Adelaide

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Such a great time in beautiful Adelaide!

Adelaide, often cited as one of the best places in the world to live, was also named one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 “must visit” cities for 2014. Thus, it was on our “must-visit” list and we just returned from 5-days there. The city of Adelaide was founded in 1836 and was designed around a simple plan: a one square mile city center surrounded by parklands. It is a blend of new and historic buildings (lots of churches), wide streets, narrow pathways with hidden cafes and lots of green spaces. The transportation system makes it very easy to get around the CBD (Central Business District) and further extends east to the Adelaide hills and west to the beaches (both less than a half hour tram or bus ride). We only needed to rent a car one day to visit the vineyards. Adelaide is Australia’s wine capital – your choice of reds (north) and whites (south) are an hour in each direction. The population of Adelaide is just over 1 million people. We stayed downtown, which was crazy busy on weekdays and all but closed up on the weekends (aside from the malls and restaurants). The Rolling Stones were in town so there were, as Frank put it, lots of pot bellied guys in Stones t-shirts accompanied by women dressed up like they were still twenty years old! Yikes! All in all, it was a fun trip to a friendly and very beautiful city!

Of Fillies and Fascinators

Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup Day is literally “the race that stops a nation.” A declared public holiday in metropolitan Melbourne, this translates into no school, no work and for many, a four day weekend. The race grounds are packed and there are watch parties at bars, restaurants, churches(!) and private homes. It’s a really big deal. In the months leading up to Melbourne Cup Carnival week, you see billboards, tram art and street banners, all promoting the event. Clothing stores display the latest must-haves in men’s and women’s “Cup Day fashions.” It’s impossible not to get caught up in the excitement!

The Melbourne Cup Carnival is actually a week of big races. In addition to Cup Day, there is Thursday’s Crown Oaks Day (for  the ladies), Saturday’s Stakes Day (family oriented and the close of the Carnival) and the prestigious kick-off race, which we attended today – Victoria Derby Day. For many, Derby Day is must on the social calendar, so naturally, Frank and I decided we must go!

Yesterday Frank ran out and got the racing forms so he could outline rough picks. He’s into the “well, this expert said this” and “she just won her last three races,” while I’m of the school, “that name reminds me of…” and “what colors is the jockey wearing?”

Race Day morning. We woke to rain and a chilly 50 degrees. Although the guidelines for Derby Day recommended morning suits for men, Frank decided to forego style for warmth and threw on some jeans  and layered sweaters — not like he brought fancy clothes on this trip anyway! I decided to be practical, too, opting for pants instead of a dress, but adhering to the women’s black and white color scheme. We were so glad we dressed warm! It was freezing!

Flemington is Australia’s most famous racecourse. It is beautiful — roses everywhere and overlooking the Melbourne city skyline. With a capacity of 120,000 people, the course is accessible by car, tram, special direct trains and river craft. We took the train, crammed with young and old, all nattily dressed. Men were in suits and many of the women had done-up hair and wore fascinators, those fancy, angled little hats. (I had tried a couple on when we were in Adelaide but didn’t purchase one. They aren’t cheap and at that point, I didn’t know we were going.) Ladies were dressed to the nines and I noted in amazement the many young girls who “stylishly” strolled the outdoor promenades paraded in spiked heels with bare legs and sleeveless short dresses. Frank watched in awe at how tight those short dresses were!

Our reserved seats were covered, which protected us from the occasional rain. A kind usher befriended us and gave us wristbands so we could go inside the VIP rooms. There we could thaw, continue to enjoy the fashion parade and bet. Over the course of the day, Frank’s betting regimen proved much more successful than mine. He won two trifectas! I didn’t win any but we came out a bit ahead for the day. And did we feel out of place by not dressing fancy? Well, let me tell you. At the end of the day, the cold, the wind, the rain, the uncomfortable shoes and the alcohol had many race fans looking much less fashionable than they did at the start of the day! Frank and I? Well, we were fine. We trained it back and had a nice dinner with his winnings! Cheers!

