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!