Monday, 30 November 2009

We've moved!

With today’s blog entry I bring very good news – we’ve moved! As I type I am sitting at our dining table and watching the sun set over Port Philip bay! It’s a cloudy evening and not the best sunset in the world, but it has great potential and is a beautiful 180 degree view of our new Melbourne surroundings.

This weekend has been a busy one, filled with fun activities and new opportunities to meet people. On Saturday we were invited to the country races with a colleague from my office. The Aussies are very passionate about horse racing and after the glamour and hype of the Spring Racing Carnival 3 weeks ago we thought we knew what to expect. This was a very different flavour however- 75km outside of Melbourne, in the Yarra Valley, a much smaller country race track with no dress code and a much more relaxed attitude. We dressed up anyway, and the group that we were with had hired a parasol and tables directly next to the track. We all bought a picnic item and made a fantastic spread between us. The horses provided some light entertainment but there was lots of conversation and general merriment and we enjoyed it much more than the formalities of the major racing events.

Sunday was M-day and the highlight of the week – MOVING DAY! We were up at 7am to do the final bits of cleaning and packing and by 12noon we had unloaded the car into our new apartment. Thank goodness for the capacious Ford Focus, into which we just about squeezed all of our belongings. It is such a relief to be out of the tiny studio flat in the rather too colourful suburb of St Kilda, and into the spacious surroundings of our two bedroom “pad” in Port Melbourne! I will post some photos once we are all unpacked and set up – our shipping from the UK arrives this Tuesday and once we have some familiar things around us I will be even happier!

Two hours after moving, we were due to attend our first ever Thanksgiving dinner! Our new friends Pat and Amanda are from Cleveland, Ohio, and threw a Thanksgiving party for all of their international friends (and a couple of locals). Despite some delicious food, the highlight of the party was the Kris Kringle. We were all asked to bring with us a $10 gift, and I was expecting a Secret Santa style exchange at some point in the festivities. What I didn’t realise however is that Kris Kringle has rules, and rather cut throat ones too! Everyone participating must pick a number from a hat which determines the order that you can select a gift from under the tree. When it’s your turn to pick, you can chose to “steal” a gift from a participant that has selected before you, if you want the item they were given. In this instance the guest who has lost their gift can pick again from the tree, but not steal from another player. Unfortunately I drew number one, meaning I had no one to steal from but 19 people who could steal from me! My gift was a rather cool massaging thingy, which lasted until player 15 or 16 and then I lost it in exchange for a mug. Tom and I had bought really tacky presents – chocolate and small reindeer toys that “poop” sweets when you wind them up. It was obvious through the conversation that we’d bought this, and I was a bit embarrassed at how tacky our gift was... until.... someone liked the pooping reindeer so much that they actually stole it from the player that had picked it first!! Everyone found it hilarious that someone wanted this toy enough to admit to it in front of 19 grown adults, and our gift choice was vindicated after all. Tom got a Saints (St Kilda) football (looks like a rugby ball to you and I) which was actually really great as this is the team that we are going to support!

That’s all for today as I must go and do some more unpacking, but finally – thank you to all of you who expressed your concern at my parking fiasco last week. I would like to report that I have since made it into my employers car park without a hitch. Phew!

The view from our new flat - taken just after we moved in

The view from our new flat, moments later. The rain arrives quickly in Melbourne!

A jockey at the country races

Tom and I at the races

The Dutch pancake stall at Queen Victoria Night market - they were yummy!

The table set for Thanksgiving dinner at Pat and Amandas

Kris Kingle fun at Pat and Amandas. Interesting fact - the lady in the blue t-shirt at the centre back had her baby less than 24 hours after this photo was taken! Congratulations to Lou and Sam and welcome baby Benjamin!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Four week anniversary...

