Tuesday, 25 January 2011

From Oz to NZ

Well, we had a rather relaxed final week in Sydney, saying goodbye to friends and family. We managed to fit in an excellent visit to see the 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year' exhibition with Lucy (which is something of a family tradition). The photographs were amazing, and I think the winner deserved the title! On a sillier note, the exhibition included a play area to keep the kids entertained, which included some awesome animal costumes:
Stu was especially delighted by this little number:
After the exhibition Stu and I took off to stay with Tony and Glenys in Normanhurst for a final few days. It was great to see them, and I took the chance to go to a nearby book publisher for three days work experience which was very useful indeed. It was fun to play at being a Sydney commuter for a few days!

Having said goodbye to Stu's family, we headed out to the beautiful suburb of Lugarno, where Stu's friend Rew lives with his girlfriend Gemma. They invited us (and Peter and Lucy) round for a yummy BBQ, including amazing homemade veggie burgers for me! Their dog Millie was an endless source of friendly cuddles:
After an evening of fine wines, we surfaced the next day feeling a little worse for wear. But Millie cuddled us back to health, and we had a lazy morning reading the Sunday papers on the balcony overlooking the river (how civilised!), swimming, and taking Millie for a walk:
On our final day in Sydney, Lucy, Stu and I attempted a coastal walk in wonderfully-named suburb of Manly, north of the harbour. However, due to tardiness and rain (mostly tardiness), we never really made it. We took a lovely ferry ride across the harbour to Manly, and took a stroll to Manly Beach (which makes me chuckle every time). From most vantage points Sydney Harbour appears to be enclosed by land on all sides, but from Manly you can see the headlands where the enormous harbour opens out to the sea.
Lucy and me messing about with the headlands in the background:
We did manage to squeeze in a visit to a shop called 'Chocoloate by the Bald Man', where we shared a chocolate pizza topped with caramelised pecans, banana and marshmallows!:Feeling a bit sick, we did walk along some of the Manly coast and had a paddle in the sea, before admitting defeat and heading back to Coogee. Our final boat trip across the harbour was lovely, and we savoured our last glimpses of the iconic harbour bridge and opera house.
We arrived in New Zealand yesterday and are currently staying in Auckland. Really like it here so far!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Epic Adventures in Melbourne

Since we wrote you last we have been to Victoria on Australia's south coast. It was a new adventure for both of us, who had never been to the state before. We flew from Sydney to Melbourne on 7th January. Melbourne is Australia's cultural and food capital, so I don't know why we haven't visited before!

After checking into our hostel we went straight to Federation Square. We arrived just in time to see the England cricket team being presented with the Ashes in Sydney. Something quite satisfying about watching us win in the middle of a big Aussie city on a giant TV screen!

But what we'd really gone to Federation Square for was the ACMI: the Australian Centre for Moving Image. Basically, it's a museum of cinema: my kind of place! We went to see an exhibition called Dreams Come True: the Art of Disney's Classic Fairytales. It was excellent! They had drawings and animations from different stages of the film-making process for several Disney films. First there were some of the shorts like The Three Little Pigs and The Pied Piper, before they moved on to the first feature film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Ania and I were amazed at how old some of the films are! Snow White was made in 1937; Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty were both made in the 1950s and The Little Mermaid was made in 1989! We particularly liked the information on the different kinds of cameras and other technologies that had been invented by the company to create more realistic animation. Highly recommended!

The ACMI was also home to a free exhibit on technology, where we recorded our Matrix video (see previous post on this blog). It had loads of info on TV, cinema, adverts and computer games. They had a playable N64 with a copy of Super Mario 64. The controller was completely battered because of the sheer number of people who had used it!

We paid several visits to Melbourne's China Town during our stay. There's a great restaurant hidden down a little alley called Camy's Shanghai Dumpling Restaurant where we ate amazing food on three or four occasions! I only wish I could tell you that we had eaten in the Indian restaurant on the same road, which is hilariously named 'Gaylord'.

