Archive for the ‘Melbourne’ Category

Off on holiday!

Long-term travel is hard work. So it’s nice to be able to get away from it all and go off somewhere for a couple of weeks. We’re all excited; packing the car, sleeping on the overnight ferry, the perils and pleasures of a camping trip…

We left ‘home’ at 10 o’clock this morning and decided to make a day of it, driving down Mornington Crescent (as I can’t help labelling the peninsula) to Arthur’s Seat with its views over the long arc of shore and thence to the Enchanted Maze Garden. Here we enjoyed exploring a variety of mazes – hedge, turf, rope, colour, no-right-turn and maize. Apparently the maize maze is the only one in Australia, although I find that hard to believe; they’re so common elsewhere around the world.

Just as at Cherry Crest Farm (USA) six months ago, the sun and heat were formidable and we opted for an early exit without solving all of the themed clues. This year the whole maze was laid out as a funfair complete with carousel, ice cream, balloons, a roller-coaster, etc. Now how do they go about creating these things? Plant an entire field of corn and then uproot it along the paths, or else sow it selectively? And what about the layout? Perhaps you take a cue from those ‘enlarge the picture’ pages in children’s activity books – the ones with a grid overlaid to help you. Sketch the design on squared A4 and then mark out the field with a huge grid and take it from there. (Might be how they carved out White Horses from hillsides, too.)

My favourite maze was the shadiest; one with thick ten-foot-tall hedges concealing a Japanese garden and five Buddhas. I am sure there was yet another secret garden where we heard trickling water, and despite our searching we could find no path to it. And if this wasn’t the case, it should have been – I find the idea so appealing, having a utopia amongst the yew topiary which can never be accessed, however hard you try. [Okay, so it wasn’t a yew hedge, but I couldn’t let that get in the way of a good line.]

I also liked the paving-slab snakes and ladders game in the children’s garden. A robust metal spinner instead of rolling a die, and a sinuous numbered path complete with serpents and stairways inlaid into the concrete base. The girls loved playing it – it’s such a simple but effective outdoor presentation of the board game.

Many weird and wonderful statues scattered about the grounds; a podgy welded metal kangaroo, a princess weighing up whether to kiss her frog, a giraffe surveying the plains. And an assortment of planting; a parterre, an English cottage garden, a Blue Gum gallery.

We finished with refreshments from the cafe once the 34’C heat had taken its toll on us, then we drove back to Frankston to stock up with meals for the next week or two. Pasta, cereal bars, tins of beans and tuna, assorted sauces, dried apricots – all good camping fare.

Then Lady TT showed us the way to Port Melbourne, miles and miles up the Nepean Highway, passing through the same suburbs that our train stopped at two days before. We knew when we were nearly there because we saw the Spirit of Tasmania ferry next to an even larger cruise vessel.

As soon as we arrived, we were stopped for a security check. ‘Could you open your bonnet and boot, please?’ ‘Er, I’ve never opened the bonnet; I don’t know how to’ (I couldn’t locate the usual little catch to pull.) No firearms, fresh fruit or vegetables, alcohol (yes, half a bottle of wine), gas or flammable liquids. All was well and we queued around the corner alongside the ship for the next hour; so much for boarding commencing at 5pm.

Once we were allowed on board we found our cabin (surprisingly spacious) and went to the deck below to get some supper. The cheapest option was a buffet, $20 for a large plate or $16 for a small plate. So we played the system, loaded two big plates to maximum capacity and then shared with the girls once we found a table.

After supper we went out on deck to bid au revoir to Melbourne, then collected armfuls of relevant brochures from the on-board Tasmania Tourist Office. By now it was bedtime for the girls so they repaired to their bunks, Kirsten read brochures in the ensuite shower room and I started my blog in the dark (as usually happens when we all share a room).

A 6am arrival tomorrow; I had better get some sleep now.

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The Soda Tree

As temperatures were going to reach the low 30s today, we decided to go in search of a cooler place and headed north to Upper Ferntree Gully at the foot of the Dandenong Ranges National Park.

