farm was my favourite of all the wineries. As we arrived, the first thing we were offered was some very special Pink Lady Syder – it was actually pink, icy cold, and really delicious, cider made within pink lady apples.

Yering Farm

Yering Farm

We moved slowly through the white wines, and I finally found my chardonnay! Unfortunately, it was a reserve one, but wow, it was so delicious, how can I resist? As we moved on through the reds, the owner took a glass of the recently opened cabernet, shook it up and showed us how different it smells and tastes afterwards.

The tasting concluded with a deliciously lemony dessert wine, I really want to make a lemony desert to try with it now …

We all left Yering Farm quite a lot more weighed down than we had arrived, I had entirely given up on resisting any purchasing, oh well. It’s not as though any of it will go to waste :)

Back at the house, we were starting to get packed up and ready to go. We dragged the hose out to wash the worst of the dust off of our rental cars, and packed up – Silvio was right about the lack of space in our car, luckily Andy had offered to take some of the excess wine back for us!

We went home via the Coldstream Brewery, where I managed to forget to order Silvio’s pizza, and without realising, he ate Tom’s instead … oops. There was a fair bit of food, and nice ciders, so I don’t think he went too hungry! After dropping off Tom and Kate in Brunswick, all that was left was to head back to Prahran and cart all of our own purchases up to the flat!

If there’s one thing that I learned from that weekend, it was the difference that it makes when you get the right wine with the right food (oh yes and I also discovered that I like a good cabernet!). That’s something I’d love to know more about … for now, I’m just enjoying the taste of a nice steak or some strong cheese with one of the many bottles of yummy red that we brought back, and feeling very lucky and spoilt!

Journey down the Great Ocean Road.

We got off to a surprisingly on-time and smooth start to our Great Ocean Road trip on Boxing Day. It was a holiday we’d talked about doing as a weekend trip, but decided to save until we had a few extra days to explore the area. It was beautiful hot sunshine as we set off, and in fact all the way past Geelong, to Torquay, where the Great Ocean Road officially starts.

Steps to the sand

Steps to the sand

Our first stop was at Coles for food, not particularly exciting … but the next one was at Bell’s Beach where, Silvio told me, the final scene of Point Break is set (although apparently it’s not actually filmed there).

Our beach stop

Our beach stop

We drove on, past several holiday parks, often at beautiful river mouths opening on to the sea, perfect for splashing around in. I was so tempted to stop for a quick dip, and eventually we did stop at a beach but I only made it in ankle deep. Still, it was so nice and refreshing to feel the sea.

My first paddle

My first paddle

We arrived in the late afternoon at our motel in Skenes Creek. It was pretty nice, a car space right outside our room, with patio doors and a view out across the ocean, and a BBQ area just opposite our room.

Our motel

Our motel

We dumped our cases and went off to the rocky beach just opposite the motel, where there was a small rocky beach. The sky had started to cloud over and the wind had picked up, so luckily I wasn’t too inclined to jump in the sea anymore, because it wasn’t really a swimming beach – the waves were crashing on to the rocks. It looked as though the rocks had been formed in a volcano, the shapes were so unusual.

Volcanic rocks

Volcanic rocks

Wind in his hair!

Wind in his hair!

Beach!

Beach!


After exploring the beach, we took a quick drive into Apollo Bay to have a look around. We wandered along the main street, then checked out the beach and the obligatory sculptures by the grassy car park. The sky was starting to look a bit heavy and ominous, so we didn’t stay out too long.

Broken path to the beach

Broken path to the beach

Ominous sky ...

Ominous sky …

Apollo Bay art

Apollo Bay art


Back at the motel, we took advantage of the barbie and set out burgers and sausages. Silvio cooked, I watched with wine and my kindle :) The sun sets pretty late at this time of year anyway, and we got an extra ten minutes of daylight thanks to being further south.

Silvio about to cook

Silvio about to cook

I’ve picked up Silvio’s Italian habit of breakfasting on sweet biscuits, but on Friday morning when I woke up with my stomach growling, it was a disaster – I’d forgotten them! We had to make do with Christmas cake instead …

Me on Gibson's Steps

Me on Gibson’s Steps

With our sugar cravings satisfied, we set out to drive to Port Campbell to see the Twelve Apostles along the coast. Along the way, we stopped at Gibsons Steps and a first glimpse of the first Apostle and yet another beautiful beach.

Seagull posing

Seagull posing

A little further, we stopped at the next lookout and wandered along the paths taking photos. The views were just outstanding! We took a few selfies, and found some nice guys to take photos of us, but got photobombed several times by another lady who seemed completely unaware of it.

Watch the lady in the corner ...

Watch the lady in the corner …

... here she goes ...

… here she goes …

Photobombed!

Photobombed!