I’m writing this on the eve of our four week anniversary of arriving in Melbourne. Those four weeks have gone just as quickly as the four weeks leading up to our move did, and we’ve certainly had lots of fun times since we arrived. This week was all about ‘business as usual’ though, as Tom started his new job and we tried to settle into some sort of routine. This went pretty well, although we still feel like we are living in limbo in our tiny little studio. Every single day we talk about how excited we are to move to our proper flat – still nine more sleeps to go however!

Incidentally, Tom got off to a good start at his new job and hopefully will be very happy there.

With a week that consisted mostly of work (my honeymoon period is well and truly over!) there were just a couple of interesting titbits that I will mention to you. Firstly is my very exciting gym visit on Tuesday night – when who do I see in the tiny gym in our apartment block but Daniel MacPherson! Who??? I hear you asking... to you and me that is Joel from Neighbours! I was very excited about this and promptly tried (and failed) to take a subtle photo of him on my iPhone because I knew selected friends of mine (Lucy that’s you) would be very excited about my first Neighbours-star meeting! It turns out however, that Daniel MacPherson is actually a huge star in Australia - much more famous than I’d give him credit for being in Neighbours! He stars in a popular prime-time drama, and presents the Aussie version of Strictly Come Dancing. All of a sudden to going the gym has become somewhat more appealing...

Wednesday brought my first real test of driving the Melbourne roads for work - without having Tom to help me out with navigating and road rules. On Wednesday we drove into my office together and the plan was that I would drop Tom off and park the car, before driving out of town mid-morning to a client meeting. We had a small hiccup on the way into the office when the sat nav tried to direct us across a tram track, but Tom guided me on a different route and we made it to my office. Tom jumped out to leave me to park the car, because that's not difficult, is it? Well, if you're me it is! Corporate car parks can be more complicated than most, but I managed to make a total dogs dinner out of my first attempt at getting into the PwC Melbourne multi-storey. I was armed with a pin code and parking space number, and knew I would need to use to pin code to access the car park. So in I drive, go up the ramp, around the corner and up to the barrier. Nothing happens. Nowhere to put in my pin. A car pulls up behind me so I opened the window and called back for some help from the driver. I then notice that his car is right beside the pin machine! So, I have to ask him to reverse back around the corner and down the ramp (along with 3 cars behind him!) so I can go back and enter my pin. Needless to say I did a bit of girly reversing and ended up more than an arm's length away from the machine. So, I undo my seatbelt, open the door, jump out, input the pin. Nothing happens. So I pushed a random button. I waited. I'd only gone and called security! The guy behind me has now stopped finding this funny and is getting annoyed! Security then tell me I've got the wrong pin and I say NO WAY and repeat it aloud to them. Finally they just raised the barrier for me and in I drove! What a palava.

This weekend we were looking forward to another sunshine filled beach adventure – everything that we hoped for when we moved to Australia. Instead, Melbourne has seen a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours. Honestly. The locals keep telling us we are in a drought but you really wouldn’t believe it from the amount of rain we’ve seen! The real pelting rain usually starts as soon as we are in the car and trying to drive along a freeway, just to make visibility as hard as we would possibly hope for. The only time I can recall driving in such terrible conditions was in a Floridian storm whilst on holiday with Pippa in Fort Lauderdale. Luckily though, the rain held off long enough for us to enjoy a couple of hours at the Healesville Wildlife Park in the Yarra Valley. This was a 2 hour trip outside of Melbourne and our first long run in the car. We stopped for lunch on the way at our very first Aussie McDonalds! Our excuse was that there is a new Angus burger that is taking Australia by storm, and we felt that we needed to try it. One very interesting point of note was that all chicken burgers/wraps/nuggets that you buy in an Australian McDonalds can come either crispy (like in the UK) or seared – ie without the fatty coating and grilled, rather than fried. That’s a good enough excuse for me to justify more visits to Macca’s on health grounds!

Anyway, back to the wildlife. We saw the full complement of Australian animals. Tom was really looking forward to seeing the dingos, but as luck would have it the dingo enclosure was being renovated so we didn’t see those. The snake show was informative and we both got to stroke a snake, but the commentary was hilarious... [please read in thick Australian accent]... “Aaah look, there is absolutely no need to ever fear a snake, but it will slither into your bath tub, and if you step on it, it WILL KILL YOU!”. That, my readers, is the reason we’ve rented a flat on the sixth floor!

