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!

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!

An Indulgent Weekend.

It was our weekend away to spoil ourselves, to celebrate the end of Silvio’s assignment in Melbourne with a bit of luxury. It wasn’t quite as relaxing as we’d hoped, with the apartment almost-but-not-quite settled and our to-do list for the move growing with each day, but you know … first world problems!

View from above Wentworth falls

View from above Wentworth falls

The drive up was pretty easy, despite taking the wrong road at the junction just after Neutral Bay, will I ever learn that road layout? We arrived just after eight, found a parking spot in town to go to a restaurant, stepped out of our warm car, and BRRRRR OH MY GOD THE LAST TIME I WAS THAT COLD WAS IN THE UK LAST SUMMER. What a pair of wusses Sydney has turned us in to! We found a warm restaurant and ordered soup and far too much food before venturing back out into the cold.

Upon arriving at Melba House, we met Sue and the adorable Izzy, a fluffy bundle of a dog who immediately demanded cuddles before sniffing our bag in search of snacks :)

We were staying in the Dame Edna suite, a gorgeous room decorated with plenty of pink (I loved it), a huge, comfy bed piled with blankets and a bathtub with pink candles! Unlike most houses in the UK, Australian apartments rarely have baths, so this is definitely a treat.

Yummy breakfast

Yummy breakfast

Sue brought us a breakfast menu to place our order for the next morning, it all sounded yummy, but I can’t resist pancakes with maple syrup – done! It arrived around 9am, with a steaming pot of tea, fruit juice and piles of strawberries … all finished off with home baked cookies.

Just checking emails ...

Just checking emails …

Water blowing back up

Water blowing back up

On a cliff edge

On a cliff edge


On Saturday, we flicked through the book of bush walks, and feeling brave, picked the National Pass – classified as “hard”. Hey, we’re fit enough, it was a beautiful sunny day (albeit rather windy), we have hats, scarfs, gloves, plenty of layers :)

It's cold up here

It’s cold up here

The walk started off easily enough at Wentworth Falls picnic area, with views across the valley and look out points down to the falls, where the wind was blowing the flowing water back up, creating a rainbow. Further down, we crossed the waterfall on stepping stones, then embarked on a downward path, around stony cliff edges and down a lot of stairs.

Stepping stones

Stepping stones

Heights are not really my favourite thing, but luckily there were plenty of rails to hold on to, and some breathtaking views across the valley and back up to the waterfalls. Going down the steep steps was harder than I’d anticipated, well, there was half a pancake worked off maybe. I couldn’t help thinking that to get back to the car, at some point, we’d have to come back up again …

We were lucky though, throughout most of the walk the path was virtually empty and the weather stayed sunny the whole time.

We've made it halfway!

We’ve made it halfway!

We passed the halfway mark, carried on across another waterfall, then found ourselves on the way back up. It wasn’t too bad at first, a few stairs, a flat bit, a few more stairs, until we got closer to the end and I found myself on what seemed like a never-ending staircase up. Hundreds of the bloody things … I stormed breathlessly up, past groups of tourists taking a break, wishing now that I hadn’t worn quite so many layers. On the bright side, I think I worked off the pancakes.

Under the waterfall

Under the waterfall

Looking out from under

Looking out from under

Under the overhang

Under the overhang

The entire walk took us around two hours (the book said three, the signs said four, we win!) and was really beautiful. By the end, my scarf was tied around my waist, the gloves were in my pockets, and Silvio was down to a t-shirt. After our energetic walk, we clearly deserved a good meal. We drove into Leura and meandered along looking for a parking spot on a busy road … the driver behind us did not have much patience though, and soon sped past blaring the horn, how rude!

We walked past a few places advertising scones with jam and cream (I looked longingly back …) and ended up in a pub, with mulled wine and a yummy charcuterie plate with thin salty fries … it hit the spot! Service was pretty slow though, so we headed back to Melba House for dessert, Silvio had had his eye on the homemade banana bread since we had arrived. We weren’t disappointed either, it was so good.

Watching the water

Watching the water

Later in the afternoon, we tried to build a fire in the bedroom fireplace but without much success – the kindling sticks caught OK, but we couldn’t get the larger logs to catch. It was disappointing, after our long walk I was looking forward to cosying up by the fire with a glass of wine, but it wasn’t to be.