Incidentally, Melbourne also has a Greek quarter (which we didn't get around to seeing). Here's an interesting fact: Melbourne has the second largest Greek population of any city on the planet (behind Athens)! Not bad, eh, fact fans?!

Ania in China Town:

Did I mention the food in Melbourne?! Here's Ania about to eat a diddy cupcake. They were fantastic! Hers was lemon flavour if I remember rightly. Mine was carrot cake. Yum! While mentioning the food I think I should say that my award for 'Restaurant with the Best Name in Melbourne' is...... Lord of the Fries. Nice!

We weren't overly keen on our hostel in Melbourne, the Metro YHA. It was just too big and there were too many noisy, messy people. It did have some saving graces though. One was that we'd booked a private room and not a dorm. Another was that it had this beautiful view from its rooftop.

On 9th January we headed to St Kilda, a beach suburb of Melbourne. I wasn't overly impressed, but that's probably got something to do with the fact that it wasn't a very nice day and that when it comes to beaches, New South Wales and Queensland probably beat Victoria hands down (sorry, Victorians). We did take some great photos though:

A beautiful black swan on the beach at St Kilda. That's Melbourne city centre you can see in the background.

One thing about St Kilda that was great were the little Fairy Penguins that were pointed out to us, living between the rocks. This kind are the smallest penguins in the world, Ania tells me. They were very cute and very well hidden!

Another highlight of our Melbourne adventure was meeting up with our friend Mon! We met Mon in Jaisalmer in India, so it was great to hook up again and hang out! Here's us in a rooftop bar in the city.
Melbourne is very British in the feel of the place. We really felt at home and some places (like Brunswick, where Mon took us for lunch and shopping) really reminded us of home. Here's me in a British-style pub, having a pint of ale and looking forward to having dinner at the curry house next door (called Jaisalmer Palace!). The pint was nice but at a budget-destroying $8 (five quid!), we could only stretch to two. Each. Woops...

On 11th January we went for a tour of the MCG: Melbourne Cricket Ground. I loved it! Here's me sitting in Ricky Ponting's chair (not his chair anymore!). This is the row of seats they always show the players sitting in when you watch a match on TV!

Us, up in the gods at the incredibly huge 90,000-capacity MCG (same as London's new Wembley Stadium):

That afternoon we went for something a little different and visited Melbourne's Immigration Museum. It was really interesting and very well done. As we entered there was a very moving film playing about the reasons people emigrate, from the positive (a better life, better jobs) to the negative (war, famine, natural disasters). They also had three huge spaces done up like rooms on three different ships from various eras. There were 1st class rooms that were spacious and had creature comforts, right down to lower class bunks: small beds apparently shared by entire families for weeks at sea.

We also watched the Disney film Tangled at the cinema (we really fancied it after seeing the ACMI exhibition). Loosely based on Rapunzel, it was great. Nice to know that a Disney movie can still work its magic on you, even when you a fully grown scepteezmo like me!

On 12th we'd arranged to meet up with Mon, so we headed out to Brunswick. This area was very Brighton: hippy shops, loads of cafes, music shops and a place to buy freshly roasted coffee and posh chocolate. I like it! Mon took us out to the Vegie Bar on Brunswick Street, which I highly recommend. As you might have figured out, it's a veggie restaurant/cafe. We all had a great lunch and came back that afternoon for coffee and cake. Ania and I came back the next day for lunch too. It was that good!

That evening we visited the Queen Victoria market, near our hostel. It was really lively, with loads of stalls selling all kinds of gear, plus two live bands. We both loved Electric Empire, who play funky soul music. Click their name to hear their songs on MySpace.

Ania with a spirally potato snack at the Queen Vic market. It was the perfect cross between a chip and a crisp!