On the way back from the wildlife park we stopped off at a local winery to sample some wines and hopefully buy some for Christmas. Unfortunately our taste buds have been spoilt and will now only like Blossom Hill Rose - Zinfandel or Grenache!! We will have to become somewhat more sophisticated to truly appreciate the Aussie wines.

Today we have been to Melbourne’s Westfield shopping centre. I haven’t even been to the London one, but I hope it’s less stressful that the down under version – traffic to get there, terrible parking, nightmare in the food court and all in all a very stressful experience. I did find a new handbag though – so it wasn’t all bad!

To finish here are a few more photos.. until next time... g’day!

Our temporary home in St Kilda

A Yarra Valley Winery

Katie with a statue of an eagle at the Healesville Wildlife Park

Healesville had an animal operating theatre where you can watch the vets in action - amazing!

Tom and one of the snakes!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Drive time...

Tom and I shocked ourselves this weekend – we voluntarily went to a garden centre. Humph. Tom had hoped that I would magically become and ‘outdoors’ girl by moving to the southern hemisphere, but he hadn’t accounted on me becoming middle aged! Fear not, we were just thinking about turning the soon-to-be-ours balcony into a miniature oasis, but now we realise how much a mini palm tree costs, we think we might have to settle for a cactus on the window sill!

And how did we get to the aforementioned garden centre? In our new car of course!! We collected our lovely titanium-grey Ford Focus Zetec from the garage on Tuesday evening, and have been enjoying having the smartest wheels in town (in our opinion!) ever since. I wanted to take a really swanky photo of our car by the beach with a Melbourne sunset in the background, but I haven’t managed that, so here is a photo from the garden centre car park instead:

This week hasn’t just been about cars however – it was also my first week at work. I was pleased to get going with the job that has brought us here in the first place, and the first week went by in a flash. I’m doing an identical role to my job in London, but in a smaller office – and as a result I will go from managing two clients, to eight! Cue brain overload. I have responded to this challenge in my usual way – by making a spreadsheet. I think I may need more than this however! After a week of being home alone, Tom will start work this week, and having us both at work will take us one step closer to normal life here in Melbourne.

Yesterday we took our car east along the coast to the suburb of Black Rock – which had lovely shops and cafes so we nicknamed it Hampsted-on-Sea. After a snoop around at the lovely Christmas decorations on sale we hit the beach to sit back and relax, although the weather was very overcast and quite cool compared to recent days. Our blissful peace was interrupted however by the 7 – 9 year old population of Black Rock having a surfing lesson and screaming at the number of jellyfish in the water! At the first sign of rain (which incidentally never arrived) we jumped back in the car and drove home, only to look in the mirror and discover that we were both burnt to a crisp. It was, and still is, very painful!

We had been invited to a BBQ at the home of one of my work colleagues on Saturday night, and this proved a great opportunity to meet a few more people. We looked liked sun dried tomatoes however, and playing “spot the newcomers to Australia” was pretty easy. Everyone here is very friendly and encouraging – we’ve mostly mixed with other ex-pats and they all seem to have made strong friendships since their arrival.

Our studio flat is looking ever-smaller as more and more belongings are unpacked from our four suitcases. I don’t know how I fitted everything into those bags when we flew over, because it’s never going to fit back in again! I’m still undecided about how long you have to live in one place before you fully unpack. We were in the hotel for 2 weeks and only scratched the surface of the cases, but after one week in our studio and the prospect of two more weeks before we can move, I have decided to get a bit more organised and actually put things on hangers and in drawers. We are both very excited about moving to our longer term home however!

Must get back to Australian Idol now.. the inferior substitute for X-Factor and Strictly...