Life is a Blank Canvas…

“Life is a blank canvas, and you need to throw all the paint on it you can.” I’ve always loved that quote by Danny Kaye and it kind of reminds me of one of the reasons I chose Melbourne. As well as this trip being a huge splatter on our personal “canvases,” Melbourne, and especially our St. Kilda area, is known for being artsy and a little more funky than “sophisticated” Sydney.

At the ground level, Melbourne provides a canvas for public artistic expression — I love wandering through the laneways of bold and very striking graffiti. Playgrounds are whimsical and colorful and I get a kick out of the vibrant posters advertising events going on around town.

Frank and I arrived just in time for the Melbourne Arts Festival. The sixteen days of visual arts, music, dance and theatre featured over 100 events/performances (half of them free!) across 30 venues! From kidstuff to techno to classical to Indigenous and international, there was something for everyone. I especially loved the colorful art trams. Today, I spent part of the day hunting them down or “tram-spotting,” as Frank called it. They have a contest to pick your favorite. Which one would you choose?!

Our Life in St. Kilda

As we get close to winding down our last days in Melbourne, I thought I’d share a little about our life in St. Kilda. As I mentioned in a previous post, we rented this apartment through airbnb. To say I was nervous about clicking the “make booking” button and choosing a place for two whole months was an understatement. But this place did not disappoint! (You’ll find more pics of the apartment in an earlier post.)

St. Kilda is a southeast suburb of Melbourne and it reminds Frank a little of Brady Street with it’s many bars, restaurants and all different kinds of people. The area has a colorful history — was pretty rough for a while — and has recently experienced rapid gentrification due to its closeness to the CBD (Central Business District) and the waterfront. This end of Fitzroy Street is comparatively quiet. Our wall of glass doors offers sweeping views of the city skyline (gorgeous at night!) and the ocean. Outside our balcony and across the street, we can hear the laughter of the kids as they run around the school, watch the old and young at the outdoor bowling club and catch the various activities at beautiful Albert Park.

The transportation system in Melbourne is second to none. Frank is in awe! You don’t need a car here. Buses, trams and trains are all connected and get you everywhere you need to go. That said, most mornings Frank grabs his little green “miki” card, catches the #96 tram and off he goes to swim. Although the aquatic center is in Albert Park, it’s still a couple tram stops away. I go for walks or bike rides around the park’s lake (about 3 miles) and often meet him after his workout to get a start on the  day’s adventure.

We go to South Melbourne Market a few times a week. We have our favorite stalls/vendors for veggies, meat, fresh OJ and also for crepes and dim sum! (Not together, of course!) Frank has finally found one place with coffee he likes – filtered, while I am loving the flat white (similar to a latte). There are many of these markets around Melbourne and in other Australian cities. In addition to food, you can purchase anything and everything — housewares, cheap souvenirs, artwork and even designer clothing and shoes! (Yes, I bought another pair of shoes….) What we don’t buy at the market, we get at our local Woolworth’s(!) food store – the locals call it Woolies — or the small local bakeries. Soon after we got here, Frank discovered this little gem below us that serves these awesome donuts called “Bombolinos.” They are super fresh, sugared jelly donuts filled with custard. Let me tell you, they ARE the bomb! Once or twice a week, it’s our little treat not only because of the calories but also because they are $3.80 a piece!

Everything is expensive here. People warned us about that before we left. Frank has done some cooking to offset food costs — sauce and pasta, eggplant, veal. When we do go out, we plan, utilizing our “Good Food Guide” and local restaurant reviews. If we are going to “restaurant spend,” it’s going to be good! I will write more about food in another post.

People ask us if we have made any friends. We’ve found Australians to be friendly, but only after you initiate contact/conversation. Then they don’t stop talking! We have had some great conversations at restaurants and events we’ve attended but have not met new people to “hang out” with. Besides, who could we like better than our friends back home?! We have, however, gotten together with some relatives of friends back home. They are great and took us on an all day drive around the Mornington Coast. Next week, we are going to their home and to a park to see some koalas!

