Sunday, 23 August 2015

Our family holiday to Australia - Part 2: Sydney

...So, after two weeks in Victoria, we travelled to New South Wales with Virgin Australia.

I can only imagine how beautiful the bays of Sydney and the surrounding area must have been for James Cook to have (re)named it after Wales. There are very few similarities now, unless you head out of the city. The botanic gardens and beaches are beautiful and the Sydney opera house and bridge make stunning landmarks, but it's not until you travel for over an hour outside the city, that you get any idea of what Australia might have one looked like.

During our stay in Oz, we've learned about the indigenous aboriginal people, culture, art and traditions ...something the British history books and classes seem to miss out. We've seen some amazing indigenous art in the Art Gallery of NSW and an interesting exhibition on aboriginal culture in the Australian Museum. It was uncomfortable at times to read the stories of stolen land and children taken from their families, but something I feel I must mention.

Anyway, back to the review...we stayed in the suburb of Rozelle; around a 20 minute bus-ride from the centre, and within easy reach of a selection of bars, cafes and restaurants, in neighbouring Balmain. Getting around Sydney was easy enough on the buses and ferries. Like Melbourne, you need to buy a travel pass, called an Opal (based on London's Oyster Card apparently). Of course, we had to visit the harbour bridge and opera house, which are in the heart of the city, near the beautiful botanic gardens. I was surprised to find they were so close together, as they don't appear that way on TV. I had hoped to be in awe of these fantastic structures, as so many of my friends and family have been, but alas, they looked like a pointy building and a big, metal bridge to me!

Food-wise, Sydney was pretty similar to Melbourne, except there seemed to be more European/Middle-Eastern influences and slightly less Asian. Vegetarian and vegan food was plentiful in both restaurants and shops, so we had no shortage of good food to eat. Lunches in cafes and restaurants were full-on meals with ubiquitous avocados and salad, not light snacks and sandwiches, so we often look a picnic out with us, which saved money too. We found that Greek and Middle-Eastern restaurants were the best bet for a vegetarian light lunch or dinner, but these were out in the suburbs, not in the city .
On an Aussie Masterchef theme again, we ate at the trendy Wilhemina's restaurant (fronted by last years' forth-placed contestant Jamie Fleming) and tried some delicious cake and pastries from guest chef, Adriano Zumbo's patisserie.
Towards the end of our holiday, we were craving a good (British-Indian) curry and luckily both the Indian Palace and Manjits in Balmain delivered on taste and price. The only thing lacking was a good naan (maybe they don't have tandoor ovens in Australia), as the naans in both places were small, round, pale affairs, not the big, puffy pillows of bread we get in the UK! They also had puny idea why that is!

As a city, we found Sydney to be big, brash and busy, so a highlight for us all was the tranquil, and small but perfectly formed, Chinese Garden of Friendship in China Town. You really wouldn't believe you were in the city centre, unless you looked up to see the skyscrapers surrounding it. Another must-do was the stunning coastal walk from Coogee beach to Bondi, which took us around and hour and a half with plenty of photo opportunities. Unfortunately, there were no Bondi Rescue life guards on duty when we got there! Talking of beaches, we also took the ferry from Circular Quay to visit Manly and Watson's Bay. Even in the winter, it was warm enough to have a paddle and a picnic on the beach, which was lovely. It was also well worth travelling out to the vast Blue Mountains to get a taste of real, rural Australia.
After four busy weeks down-under, it was time for another mammoth flight back to the UK with Cathay Pacific. I don't know when or if we''ll ever travel back to Oz, but this was a holiday we'll never forgot. Pin It

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Our family holiday to Australia - Part 1: Melbourne

If I was an organised blogger, I would have had a couple of posts up my sleeve, scheduled them to publish whilst I was away, and you'd have been none the wiser. As I'm not, I thought I'd better explain where I am ! I don't post many personal anecdotes, so if you're looking for a recipe, feel free to ignore my holiday ramblings ...

