Things in Australia that made me smile: Urban Environment

I’m a “townie” so while I much enjoy the varied and beautiful Australian countryside and seaside, it’s the towns where I feel more at home. I loved just walking out of our rental apartments and having plenty of shops and restaurants on our doorstep. It reminded me of when we lived in Bayswater and Chiswick. I love exploring urban environments. I’m never happier than when I’m pounding the pavements, window shopping, enjoying the local architecture or dropping into a local restaurant.

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In Prahran, our modern flat was part of the earliest developed block. While much of the town was built from 1890 onwards, the church (1854) next door was swiftly followed by the town hall and fire station (round the corner). Though many of the buildings have little architectural merit, other than age, the Australians have taken care to keep much of the frontage of key streets even if large apartment blocks tower behind. A number of former department stores and industrial buildings have been converted into domestic dwellings, again helping to preserve the area’s character and feel.

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Many of the early homes have wrap around porches and balconies decorated with wrought iron gingerbread trims, many of which are single level dwellings aka bungalows. All have a narrow road frontage but are very deep with the rooms running off a single hallway. I suppose this was to limit thermal gain well before the invention of air conditioning. They tend to have been built cheek by jowl with the neighbouring property and on quite small plots. It’s this lively mix of architectural styles you’ll find all over Melbourne.

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Despite the plethora of choice, I found myself returning time and time again to the excellent stalls in Prahran market, purveyors of wonderful local, largely organic produce. The Essential Ingredient, a shop within the market, was a cook’s delight, selling a wide range of fantastic produce and products. If only I had such a store on my doorstep in France. I suppose that’s one of the many advantages of having a melting pot population who’ve introduced all sorts of culinary delights into the everyday. Of course, I can buy all of these ingredients at home, mainly via the internet, but not from such a magnificent one stop shop. I also loved the eclectic mix of mainly one-off shops along Chapel Street.

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Where we stayed in Walkersville, Adelaide, was a similar but much smaller neighbourhood and we tended to wander over to nearby Melbourne Street to eat. Walkerville is within walking distance of CBD and the marvellous Central Market, a positive treasure trove of edible goodies, though we also enjoyed food shopping in the Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale, buying from local and artisan producers wherever we could.

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Postcard from Melbourne: Part III

I cannot believe that our Australian adventure is almost over. The time has just flown by and we’ve had such a blast.  Later today we’ll be flying back via Dubai and a four-day Dental Exhibition.

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We’ve spent the last 10 days or so, including Australia Day, close to the Mornington Peninsula. Last year we spent the national holiday in Coonawarra and everything was closed. This year we had live racing to watch. The organisers of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race put on crits around the F1 racetrack in Melbourne. There was a good turnout, despite the rather low key promotion of the event.

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We’ve been staying in a small flat, off the main drag, which is beautifully decorated and appointed. We’re within a minute’s walk of all amenities including, the station – direct line to Melbourne – and the beach, long and gloriously sandy. Even I was tempted to wander along the shoreline. It was also great for my early morning plodding and my beloved’s rides as he could easily cycle to the more undulating terrain on the Mornington Peninsula.

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Over the first week-end, we drove to Geelong for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Races. We’d passed on this race last year because the weather had been very wet. This time around the weather was beautiful and we stationed ourselves at the yacht club – facilities, food, big screen, close to start and finish line – for two great days of racing.  

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We had planned to watch some of the stages of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour but finally settled for just stage one’s individual time-trial once we realised the latter stages were in the back of beyond, over 400kms from Melbourne! While I’m not one to pass up on the opportunity to watch live sport, I felt a few days just chillin’ before flying to Dubai would be perfect. In addition, my beloved could continue to build his base mileage for the new cycling season in Europe. 

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Our days soon fell into our usual routine of early breakfast, exercise, lunch out, followed by a spot of moseying around, largely on the Mornington Peninsula. We love Mounts Martha and Eliza, the hinterland around Red Hill and Arthur’s Seat, and the beaches on the wilder Southern Ocean coast. We took the opportunity to visit a number of farm and vineyard restaurants while the weather was warm and dry.  

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I had a potter around the shops for gifts to take back to family and friends. I also went shopping for a swimsuit. The shops here have a dizzying selection, and the sales had already started. Typically none of the ones I liked were in the sale. Instead I fell in love with what must have been the most expensive suit in the shop. Still, it fitted, made me look slimmer and was extremely flattering. You can’t put a price on that, can you? 