A little further on, we found Port Campbell and headed to a fish and chip cafe called Frying Nemo for a carb fix. Silvio brought the hot, greasy paper parcel out and we unwrapped it with glee – only to be bombarded by flies as we tried to eat our chips :( Eventually it was just too much, and we wrapped our lunch back up to eat in the car. We drove all around Port Campbell looking for shade, which took about three and a half minutes, but found none – so Silvio parked up in a cul-de-sac in front of somebody’s house to eat! We got some odd looks from the little girl playing on a skateboard in the driveway next door, but no flies and nobody asked us to move.

Fish and chips!

Fish and chips!

On our little tour, we had driven past a gorgeous little bay with turquoise water, so after lunch we stopped there so I could finally take a dip in the sea! The temperature was in the mid-twenties so it was only just warm enough really to go for a swim, and the water was fre-e-e-e-ezing! Needless to say, it took me a rather long time to go all the way in, although I did in the end, and it was lovely. Silvio was baking in the sun on the sand, so when I got out again we headed back to the car. We filled up with petrol before we left, and I found a leaflet of “Food Artisans” in the area, which looked pretty interesting.

It's c-c-c-cold!

It’s c-c-c-cold!

From Port Campbell, we drove a bit further up the road to see the arch and what used to be London Bridge – a bridge of rock that broke off in 1990, leaving the remainder of the rock stranded out in the sea. The views were once again incredible, and the strength of the waves pounding over and over against the rocks leave no doubt as to the potential power of the ocean. In the arch, the water would rush up to the rocks and then around into the curve, climbing up the walls of rock then dipping down again with each rush, it was almost hypnotising.

The archway

The archway

Back in the car park, I noticed that the car next to us not only had two antlers attached to the windows, but it had a big red nose on the front. I wanted to take a photo of it without looking too obvious, so tried to make it look like I was photographing our own car.

The car parked next to us was disguised as Rudolph

The car parked next to us was disguised as Rudolph

As we started the drive back, it seemed a bit early to be heading home already. As we reached the junction for Timboon, we decided to try and find one of the places marked on the food artisans map, a cheesery and cafe called MouseTrap Cafe.

The gap where the bridge was

The gap where the bridge was

Thanks to my amazing skill with directions, we made it! The grounds were absolutely beautiful, and I almost wished we’d come earlier and had lunch there – it was sunny, green, quiet and peaceful. We had a cheese tasting, but the pieces they offered us to try were so tiny it was almost hard to tell which ones we liked! Perhaps they have a lot of timewasters … but we like cheese, and ended up buying a gruyere as well as a strong tasting soft cheese and another hard one. I also bought a raspberry and rhubarb jam, and a rhubarb chutney, they are both really delicious.

Mousetrap Cafe

Mousetrap Cafe

Cheese counter

Cheese counter

The Mousetrap

The Mousetrap

From the cafe, we headed home and back to the barbecue! After our big lunch of fish and chips (and a few sneaky snacks along the way) neither of us were very hungry, so we just polished off the remaining burgers.

Saturday, we had planned to make the most of the good weather and spend some time on the beach – starting with breakfast out in Apollo Bay. We went to a restaurant called La Bimba, overlooking the ocean. Once again we spoilt ourselves, starting with a ginormous strawberry milkshake for me, and a huge blueberry muffing for Silvio, which I may have helped him with … followed by a proper breakfast with eggs, hollandaise sauce and toast. And we ate the lot :)

The muffin was huge!

The muffin was huge!

Breakfast, all gone!

Breakfast, all gone!

Mmmm ... all gone

Mmmm … all gone


Before heading down to the beach, we went shopping for a little beach tent. I think we slightly regretted having got rid of our beach umbrella before leaving Manly, didn’t really want to buy another one, and this seemed like a better option. We found a perfect one in the local hardware shop.

Apollo Bay has a beautiful little beach, and the weather was gloriously sunny, but unfortunately it was also really, really windy. We tried to put the little tent up in the first spot we picked, but it was obvious very quickly that it wasn’t going to stay put – the sides caved in under the wind, and the poles buckled. We gave up, packed it up again, and wandered along the shore until we found a more sheltered spot near a sand bank, and this time the tent stayed up a bit better.

Our beach shelter

Our beach shelter

I went off for a paddle while Silvio snapped photos of me, grimacing as the cold water hit me. I did manage to submerge myself eventually – up to my neck anyway! – it was even colder than the previous day!

So cold!

So cold!

Cold again

Cold again

I'm in! Almost

I’m in! Almost


After a swim and a bit of chilling out in our tent, and a few too many visitors trying to share it (flies) we left the beach, and headed out on a trip to find some koala bears. Our hosts at the motel had advised us to go down the road towards the Cape Otway lighthouse, where there were lots of them in the wild. We weren’t disappointed – a short way down the track, a group of people had stopped with cameras pointing up into the trees, and when I got out with my own, I could clearly see the koala hugging the branches and peering down at us all.

Koala in the tree

Koala in the tree

I snapped a few shots then left the others to it, but as we pulled away the cars in front had stopped for another koala who was going for a romp across the road. He sat down next to the wheel of the car behind us! Further along, we saw more koalas – most of them were curled up and sleeping in the trees.

