Thursday, June 30, 2011

My TV Debut

Remember when I went to the Millionaire Hot Seat show taping and talked about the guy that won $250,000?  Well, that episode aired the other day, and I happened to catch it!  So I took a few pictures.  Here is the moment when the confetti shot off and everyone went crazy.
Here is the guy with his winning question.  Would you have known the answer?  I didn't!  I was sitting in the front row on the far left side, a few rows down from this guy's wife.  In the final picture, you can see me!  I'm right above the 000.  So now you can say you know an Australian TV star-ha.  I'll try to avoid becoming a diva!
My Australian TV Debut!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Story of our Surfboards

A few weeks ago, we went down to Torquay to do some outlet shopping.  We got some good deals on clothes in this ocean-side town, but we were really looking to buy surfboards.  Renting every weekend was becoming expensive, and we had an idea of the size and style we needed.  We went in every surf shop, but we couldn't find ones that we loved. 

At one point, we came across this South Coast Surfboards shop.  It was like a garage where surfboards were shaped, painted, etc.  We went in the store next door and actually met the owner.  He talked to us about surfboards and skiing (he had been to Steamboat Springs), and we admired his custom-made surfboards in his shop.  They were way out of our price range, but they were beautiful.  He talked about custom boards versus the mass-produced ones that come from Taiwan or China, and he told us to take a look at his website.  Specifically, he recommended his "La Southern Belle" board for me.  We left after a bit, knowing that we would never spend that much on a surfboard (some were near $2000!), but it was cool to talk to him and find out some more about custom boards.

Before heading back to Melbourne, we decided to stop by Anglesea (another ocean-side town) and check their surfboard shop.  We got there right as they were going to close, but we took a quick look at their selection.  This shop had a big selection of secondhand boards, and they were reasonably priced.  And best of all, we found a board made and signed by the guy we had met in Torquay-it was a La Southern Belle surfboard!  It was the perfect size for me-9'1".  Longboards are good for beginners and intermediate riders because they easily catch waves and stay afloat.  And it's blue!  Zack found a custom board too; it's one made in New South Wales by a company called Bear Surfboards.  His is 8'2", which is great for learning and eventually progressing to the next level.  Both of our boards are colorful and unique, and we've already used them once.  So now we own surfboards, and we'll probably hit the ocean again this Saturday!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rock of Ages

Zack's birthday present was tickets to see the show Rock of Ages in Melbourne.  He had been wanting to see it for awhile, and the stinker even saw a commercial and said, "You should get me tickets for that for my birthday" after I had already planned on doing that.  Grrr!  We went on Thursday night after getting back from Sydney on Wednesday.  I met Zack downtown after work, took him out for some pizza (his favorite meal), and then we went to the show at the Melbourne Comedy Theatre.  He looks all fancy here, because he has to wear a suit and tie to work every day now!

Rock of Ages is a musical set in the 1980s.  It has all sorts of 80s rock songs, which we sang all the way home after the show.  It was fun and really well-done.  Having seen some shows on Broadway, I didn't set my expectations really high, so I was surprised that it was so good.  The music rocked, the actors and actresses were excellent, and the show was extremely professionally done.  I was impressed!  Zack has since downloaded lots of the songs onto our iTunes, so we can relive them.  "To Be With You," "Every Rose Has Its Thorns," and "More Than Words" are a few of my favorites.

We came home after the show and dug into the gooey butter cake I had made (another one of Zack's favorites).  It turned out kind of weird since I don't have a real mixer at this place, but it still tasted good...more like a custard than a cake.  Oh well.  And that's how we celebrated Zack's birthday in Melbourne!

Zack actually left for Sydney early this morning and gets back late tomorrow night, so I'm on my own today and tomorrow.  I'd like to say I'm doing something exciting, but I'll most likely be getting ready for the move into our long-term place, which happens on July 1.  We're so ready!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Darling Harbour and Fenced in the Gardens

Monday was a beautiful sunny day in Sydney.  While Zack worked and before he got home for his birthday celebration, I explored some other parts of the city we hadn't gotten to on Sunday.  I first walked around Darling Harbour.  This is a touristy area with several seafood restaurants and water features.  In this picture, you can see the track for Sydney's monorail.  We never rode it while we were there; we just walked everywhere.