Wednesday afternoon, we took the train into Melbourne to watch the Jayco Herald Sun Tour team presentation and short prologue. One of my VeloVoices’ colleagues is a huge Kenny Elissonde fan so I interviewed him using her questions. I managed to pose most of them, not necessarily in the same order. It was kind of strange interviewing a rider with someone else’s questions, albeit really good questions. However, my colleague was delighted so I might find myself doing it again.

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Thursday we had lunch at an olive farm with a great menu for me and enjoyed a post-lunch stroll around the grounds admiring their veggie garden. Friday we ventured into one of the major cycling clothing shops to check out the latest Australian kit, all in the interest of research you understand! My beloved is now the proud owner of some navy blue kit. 

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Over our final week-end the weather has been spectacular and after our morning work-out we made farewell visits to some of our favourite spots before returning to lounge on the beach and reflect on our magnificent trip. We’ll definitely return to Australia but it probably won’t be until my beloved retires so that we can spend at least three months here. While it would be nice to return next year, I don’t think we’ll be able to take such a long break away from Europe while he’s still working. In fact, next year’s Christmas vacation is already organised. We’ll be spending a month cross-country skiing (weather permitting) in Seefeld (Austria) in an apartment we last stayed in many summers ago – another trip down memory lane!

Postcard from Adelaide to Melbourne

Tour Down Under over and it’s time to return to Melbourne for the last leg of our holiday. Like last year, time has just flown by. The sun was shining as we pointed our hire car in the direction of Portland, back in Victoria. Last year, we stopped here for lunch and found the place and area charming so, this year, we’re back for a second bite of the cherry. But first, we had a five hour drive to reach Portland.

The views from Adelaide as you descend to the Murray River Plain are magnificent. It’s a rich agricultural area and I remember covering it in Geography at school, many years ago. It’s odd how some things stick in the mind, isn’t it? But needless to say those rich alluvial plains are pretty fertile, the food basket of Adelaide. We stopped for lunch at a roadside tavern and enjoyed oysters four ways before driving in the direction of Mount Gambier  – which we visited last year – and Padthaway. The grazing land suddenly gave way to massive vineyards and then, five miles up the road, and we’re back to cattle country. 

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We try not to traverse roads we’ve driven before but some duplication is inevitable. However, our GPS decided to send us cross -country along  C roads. A welcome diversion where the countryside was beautiful but we only passed two cars in over 200km. Lucky that we’d already eaten lunch, had plenty of drinks and a full-tank. 

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The weather was glorious as we arrived into the coastal town of Portland whose claim to fame is that it was the first city in Victoria, established ahead of Melbourne. Where we were staying overlooked the bay and was a five minute saunter into town. Sadly, the next day it poured but not before we’d had our daily ride/run. Still, you don’t mind having to do a spot of work when it’s blowing a gale outside. The great restaurant we’d eaten in last year was closed, but there are plenty of alternatives in town along with an interesting selection of galleries and gift shops.

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From Portland, it’s just a hop skip and a jump to the wonderfully scenic Great Ocean Road, one of the great roads of the world. Yes, we drove along here last year but you can never tire of such scenery. The road undulates and, every time you crest a climb, there are magnificent sea views – turquoise sea, foaming white against the red and yellow ochre cliffs. Much of the  surrounding countryside is akin to moorlands, dotted with grazing sheep and cows, plus some arable pasture, already harvested and in bales. 

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The road skirts the Great Otway National Park which is thickly wooded and carpeted with ferns. The smell of eucalyptus is heady but I still haven’t spotted a koala in the trees. Naturally shy, they must avoid the trees fringing the roads through which you get tantalising glimpses of the bright blue southern ocean.

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I’d built into the programme lunch at the Apollo Bay fish shack where last year we’d both eaten the best fish and chips ever under the watchful gaze of loads of marauding gulls, ready to do battle for any leftovers. It didn’t disappoint. The lobster tempted me until I realised it was large enough to feed a family of four, and then some. 