Koala exploring

Koala exploring

On Saturday night, after admiring my koala photos, we went to Chill – a tapas place – for dinner. It wasn’t great value, but the food was pretty good, especially the mushroom croquette, yum.

On Sunday the weather was sunny again, but cooler. We set out towards Forrest, to visit some sights along the way before lunching in the local micro-brewery and sampling the beer. The first stop along the way was an “impulsive” one to Stevenson’s Falls, which was marked on the map by a small, gravelly side road. We drove down it for what seemed like forever, but actually around 5km, before we reached a campsite. Just before the campsite was a little bridge with a small, trickling river right before it … I crossed my fingers that this wasn’t what we’d driven all the way down the track for.

Waterfall

Waterfall

A lady at the campsite pointed us on down a winding, gravel road for “another kilometre and a half or so” … we debated whether to turn around, but having already come this far, we decided to carry on. Eventually, we found the car park, then hiked along a path by the river for another kilometre or so, before we saw the waterfalls. They were pretty spectacular actually, finally worth the long trek! The path led up to a bunch of rocks in front of the falls, and Silvio’s inner climber took over: he scrambled across the stones to get closer, and we took a bunch more photos!

Selfie at the falls

Selfie at the falls

Silvio climbing over the rocks

Silvio climbing over the rocks

Rock "climbing"

Rock “climbing”


Back on the road, we also stopped at a dam to walk across the top of it – more nice views, more flies too though. At least it wasn’t quite such a long, windy drive to get to it!

Finally, after the dam, it was time for food! Yay! And beer! Double yay!

Food and beer at the Forrest Brewery

Food and beer at the Forrest Brewery

The restaurant was packed (it did seem to be the only thing around though) and the menu was very inviting. We both tried one of the beers, which was good although quite bitter. An hour or so later, full up and slightly sleepy (me at least), we were back in the car, heading out to Elizabeth Lake to walk off some of the calories.

Elizabeth lake

Elizabeth lake

It was another drive down a gravelly road, the poor car was starting to look pretty dirty! We got out at the lake and I realised I’d left my jumper at the restaurant :( luckily it was pretty warm still. We headed out through the woods to the lake, a bit less than a kilometre up and down some slopes and steps. At the lake, we sat on a bench to enjoy the view for a bit, then decided to venture a bit further to the “beach” – which turned out to be another ten minute walk to a small sandy shore. Some people in front of us had paused to photograph a black lizard, but it darted away before I could see it.

Silvio on the bridge

Silvio on the bridge

Walk around Elizabeth Lake

Walk around Elizabeth Lake

Paths at Elizabeth Lake

Paths at Elizabeth Lake


Apparently there is a colony of platypus by the lake, but we didn’t see them – maybe we were too noisy as we stomped around the paths. By the time we got to the beach, my legs were in the mood for walking, and we decided to carry on around the entire lake. It was supposed to be 4km – the signs at the start indicated it would take 3 1/2 hours – but it certainly didn’t feel that far, and we were back where we started within an hour. It was a pretty walk though, particularly the first part where we had some great views across the lake. The trees around it were so tall that we couldn’t see very much of it at any point, and on the way back we were mostly walking through the forest.

Chilling out at Elizabeth Lake

Chilling out at Elizabeth Lake

We drove back along the twisty roads to Apollo Bay, stopping for yet more meat for the barbie on the way home – I think we must have used that barbecue way more than any other guests. It was still pretty early, but Silvio was suffering a bit from a pulled muscle aggravated by the walk, and didn’t really want to go out anywhere else. I decided to go to the local beach on my own, the sun was starting to sink and the light was getting pretty, it seemed a shame to waste our last evening inside.

Walking along the beach

Walking along the beach

There was a sandy beach not far up the road by a camping and caravan park, with a small river cutting through the middle of it. I did consider paddling through it, but it looked a bit too deep. I walked along the beach to the rocks that marked the beginning of the rocky beach we’d visited on our first day, more of the volcanic patterns that I’d seen there. It was still sunny, but pretty windy.

Rocks at the beach

Rocks at the beach

Back at the motel, we attempted to barbecue some veggies with our steaks – the potatoes weren’t too bad, pretty crispy :) I have to say though, I think I will stick with cooking broccoli in a pan.

Monday, it was time to pack up and head back to Melbourne. We dawdled on the way home, stopping in Lorne to wander along the beach front and pick up some lunch. Sadly the place we went too – with big adverts for fried chicken outside – had no fried chicken! What?! We went to a bakery instead, but it left both of us with a still-unsatisfied-craving for fried chicken …

The rest of the trip home was just as pretty as going – I can’t wait to go back next year!

Shrimps on the Barbie.

For the first time since arriving in Australia, this year I wasn’t on holiday for Christmas! Spoiled or what?