The lady at the information centre was extremely helpful by mapping out a car route from south to north through the National Park, marking interesting places on the way like walks, little villages with crafts and cafes and playgrounds for the girls.

Ellen, of course, had found herself a book about a train called “Puffing Billy”, sat down at the lady’s desk and read the story, oblivious to anything and anyone around her!

Late morning we stopped at Grants Picnic Ground for a snack. we hadn’t packed a picnic today and couldn’t really find anything suitable at the shop/restaurant/cafe. Instead we went for a pleasant walk among mountain ash in the forest to work up an even bigger snacky appetite.

We decided to drive on to Kallista, a nearby little village, and popped into a delicatessen to buy a chocolate frog and chocolate cookie (on a warm day?) for the girls and a refreshing coconut covered lemon slice. Nowhere to sit outside, so we drove on and found a picnic table in a shady part of the forest.

Having filled our tummies, we were ready to explore some more. One leaflet we picked up at the information centre told us about the William Ricketts Sanctuary, between Mt Dandenong and Kalorama.

William Ricketts was an artist very much in contact with the desert people of the Pitjantjara and Arrernte, and this definitely influenced his art. Ninety-two ceramic sculptures of mainly aboriginal people and animals are spread around the Sanctuary. These sculptures merge with their natural surroundings; e.g. a wise elder is as one with an ancient tree, his beard flowing into its trunk and roots, young children play with native animals among ferns and flowing water.


As usual, the girls loved exploring and enjoyed this different form of art. I very much liked the sculptures, but found the children’s faces very similar and every old wise man looked just like the next one.

By the time we finished our walk it was 1pm and lunch time. We carried on north to Montrose where we stopped at a quaint little cafe called “The Soda Tree”. As soon as I walked in, I loved the place. It was decorated with 1950s furniture and adjacent was a little shop that sold 1950s and 60s knick knacks, collectables and vintage clothes. The girls were truly fascinated by that era’s fashion and cuddly toys. I thought their menus were ingenious – they had a collection of old hard back children’s books, taken out the middle pages and replaced them with the actual menu! Needless to say Ellen was slightly disappointed when she picked up a book to read …

We eventually chose to share a “Ten Pound Pom” (toasted Turkish bread with ham, cheese and tomato) and a taster platter for two with salami, three different cheeses, toasted bread, cheese crackers, pesto, olives and roasted tomatoes and aubergines. All was delicious and certainly enough for all four of us to share. This place is definitely popular with tourists as well as locals, hence the slightly long wait for our food, but I believe it was definitely worth it.

The girls were desperate for dessert, but as they couldn’t finish their mains, we bribed them with a play in the Community Playground just down the road. Except by now it was 2.30pm and 34°C and not much shade. We restricted their time in the hot sun to 10 minutes while the grown-ups tried to keep their cool in the shade. The playground was absolutely huge and was a mini version of Montrose with a little street running through it and miniature shops, as well as a gigantic witches’ hat, climbing frame and slidy thingy that Hannah really likes.

Back into the air conditioned car to cool off where we had to decide whether to visit Healesville Sanctuary (Healesville and surrounding area had been badly effected by the horrendous bushfires just over a year ago) or head back home to splash in the pool. A visit to Healesville would have added almost an hour to our return journey (and that was without a stop there), so we opted for the shorter route home and made it back to our apartment shortly after 4pm.

After a quick snack we changed into our swimming stuff and dashed down to our open air swimming pool. The water definitely felt less cold than two days ago when it was pretty much 10°C cooler and we all had a great time. Hannah’s beginning to feel much more confident again, which was great to see.

The girls had baths before our supper of pancakes and watermelon. This was followed by writing diaries and bedtime. We are off to Tasmania tomorrow, so most packing has been done tonight in order to have a quick getaway to visit Arthur’s Seat on the Mornington Peninsula, before stocking up on dry food and catching the overnight boat to Devonport.