Speaking of Australian animals, we have some little penguins at St. Kilda Beach! We went down there last night and saw a couple before we got too cold and it was too dark to take pictures.

The weather here is changeable — very much like San Francisco. Beautiful spring days can quickly turn cloudy and chilly. Plus, I have never seen wind like they have here! Somedays our doors and windows rattle so much we can’t hear ourselves think or watch TV. The latter isn’t a bad thing because the TV shows, at least with our basic cable, aren’t really worth watching (other than Seinfeld reruns). There is a lot of reality TV (The Bachelor and Dancing with the Stars is HUGE!), fishing shows and news. We try to keep up a little with what’s going on and have found that not all the crazies are in the United States. One Aussie politician wanted to block all Africans because she said, “terrorists might infect themselves with Ebola, come to Australia and touch people(!!).” I miss my New York Times. We get the Sunday Herald Sun, which is kind of an odd paper. Major breaking news stories will be next to full size pictorials on Princess Kate (they LOVE their celebrities here!) next to political scandals next to funny little puff pieces. It actually makes me smile and I do get a kick out of reading it on lazy Sunday afternoons.

That is the nice thing about staying in a place for an extended time — you can have those “down days.” Today is one of those. Although we are on vacation, there is still wash to be done, bathrooms to be touched up and a dishwasher to unload. That’s OK though, because tomorrow Frank will get on that 96 tram, go for a swim and we will be off exploring another fun area of Melbourne . . . Cheers!

Sydney!!!

When you think Australia, what comes to mind? Koalas? Kangaroos? How about the Sydney Opera House? This weekend, we had the good fortune of attending a performance at the Opera House. I can see why it’s ranked one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World! Day or night, the building is incredibly beautiful and the setting on Sydney Harbor is breathtaking!

Sydney is a striking city — a mix of old and new architecture, lush public gardens, pristine beaches and, of course, the sparkling harbor. It’s Australia’s largest city with over 4.5 million people. Like Melbourne, Sydney has an excellent transportation system, making it easy to get around and a joy to explore.

Frank and I spent one day exploring the CBD and the next, visiting famous Bondi Beach. It’s one of Australia’s most stunning beaches, 30 minutes outside the city. The fine, wide, white sand beach is set in a cove surrounded by a backdrop of shops, restaurants, bars and art galleries. Expensive homes sit along one corner of the beach. The other corner has a coastal trail with scenic vistas of crashing waves and colorful rock formations, leading to other nearby beaches. Bondi was hopping, not only because it was a sunny and hot Saturday but also because it was the final weekend of Sculpture by the Sea, Australia’s largest outdoor sculpture exhibition.

Because we only had two days, Frank and I decided to utilize the red double-decker hop on, hop off buses to explore Sydney and Bondi. I’ve used them in other cities to get my bearings and to get an “overview” of a place, but here it was awful — long waits, buses that didn’t stop at designated stops and worse, buses that drove past landmarks so fast, you couldn’t even snap a picture! We got fed up and double-backed to a few sites on our own. Sydney got rid of its tram system a few years back and now has a lot of buses and taxis — plus a very efficient light rail network.

We left Sydney Harbour late last night, grabbed the light rail from the Harbor to the airport, took a quick flight back to Melbourne, boarded the airport shuttle from Melbourne airport to the train station, and then rode our #96 tram to our front door!

Quick and very easy trip home after a quick and very interesting trip to Sydney. Here’s a look ago some of the things we saw . . .

Time lapse – a post from Frank

Frank got the biggest kick out of watching this huge cruise ship back out and take off from the harbor. They don’t need to use tug boats anymore as the new ships have special “thrusters.”

Buy Yourself a Bathing Beauty

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In the 1880s, colorful bathing boxes began popping up along many Aussie beaches. They were built to protect the modesty of ladies wishing to bathe. Many still stand and they have recently become quite the hot commodity. The boxes have no electricity, no water connection and you can’t sleep in them. So what’s the draw beside having a place to store your stuff so you don’t have to lug it to the beach?