Silvio and I started with a pretty awesome Christmas Eve dinner: roast chicken with sage and pistachio butter, Silvio’s Special Roasted Potatoes, and gravy made with quince paste, which was so yum. I did some of the preparation before heading out for a catch up over wine with Bridget, who was in town for a few days, leaving the rest of the cooking to Silvio (who did a perfect job).

Alex and Jen enjoying the Christmas meal

Alex and Jen enjoying the Christmas meal

On Christmas Day, we headed over to spend it with a bunch of friends including Jen, who had arrived from London in October. We were pretty early, with cake and salad, so by the time the other guests arrived (bringing MEAT!) we were already enjoying some Christmas “spirit”. Jen had a K-Mart frozen daiquiri mix turning slowly to icy slush in the freezer, I had my favourite Chardonnay in the fridge, Silvio was eyeing up the enormous ribeye steaks that Brady was pulling out of the bag, everybody was happy.

Cooking the steak

Cooking the steak

The barbie was fired up and the first thing to go on was the massive prawns! Or shrimps, as I believe they are called here. Such an Aussie cliché, shrimps on the barbie, that of course it had to go on to facebook.

Shrimps on the barbie!

Shrimps on the barbie!

While we feasted on the prawns/shrimps, the steak was next. Alex had put together a yummy summer salad with watermelon and pomegranate, mine was spinach with beetroot, feta and sweet potato, and that was also going down pretty well. While the steak cooked, Silvio hovered around the barbie with the meat thermometer, guarding the precious. It really was enormous, but finally it was cooked and Alex carved it up on the table before digging in to what was left on the bone.

Brady and Alex feast on the bones

Brady and Alex feast on the bones

Meanwhile, Kai had put ribs in the oven, but since they take so long to cook, Silvio was carefully leaving room for them when they were finally done.

The massive steak

The massive steak

We finished up with slices of my Christmas cake, finally I got to cut it up! The icing was delicious. Full of food, I was feeling rather sleepy, in fact I think we all were … the lovely warm weather was helping us along to nap time! Jen was first to succumb, heading off for forty winks while the rest of us played Dixit, a game involving picture cards and a scoring system so complex that they have to write the rules on the game board. I won, thanks to a lucky round with a crytic card that Silvio played.

Dixit

Dixit

Jen returned just as we got started on Guitar Hero, and just in time to pick up the microphone! It was really heating up in the house, so she plugged in the air conditioner.

Guitar hero!

Guitar hero!

Halfway through the track, I could smell a bit of a burny smell, but it didn’t seem too bad, so I kept concentrating on the notes, until – POP! The electricity tripped and the game was unexpectedly cut short. We all walked around sniffing and trying to locate the cause of the problem, eventually isolating it to the plug socket with the air conditioner plugged in to it. The plug itself was too hot to touch, but when I pulled it slowly out of the wall by the wire, the plastic oozed apart leaving a blackened hole and a small wisp of smoke. So that was the end of the air conditioning, but at least we got the guitar hero back on!

The burned out plug

The burned out plug

Eventually the food coma hit and I drifted off for a while as Die Hard played in the background. As the sun started to go down, we finally wished everybody a merry Christmas, what was left of it, and headed back home to enjoy the last of the evening.

Sleepy from food, wine and warm weather

Sleepy from food, wine and warm weather

Mmmm cake.

Shortly after typhoon Haiyan hit the Phillippines in November last year, some of my colleagues organised a bake sale at work. At the last minute, Adel (one of my fellow team members and also a very good baker) was talking about the delicious sounding lime and coconut cupcakes she was planning to make, and asked me if I was going to do anything. I was about to chicken out, but I decided to join in and make a typical English feast: scones with jam and cream.

Ingredients, check. Wine, check.

Ingredients, check. Wine, check.

The evening before, I bought posh jam from Coles, went home, set out all of the ingredients (and a glass of vino, of course), and got stuck in with the rolling pin. They didn’t turn out too badly, and let’s face it, most things taste good with a scoop of jam and cream on top :) I always put the cream on first, although I do have friends who’ve insisted this is just wrong!

Customers

Customers

The next day, I took the cream upstairs to ask for a bowl, and instead the chef in our cafe swapped me my pot of cream for a full bowl, ready prepared – bonus! I laid out the scones alongside everybody else’s efforts, all of which looked delicious, then came downstairs a short while later to hand over my money for a good cause: charity and cake. I had to buy one of my own scones, along with Adel’s cupcakes topped with candied lime – it was a bit of a sugar overload, but so yum.

Scones for sale

Scones for sale

As Christmas got closer, I was also determined this year to make a “proper” Christmas cake – a rich fruit cake, topped with marzipan and delicious, naughty, sweet icing. I made the cake a few weeks early, and in the weeks coming up to Christmas, took it out of its foil wrapping to give it a sneaky drink of brandy.

Christmas cake!

Christmas cake!