I grabbed some fast food for lunch and ate it on some steps overlooking the water.  Several seagulls gathered around and were eyeing my food, waiting for me to drop some so they could snatch it!  It was about 70 degrees and sunny, which was a nice change from the cold rain we had been getting in Melbourne.
After walking back by the Harbour Bridge and Opera House later in the afternoon to get some sunset pictures, I meandered through the Royal Botanic Gardens.  I saw several strange birds, which I'll talk about in another post.  Anyway, I didn't know they locked every gate at 5pm, so I found myself trapped inside!  This is a picture of the fence near a fountain where I was trapped.  I could see the whole city off to the right, and I needed to get out and back to the hotel before the Birthday Boy got home from work!

Apparently this happens quite often, because a sign like this was posted at every gate.  So I called the ranger, and fifteen minutes later (and after about six other trapped folks had joined me), he came and let us out.  I got home with plenty of time to spare before Birthday Boy left work.  Zack is actually headed back to Sydney for work on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, but I think I'm done with Sydney posts, so tomorrow's blog entry will be about something else.  Hope you're having a good weekend!   

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Bondi Beach

Some people wonder what I do in Australia while Zack works.  Well, sometimes I'm busy taking care of household shopping, laundry, ironing, cooking, cleaning, banking, finding an apartment or items for it, etc.  Sometimes I'm busy planning our adventures and activities, such as the Yarra Valley winery tours or Zack's birthday dinner or my family's upcoming trip in November.  But most of the time, I am free to do whatever I'd like to do.  And it's glorious!  I can't remember the last time in my life when I could truly do whatever I wanted to do without feeling like I should be doing something else.  With teaching, though I loved the kids, there was always some book I should be reading, some lesson plan I should be working on, and/or some papers I should be grading.  In school, there was always some essay I should be writing, some materials I should be studying, and/or some textbook I should be reading.  Now I have the freedom to spend my days (and nights) however I choose.  So I take pictures around the city.  Or go to a Zumba class.  Or ride my bike to the market.  Or go for a run on the pier.  Or signup to volunteer with a youth foundation.  Or write a blog entry.  Or watch The View.  Or read a book for (gasp!) enjoyment.  And I don't have to feel guilty about any of it!  I'm sure I'll go crazy at some point and find/invent some sort of job for myself, but in the meanwhile, Zack is nice enough to let me have this time to learn how to enjoy life a little bit!

Anyway, when I was faced with an entire Tuesday to myself earlier this week in Sydney, and I felt I had already seen the main tourist attractions, I decided to spend the day at the beach...Bondi Beach to be precise.  Zack and I had stopped by there on Sunday to see this famous stretch of sand and watch some of the stellar surfers, but this time I went alone.  It's about a thirty minute bus ride from the city, and it's known from the TV show Bondi Rescue.  This picture shows a public pool you can use (for a price) right alongside the ocean.  Sometimes the waves even crash into the pool!

I hired (rented) a surfboard for two hours and enjoyed an afternoon in the ocean.  I didn't catch a whole lot of waves, but it was fun just being in the water.  I think that Sydney's beaches are a bit warmer (though you still need a wetsuit) and the water is a bit bluer than down in Victoria.  But, I also hear that up to 30,000 people can be at Bondi Beach on a summer day, so I can't imagine how many surfers you'd be bumping into on a day like that!  After returning my surfboard to the shop, I found a place with creme brulee flavored ice cream.  Of course I couldn't pass up a cone of that, so I bought one and brought it down to the beach to finish.  And that's how I spent my Tuesday in Sydney-not too shabby!  

Life is good!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sunday in Sydney Synopsis

We arrived in Sydney early Sunday morning to spend a full day checking out the sights.  We did a TON of walking, but we saw a lot.  After checking into the hotel, we started by taking a quick stroll past the Archibald Fountain and through the Art Gallery of New South Wales.  You could probably spend a whole day just in there.  We saw some Aboriginal art, a self-portrait by DaVinci, some strange sculptures, and a Picasso painting (pictured below).

Then we walked through part of the Royal Botanic Gardens, where there were lots of interesting birds (more about that in another post).  We ended up at a Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, a seat carved in the stone that gives a good viewpoint of Sydney Harbour.  Then we walked around Farm Cove to the Sydney Opera House.  I got goosebumps when I first saw it...I guess because it's such an iconic structure, and it was hard to believe I was seeing it in person.  It really is a strange series of buildings; they kind of look like helmets or something.  We walked around them, went inside one, and then had a relaxing lunch sitting in the sunshine outside with a view of the Opera House on one side and the Harbour Bridge on the other side.     
After lunch, we walked around Circular Quay.  Quay is pronounced "key" by the way.  This is a big touristy area, because it's right between the two main attractions, and all sorts of ferries and charter boats take off from here.  Several street performers, or "buskers" as they are called here, were out entertaining the crowds.  Fake Aboriginals (I think they were fake) were dancing and playing didgeridoos in more than one location.  Anyway, we next headed to walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  We only went halfway across, but it was neat to get different views of the city and the Opera House, look down at the clear blue water below, and admire all of the sailboats out on the sunny day.

