Opera House & Skyline

Last weekend I jetted off to Sydney for a brief visit. When we booked our 6am flight there and 9pm return, we thought we were being really smart as it would pretty much give us 3 full days. What we didn’t take into account was that Jetstar flies from Avalon Airport – closer to Geelong than Melbourne – and that with both of us living in the suburbs, actually getting into the city and back at those times can be quite difficult. So despite our cheap flights, we wound up having to fork out for taxis, not to mention get up at 2:30am to get to the airport.

All of that aside, we arrived in Sydney at 7:30am on Friday, and one slightly crazy taxi driver later we made it to the hostel where we were able to ply ourselves with as much free food and, more importantly, coffee as we wanted. We were staying at the Hump Backpackers Hostel in Darlinghurst. Known as a bit of a party hostel, the emphasis was definitely on drinking and socialising rather than comfort and cleanliness, but it was perfect for what we needed and in a really cool and convenient area. After waking up and re-fueling a little, we walked into the city centre where we decided to do a free walking tour. These tours are run by I’m Free and I had also done the one in Melbourne a few weeks ago. They last around 3 hours and are a great way to get your bearings and a bit of an overview of the city, as well as getting heaps of information and tips from the guide. Unfortunately our first impressions of Sydney were slightly spoilt by the rain, though it was at least noticeably hotter than Melbourne!

Forgotten Songs
Forgotten Songs art installation

Queen Victoria Building
The Queen Victoria Building

After the tour we headed back to the hostel to check in, freshen up and dry off a bit. We had opted for a 4-bed dorm and were sharing with a German couple, which was definitely better than being in one of the 12-bed rooms. We ventured out again and decided to go down to Darling Harbour. It is one of the more touristy areas, being home to attractions like the Sea Life Centre and Madame Tussauds, but it was still a nice area to explore. Originally we were trying to find the famous Sydney Fish Market, but after a lot of searching and walking the exhaustion was starting to set in, so we made our way down to the area around Central Station in search of dinner. Lured in by the promise of $5 pizzas, we ended up at Scubar. The pizzas weren’t great, but you get what you pay for and we were so hungry we didn’t care. The bar itself was pretty nice though, as were their cocktails, so that kind of made up for it. Back at the hostel we had some more drinks and ended up taking part in a beer pong competition, which started off well but we quickly lost. Having been up for about 20 hours by this point we decided to call it a night, especially with our sights set on a trip to the Blue Mountains the next day.

Blue Mountains
Blue Mountains from Gordon Falls Lookout

With the weekend’s weather having turned out to be completely unpredictable and constantly changing, we didn’t know what we were going to wake up to but luckily the sun was shining so we quickly caught a train out to the small mountain town of Katoomba. The Blue Mountains are also part of the Great Dividing Range, which I ventured into last weekend in the Grampians, but the eco-system and plant life are so different you wouldn’t think they were in any way related. Most noticeable is that the mountains really are blue because of the way the light reacts to the dust and oil off the eucalyptus trees in the valley. We caught a bus from Katoomba down to Gordon Falls Lookout, and from there opted to do a bush hike to the Three Sisters. With the previous day’s rain, this felt a lot more like walking through a rainforest than the mountains. During most of the hike we passed a few other people, but it was nothing compared to the crowds when we arrived at Echo Point. Compared to the Grampians it was insanely touristy, yet everyone just seemed to come to this one lookout point rather than actually walking in the mountains which seemed a bit sad to me and also meant they were missing out on some of the best sights.

Leura Falls
Leura Falls

The Three Sisters
The Three Sisters

Despite a long day of even more walking, when we arrived back in Sydney we decided to walk across the Harbour Bridge to see the city by night, and oh my god am I glad we did this. From the previous day I was still undecided about Sydney – yes it’s nice, but I didn’t have that same instant attraction to it as I did with Melbourne. But walking around Circular Quay, through The Rocks, and along the Harbour Bridge on a hot, early Autumn night, I began to see what all the fuss was about. Sydney is definitely more of a Big City, and like New York or London I always feel like they look a lot nicer by night. The ugly skyscrapers which clutter the city during the day are transformed by lights at night, and the Opera House which I actually thought rather unimpressive and ugly when were first saw it looked so much more alive.

Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House

The Rocks
The Rocks & Circular Quay

Back at the hostel we sat outside, enjoying the day’s remaining heat while chatting to people from all over the world, eating sushi and drinking cider, and I realised how much I had needed this little break.