The marzipan went on a couple of weeks before Christmas. It worked fine, although I only just had enough to cover the cake, and next year I think I’ll get more and do a thicker layer. Sadly I couldn’t find proper yellow marzipan – the white one still tastes the same, but the yellow one looks prettier! Next time I’ll also make sure to put sugary water or something on the cake to make it stick better, the icing falls off when I cut the cake now … although that’s not always such a bad thing, that is my favourite bit :)

Rolling out the marzipan

Rolling out the marzipan

Cake almost marzipanned

Cake almost marzipanned

Me!

Me!


In the last week before Christmas, I made the icing. I had wanted to find a non-edible decoration with the words “Merry Christmas” but I hadn’t found one, but I had bought some star and snowflake cutters and special papery (edible) snowflake confetti. My idea was to make a light blue cake to be like a sky, with snowflakes. I had blue ribbons and glitter to finish it off.

Partly decorated cake

Partly decorated cake

The snowflake cutters proved a bit difficult to use, and I only managed to get two usable snowflakes to put on the cake, so it ended up with more stars! I managed to cut out the letters for Merry Christmas, and pipe icing into little decorations around the edge. The initial icing layer was a bit too soft and runny, so although that made it fairly smooth, the decorations around the edge slipped a bit so the whole thing looked a bit drunk! Apt, maybe, given that I enjoyed a glass of wine while baking it … the ribbons mostly hid the errors, luckily.

Decorated Christmas cake

Decorated Christmas cake

The finished cake looked pretty awesome actually, far from perfect but one of my better efforts :) Next time I will definitely make the icing a bit thicker first, and follow Mum’s advice to let the first layer dry before decorating it! I also got a nice response from Baking Pleasures, the website that I ordered the snowflake cutters from, with some advice to try some different things next time. All in all, it was good fun making the cake and so far, it’s been even more fun eating it …

Spicing up the kitchen.

When I was younger, I used to do quite a bit of arts and crafts stuff, but over the last few years, I don’t seem to have found the time. Since we got to Melbourne and life seems to be, finally – dare I say it – settling down a little bit, little projects keep popping into my head.

One of the first ones was to do something creative with the bare wooden spice racks we bought from IKEA for our kitchen. Since space is so limited, and we had a great place for a couple of small spice shelves over the bench, it was the perfect way to create a bit more room, but we had failed miserably in finding anything in the shops that we both liked.

Playing with the flowers

Playing with the flowers

Eventually I bought five cheap, boring spice racks and experimented. I painted one red, but it was pretty awful, so I bought some varnish and pretty wrapping paper with poppies on it to try decoupage instead. It took a long time cutting the flowers, and a few tries to find a combination I liked, but eventually I did … then it took all week to cover them with the three coats of varnish …

DSCF3747

Varnishing all the pieces

Varnishing all the pieces

Getting there ...

Getting there …

I’m finally done, and I’m delighted, they look pretty cool (even if you can’t see most of the poppies, I KNOW they’re there!) – it’s nice to have things that are unique, and have a bit of personality. Oh, and I just love having all the spices right there on the bench, rather than digging through a box in the cupboard to find what I want.

DSCF3761

I have another project in mind to create some funky photo frames, fingers crossed it won’t take me another few years to get around to that …

Vintage Bridal Shower!

Since I’ll be in the UK when Yolly and Casey get married, I was pretty happy to find out that her bridal shower was the weekend before we left, and I would be able to fly up from Melbourne to join it.

The blushing bride

The blushing bride

I arrived on Friday evening, pretty late, and went to pick up my rental car. I’d booked a “Nissan Micra, or similar” to drive out to Fernvale and back on Sunday, I’m more used to small cars … when I found the parking spot they directed me to, I was shocked to find a pretty big Toyota sedan … that’s not a small! It was pretty comfortable and easy to drive, luckily, once they helped me figure out where the “hand” brake was …

On arrival at Yolly’s, she and Claudia were still up, so we (well, I) had a couple of glasses of wine and we admired each other’s outfits for the party, which was a Vintage Tea theme. Yolly’s mum had given her a beautiful tea set with roses, which was all laid out ready on the table, and Clauds was all set to get the food ready the next morning … it was going to be an early start, luckily I was an hour ahead!

Making posh sandwiches

Making posh sandwiches

Sandwich factory

Sandwich factory

Yum

Yum

I was sleeping in the girls’ room as usual, on the top bunk above Ivy. At 6 the next morning when Yolly and Clauds got up, I sat up and looked over to see two small, giggling blond girls in the other beds. I know I must look a bit of a fright in the morning, but surely not THAT funny … they seemed to think so though!

Ivy, by Mya

Ivy, by Mya

I want the camera!

I want the camera!

One of many bum shots

One of many bum shots

While we ate breakfast and started preparation for the food and decorations, the girls were full of energy – I gave my camera to Mya to see what came out, there were some very cute photos but also a lot of our bums – I guess that’s what you can see from that height, the poor thing!