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After lunch we headed through the Park and inland for an hour or so to Birregurre, home to a restaurant of some repute which sadly only serves a tasting menu.  We were staying in a delightful historic homestead which is a national heritage property built in 1865, wonderfully preserved and maintained by the current owners, and sitting in splendid gardens. Sadly, the owners are shutting up shop at the end of February, so we were just in the nick of time.

With no dining options in Birregurra, we drove 20km to Colac and dinner in the only restaurant in town with white tablecloths and napkins – delicious. Sated we returned to our cosy B&B and watched the first BBL semi-final – a bit of a whitewash for the Perth Scorchers against the Melbourne Stars. After a delightful homemade breakfast we were back on the road and heading for Seaford, the final stop on our Australian adventure, just a few hours away, and where we’d be spending Australia Day. We learnt last year when in Coonawarra that most small towns totally shut up shop on their national holiday,  we’re not going to repeat that mistake this year.

Postcard from Melbourne to Adelaide

It’s Saturday evening, the first one in January, and my beloved and I are enjoying a night in watching the Twenty20 return match, Renegades v Stars. Looks as if it’s a sellout at HCG and it’s going to be an engrossing game, particularly after the Renegades’ recent away win at the MCG.

We left Melbourne on Wednesday morning and drove via the Victorian goldfields to Horsham. Almost as soon as you leave downtown Melbourne,  by way of the Old Melbourne road aka Western Freeway, the landscape starts to undulate, with vast expanses of yellow scrub punctuated by trees, the odd farm and plenty of small semi-industrial buildings. The scenery becomes more interesting as we near the former gold prospecting town of Ballarat, for a coffee stop. Those combine harvesters have been hard at work, leaving golden, neatly stacked bales of hay and straw from harvested fields framed by more trees.

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The pastures turn lusher and greener as we head to Ararat, and lunch at a local cafe. Now they’re dotted with flocks of sheep, grazing horses and herds of cows as we drive towards the Pyrenees and Grampian Hills, yet another wine producing area. The Grampian Hills’ national park is on our left as we drive along flat plains punctuated by the occasional man made lake. We drive to Horsham, the main town in the area, and an overnight stay in a motel. It’s clean, spacious, well-rated on booking.com and Trip Advisor but the decor’s dark and depressing. However, it’s just somewhere to rest up.

We case the town for our evening meal. Many of the cafes close at 5pm, there’s numerous takeaways but the only place that’s buzzing is the local hotel (pub). It turns out to be a good choice and on the way back we spot a juice bar for the following day’s breakfast.

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Once past the Pyrenees and Grampians with their fruit, olive and vine laden slopes, we’re onto the flatlands where you can see for miles and miles. Golden fields awaiting the combine harvester, golden stubble being picked over by the birds and huge silos with mountains of grain, walls of baled hay and straw. This really showcases the green and gold of Australia set against a brilliant blue backdrop.

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We have a coffee stop in Keith and then the land starts to undulate once more and the earth becomes sandier. As we near Adelaide, the countryside flattens and becomes scrubby again, which only the sheep and goats seem to appreciate. We eat lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Murray river. The closer we get to the city, the greener the countryside.

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We’re spending the weekend on the beach in McLaren Vale at the request of my beloved. It was an area he enjoyed when we were here last year for the Willunga Hill stage in the Tour Down Under. I had booked a family run B&B overlooking the beach in Port Noarlunga. The house was built in 1930 and its interior is very much in keeping. It’s a spacious studio with a balcony affording us a splendid sea view.

As my younger sister would say, the weather’s roastin’ and we’ve been basted in factor 50, wearing sunglasses and hats and seeking shade or shelter in air conditioned spots. We had a gentle stroll along the shore and jetty and looked enviously at the bathers splashing around in the cooling shallow water. I couldn’t see any sharks but I wasn’t taking any risks!

After our hearty lunch, we settled for a glass of local wine and a few plates of tapas at the local Portuguese restaurant before retiring. When I woke up my beloved had already departed for his early morning ride. I waited for him in the shade as, despite the cloud cover, it was already in the mid-30sC. Too hot to laze on the beach.

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My beloved was sweating profusely on his return. Revived by a cold shower and breakfast, we decided to drive around the area. First stop, the Farmers’ Market at Willunga Hill to pick up some fruit and provisions for dinner. Then we rode up Willunga Hill and drove down towards Kangaroo Island before turning back via the Myponga Reservoir – a great training ride – and then along the coast stopping for lunch at a vineyard cafe. We moseyed along McLaren Vale but couldn’t take the heat. It was time to return and watch the cricket.