Bondi Beach
Loving life on Bondi Beach

By the next morning the rain had cleared up and the sun was back, so we were able to do the walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach along the coastal trail. If I had planned ahead and ignored the weather forecast of constant rain for the weekend, I would definitely have got some surfing in on Bondi but I guess I’ll have to save that for next time! The rest of the afternoon was spent revisiting some of the things we’d seen on our first day, like the Opera House and Queen Victoria Building, and a wander through the Botanic Gardens. We also went back to explore The Rocks properly and to visit the market. The Rocks was the first place that people settled in Sydney and used to be a fairly run-down area known for crime and prostitution, but now it has become a really cool, quirky area.

Bondi Beach
The Bondi to Coogee Beach coastal walk

Eventually it was time to head back after what felt like much too short a time in Sydney, which I was actually really starting to like though I’m definitely still a Melbourne person!

Frank Turner at the Corner Hotel in Richmond

Frank Turner

On Wednesday night at the Corner Hotel in Richmond, Frank Turner played his 1,663rd show. Having been in attendance at his 868th, 967th, 1,292nd and 1,524th gigs I can attest to the fact that he is a musician who only gets better. For many bands, playing so many shows results in a disconnection with the audience and a sense that they’ve stopped enjoying what they do. They get up on stage, perform a well-rehearsed and often very good show, but you feel like they’re just going through the motions. Yet even with so many shows under his belt, he still gives the impression of loving every second of what he does.

The night started with support from Lincoln Le Fevre, a Tasmanian folk-punk-rock singer, and the American Jon Snodgrass. The latter obviously being a good friend of Frank Turner’s, who was sitting by the side of the stage throughout his set and joined him halfway through for an impromptu and very casual jam of a few songs the two of them had written together. The atmosphere was a lot like watching a couple of your mates doing a gig down the local pub, as despite his fame and success Frank Turner always comes across as the most down-to-Earth, normal guy.

Jon Snodgrass & Frank Turner
Jon Snodgrass & Frank Turner

When he came back on for his own set accompanied by his backing band The Sleeping Souls, the energy that he brought onto the stage was contagious. From the very beginning the entire room was jumping, dancing and singing along to every word, and the momentum didn’t stop throughout the entire show. As it was their second night at the Corner Hotel, the band decided to switch things up a bit and divert from their usual set list by playing Turner’s 2011 album ‘England Keep My Bones’ in its entirety for the first time ever, before continuing with the usual songs. This has always been a really personal album to me and hearing it live all the way through was just amazing, if a little emotional.

Maybe it was the intimacy of a smaller venue, maybe it was being reminded of home while on the other side of the world, but this was easily my favourite Frank Turner concert to date. Anyone who hasn’t had the chance to see him live before, I cannot recommend it enough as he gives some of the best shows I have ever seen. With his sixth studio album coming out later this year he has already promised another tour in the near future.

The Half-Way Point & a Slightly Muddled Post

I realised today that I’ve been in Melbourne for 6 weeks already, which I thought meant I only had another 6 to go but actually it works out to be 7. It’s still a shock that I’m nearly half-way through my time here already, and having fallen head over heels in love with this city I really wish I could stay longer. Although to ease the pain a little I’ve booked myself a little holiday in France just after I go back to the UK so that’s something to look forward to. And now I just need to knuckle down and get on with all the stuff I still need to do here!

Today was also Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day. As someone who pretty much ate my way around Croatia’s ice cream shops last September & October, I think it’s safe to say that I’m a bit of an ice cream addict. I’ve already set about discovering some of Melbourne’s best (N2 in Brunswick Street and Saint Kilda’s Seven Apples are my top choices atm) but Ben and Jerry’s will always have a special place in my heart. Their Free Cone Day is an annual thank you to all of their customers, but living in Edinburgh where there are no B&J Scoop Shops I’ve never been able to go – until today, when I was able to head to my local on Chapel Street for all the free ice cream I wanted. My diet went out the window for the day but it was so worth it.

Indulging in some Coconut Seven Layer Bar & showing the love

Also a bit late on this, but I promised some decent photos of the Beach Boxes at Brighton Beach, which I visited again a couple of weeks ago, so here they are.

Brighton Beach Boxes

Brighton Beach Boxes

Brighton Beach Boxes

Escaping the City

It’s hard to get bored in Melbourne. Whether it’s a comedy festival or a cultural festival, the Formula 1 or the AFL, there is always something happening to suit everybody’s tastes. But sometimes city life can get a bit much, even for a suburban dweller such as myself, and you just need to get away from it all. Luckily the rest of Victoria also has no shortage of things to do, and with some of the most stunning scenery in Australia within driving distance of the CBD, it’s easy enough to escape whenever the mood strikes. So I decided to spend this weekend exploring a couple of mountain ranges, starting with the Dandenongs before moving on to bigger and more impressive things in the Grampians.

