Sunday, 14 March 2010

Gosh we've been busy

Whenever people ask us about our new life here in Sydney - we always say that there is always something happening. And it is true - we have never had such a busy social life. Now I will admit, most of it revolves around drinking - but we are in Australia after all, and it is the national pastime. Our friends from Brisbane - Mandy and Scott - recently stayed with us - they were off to see ACDC and we provided accommodation. As well as quite a few of Gus' now famous cocktailsWhilst they were at the concert, we headed off to a special private event - the soft opening of Rita's bar. Situated in Ashfield, this was a cool new happening spot.

Whilst I was a bit concerned to see the barman drinking his own martinis, Gus remained unfazed by it all. He kept his cool - must have been the hat!

The following weekend we had yet more visitors from Brisbane - Gus' cousin Lennard and his wife Alida. They were in Sydney for the George Michael concert - we had tickets too - clearly we are all about the same age! Amazingly this was my very first stadium concert experience - I have led a sheltered life! It was a great night - 40000 fans - and Mr George Michael was in fine form. Still sounds good and still has the stage presence and all the moves. I would have liked a bit more Wham, but he ended the evening on a great note.

The following night was Mardi Gras - the Gay and Lesbian parade. Now I don't do crowds and there was no way I was mixing with the plebs on the street, so we had VIP tickets to the Glamstand. This was banked seating, in a separate area - with its own bar, food, and toilets. Now that's much more me. We even glammed up ourselves especially

The tickets for Glamstand were sold to raise money for the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, an HIV / AIDS related charity. So it was money well spent. And we had a blast. Great seats, a great view of all the hot boys parading past,

and commentary from 2 of Sydney's finest drag queens.

After all that excitement, we needed a break and so last weekend, rather than host people from Brisbane, we headed up there ourselves to stay with Gus' schoolfriend Kerry. Like a true South African, Kerry treated us to a braaithough I have to admit, I am not a fan of boerwurst. The kebabs and burgers were delicious though. As was our Sunday morning breakfast at Surfer's Paradise.

Now Surfer's seems to be the Aussie equivalent of Blackpool or Bournemouth - you either love it or hate it. It does have a rather faded, shabby quality - and seemed to be populated by either retirees or hippy surfersI quite liked it. Mind you, that might have been due to all the half dressed hippy surfers.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Time for a catch up

Wow 2010 is moving past at a fair old pace. It's almost the end of Feb. So what have we been up to?
We saw Inglorious Bastards at the Outdoor Cinema. Situated in the Botanical Gardens, this event shows a different film every night. Tickets sell out fast as it is such a fantastic location - we did well to get seats. I had a bit of a dash home from work, but we made it, and even had time for a bite to eat and a bottle of something chilled and sparkly before the film began. I have to say that the contrast between the stunning setting and the violence onscreen was quite surreal.

Then we had Australia Day. It's compulsory on this day to attend a barbecue, eat lamb and drink too much.

We just had to obey - and despite the onerous demands - we had a good time. Thanks go to our hosts Andrew & Shane.

Our weekend in Canberra however proved less exciting. Canberra is a planned capital - all sweeping vistas and grand boulevards for the politicans to drive along. The whole place is designed to make the politicans feel important - trouble is, at weekends, the place is absolutely dead. They all go home, leaving behind a soulless city. And that's when it is sunny. We picked the weekend of Canberra's first rain in 8 months - and boy did it rain. Torrential. Another "rain event". And Canberra in the rain is a lot less interesting than Canberra in the sun. There was one highlight. The "Masterpieces from Paris" exhibition - artworks from the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, featuring Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse, Cezanne, Seurat & Gauguin. A great exhibition, and proving wildly popular. People have been queuing for 2 hours just to get in - there ain't much else to do in Canberra admittedly. We were lucky - we were advised to go late afternoon and indeed the queue was only about 10 minutes. It was worth the 3 hour drive from Sydney.

Now we do love living here in Australia - but just occasionally we come across something which makes us think fondly of life in the UK. Like this sign, on the toilet building at a rest stop on the road from Sydney to Canberra.

You don't get that at the services on the M6 now, do you?

Saturday, 9 January 2010

A retrospective

That's it - 2009 is over, finished, gone. And what a year it was. We saw in 2009 on the banks of the Thames on a cold and frosty NYE, celebrating with a heady mix of bailey's and hot chocolate.

Move forward 12 months. We saw in 2010 on the banks of Sydney Harbour on a warm evening, celebrating with a heady mix of champagne, cocktails and spectacular fireworks.
So I thought this would be a good time for a retrospective on our first 6 months in Australia.

Things we love about down under

Aussies- we have met some great people since arriving here. Aussies are a friendly bunch and have been very welcoming to us. We've also met some great fellow ex pats.