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Fortunately, the mercury fell by Sunday morning and my beloved had a more enjoyable ride before we headed to a McLaren Vale winery for a leisurely lunch. Then we drove to Adelaide and our home for the next two weeks.

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In case you were wondering, the Stars stormed to 200 runs but the Renegades couldn’t match them, falling well short. doesn’t look like they’re going to make the semis.

Postcard from Melbourne: Part II

As with my Australian diary from early last year, I’m running a week or so in arears largely because of the difficulties of downloading the accompanying photographs.

Christmas Eve was spent shopping for food, particularly once I found out the market in Prahran wouldn’t reopen until Wednesday! The queue for the fish stall snaked out of the market and was tightly controlled by security guards. Our purchases were modest compared to many who seemed to be buying enough fish to feed (literally) the  five thousand. We purchased a dozen Tasmanian oysters for Christmas Eve.  In addition, my beloved was seduced by a dozen plump pink prawns while I bought a fresh fat lobster tail for Christmas Day lunch. With a couple of sourdough loaves and plenty of green vegetables, we were good to go and the fridge was groaning with possibilities.

Later that day, jet lag caught up on my beloved, who retired for what we’ll call a very long power nap, while I went for a prowl round the neighbourhood to check out some of its more promising restaurants. Many wouldn’t reopen until 3 January but, thankfully, a number would be flinging open their doors on Boxing Day. After all,  I didn’t want to spend the entire holiday cooking. Or did I?

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Much later my beloved roused himself for a pre-dinner drink and I began the arduous task of preparing dinner. Some energetic shallot chopping was all that was required for the perfect Christmas Eve dinner. Six, small, plump, creamy, oysters apiece sprinkled with red wine vinegar and shallots, a slice of sourdough, a glass of champagne and a handful of ripe, ruby-red cherries – heaven.

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Friends from home had arrived in Australia by way of Singapore on Christmas Eve, I joked on Facebook that I’d see them on the beach on Christmas Day. Christmas morning was glorious and we were out early, riding and runnng along the seashore. Afterwards, we stopped by a juice bar for a reviving shot and bumped into our friends. What were the odds of that happening? Our friends have two adorable boys who seemed totally unaffected by jeg lag, not so their parents.

Back at the flat I whipped up lobster spaghetti for lunch and we finished off the cherries. Despite the furnace-like heat, we went for a stroll to stretch our legs before retiring to the air-conditioned cooled flat, a night in front of the television and those plump prawns beckoned.

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Our days settled into a rythmn of exercise in the morning, lunch out, sometimes with our friends, some work in the afternoon and then evenings spent locally or watching Twenty20 cricket, either live or on the television. The produce from the market was just too inviting to pass up and I probably threw together more meals than I intended. There are so many organic and healthfood shops in Australia, even in the smallest of towns, and all have a fantastic array of produce ideal for my regime, so cooking was a real pleasure.

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Enough of food! Our time was spent exploring pastures new and visiting old favourites. We explored the Dandedong Hills perfect for a spot of hill climbing, as well as the gently undulating coastal route from  St Kilda.  As you know, I love a spot of pavement pounding and window shopping which took in South Yarra, Windsor, Melbourne CBD, Richmond and Prahran. No small lane or side street was left unexplored.

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When I spoke to one of my brothers-in-law on Christmas Day he was astonished to discover we’d not been touring the wineries however we did visit a few, largely to eat in their excellent restaurants. We also had a trip back to the Yarra Valley to two of our favourite spots, Healesville, home of the best scones ever (according to my beloved) and some lovely deli shops, and Yarra Glen, home to the Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery. See we’re back to food again.

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The weather veered from one extreme to the other. We froze, or rather, my beloved froze at our first Twenty20 match – I’d had the foresight to take a fleece. The mercury then shot up to the furnace-like late 30sC. Then we had plenty of wind, which always seemed to be a strong headwind on the way back from a ride. Next up torrential rain and flash floods for the second cricket game on 29 December, held thankfully under a covered roof. The Renegades conceded victory to the Perth Scorchers on the last ball of the game, and lost Dwayne Bravo to a hamstring injury. How unlucky was that!