Monday, 9 November 2009

Rollercoaster week two in Melbourne

I have lots to report from the week since my last blog entry – and mostly good news! We started the week with our fingers crossed that we would secure our chosen apartment by the beach. We spoke to the agent on Monday to check our application had been received, and were told we’d have to wait until Wednesday for an answer. With Tuesday being a public holiday in Melbourne, lots of workers had taken Monday off to make a long weekend and no decision would be made on the property.

To take our minds off the wait and occupy us during the bank holiday, we booked a day trip out of the city to see some of Victoria’s finest wildlife! In a very long 15 hour trip, we ticked the following animal experiences off the list – feeding bird seed to wild parrots, riding puffing billy (that’s a train, not an animal, but I’m counting it anyway!), bottle-feeding some very hungry calves, milking a dairy cow, getting up close with baby kangaroos, photographing some koalas and (the best bit) watching the little penguins race up the beach to their burrows to meet their babies, then watching them feed in the dead of night. It was an amazing day, and I’ve posted some photos below:

Hmmmmm... steak?

Hmmm..... steak?!

Now I udder-stand where milk comes from!

Diet coke break

A hot bird, and Katie

Tom had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand

Wednesday was D-Day and during a shopping trip we took the fateful call to tell us that we didn’t get the apartment. I was so disappointed that I lost all desire to shop (ie very very disappointed!). We went straight back to the hotel to get back onto the internet and re-commence our search. By this point we’d view every available 2 or 4 bedroom apartment in a mile radius of our preferred location, but luckily a couple of new properties had been uploaded after the bank holiday and so there was a light shining on the horizon. We scheduled three viewings (or inspections, as they are called here) for the Friday morning, and crossed our fingers. When Friday morning rolled around, Tom loved the first flat we saw, but I loved the second. As the X-Factor would describe it, we were in deadlock. We had three hours to kill until the third and final viewing and not many words were uttered between us!

The final viewing was for a furnished flat at the top end of our budget, in a modern block on the main street of Port Melbourne. When Tom and I walked through the door, we both knew that it was the place for us, and 30 minutes later we had applied and been accepted by the agent! It’s a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment with 180 degree views of the coast. As it’s furnished, it will save us a lot of hassle fitting out, which in Australia requires a tenant to provided their own white goods also.

Unfortunately the flat is not available until 1st December, which left us having to find three weeks of accommodation. In an unhopeful plea to our real estate agent, she surprisingly offered us three weeks in a very smart studio flat in Melbourne’s lively St Kilda. It was the perfect solution and so we jumped at the chance. Two days later we had moved in, and it’s turned out to be a fantastic location – just a bit further down the coast than our more permanent home will be.

After the success of Friday, we were on a high and Saturday was another great day. Tom and I were invited to join my PwC-Melbourne colleague Matt, his wife and their friends at Stakes Day of the Melbourne Cup – the final day in the 8 day Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival. Melbournites love their horse racing like he British love tea, so we were really pleased to be introduced to the event by some locals. We got all dressed up (fascinator essential for ladies) and as the temperature exceeded thirty degrees, we were relieved to have inside seated tickets. We ended up roughly even on the betting, and just about survived the heat to make it out for dinner afterwards.

Flemington racecourse, with the city in the background

Sunday was moving day, when we left our hotel and set up life in our little studio. The four suitcases that we brought on the plane have magically expanded to several more bags, so we had to order a maxi-taxi to transport us. We then had to go out and buy all the little things that you take for granted in a hotel that we no longer had access to – boring things, like coat hangers and bin liners!

Our temporary home - affectionately known as the beach hut, as it's small but well located!

That brings you all up to date, with just today – my first day at work – to report. All went well on day one, but as it was just a technology induction I think there is a way to go yet! Tom starts work next Monday and then the holiday really will be over.. or will it?

Living the Australian beach life in St Kilda

A slightly colder beach experience!

Tourists hey?!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Getting Settled

It’s now exactly a week since we landed in Australia and an immigration official reviewed our visas before greeting us with, “Welcome home!”. Australia didn’t quite feel like home then, but we’ve spent the past 7 days trying to make it so.