After the bridge, we walked around an area called The Rocks.  There was a street fair going on, and we bought a Sydney Christmas ornament because we like to collect ornaments from the different places we visit.  Then we took a bus out to the famous Bondi Beach (more about that in another post as well) and enjoyed some yummy gelato while watching the talented surfers.  We had dinner in Chinatown back in the city and went to bed early because we had been up since 4am with our early flights.

Sydney is definitely different from Melbourne.  We think we like Melbourne better overall.  The weather might be a bit better in Sydney; it seems to be sunny more often and a few degrees warmer.  It is a very clean city; the taxis are immaculate and the streets are spotless.  But it seemed to lack some of the character of Melbourne.  The downtown area is kind of dead; the only "happening" area we saw was Circular Quay with the tourists.  Their Chinatown is underwhelming, and the main mode of transportation is bus versus electric tram.  It just doesn't have the same charm.  Melbourne has so many unique areas of town with various shops and cultures and crowds.  Maybe we are biased, but we get the impression that Sydney is a great place to visit, but Melbourne is a better place to live.  But it is a beautiful city right on the water, and we had a splendid Sunday exploring Sydney!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Zack's Birthday Recap

Zack's birthday was on Monday.  He had to work during the day, but we had a nice evening together.  We took the city's ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, which is a thirty minute scenic ride that goes past the Harbour Bridge and around the Opera House over to Manly Wharf.  I've got some pictures from the ride on my Shutterfly page, but they are pretty fuzzy.  Trying to take pictures from a moving boat at night is not easy!  This picture was taken before Zack got home; I walked around at sunset to get some good shots.  But it shows the type of ferry we rode over to Manly.

Manly is a suburb of Sydney.  By the looks of it, it seems that lots of people take this ferry every day to work in the city.  We went to a restaurant called Hugo's, which was right on the water.  They are known for their good pizzas, so we ordered a fig one that kind of reminded us of pizza at The Stash in Crested Butte, Colorado.  Yum!  

For dessert, Zack ordered a chocolate tart.  It had raspberry sauce, ice cream, and pistachio fairy floss.  After some questioning of the waitress, we figured out that fairy floss is what they call cotton candy.  I told them it was his birthday, so they put a fun sparkler on the plate.  It was a good night, but tonight Zack gets to celebrate his birthday again, because I had already made some Melbourne plans.  Perhaps that will be tomorrow's entry!

In an unrelated note, we're pretty lucky that we made it back to Melbourne last night.  Tons of flights have been cancelled throughout Australia over the past few days because of the ash cloud from the Chilean volcano.  They started up again yesterday afternoon, so our flights last night were unaffected.  I feel sorry for all of the people who were stranded, especially some folks who had come from overseas and got rerouted to Brisbane or elsewhere.  Their vacations are wrecked.  Darn ash cloud!  

Lots more posts to come...our time in Sydney, the story of our surfboards, one about the currency here, our new apartment in July, etc.  Keep checking in!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Happy Birthday Zack!

Zack is turning 33 in style in the beautiful city of Sydney.  He's on his way home from work right now, and we're going out to dinner, but I just wanted to say a quick hello, show one of the many pictures we took yesterday in our (long!) walk around town, and wish my husband a happy birthday.  Lots more to come later this week!  

Friday, June 17, 2011

Surfing Until Sunset

On Monday, we went to Phillip Island for the first time to surf at Woolamai Beach.  Zack finally managed to get a picture proving that I can stand on a surfboard!  The waves were kind of rough at first, but we had a nice stretch of good ones for awhile in the late afternoon.

Our little studio apartment is getting pretty crowded with three bikes, two surfboards, and all of our boxes.  But we move to our long-term place in a couple of weeks, and the nice part about not having to rent surfboards is that we can stay at the beach for as long as we want.  So we stayed until sunset!  Can you see Zack surfing in this picture?