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We had a great view of Melbourne’s magnificent firework display from our balcony on New Year’s Eve to accompany more oysters and champagne. On New Year’s Day, more lobster this time in a homemade yellow Thai curry sauce served with black rice that thankfully tasted much better than it looked.

It was still drizzling on New Year’s Day for the Stars v Renegades derby match at the MCG, a magnificent ground with 100,000 capacity. 70,000 turned up for the match which was an edge of the seat thriller where the Renegades turned the tables on their star studded neighbours. Monday was grey and overcast, so we spent it exorcising the weekend’s excesses!

On 3 January, my beloved flew up to Sydney for the day to meet with a customer while I indulged myself. There’s nothing quite like a spot of relaxed pampering. I also spent hours in the local bookshop and a few more cookery books may have made their way into my luggage.

Wednesday, we emptied the fridge for breakfast and lunch, and dined out in a nearby Mexican restaurant. The time had flown and sadly our stay in Melbourne had drawn to a close. We’d had a wonderfully relaxing time, seen much more of the area though there was still more besides to see which we’re saving for a future trip. Our friends had moved on to Tasmania but we’d be meeting up again in Adelaide. Next up, a three day drive to Adelaide, long enough to take the time to visit a few new (to us) places and enjoy the flora and fauna en route.

Postcard from Melbourne: Part I

Despite an early morning arrival into Melbourne, we were able to get into our rental apartment, unpack and head out for breakfast nearby. We are staying in the same apartment in Prahran that we stayed in earlier in the year, only for longer. We enjoyed the area so much and it reminds me of where we used to live in London: lots of small independent shops, great restaurants, a buzzy and lively vibe. Of course, we stick out like two sore thumbs among the tattooed, shorts and singlet wearing local population.

Part of the area’s charm is that we know where to find most things but there’s still areas and side-streets to be explored. The spacious one-bedroomed flat has everything you need: great WiFi, dishwasher, washer/dryer, free car parking, a large balcony, great security, and more. In addition, we got quite friendly with the owner, a charming lady from Vietnam, who kindly stored our bulky bike boxes for the entire duration of our trip. She’s obliging again this time.

Having downed breakfast, we went shopping at the local market – my idea of heaven – snatched a power nap and then headed into Melbourne for the first of what was going to be many sporting events, a Twenty20 Big Bash match. Just a hop, skip and a jump on the train from where we were staying, once armed with our Myki tickets (Aussie version of Oyster cards).

I have fallen in love with The Big Bash League, the Australian professional Twenty20, eight-team cricket league  sponsored by none other than Kentucky Fried Chicken. Who knew the Colonel was a cricket fan? Generally I’m not, though I can appreciate the strategy and love the stats. My Dad played cricket and taught me to catch and bowl at an early age. As a result, I played cricket for school and was a demon batsman and bowler. Last year I thrilled to the exploits of Messrs Gayle and Khawaja, neither of whom is playing this year and, aside from seeing a live match in Adelaide, watched the last series on the television.

I find five-day test matches a long slow smoulder, while Big Bash games are incendiary devices. Judicious use of players and tactics still apply but there’s so much less time to achieve one’s goals. Only 20 overs (240 balls), around 80-90 minutes aggressive play for each team, and it’s game over. Teams, which have a salary cap, can have a maximum of 18 contracted players with a minimum of two rookies and a maximum of two overseas’ players, plus their understudies. For example, the Melbourne Renegades have Dwayne Bravo and Sunil Narine, both from the West Indies.

Twenty20 is very much family based entertainment and at least half of Thursday’s 23,000 audience were kids. Audience participation is greatly encouraged with prizes for those caught on camera performing the best air guitar routine, watering (one of the team’s sponsors makes hoses), victory celebration etc etc. You get the idea. In addition, there’s plenty of competitions at half-time with prizes for spectators and the dozens of pint-sized mascots. 23,000 might not sound like much of a crowd but, don’t forget, there’s two teams in Melbourne, the Renegades and the Stars.