Claudia and I made plates of sandwiches, with posh fillings and crusts delicately cut off. We had paper decorations for the garden, I hung them up along the deck, but not before trying them as earrings on the girls …

Mya with earrings

Mya with earrings

We got all dolled up in our dresses, Yolly’s was a gorgeous colour and she looked a bit like she was off the roller disco, Clauds also looked amazing in her yellow dress, and had a very cute hat to set it off. I loved the colours in mine, it was from a local vintage shop and made me feel really happy wearing it, I think the previous owner must have loved it too.

Claudia's outfit

Claudia’s outfit

People started arriving and Claudia made up some fruit punch, which tasted pretty yummy with champagne :) Everybody looked so good, and very different. As a special surprise, my aunt Michelle, who was in town for the wedding, also came along! I hadn’t seen her since Barry’s wedding over a year ago, and I hadn’t expected to see her on my upcoming visit home, so it was lovely that she was there too.

My dress

My dress

Yolly had a tiny blackboard and chalk for people to write messages on for her – Casey’s family obviously had a good sense of humour, they were writing things like “Run!” and “There’s still time …” :) Meanwhile, all the kids who were there were having a wonderfully messy time bouncing on the trampoline with water and fairy liquid …

After a suitable amount of champagne had been consumed, and the sun was making it pretty hot and sweaty outside, Claudia gathered us in the living room for games. For the first one, we scored points for items that we had in our purses. I thought our team of three weren’t doing too badly; we had 16 points thanks to phones, plasters and a drinking straw that Steph hurriedly stole from the table. I should have known better – in a room with a number of mums, they had bottomless bags full of everything they could possibly need, compared to Steph’s teeny vintage bag with only a lippy and cash card, we were stuffed. I think the winning team had around 50 points – ouch!

Friends of the bride

Friends of the bride

The second game involved reading a fairly well known passage from an old magazine for housewives about how to treat your husband. Cue a lot of groaning and “as if!” from the group – it was definitely from a bygone era, thank God! For the next game we completed a quick quiz, Steph got full marks which we found highly amusing. And then it was back to the vintage tea, posh sandwiches and bubbly …

Teaching Mya to write my name

Teaching Mya to write my name

Ivy came to sit on my lap for a cuddle while she ate chocolate biscuits, it was lovely, but I can’t believe how many biscuits she can fit in for such a small person. Mya showed me how she can write her name on the blackboard and I tried to teach her how to write mine – it’s pretty short, after all – after a few times writing it backwards, she got it! Very cool.

She got it!

She got it!

The party wound down and Yolly opened her gifts before a small group of us headed out to a local bar for some dinner. After the early start, I was ready for bed by 9:30 – Mya had asked if I’d sleep in their room again so I curled up on the top bunk and was out like a light …

The next morning Mya was up with her usual energy, but Ivy was a bit slower. Her hair was still tied up in yesterday’s bunches, and when I took the hairbands out it went into a crazy blond afro. She looked very cute but was too tired and grumpy to smile for photos, I could only get a bit of a pout, pretty good all the same.

Leave me alone, it's not even 9am ...

Leave me alone, it’s not even 9am …

It was another flying visit, after breakfast time to head back again. I hadn’t seen Silvio in nearly a week, but at last his stint working away in Sydney was over, so to finish off a fab weekend, we were off out to celebrate :)

My new commute … by bike.

Travelling to work from Prahran to Footscray during my first week took me across Melbourne on two trains. It’s not a terrible journey, but the first train is pretty crowded, and I really wanted to have a go at cycling to work a couple of times a week instead.

Self portrait

Self portrait

The total distance is about 13k, which according to Google would take me around 50 minutes. Melbourne is really bike-friendly so most of the route is along dedicated off-road cycle paths, with just a short ride on the road up Chapel Street, where there is also a decent cycle lane.

Capital City Trail by the river

Capital City Trail by the river

I sold my rather rusty old bike before leaving Manly, it was never very good for cycling up hills anyway, so I went to a couple of local bike shops to find a new one. The first one I saw was very pretty, with a pearlised white frame, but the second one was a really good offer on a similar bike for half the price! Feeling a bit daft, I asked if they had anything I could use to mount my iPhone on the handlebars – I wanted to use the map directions like a sat nav to find my way to work! Turns out this isn’t such a crazy request, they had at least three different options, and so far I haven’t got lost either :)

Sat nav!

Sat nav holder!

I got kitted out with a rack with a bag and basket, lights, a strong lock, and most importantly padded pants – I felt like I was wearing a giant nappy, but my backside would thank me later …

On Sunday night, despite the weather not looking too amazing on Monday, I got all my gear together and on Monday morning I stubbornly jumped on the bike and headed up the road. The wind was crazy, and in my face, at times I felt like I was trying to cycle uphill even on the flat … but I made it in one piece to work, and it was actually great just being outside.

Approaching Richmond

Approaching Richmond

The Melbourne Wheel

The Melbourne Wheel

Along the Yarra River

Along the Yarra River

I took the bike home on the train, which wasn’t too bad, a bit awkward on the busier train out of the city, but it made the short distance home from the station even faster too. It wasn’t until the second week that the weather and daylight savings were on my side so I could bike home, and wow, that was even better than the ride in. The sun actually came out, and it sits behind me all the way, since I head West in the morning and East to come home. I get a great view of the city and all along the river!