On 13th we met up with our friends Dan, Sarah, Dan, Steve, Neil and Ben, who we met on Fraser Island (Emma, also from our group, has been braving the Queensland floods in Brisbane). Was great to see them and we hung out some more the following week (more on that later). We're doing the New Zealand leg of our trip with Sarah and Dan, so we booked our campervan when we met up. That evening Ania and I went to see Mary Poppins at Her Majesty's Theatre. Most of the songs from the Disney film were there, with the exception of I Love To Laugh, the one they all sing on the ceiling. All the biggies were included though, and it was really well-acted and well-thought-out! They even managed to pull off the famous scene where Mary Poppins unpacks her seemingly empty bag, pulling out a huge lamp and a pot plant. Thanks to Penny, who gave Ania some money for a treat for Christmas! We really enjoyed it! Only problem is I can't stop singing Chim Chim Cheree and Feed the Birds...

My one regret is that we didn't get to see any improv comedy in Melbourne. I managed to speak to a guy on the phone who is involved with one of the bigger troupes, but he told me everyone takes the summer off! Crazy, when you think that the summer here is also Christmas, when you'd think people had money to spend and free time to see comedy. I'll just have to come back during April, when Melbourne holds its annual arts festival!

On 14th we hired a car and drove the Great Ocean Road. This is one of Victoria's most famous tourist attractions. A massive road, partly built by Aussie servicemen returning from World War One, it hugs the Victoria coast, giving amazing views along the way. As we set off it was absolutely chucking it down (it had been doing so for days) and part of the Road was closed because of mudslides. We figured out alternative routes and as the day went on, the weather went from miserable to glorious. It ended up being one of the most memorable couple of days of our entire trip!

Ania, talking us through the views at a place called Loch Ard Gorge:

London Bridge (which fell down in 1990), Great Ocean Road:

Some (not all) of the Twelve Apostles: huge rocks that used to be part of the coast, standing up tall at the edge of the ocean.

That night we slept in Apollo Bay at a gorgeous hostel called the YHA Eco Lodge. As well as solar panels and water butts and all the green trimmings you'd expect, it was a really well thought-out place to stay ("let's separate the bedrooms from the communal areas, and install a sound-proof door between the two"). To top it all off, the people running it were really lovely. Would definitely go back!

On 14th we set off in our car again. With Melbourne to the east, we first headed a short way west to go to Mait's Rest: a really nice rainforest walk. It's quite short, only 25 minutes, but it was really magical.

Ania with an enormous tree at Mait's Rest:

A beautiful tree at Mait's Rest, that wouldn't look out of place in a Tim Burton film:

After our walk we headed back to Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road, taking quite a big diversion around the still-closed mudslides section. Because we were going the opposite way to most people, we stopped at this archway on the way back, that traditionally marks the start of the Road:

On 16th we went out wine tasting for the third time on our Australian trip! This was the second full-day wine tour we'd gone out on. This time we were in the Yarra Valley, about an hour outside of Melbourne. We had a small group of seven people, plus our driver/guide. It was a beautiful sunny day and we drank lots of wine: still, sparkling; red, white, rose, even some port! The parts I remember were excellent!

Bottles stacked up at Domaine Chandon. This winery is connected to the famous Moet Chandon in France, one of the most famous producers of champagne. We had some great sparkling wines here, including a sweet, sparkling red!

On Monday we joined our Fraser Island mates at the Australian Open tennis tournament! This was the day we flew back to Sydney, so we got ground passes (cheaper passes that don't let you into the biggest arenas to see the Federers, Nadals and Murrays). We still had a great time and even saw one megastar warming up on a free court!

On the way to the tennis. My favourite road in Melbourne, purely because of the name!

For those interested, John Batman was one of the founders of Melbourne. However, Melbournians do not like him to be referred to as 'the Dark Knight or 'the Caped Crusader'.

At the tennis! Steve, Sarah and Dan show off their snacks:

Some left-handed fella warming-up on a court next to us (I've been instructed to say that it's Rafael Nadal, for any non-sports fans!)

Argentine tennis player Juan Monaco on court, with the beautiful Melbourne skyline in the background:

Back 'home' in Sydney, at the airport. It was cold when we arrived!