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Dressed appropriately in red and black, we were supporting the Renegades who were up against last year’s league winners, Sydney Thunder. The latter won the toss and elected to field. The Renegades quickly built an impressive strike rate largely off the back of the exploits of their captain and firm crowd favourite, Aaron Finch. Having scored 7-179 runs, the Renegades managed to stifle and then snuff out any threat from the Stars using the full-range of their bowlers’ skills. It was an impressive shutdown.  Our next game is on New Year’s Day and it’s the Melbourne derby. But don’t expect any shots of either of us wearing KFC buckets, minus the chicken, on our heads!

Postcards from Melbourne II – Yarra Valley

All too soon, we were on the final lap of our vacation. The time had just flown past. We chilled at a Vineyard Spa hotel in the Yarra Valley where the roads were quiet, albeit undulating, which afforded us plenty of opportunities to explore the nearby towns on two wheels. As before in Adelaide, we watched the cycling, this time the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, two stages of which started close to where we were staying.

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Yarra Glen

 

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Healesville

Once more, we self-catered for some meals and ate out for others, usually lunches at neighbouring vineyards and cafes. Most evenings we enjoyed watching the wildlife, mainly rabbits and the odd kangaroo, from our balcony, glass of local wine or beer in hand for my beloved and sparkling water for me. All very relaxing after a busy couple of weeks travelling.

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De Bortoli Vineyard and Restaurant

My beloved has been taste testing the local baked goods, particularly pies, scones and hot-cross buns from the many local bakeries. Sadly and very enviously, I’ve had to rely on his reporting of the tastiest pie, the lightest scone and the spiciest bun. British firm Greggs would have no chance in Australia as there’s so many excellent local, family-run bakeries. And so many cafes offer “cream teas” you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Devon, if it were not for the countryside and its miles and miles of vineyards.

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We found another excellent “local” in the next town which served its own craft beers, local wines with a small but excellent lunch and dinner menu. A number of breakfasts and lunches were also enjoyed at a nearby family-run organic café. In truth, we’ve been spoilt for choice and I’ve never been so well catered for on my new regime.

We also renewed our acquaintance with central Melbourne visiting both the Southbank – site of the Tour’s prologue – and the art gallery, where they staged the press conference.

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Jayco Herald Sun Tour Press Conference

 

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Melbourne

The Tour’s last two stages gave us an opportunity to re-visit and better explore the Mornington Peninsula and Gippsland, two locations we’d much enjoyed on our initial leg from Melbourne to Sydney, where the roads and undulating landscape are perfect for cycling. Allegedly, Sky’s Chris Froome plans to spend January 2017 training in the Mornington Peninsula.

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Plenty of towering rain forests as well as vineyards

We’ve much enjoyed watching the wildlife, particularly the colourful birds despite their early morning raucous cries. Finally, I met my first koala bear on the road to Inverloch. He was casually sauntering across the road, we stopped to let him pass but he scampered off before I could take his photo – obviously paparazzi averse. They have very appealing faces and are surprisingly large, with thick fur and sharp claws – all the better to climb trees. The following day, we saw another koala but sadly this one had met an untimely end. I made my beloved stop the car to check, but riga mortis had already set in.

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Inverloch

You may recall I had three back massages in as many days at the start of our trip and then none for the next four weeks. My neck and shoulders were feeling stiff from all the riding and my frozen right shoulder had gotten worse. I know; I’m falling apart. While my beloved had his hair cut, I popped into a nearby Thai massage shop for a neck and shoulder massage. This tiny Thai woman, with hands of steel, administered 20 minutes of exquisite torture but I now felt so much better. I topped this off with another chair massage on the flight home.

We’ve never before taken such a long holiday but the time has flown. I’m now looking forward to going through and cataloguing all of my beloved’s photographs and discussing (and blogging further about) the best bits!

Postcards from Melbourne I

Thankfully our luggage, including the two bike boxes, fitted into our hire car and we sped away to our first destination – a discount electrical store to buy a GPS. Yes, you can hire them but Herz’s hire charges equate to the cost of three sat navs. Then it was off to our first stop in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran for four days.

We stayed in a well-appointed, bright, penthouse apartment with a large balcony just off the High St intersection with Chapel St. For once, we raised the hip neighbourhood’s average age and no doubt looked like tourists to the locals. My beloved looked particularly out of place lacking tats, man-bun and a bushy beard.