The Dandenong Mountain Ranges are only a stones throw away from Melbourne and can be reached in about 40 minutes by car. While there are a few things to see there, including the Sherbrooke Falls and the infamous Puffing Billy steam train, we decided to tackle the 1,000 Steps. Part of the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk, the 1,000 Steps are just that. Ascending Mount Dandenong, the steps lead to the summit at One Tree Hill. I was expecting this to be a pretty gruelling climb and admittedly was a little disappointed with how easy it was, although with all the spiders we saw along the way it was a bit of a relief to reach the top! The top of the Steps doesn’t offer fantastic views, so to see back over the city you need to head higher up Mount Dandenong. But with so much else to explore in these mountains, and being so close to the city, it’s definitely worth at least one visit and taking some time to explore.

Road-tripping & the start of the trail

At the top of the 1,000 Steps

The Grampians form the most Southern part of the Great Dividing Range which extends over 3,500km almost the entire length of Australia. 260km West of Melbourne, it is a bit of a drive to get there but it’s definitely worth it. With only one day you are a bit pressed for time so we only managed to stop at some of the more famous sights around Halls Gap, including Mackenzie Falls, Reeds Lookout and Silverband Falls. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back and explore a bit more, and I hear camping in the Grampians is an amazing experience. But for now I’ve satisfied my longing for a bit of nature and am looking forward to spending next weekend in Sydney!

Mackenzie Falls
Mackenzie Falls

The Jaws of Death
The Jaws of Death

Easter Holidays

Everything is backwards in Australia. Yesterday was Easter, a day which for me usually symbolises that the darkness and cold days of Winter are almost over and soon we will all be basking in the Summer sunshine. But rather than the days getting warmer and longer, flowers blooming, baby animals being born, and Spring generally springing, Autumn is undoubtedly approaching. Not that I’m going to let that stop me, and as I heard that it snowed back home the other day I’ve probably still got it better down here.

The school holidays started last weekend so I’ve been working a lot more this past week while also trying to cram in some extra Easter fun for myself, including my first surf lesson at the beautiful Bells Beach in Torquay, and although I am unbelievably bad at it I instantly fell in love. I also managed to catch a show in the Melbourne Comedy Festival. Being from Edinburgh, home of the world famous Fringe Festival which takes over the whole city and completely transforms it for the whole of August, my first impressions of Melbourne’s Comedy Festival were a bit underwhelming. But on Thursday I found myself in the city enjoying some much needed me time and with a couple of hours to kill, so I thought I’d check out a show. My choices on a weekday afternoon were fairly limited, but for $5 I caught a surprisingly good show, ‘5 for 5 at 5’, where 5 comedians each gave a 10 minute taster of their own shows.

Our first surf lesson

On Friday I headed out to the countryside with the fam to spend a couple of days with them at their house near Ballarat. Friday was also Passover, so I celebrated my first ever Passover Sedar. Saturday was then packed full of kid friendly activities, though I think I actually enjoyed them just as much as the little ones. As we all piled into the car at 9am, our breath misting in front of us in the 3°c morning air, I was brutally reminded of family holidays in the Scottish countryside when I was younger. Unlike in Scotland though, the day quickly warmed up.

Our first stop was Sovereign Hill, an open-air museum of an 1850s gold mining town based around Victoria’s gold rush and the discovery of the ‘welcome nugget’. Although I was expecting it to be mostly aimed at children it actually has a lot for adults as well. We spent most of the day there, looking in the old shops and cafes, exploring the mine, panning for gold (which I sucked at but the kids managed to find me some), playing bowls, making candles and generally pretending we were living in the past.

Sovereign Hill Main Street

Sovereign Hill Apothecary

After that we visited the Ballarat Wildlife Park so that I could finally have some Aussie animal experiences, and I am so glad we went there rather than to a zoo or something. Despite it being the Easter weekend, being a small place in a small town it was really quiet. One member of staff even said that they’d had people drive all the way from Melbourne because the queue for the zoo there was going to take longer than the drive to Ballarat. Anyway, I finally got to feed and play with kangaroos, see koalas, Tassie devils, wombats, echidnas, snakes and all sorts of other Aussie wildlife.


Kangaroo & Joey

As if that wasn’t already a long day, I then had to catch the train back to Melbourne and head out to Chapel Street for a pub crawl! All in all a damn good but exhausting start to my Easter weekend. I was supposed to do the Great Ocean Road Sunday – Monday but once again the weather ruined my plans. Luckily that gave me a couple of days to recover before the second week of the holidays begins, which I definitely needed!

Kangaroo selfie