My long time followers, if there are any, may remember my rather self-indulgent post about my friend and her family emigrating to Australia. My brother and sister-in-law also emigrated a few years earlier (you see a pattern emerging here?!) so it's been a mission for us to save up enough money for us to visit them all, before the girls left home. As Miss Ony took her GCSEs this year, we thought this summer would be a good time to go; luckily, Mr O's boss was agreeable to him taking an extended holiday.

As we're tied to school holidays, flight prices were never going to be cheap. By initially using flight price-checking websites and then comparing fares for individual airlines, I eventually found suitable, affordable flights with Cathay Pacific - the cheapest were with Malaysian Airlines! Cathay Pacific were great to fly with and had pretty comfortable seats, but it's a long flight no matter how far the seats recline and we were all very happy to finally land in Australia after 27 hours.

So far, we've spent 2 weeks in Melbourne. Despite the chilly winter weather (yes it's winter here - which seemed to come as a shock to some of my friends!!), we've had a great time seeing my friend and her family, plus of course, the sights of Melbourne. We've also eaten some great food...see, this is a kind of a foodie post after all!

We initially stayed at the Pegasus Apart'Hotel at the edge of the CBD for our first week, We decided on this accommodation, partly for the location and price (I got a discount by booking through Expedia), plus they offered free WiFi and had an indoor, heated  pool - great for the teenagers. The apartments were near Queen Victoria Market, which had an amazing deli hall and fruit/veg market, where we bought most of our food for our self-catered breakfasts and lunches. We found out that in winter, there's also a weekly night market every Wednesday - with street food, drink, craft stalls and live entertainment - we wrapped up warmly and enjoyed an evening there.

Luckily, the exchange rates were in our favour! Restaurants in the city varied widely from cafes, budget restaurants (mainly East Asian) and pubs, to expensive steak and hotel/casino restaurants. There were plenty of vegetarian and vegan options available, including several exclusively vegetarian places, but basically, the more expensive the restaurant, the less veggie food was on the menu! We mainly stuck to the budget end of the market and ate some delicious food, including a yummy eggplant parma at the famous Mrs Parmas, but we did splash out one night and ate some beautifully presented, and very tasty Greek-inspired food at Gazi (one of Aussie Masterchef presenter George Calombaris' restaurants).

The public transport system was very easy to navigate, cheap and efficient. All the trams in the CBD are free, which is amazing. If venturing further afield, you need to purchase a MYKI card, which you then top up as needed - like an Oyster card, I'm told.

We've done plenty of the usual touristy things, including visiting the brilliant Melbourne Museum, the beautiful Botanic Gardens, seeing some amazing art by indigenous artists at the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia), a Yarra Valley wine tour and of course we've seen some of the unique, native Australian wildlife including koalas, wombats and kangaroos. 

After a week in the city, we moved out to the seaside resort of St Kilda at the Quest St. Kilda Bayside Apartments, again, we chose these apartments for their price and location (5 minutes walk from the beach and central St Kilda). Unfortunately, their free WiFi, was limited to 250mb per day, which basically equated to a few minutes checking social media - the girls were not impressed, so we ended up purchasing unlimited WiFi.

In the summer, St Kilda must be bustling with tourists and back packers, but in winter it was pretty quiet, although almost all of the restaurants, bars and shops were open. None-the-less, we enjoyed visiting the traditional European cake and chocolate shops, Luna Park, going on beach-side walks and seeing the wild colony of fairy penguins at the end of the pier. Our favourite eating place in St Kilda was the tiny 40 Thieves & Co Middle-Eastern restaurant - great food and friendly service. 

I'm not sure if it's on in the UK yet, but we've been watching Restaurant Revolution (one of the few Australian programmes on free-to-air TV). Some of the contestants have been running a pop-up restaurant in St Kilda, and we've enjoyed watching the queues build each day!

I can't believe how fast our first two weeks have gone. We're now packing for our next adventure in Sydney...

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