We will endeavour to keep up with our blog, but are not sure about internet/wireless connection on the island…

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A comfortable day today; just the right mix of sunshine, cloud and breeze to make it pleasant being out and about – hats and cardigans both coming in handy. Kirsten made some ham salad wraps (using left-over tortillas) for our picnic lunch and then we walked through our local shopping centre (huge) to find Frankston train station (we are so well situated here). This station is the end of the line from central Melbourne, and it’s an hour’s journey to reach Flinders Street.

The sum of $32.40 bought us four one-day travel cards for Zones 1 & 2 and we were just in time to catch the next train to the centre. The clean, spacious carriages trundled through 26 miles of suburbia, half the stops (Chelsea, Cheltenham, Malvern, Richmond) reminders of home. Scarcely any need for the stations to display their names; the street parallel to our track would be lined with (for example) Edithvale Real Estate, Edithvale Hot Bread Shop, Edithvale Day Nursery School, etc. The girls were amused by some of the advertising hoardings: ‘Plant yourself in a beer garden’, ‘Don’t just stand there, twiddle your thumbs’.

We got off at Flinders Street station and made our way past a convenience of cafes. One called ‘Lord of the Fries’ immediately established the cultural tone of this city. I had also just spotted a Holden (Australian make of car) in the Melbourne suburb of Caulfield – a subtle tribute to JD Salinger…

Outside we had no trouble spotting the bizarrely-sloping tourist info centre and stocked up with leaflets and maps there, aided by one of the red-jacketed City Ambassadors who are always to hand. We took a tram a short way along the road to get to the Aquarium, first enjoying our picnic by the riverside in one of the many green areas that provide breathing spaces amidst the high-rise cut and thrust.

Down by the riverside.

Then to Melbourne Aquarium. It’s divided into four themed sections: Antarctica, Weird & Wonderful, River to Reef and Sharks Alive. Kirsten had serious qualms about the whole underwater thing, but as it turned out, this only featured right at the very end. We saw King and Gentoo penguins, as elegant in the water as they were ungainly on land (or snow, rather, in their chilled enclosure).

The girls were given little activity books to complete and these were not too demanding of their (or our) time, unlike those Cadbury code-cracking conundrums. They were required to spot relevant facts about sea horses, cuttlefish, stonefish, solve straighforward anagrams (‘saehrose’, anyone?) or tick off sea creatures as they saw them.

A leafy sea-dragon, cunningly disguised as a piece of weed.

The third section contained a variety of habitats, from a billabong through rock pools and lagoons to a coral atoll. Ellen braved the jellyfish section; we didn’t see any bluebottles, nor did they have the deadliest, the Box jellyfish. The Irukandji was featured, however – a nasty one because the sting itself is not especially irritating but the venom later causes severe abdominal pain, vomiting and a ‘sense of impending doom’, and symptoms can be life-threatening. Don’t get them round here in the south, fortunately…

One of the more unusual aquatic specimens was the Blind Cave Fish. This is not simply blind; it has no eyes at all and navigates by sonar. (It also lacks any pigmentation.) And we all thought that the answer to the ‘what do you call a fish with no eyes?’ joke was ‘fsh’…

Tim communing with cod.

Then came the Dome of Doom. That tunnel under the sea where stingrays flatten themselves against the glass just feet above your head and grey nurse sharks nose over to take a closer look at you. Kirsten was certainly out of her comfort zone here but she did very well; the girls got more confident as we went on, especially when we saw quite how thick the laminated glass walls are.

Ray of sunshine…

Our timing was such that we saw two divers at the bottom of the tank, feeding the inhabitants – one diver seemingly smothered by a giant ray desperate for its afternoon snack.

Notice the two divers with buckets of food.


One final gaze at a cinema-screen-sized glass wall panel to admire the sea life and then we were out into the souvenir shop (‘remember, it has to be small and cost less than $5’). Ellen opted for a cuddly shark (you don’t get those everywhere) while Hannah chose a colourful plastic keyring with shells and a starfish.