There was a book of menus from local restaurants, so we browsed through and decided to go to the Rooster, called and booked a table. It was only a couple of blocks away, so we bundled up and made our way along the dark road … only to realise as we’d arrived that we’d left our bottle of wine at home! So it was all the way back to get it, and then back to the restaurant, by which time we were nice and warm and HUNGRY! (I was kind of glad that we went back, it was a nice New Zealand Pinot, but I have to admit I’d have happily ordered a bottle in the restaurant and not done the extra walk :) my legs were still sore from all the steps).

Walking across the falls

Walking across the falls

I had duck with orange sauce, Silvio had lamb and a good portion of my duck. He observed that he eats 70% of the food, while I drink 70% of the wine, sounds like a perfect balance to me.

We woke up on Sunday morning to more delicious breakfast smells! A delicious plate of bacon, eggs, tomatoes, and mushrooms arrived in our room, with tea, juice and toast, mmmm, I love being spoilt with food.

After another lazy breakfast, we packed up and headed out to Echo Point to see the Three Sisters and wander along the paths through the wood – it was another gorgeous day, but I wasn’t really in the mood for more steps.

OM NOM NOM

OM NOM NOM

Scones and JAM

Scones and JAM

Selfie

Selfie

We stopped off at Solitary in Leura, a favourite place of mine that I’ve visited with Andrea and my parents on previous trips. Our final indulgant feast was scones with cream and jam, my mouth still waters just thinking about it …

We headed back to Sydney, full of carbs and sugar, warm and slightly sleepy and definitely more relaxed than on the way in!

Green Fingers.

Up the stairs in our garden is another space with lots of sun ...

Living in Manly, I love the fact that we have a small outdoor space, and I’ve been determined for the last few weeks to start growing something. Every time I go to Harris Farms for food shopping, they have various herbs outside and more recently tomato plants, and I’ve been so tempted! My Grandad always grew loads of tasty vegetables – I don’t have enough space, or time, to grow many, but I do love the idea of being able to eat something from my garden. Hopefully I’ve inherited at least one or two of his green fingers :)

When Andrea left for a few weeks away in the UK and Chicago, she entrusted me to look after some of her herbs. Two weeks in, I’ve managed to at least keep them alive, and love having fresh basil for cooking, and used the mint for tea.

It was all a bit overgrown

I decided this weekend was the time to set up my herb garden. As part of our garden we have a small area on a higher level, with a steep wooden staircase leading up to it. It was really overgrown but gets plenty of sun (and rain, these last few weeks …) so I made it my mission to clear it out so that I could grow some herbs up there. Starting, of course, with shopping!

I headed out to the market in Manly, where I knew there was a guy selling herbs and chilli plants. After that, I cycled on to Harris Farms to buy tomatoes! I brought them all back on the handlebars of my bike, had to cycle really slowly until I got used to the steering.

Herbs on the handlebars

My steering was all wonky from the chilli. It bashed my knee too!

Chives, Basil and Mint from the market



Ready to attack the plants!

I ended up with: chilli, basil, lemon thyme, chives, mint, and coriander. I also got some cutters for the more determined plants, and girly gloves to protect my nail varnish … all set to go gardening! By the time the shopping was done it was nearly five o’clock, so I spent just over an hour randomly pulling up herbs and hacking down the dead old palm leaves from the tree by the top of the stairs. There was a kind of creeping vine plant wrapped around everything, I think it was a blue dawn flower but I wasn’t too sure. It seemed really invasive, which was a shame as it had a few lovely flowers.

By the end of Saturday I was tired and getting bitten, so left the weeds alone until Sunday, but I did put all of the herbs into new larger pots. I still need to get some stakes for the tomato plants though. I ran out of potting soil as well, so some of them are a bit low!

All ready for new pots, just need planting

Basil and Mint in nice bright pots!

The coriander looked a bit sorry for itself after repotting, it's perked up since though!

Chilli plant in its new larger pot

Mau contemplates munching on the chives



The sun was shining on Sunday although it wasn’t boiling hot, perfect for doing a bit of gentle weeding in the garden. I started by clearing the steps, then moved into the main area. By about 2pm it was finally done and I could bring up the herbs – fed with a bit of fertiliser in the hopes they’ll grow big and strong! I brought Andrea’s plants up too – hope they all do well in their new home.

The steps looked nice when they were finally cleared.


The herbs in their new home!


Just need some sunshine!


The original area was so overgrown!


View across the steps before much was cleared