Most of the bathing boxes have been held in the same family for generations. They are often furnished and used for hanging out — playing cards, having drinks, etc. Interested? They are priced from $30,000 to more than $250,000! What’s more, the price you pay is just for the box, not the land below it. There are no bank loans for them. What’s more, if the house collapses or disappears due to Mother Nature, you’re out of luck!

Let’s Talk About Food

Conversations always come around to food when you talk about a trip. Did you have some good food? What do they eat there? I’ve already mentioned the delightful markets around Melbourne and in other Australian cities, where fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and seafood are plentiful and competitively priced. Large grocery stores, even in the city centers, are a bit more expensive but stock most of what we are used to back home. Australia is more European in that there are a lot of small local bakeries that offer an array of tempting, and again expensive, breads, donuts and cakes. Many are connected to cafes, serving breakfast and lunch.

At first, we went out for brekkie(!) a lot. My go-to favorite was mashed avocado, feta, mint and lemon on toast and Frank found one place with good porridge. But overall, the food was fancy and overly priced — I’m talking $50 every time we went for breakfast! Frank hated the coffee and the toast was always hard! Other than my flat white coffee and our bombolinos or the yummy (and cheap) crepes at the Market, we decided to limit restaurants to lunch and dinner.

Many of the more popular establishments require a booking (reservation) and there is often a time limitation. Conversely, you are never rushed out by being given the bill – you have to ask for it. Casual restaurants and pubs offer sit down or “takeaway.” Once seated, we always appreciated the fact that they brought over a big bottle of water so you wouldn’t have to chase down a server for more.

After a few misses, we studied our trusty Goodfood Guide and asked locals where to eat. With 180 ethnicities in Melbourne, there are restaurants of every kind. We enjoyed some incredible Chinese, Mexican and Indian meals and then decided to seek out food that was uniquely Australian. We chose to take a pass on kangaroo and vegemite (the nasty bread spread) and discovered that national “specialties” seem to be ethnic dishes with an Aussie unique twist. A lot of pubs and restaurants feature “parma and pint” night, which is basically eggplant parmigiana crossed with chicken schnitzel and served with a “pint” or glass of beer – a great combo! Australians love their meat pies and they’re sold all over town. We tried beef and mashed potatoes in a flaky crust. Not bad (for a pot pie)! Australia has some of the best seafood in the world and they’ve claimed fish n’ chips as their own. The fish is served fresh, with salt and lemon, wrapped in newspaper. One of the more popular Australian fish is barramundi (Aboriginal for “large-scaled river fish). On most menus, you will also find salt and pepper calamari as an appetizer.

For dessert, Aussies love their vanilla slice, a custard-filled, multi-layered pastry topped with vanilla icing. (Napolean?) Another favorite is pavlova, a meringue-based dessert that has a crisp crust and a soft, light inside. It’s often decorated with whipped cream and fresh fruit and served at special meals. (Think schaum torte.)

Hungry yet?

Let’s Roll!

Marvelous Melbourne!

To say we’re a little sad to leave Melbourne is an understatement. It’s exceeded our expectations in every way. Melbourne is a funky, eclectic and artsy city. The CBD (Central Business District) is always jumping and rest of the city is divided into distinct pockets, each with its own character and vibe (St. Kilda, our base and our obvious favorite!).

I’m not alone in my admiration. When you see rankings of the best places in the world to live, half of the cities are in Australia and Melbourne is is often #1.

In other posts, I’ve talked about Melbourne’s passion for the arts, parks and athletics, its easy-to-navigate transportation network and its schools. I should also mention its beautiful gardens, unique Victorian architecture, the winding Yarra River and a wide street grid with its labyrinth of narrow lane ways (full of restaurants, bars and shops).

The city has over 4 million residents and is truly multi-cultural (over 140 nationalities). They also maintain a strong respect and recognition of their indigenous peoples.

One day, a young boy on the tram told us that Melbourne is “the most boring place ever.” I guess most kids think that about where they live but we found Melbourne anything but dull. During our two month stay, a day never went by when we were at a loss for something to do or when we failed to discover something new.