Then the girls collected their congratulatory stickers for having completed their ‘passport’ books and we took the tram back to the railway station. A fruitless search of the surrounding streets for a pleasant, non-exorbitant cafe (they were all far too chic and pricy for the likes of us) before we settled for one of those places in the station itself.

We caught the 3.48pm to Frankston and noted with surprise that we weren’t in a state of utter exhaustion after our day out in town; we hadn’t done too much walking (other than around the aquarium) and it hadn’t been unduly hot. Okay, we’ve only skimmed the surface of Melbourne (bits of one street, on the whole), but as the guide book says, it’s a city of few sights but plenty of lifestyle.

As we walked back home we took a look in Kmart at the range of family tents available; of course a 4-person tent is never anywhere near spacious enough for four people in real life, so we’d go large. (The reverse of the rule for Chinese meals.)

Sausages, mash and corn on the cob for supper. Our final dose of culture for the day: I suddenly heard an electronic rendition of a large chunk of ‘Die Forelle’ coming from somewhere in the apartment. Not the doorbell, but the signal that our washing machine had completed its load. (Though surely Purcell would be a more appropriate choice.)

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I have been feeling quite tired over the last few days, which I reckon is due to not sleeping well and the bad weather (and therefore lack of exercise). So in order to sleep well I took two herbal sleeping tablets last night. And did they help? Not at all… I kept dozing off and sleeping deeply for a couple of hours, only to wake up and feeling annoyed of being awake. These tablets seem to work really well for Tim, but not for me. I would be grateful for any useful tips here…

Anyway, after a good night for everybody else, we had a small breakfast of toast and cereal, coffee, tea and juice. It made a lovely change to have our breakfast table in the sun, and we couldn’t wait to get on the road again.

The girls had me worried yesterday when they kept talking about television programs they had watched back in the States. I was feeling a little disappointed that they weren’t talking about our trip instead. But all that changed at breakfast this morning when our conversations covered the jungle, other wildlife we had seen and places we had visited. Phew…!

It didn’t take us long to pack our few belongings and shortly after 9.00am we were off to our next destination at Frankston near Melbourne. (For some strange reason I keep calling it Marlborough – could that be wishful thinking?)

Once back on Princes Highway, there was hardly any traffic and the journey was pretty uneventful. We made good progress, only stopping after a good hour’s drive to stretch our legs and fill our tummies with yummy biscuits.


Another hour later we stopped at a picnic site where we had Tim-made sandwiches, crisps and apples. We didn’t stay very long as we got pestered by annoying flies; that’s the drawback of sunnier and warmer weather, I suppose.

By 1.30pm we had arrived at our apartment, which is located very close a shopping centre. As soon as we walked in, we all loved it. This is so much better than our Sydney accommodation. For about £70/night we get a sitting/dining room, spacious kitchen, roomy bathroom, kids’ bedroom with bunkbed (very important), good sized double bedroom, balcony and the use of the communal open air swimming pool. Not bad!

It didn’t take the girls very long to decide who would sleep in the top bunk and where the games and toys were. Tim checked the laptop for any wireless connection and I caught up with the washing.

I was desperate to try out the pool, but first we needed to visit the supermarket (good old Safeway!) to stock up on some meals. We also popped into KMart to find reading material for the girls and a bikini for me. The bikini bottoms were reduced from $35 to $4! I so love a good bargain!!

Back home for pancakes for tea and then finally a good splash in the pool. The water was a little chillier than we would have liked, but once we were in it wasn’t too bad. Hannah had a good first attempt at proper swimming again. Hopefully we will be able to have a couple more swims before moving on so that she will gain in confidence again.

The aforementioned spiky hair…

After nearly an hour in the pool, Hannah was shivering, so we all dashed back inside to warm up and get supper on the way. Whilst Tim dashed out in search of a bottle of wine, the girls got on with their daily homework of writing their diaries. They managed really well, with hardly any help from the grown-ups.

Tomorrow is meant to be cooler (only 24-25°C) than the following day so we are planning on catching the train into Melbourne. Better help Tim now finding out what’s worth visiting…

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