So we loved Melbourne and the limited parts of Victoria that we got to see! A few people have asked us which we prefer, Sydney or Melbourne. Well... it's hard to pick! And do we have to? I don't feel the need to pick a film I like, or a drink. I can't speak for Ania, but personally, I like them both!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Ania and Stu Star in Matrix Sequel

We went to the ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) week just gone, in Melbourne. It was great! As well as an excellent exhibition on Disney movies, we also went into their free exhibit on technology and made a fun video.

To use some computer standards, this would be what the Matrix would have looked like if it had been Dos!

You can see it by clicking here.

Friday, 7 January 2011

New Years in Sydney and a weekend in the Blue Mountains

New Year's Eve in Sydney is a big deal. The city puts on a world-famous, multi-million dollar fireworks display in the harbour, and thousands of people flock to all the vantage points to see them. Lucy, Peter, Stu and I arrived to pick a grassy spot with a view at 11am (yes, a full 13 hours before the midnight show), and we were only just in time to get a good spot! We then spent the day defending this territory as the crowds poured in to commandeer every available inch of grass and the drinkers nearby got progressively drunker. But we had a fun day - it was boiling hot and we had no shade (the shady spots having been bagged much earlier in the morning), but we had lots of suncream and a well-stocked esky full of picnic food and drinks. We spent the day hanging out, snacking, playing trivial pursuit and every now and again going to dip our feet in the harbour water to cool off. At one point a plane wrote a 'Marry me' message in the cloudless sky for someone, and everyone was shouting out name guesses as each letter was added.

Messing about in the sun:

The view in from our spot!: At 9pm the first round of fireworks went off, so the kids could watch them before being carted home to bed, and these were already very impressive. But at midnight everyone counted down and then the real show began. The harbour bridge had been closed off and loaded up with firewords, and further fireworks exploded from boats positioned in the harbour, all in unison. It was spectacular, and we were all glad we braved the crowds to see it (even if we'll never do it again)!

A taste of the fireworks:

On New Year's Day the four of us drove to Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains to spend a relaxing few days out of the city. We rented a country bungalow as an extra treat, which was beautiful, very comfy and cosy indeed. We spent our first afternoon and evening there enjoying a BBQ and meadering about the golf course which backed onto the bungalow. (We also spent a lot of that weekend working on a short film project! I won't give away too much about it now, but it is very silly and I'll stick up a link to it as soon as I can.)

The next day we went on a very energetic walk. Starting at the Wentworth Falls themselves, we took a route called the National Pass that went steeply down the cliffs and across the falls, before winding its way along the cliffside, ducking under overhangs and behind waterfalls. The views were amazing and it was a beautiful sunny day, interruptedly weirdly by a brief hailstorm! The walk back up the cliff was exhausting, leaving us with aching calves and a sense of triumph.

The top section of Wentworth Falls:

Lucy looking out at the view:

Feeling intrepid:

On our last day in the blue mountains the mist and rain rolled in, and we went to explore the Jenolan Caves. These are a series of huge underground caves full of stalactites, stalagmites and underground rivers. We toured the Imperial Cave, which included huge sheets of stalactites that looked like fan corals, a white column formation called 'Lots's Wife', and a deeper section with an eerie underground river. At one point our guide turned off all the lights, so that it was completely pitch black - you could imagine how it must have felt for the guy who original discovered the cave in candlelight (apparently he dropped his hat down a hole and went in to retrieve it).

Underground rock formations:

Us underground:

On our way home to Sydney we stopped at the famous 'Three Sisters' lookout point, which which you get a view of the valley and the three columns of rock know as the 'three sisters'. However, by this point it was extremely foggy indeed, and the view we saw was more like looking into a spooky abyss of emptiness! So although we went there, we didn't actually see the famous view (but I actually think this will stick with me more)!

View of the 'Three Sisters":

Yesterday Stu and I bid farewell to Lucy and Peter and flew to Melbourne, where we will be for the next ten days. But I will let Stu tell you more about that in his next post...