Far end of Southbank

Far end of Southbank

From the top of Chapel Street, my cycle route takes me along the capital city trail by the Yarra river to Richmond, then past a bunch of rowing clubs to Southbank. Along the river it’s beautiful, grass verges with these small white wildflowers that look like snowdrops, bridges, and lots of rowing teams practicing, while their coaches bike slowly alongside them on the riverbank with megaphones.

Grassy verges

Grassy verges

As I pass the rowing clubs, I have to watch out for the rowers, often carrying their long boats out to the river – on cold days, it makes me shiver to see them in their swimsuits and rash vests, while I’m usually biking in long sleeves and gloves!

Rowers

Rowers

Southbank is a bit hazardous, especially on sunny evenings, because the cycle path is shared with pedestrians, who often don’t seem to realise that. Some people freeze when they hear the bell, and trying to weave a path through when it’s busy is not easy. I learned to be slow and careful on my second morning, when I skidded on wet pavement to avoid somebody coming off of the bridge.

Looking back along the Yarra river

Looking back along the Yarra river

The rest of the journey takes me past the Docklands on a dedicated bike path, where the views are pretty nice when the sun’s out. For the rest of the journey, I’m usually the only person biking out of the city, although I pass loads of people cycling in the opposite direction! On the way home, I’m also almost alone in heading towards the city while other people are coming home.

By the rowing clubs

By the rowing clubs

The last part is along Footscray road, past the Melbourne wheel and the back of the loading docks, lined up with huge metal shipping containers. At the end of my ride, I cross the Maribyrnong River, from where I can see the Lonely Planet office, and I’m usually pretty ready to park the bike and head up for a hot shower.

Maribyrnong River

Maribyrnong River

So far, I’ve had a few sunny days but got rained on twice and fought against the wind several times, but it still beats the crap out of the train! I took my camera along on one of the good days to take some photos, the morning clouded over a bit but the afternoon was pretty :)

Wildflowers

Wildflowers

First impressions, four weeks in.

A few days after moving to Melbourne, I started this blog post with the intention of writing about my first few days on the new job and in the new city. But then, you know, life happens, and suddenly I’ve been here nearly four weeks and I haven’t even finished writing my post yet … so now it’s going to be a bit more of a mix, of first impressions and how I feel after four weeks in.

With all the excitement of the move, I didn’t have much time to get nervous about starting a new job. I was due in around 9:30 on Monday, so we didn’t have to rush, in fact there was plenty of time to enjoy a cup of tea and some breakfast before heading out to the station.

My new office

My new office

One of the reasons I wanted to work for Lonely Planet was that the developers work a lot in pairs, in fact all of the workstations are set up for it and nobody has their own computer, which has the added bonus of not having to spend any time getting software and stuff sorted. I spent most of the first morning working with one of the other developers, trying to cram as much information into my brain as possible. It was overwhelming, as it usually is starting a new job, but things seemed to be making sense at least. I joined in for some meetings and even spoke a few times, which I was rather pleased about.

Travel books everywhere

Travel books everywhere

I met the CTO in the morning, and to my surprise he greeted me with a hug – I didn’t even have time to protest that I’m British!

Although the office isn’t really close to anywhere, the cafe onsite is really nice, so I went in for lunch on the first day. Since then, I’ve mostly brought my own lunch, but I’ve discovered that the chips (fries, not crisps) are really good, so quite often I balance a healthy salad with the less healthy option :) This week, there was also a free BBQ lunch with sausages and salad, which was pretty yum!

Outside lunch area

Outside lunch area

They even have a huge pot outside where they grow herbs and veggies that they use in the cafe. There’s one ripe strawberry in there right now, not sure who’s going to get that one.

Veggie patch

Veggie patch

The people on my team often eat together upstairs, which is pretty nice. I’ve finally broken the habit of eating lunch at my desk … my poor keyboard at Atlassian was getting quite disgusting. When the weather’s good, we sit outside, although it’s usually pretty windy. The views from the cafe are amazing: I can see right across the river to the city, and out as far in the other direction too – some days, I’ve seen rain coming across, heavy enough to blot out the city skyline.