Mondays aren't so dreadful when you can spend them surfing in a setting like this.  Life isn't half bad!  And this Sunday morning, we're headed to Sydney, because Zack is working for part of next week out there.  So the next blog entry might be from Sydney-have a good weekend everyone!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Yarra Valley Wineries

On Sunday morning, we headed out in the fog with our friends Adam and Emily and their guest Jason to the beautiful wineries of Yarra Valley.  This is an area about an hour outside of Melbourne (near the Dandenongs) known for its wine.  We visited some of the more well-known wineries, such as Yering Station, Domaine Chandon, and De Bortoli.  We also stopped by Oakridge and the Yarra Valley Dairy, where we bought some yummy cheese.  Since it was a holiday weekend, everywhere was pretty crowded, but we had a good time tasting various wines and enjoying the expansive views.

We took a thirty minute tour at Domaine Chandon, where we learned all about their wine-making processes and got to see some of the machinery.  Domaine Chandon is part of the same company that makes Dom Perignon.  This is the riddling room.  They turn these bottles a quarter turn twice a day.  I was so tempted to turn one and mess up their whole system, but I resisted the urge.  We did enjoy the wine tasting here and bought two bottles. We got one very unique Pinot Noir to share with my dad when my family comes out in November and one Cuvee Riche that I really liked to save for a special occasion.
Since we're heading into winter, there were no grapes on the vines, but the fields were still very pretty.  We all agreed it'd be fun to come back in the summer to see a different side of things.  Many wineries have gorgeous grounds; it'd be lovely to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy a bottle of wine with the nice view.

Once the fog burned off and the sun came out, 
we had a very beautiful day for winery touring!  

Cheers to Yarra Valley-we'll be back!

Tomorrow's post will be about our Monday session of surfing until sunset.  Look for some pretty rad pictures (you can cheat and go to Shutterfly right now to see them ahead of time!).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Puffing Billy

This is Puffing Billy, a steam engine train that travels through the Dandenongs.  It's one of those things to cross off your Melbourne area "to-do's," and since I had a 25% off coupon, we gave it a whirl.  It was kind of cool, at least for a little while.

The fun part was that they let you sit on the edge with your legs and arms hanging out of the train while it's moving.  I can't imagine them ever letting you do that in the United States; there would be lawsuit possibilities galore!  The steam was also neat; it looked especially cool when we went through areas full of trees.  And everywhere we went, people were outside, parked below, or stopped at the intersection waving at us.  Everyone loves Puffing Billy!

The trip was a bit long though.  It got old (and cold) after awhile.  We did the trip from Belgrave to Lakeside, which is about an hour each way, but there is an even longer one that goes two hours each way.  I would think that would get pretty boring.  On the way back, we sat in the closed-in cart with glass windows to stay warm.  It was an interesting thing to do once, but I wouldn't pay full price, and I don't think I'd do it again.  But hey, it was fun for an afternoon, and we can say we've been on the Puffing Billy steam engine train!

In a totally unrelated note, don't try to come visit Melbourne today!  Lots of flights are cancelled around Australia because of the ash cloud from the volcano in Chile.  Several people are stuck in Tasmania or New Zealand from the long holiday weekend.  Yikes!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dandenong Ranges National Park

We started off our Queen's Birthday holiday weekend with a drive out to Dandenong Ranges National Park on Saturday morning.  It's only about an hour outside of Melbourne, but you feel like you're in a whole different world.  There are towering trees, everything is so green, and it feels like a rainforest with its chirping birds and moist, fresh air.

We did a short hike in the Sherbrooke Forest to a small waterfall.  It was nice to get away from the city for a bit, though we missed having Molly the trail dog running out ahead of us to scout out the path and make friends along the way.

A glimpse of Sherbrooke Falls

After our hike, we headed to the SkyHigh Restaurant, which sits atop Mount Dandenong.  Of course, the view wasn't quite as impressive as it is atop those Colorado Fourteeners, as this "mountain" is just over 2000 feet above sea level (633 meters).  But it was still cool to see Melbourne from a distance and enjoy some lunch in the sunshine.

View from Mount Dandenong-can you see Melbourne?
As always, there are more pictures on my Shutterfly site (link in the upper right).  Overall, it was a morning well spent, and tomorrow's entry will tell you all about our Saturday afternoon activity!

Monday, June 13, 2011


Just a quick post about the delicious chocolate in this country.  I haven't really seen any Nestle or Hershey products.  Whereas in the United States, Cadbury is reserved for special occasions like Easter, here, every candy bar is made with Cadbury chocolate!  Here are some of the candy bars we picked up the other day at 7-11 when they were on sale for $1 versus the normal price of about $3.