We spent our first day thoroughly checking out the locale and finding loads of great restaurants that catered for vegans (and me), including a great breakfast (Amici Bakery) spot with superfast broadband. Prahran has its own daily covered market, which saved me from feeling homesick. I could and did spend hours wandering around there.

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The area was also home to a vibrant mix of retail outlets, including several excellent bike shops and bookstores. By day three I’d already bought my full quota of cookery books! The older Victorian buildings reminded me of those in the Midlands and N England, many of which have been beautifully restored and re-purposed.

Prahran proved to be an ideal location from which to explore as yet unvisited areas of sprawling Melbourne and was just a stone’s throw from the coast road, ideal for our daily morning rides. The cycling scene has exploded since our last visit which has much to do with the recent success of Australian cyclists, particularly local lad Cadel Evans’ 2011 Tour de France victory.

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Thursday, while my husband dropped in on a client, I opted for a Pedi. See how easily I’m slipping into the local vernacular. This included another in-chair back massage – my third in as many days. Reunited, we enjoyed lunch at a well-known riverside restaurant, followed by a gentle stroll along Melbourne’s Southbank, people watching and taking photos in the warm late afternoon sunshine.

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Friday we ventured further along the coast to Mornington, which invoked memories of last September’s trip to Sag Harbor with its eclectic mix of upmarket stores, spectacular coastline, soft sandy beaches and plenty of property porn.

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Saturday we enjoyed a very long ride along the coast returning to St Kilda for a late lunch and a stroll along the boardwalk. The weather has been just perfect with temperatures in the mid-20s. Ideal for plenty of activities though I have been slathering on the Factor 100. My two sisters would be shocked, they rarely venture above Factor 4 and have the wrinkles to prove it!

Our few days in Melbourne passed all too quickly. Sunday, we sadly waived good-bye to Prahran and set off on the next leg of our journey to Sydney.

 

Wise words

A very dear and wise friend said we should celebrate we’ve reached the grand old age of 60 without suffering from any serious illnesses, ailments or injuries. Well, there’s no point in receiving words of wisdom if you don’t act on them. Her birthday was the month before mine and she rejoiced in style at the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.

Where did we want to spend January? My beloved and I were of one mind – Australia. Now, it’s a big place. You’d need a year to do it justice. We had five weeks, several of which we’d be spending watching cycle races. Now, come on, you didn’t seriously think we’d head Down Under without taking in the first race of the 2016 WorldTour season did you?

My beloved and I both enjoyed our trip to Australia in 2010 for the World Championships when we visited both Melbourne and Sydney. It would be unthinkable not to again include them on our itinerary, plus there’s the Sun Herald Tour and The Great Ocean Race to see. We’re taking our bikes so, even though internal flights in Australia are pretty cheap, we’ll be travelling by car and taking  in some of the coastal scenery and vineyards.

In no time at all, I’d sorted out our itinerary and booked everything. It was time pleasurably well spent. There’s nothing I love more than a spot of planning and preparation while my beloved is just happy to turn up.

We’re staying in a mix of hotels and self-catering apartments so that we won’t have to eat out all the time.  I also needed access to a washing machine to cut down on the amount of clothing for my beloved otherwise he’ll be counting the number of days we’re away and packing the same number of t-shirts, socks and underpants. He does NOT travel lightly.

We’re flying Emirates with an overnight stop in Dubai which should make the length of the flight a bit more bearable. Of course, I’ll spend a lot of the flight sleeping. I have my cashmere blanket, eye mask and headphones which I’ll plug into the music channel, pop on my Do Not Disturb sign, and get my head down. I’m pretty much the perfect frequent-flyer.

If bored, I may scroll through the entertainment options to see if there’s any cartoons I’ve not yet seen. I watched the latest Minions’ movie en route to New York in November – adorable. Surely, it’s time for Toy Story IV or Happy Feet III? Just a suggestion!

By my standards I’ve not organised too much while we’re away as we’ll be out on our bikes as much as possible. I have made a couple of restaurant bookings but some of the ones I wanted to visit have only tasting menus, and not a la carte, none of which meet my specific dietary requirements. However, this won’t be a problem given the vibrant dining scene in Australia.

If the trip is half as much fun as I’ve had planning it, it’ll be fantastic. Anything more will be a bonus.

Postscript: Thanks to iffy WiFi – surely the bane of all travellers – my posts are on delayed transmission.