View from the cafe

View from the cafe

On my first day, I got to have a look around the onsite gym. It’s small but pretty well equipped, with decent showers and room to keep toiletries. There’s a small soccer pitch outside on the roof, although soccer games are not allowed there though, because of the risk of balls – or people – going over the side. After a couple of pretty pleasant workout sessions there, I decided to cancel my Virgin gym membership – I can’t face stopping off in the city just for the gym, and it’s pretty cool being able to go whenever I want during the day, even mid-afternoon. I was really enjoying warming up and cooling down outside, until the door suddenly started getting locked :( so I tried one afternoon session down by the river, but felt a bit looked over by the offices opposite! Maybe next time I can find a better spot …

View across the river

View across the river

Walk to work

Walk to work

Walking back to the station at sunset

Walking back to the station at sunset

It’s been an interesting change, going from travelling from Manly to Sydney CBD, to travelling from Prahran to Footscray. Prahran has much more of a city feel, with plenty of people, shops and cafes, and a buzz in the air. Although Footscray is close to the city, it feels more like a distant suburb. As I get off the train, I walk down residential streets lined with trees, bursting with new green leaves, and grass with wildflowers. Unlike walking to work in Sydney, stuck impatiently behind a dawdler who doesn’t walk at my speed, and weaving through the crowds at the Wynyard exit, the streets are almost empty – certainly nobody to slow my pace!

The roads are mostly quiet – my short walk from the station takes me straight down to the river, then a half kilometre by the water, along old, disused train tracks. On the far side of the river, there is a busy wharf, with the constant noise of traffic and huge containers loading, arriving and leaving.

Inside the office, one of the first things I noticed on my first day was the noise of the seagulls. I thought that it was somebody’s ringtone, the noise was so close! Turns out the roof of the building is thin enough to hear the gulls as though they are right next to me – and when it rains, it patters on the roof as loudly as though I’m in a caravan. The noise from the wind is something else too – and Melbourne springtime gets pretty windy – there’s a legend that one corner of the roof once blew up in a very strong gust, but since I’ve been there, it’s been pretty secure. I love hearing the noises of nature, especially the rain, and with the birds it sometimes feels almost like working outside, it’s great.

The rain often hammers on our roof at work

The rain often hammers on our roof at work

So those were my first impressions, mostly. Since that first week, Silvio’s spent most of his time working in Sydney, which is ironic, since it was his project in Melbourne that really pushed me to make the move here. Our weekends have been filled with trips to IKEA and Bunnings, picking up bits and pieces to finish off our home, and we’re almost there – if only I could convince him that we really do need more cushions …

Armed and dangerous

Armed and dangerous

We have made time for some fun though, especially some good food – there’s nothing quite like getting stuck in to a massive brunch after a Saturday morning trip to the gym. The food tastes even better after working up an appetite – and it’s guilt free!

Brunch at Yellowbird

Brunch at Yellowbird

I’m enjoying the new job – having suggested in a retrospective on my first day that we spend a week paying off tech debt (aka Engineering Week at Atlassian), I’ve been enjoying getting stuck in to some refactoring this week.

My second week in was spent on firefighting duties, during which time I released code to the production site, a pretty terrifying prospect so early on; this week I’m on call and praying that my phone doesn’t go off – I have definitely jumped in at the deep end!

Evening drinks on the balcony

Evening drinks on the balcony

The technology has been a refreshing change, and a refreshing challenge too – so far, I’ve found Ruby a lot of fun, and I’ve barely touched the CoffeeScript stuff! But that’s enough tech talk – I’ll try and find time to add something to the tech blog one of these days.

Last week, Andrea came to visit. After too much wine and plenty of gossiping and catching up when she arrived on Monday, she made an amazing barbecued barramundi on Tuesday night, which went down beautifully with, yes you’ve guessed it, WINE.

Out with Andrea

Out with Andrea

Later in the week, we headed out to discover the Mexican culinary delights of Prahran. Andrea is apparently known as a Mexican food snob, and despite not being impressed initially, she was won over when our food arrived at Fonda!

Crazy basil cocktail

Crazy basil cocktail

We headed out afterwards in search of a bar, but as we walked past San Churro, the chocolate smell was too tempting … we had to go in for some churros and chocolate dips. We had also persuaded Andy Tam – who was on his way home, having left Prahran earlier that evening – to come back out, and he showed up just as we were digging in, and ordered more churros, with an amazing caramel sauce. As Andrea says, I think living in Melbourne is a recipe for becoming fat and broke!

Churros!

Churros!

Saturday was for shopping! I finally got to meander down Chapel Street and poke around in some of the shops – I found a lovely vintage 50s dress in a fantastic vintage shop called “Shag”, perfect for Yolly’s vintage themed bridal shower next weekend.

Later that evening, we headed out for “salumi” (I still don’t really know what that is) at Ombra bar in the city. The food was incredible, in both the taste and the price … some of the best antipasti I’ve eaten, my mouth is watering just thinking about it! We finished off with sharing four deserts including a tiramisu cake, profiteroles, and a peach tart, before Andy insisted that we go next door to ?? for chocolate souffle.

It was very upmarket, so posh in fact that when you quietly mention you might need the bathroom, somebody materialises by your elbow to show you the way (yes, that actually happened). They brought our souffles in tiny individual pans with chocolate sauce, so delicate, and totally delicious, with glasses of dessert wine.
It was an amazing, amazing meal, one of many in this city I hope!

So that’s how my first few weeks here panned out. There is one other exciting thing that I’m saving for the next post, which has been my new commute – cycling to work!