Our first and most important task has been to find somewhere to live. This can be quite daunting in a new city, but we had done a lot of research prior to arriving in Melbourne, and were lucky enough to have the assistance of a relocation agent, Helen, provided by my work. Her help was invaluable, and I had underestimated how helpful the assistance of a local would be. We viewed 9 properties in one day with Helen, and although we didn’t find quite the right property for us, we did come to the conclusion that Port Melbourne is the suburb that we want to live in.

Port Melbourne, as the name describes, is a costal suburb that is home to a sandy beach and Station Pier, the original landing point for gold seekers and settlers in the mid to late 1800s. Nowadays it is host to the Spirit of Tasmania ferry, as well as the odd cruise ship in peak season. Aside from the beach, we are attracted to Port Melbourne for the shops and cafes on nearby Bay Street, the waterfront restaurants, the well equipped gym, and the number 109 tram line which takes you to the centre of Melbourne in less than 20 minutes, plus has air conditioning!

We are continuing to view properties for rent in Port Melbourne, and have put in an application for a flat near the pier. We know that there is at least one other party who have also applied however, so please keep your fingers crossed for us!

The next task on the list was a job for Tom, and he had made considerable efforts before our arrival in Melbourne to set up some interviews. The first of two interviews that he had secured was last Thursday – 3 days after we arrived. By Friday lunchtime he had been offered the job and accepted! He will be working in brand strategy for a small consultancy firm with centrally located offices and very friendly colleagues.

The weather didn’t look too good last Friday, so we weren’t too sure what we wanted to do. Still on the “shopping list” after a flat and job for Tom was a car however, so we set out to scour the car dealerships and forecourts of Melbourne. Luckily these are all located on one street, which is convenient for those travelling on foot. We traipsed from place to place and looked at lots of different cars, before finding the car of our dreams... a Ford Focus!! (This might be quite amusing to those of you that knew we had a Ford Focus in the UK.) So we have shunned the Aussie brand Holden (sorry locals) in favour of our tried and trusted Ford. We will hopefully be collecting the car next week so will post some photos!

Melbourne is plastered with posters for This Is It – the Michael Jackson concert rehearsal film. Given that Tom and I had tickets for one of the concerts, we were really keen to see the film. Going to the cinema here made our stay so far seem less like a holiday and more like real life – it was one of the first “normal” things we’ve done in Melbourne compared to lots of touristy things. Needless to say, the film was captivating and what a show it would have been if Michael Jackson had made it to the 02. If you’re a fan, we’d recommend this film.

We might have missed out on MJ, but we aren’t missing out on X-Factor! This is thanks to the wonders of technology and the new verb in our lives.. “to sling” – meaning to capture TV on one side of the world, and transmit it via the internet to another part of the world. Before leaving the UK we purchased a Slingbox Pro, which is connected to a TV aerial and a modem at my parent’s house. The Slingbox receives the UK TV signal and allows us, from our laptops in Australia to log on to the signal and watch any TV channel we want! To solve any issues with time differences we have a hard disc recorder set up alongside our Slingbox to record the shows we want to watch. We can then playback at our leisure. An amazing gadget for anyone moving overseas....

As usual I’ll finish with a few photos, plus the news that Percy Pigs are not quite as exclusive to M&S as we might have thought! You may recall from an earlier blog entry (see “The cookie that made me crumble”) that my girlfriends bought me some M&S Percy Pigs to remind me of home. Well, as evidenced by the picture below, the Percy Pigs *did* make it as far as Australia, and have now been joined by a bag of Peggy Pigs from Coles supermarket! It turns out both are made in Germany... oh well!

Percy and Peggy - separated at birth?

Watching the 2009 Melbourne Cup parade through the city. No horses unfortunately - all the jockeys were in cars!

Tom chilling in the botanical gardens


Cake - they do it well here! (No I didn't eat all of that, or any of it!)

More cake!