Another delicious item they have here are Tim Tams.  We had been warned about these by our friends Andy and Melissa (they went to Australia on their honeymoon), and they were totally correct about how good they are.  You can get them in all different flavors; the double coat and white chocolate ones are my favorites.  Basically it's malted biscuits (cookies) separated by cream filling.  So good.

There are also several chocolate shops in this town:  Max Brenner, San Churro, Haigh's Chocolates, etc.  They have super-delicious hot chocolate and all sorts of treats made of the best chocolate you've ever tasted.  Anyway, I'm not sure I'll ever be able to go back to eating cheap American chocolate again!

There was a public holiday this weekend (Queen's Birthday), so Zack had off today.  Look for several posts this week about the fun things that filled our days:  Dandenong Ranges National Park with a steam engine train ride, Yarra Valley wineries, and surfing until sunset!  But now, it's time for bed...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Some Serious Surfing

A big wave comes toward Adam.
Last weekend, we joined our new friends Adam and Emily for some surfing in Torquay.  Coincidentally, Adam and Emily moved to Australia from Denver as well!  They've been out here since January for their jobs, and they live in the suburb right next to ours.  I randomly met Emily at a book club, and we're all learning to surf!

We didn't know the waves would be sooooo huge on this day.  The surf reports say they were four to eight feet high.  That's if you're looking at them from the front.  And when an eight foot wave is coming at your face, it is incredibly scary.  And then somehow I'm supposed to surf it?  Yeah right.  I got up a few times early in the morning, but the waves got bigger as the day went on, and I eventually had to just call it quits.  Unfortunately, there is no photographic proof of the few waves I did catch.  But of course, before I quit, Zack got a few lovely photographs of me getting demolished by the waves.  The one below is especially pitiful.

Sad, I know.  But kind of funny.
Some really good surfers were out on this day; it was actually more crowded than we've ever seen it.  Zack got up more than a few times, and I got a few pictures of it (one below).  We're going surfing again tomorrow, and we're hoping the waves are a bit more manageable.  We finally purchased surfboards (more about that in an upcoming post), so we're excited to try out our own boards.  And I'm going to make Zack get a picture of me surfing even if he has to sit on the beach for an hour!

Surfer Zack ripping it up.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

MasterChef Mania

Zack and I have a little routine going now.  On most weeknights, he gets home from work, we eat dinner, and then we watch a television show called MasterChef Australia.  It is awesome.  Basically, lots of wanna-be chefs are narrowed down, and then there are various cooking competitions to see who gets eliminated each week until they get down to one.  This reality TV show is on six days a week here-it's crazy!  Depending on which night of the week it is, there might be an elimination challenge, a pressure cooker test (timed cooking), a master class with a famous chef, etc.  They also bring in various guest judges and cook-off competitors who are famous chefs and restaurant owners around Australia.

"Five minutes left-chop chop-this is 'do or die' time!"
We have fun trying to figure out who is going to get kicked off, who is going to make something good, and being grossed out by some of the dishes.  We also have a good time mimicking the judges.  They are hilarious.  They say dramatic things like, "Cook as if your life depends upon it" and distinctly Australian things like, "This dish is a cracker!" (that's a good thing), and funny things like when they were cooking Spanish dishes and one said, "You are in a 'House of SPain!'"  One of them wears ridiculous colored suits with fancy scarves every night.  We call him "Scaaaahf," which is "Scarf" said with an accent and a raspy voice.  Try it.

Scaaaaaaahf on one of his more subdued days.
The only problem with this show is that now Zack scrutinizes my cooking like a MasterChef judge!  When it's good, I might hear, "There is an explosion of flavor in my mouth!" (said with an accent of course).  When it's bad, well, I never cook badly, so I wouldn't know!  :)  Ha-just don't ask him about the smoky haze he comes home to sometimes.  I swear it's because of the horrid frying pan in this furnished place-it's a piece of junk!
A contestant gets her dish judged.
Anyway, this show (now in its third season) has brought a pretty big focus on cooking and food to Australia.  The interesting thing is how it's different from reality shows in the United States.  Nobody on this show talks badly about anybody else; they all support each other.  They cheer each other on, help each other out, and they are sad when someone is eliminated.  It's not like Hell's Kitchen or reality cooking shows in the States where everyone yells at each other and fights.  Very different.  Very fun to watch.  And I am very much putting off making our own MasterChef dinner by writing this blog entry!