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!

Adelaide

IMG_4176

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!

Vacation from the vacation – Melbourne to Cairns

This week, Frank and I took our first major side trip from Melbourne to visit Cairns (pronounced “cans”) and the Great Barrier Reef. We arrived early evening to find our apartment’s backstreet reception area dark, quiet and deserted. We were able to check in by phone. After surveying our strange accommodations (large cylindrical glass shower visible to the kitchen?!), I decided to run out to get an underwater camera for the next day’s cruise. We took the elevator back downstairs. Still, not a soul in sight.

We opened a random side exit door and were blinded by the bright lights of an “alternate universe.” Unbeknownst to us, our hotel was located immediately above the Cairn’s Night Market. Countless souvenir shops, cheap massage kiosks and an international food court opened out to the busy beachfront Esplanade. There were people everywhere!

Nonetheless, we slept fine, discovered that a curtain could obscure the shower peep show and found that the apartment was perfectly located for the tours we had scheduled. What’s more, we had a balcony with a wonderful view. While our side of the Esplanade was populated with busy shops and restaurants, there was parkland — walking paths, picnic tables and a huge public pool — between the street and ocean. In the morning, you’d see people of all ages doing tai chi and yoga and every night, backpackers, retirees and families would swim, hangout and relax.

Cairns is tourist town and much larger than we anticipated — about 160,000 people, including some beautiful, upscale beachside suburbs. It is the major gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, so is very popular for tourists (about 10,000 on any given day). Cairns is also located near the world’s oldest rainforest. We spent four days exploring this spectacular area of North Queensland, Australia.

The Royal Melbourne Show – the “State Fair” of Melbourne

I missed the Wisconsin State Fair this year so was thrilled when I heard about the Royal Melbourne Show. In many ways, the two events are very similar but there are also some big differences. Both are family friendly, feature carnival rides and exhibit and judge animals. Both demonstrate products that everyone “must have” and each tempts fairgoers with countless food choices. Although you see the typical food stands and trucks, most of the food choices at the Show are in a really nice, organized food tent. A short-term, rotating pop-up restaurant featured a gourmet menu.

One big difference in events is the concept of “show bags.” At the Wisconsin State Fair you see people walking around with plastic bags, collecting assorted free trinkets and product samples. In Melbourne, they have taken this to the extreme. There is a huge gift bag pavilion, where fairgoers choose from almost 400(!) different  show bags, which could include toys, costumes, sporting goods, cosmetics, magazines, deli/wine, candy and more. Products inside amount to more — sometimes much more — than the selling price and bag prices go from $1 (for a candy or “lolly” bag) to $30. Almost everyone was happily carrying some kind of show bag!

 

G’day from Melbourne!

We have settled into our new home away from home and couldn’t be more pleased. Our airbnb apartment, billed as “Fitzroy St with the WOW factor,” did not disappoint. The wall of glass doors open to a sweeping view of the Melbourne city skyline and the ocean. The one bedroom space is comfortable and seems to have everything we need for our 2-month stay. It is located in Melbourne’s St. Kilda neighborhood, a lively and eclectic area of restaurants, bars and great people watching. Directly across the street from us is scenic Albert Park. On our second day here, I took a bike ride around the park’s lake, utilizing the city’s handy bike rental system. Albert Park also has a golf course, sport fields and an amazing Olympic aquatic center. Frank is trying to stay in his routine with his new “swim heaven,” enjoying its many lap lanes (two 50m pools!). We have picked out our favorite grocery store (a Woolworth’s, which everyone calls “Woolie’s), identified a nearby church for Sunday Mass and are learning to navigate Melbourne’s convenient transportation system of trams and trains.

PS I haven’t actually heard anyone say “G’day” yet but there are some unique “Australian-isms” I will write about soon.