The weather - what's not to like about great weather? It's been more changeable than we thought it would be, but it is so much warmer and more cheerful than back home.

Sydney - what a great city. So much to see and do. Love, love, love the harbour - taking the ferry from Pyrmont to Circular Quay is such a cool and fun way to get about.

Restaurants - much cheaper than London and a lot more choice, especially with Asian food. We have 4 great places just within 5 mins walk of our apartment.

Events - this is a city that knows how to put on an event. Whether it's the NYE fireworks, the Fun Run, the coffee festival, or Breakfast on the Bridge, there is always something interesting happening somewhere. Best of all, most of it is free. Looking forward to Mardi Gras.

Dan Murphy's - who knew there were so many different labels of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. We are working our way through them all.

Cleanskins - the person who invented these should be given a medal - $7 for a quality wine. Can be a bit hit and miss, but the hits are absolute bargains.

Things we miss about the UK

Family and friends - I miss my kids on a daily basis. But Skype, Facebook and this blog help us stay in touch, and they have loved visiting Australia. Looking forward to seeing them again in April. And we are always open for bookings for any friends who fancy the 24hr flight!

White Xmas - so we missed all the snow. Damn! But it never really felt Christmassy here - Xmas is a winter festival. It's just not the same when it's hot and sunny.

UK supermarkets - Shouldn't say this as I work for Woolies, but we do miss our UK grocers. There are things you just can't get down under, and the whole shopping experience is so much better at home. And you only realise how cheap Tesco really is , when you can't get to it!

UK TV - you all know we are reality TV fans. Whether it's Strictly Come Dancing, I'm a Celebrity, X factor, Britain's Got Talent, or Dancing on Ice, we watch them all. And whilst they do have Aussie versions of some of these shows, they just aren't a patch on the UK version. They have an amateur feel to them. So we are reality deprived. And as for the rest of Aussie tv - well, hmm, it really is, quite frankly, a load of crap. Probably because the Aussie life is meant to be lived outdoors.

So other than missing our families and friends, we really don't have much to complain about. We have settled very well in Sydney and are really enjoying our life here. We do feel a bit homesick at the moment, but I think that is an inevitable consequence of being away from home at Xmas. Now if I could just get Waitrose to deliver to Sydney........

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Carols in the Domain

Carols in the Domain is a free Xmas concert that takes place every year and aims to raise money for the Oasis Youth network - a part of the Salvation Army which works with homeless youngsters. Woolies has sponsored this concert for the past five years - it's a big corporate activity for us, as we also raise money for Oasis by the selling of Candle Bags. These contain candles (an integral part of the concert experience) as well as loads of other goodies, and sell for $15.

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Weeks before the concert it's a massive organisation to get hold of the products and pack all 12ooo bags! They are then crated and sent to the various selling points for the day of the concert. It's all organised by Donna - the PA to my ultimate boss - who has been very helpful to us as we moved over here, so Gus and I were happy to volunteer to sell bags on the day.

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We had absolutely no idea what a huge event this concert turned out to be.

First of all we had to find the Domain - which turned out to be the bit of the Botanical Gardens that slopes down from the city!

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We got there about 3pm - the concert started at 8.30pm - and were staggered by how many people were already there.

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People had even camped out overnight to bag a prime spot. And they continued to arrrive -to the point where the police had to turn latecomers away at about 8pm, as the venue had reached capacity of 50,000.

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I was on selling duty with other Woolies volunteers - the hottie in the red cap is Cameron from corporate finance. He sold quite a few bags - especially to the girls! I did well when he went for a coffee!

By about 7ish we had sold all the bags and so were able to go and join the concert crowd. As hard working volunteers we had VIP access to the area right in front of the stage. It had been a very hot day so we were gasping for a glass of something sparkly!

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These VIP lawn seats gave us a great view of the evening's entertainment and of the real VIP's who were in the blue seats you can just see in the photo above. Amongst the celebrities sitting just behind us were Nicole Kidman and Kristina Kenneally - the NSW Premier.

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The concert was televised nationally and was great fun. A mix of popular Xmas songs with well known carols - sung by famous Australian's (we had no idea who they were - probably some actress from Home & Away) and international stars such as Englebert Humperdink (still alive apparently) and Katherine Jenkins. She was fantastic but the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for The Wiggles and their rendition of that holiday classsic "Go Santa Go". Nope, no idea either. It must be an Antipodean thing.

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Happy hunting in the Hunter

We celebrated our first 6 months in Australia and Gus' birthday with a weekend in the Hunter valley. This is a wine producing area about 3 hours north west of Sydney. Like all wine areas it has become a haven for restaurants and an overall foodie experience to complement the wine tasting.
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Gus picked the accomodation and choose well. Patrick Plains turned out to be a great place - a small guest house with just 8 rooms, cool decor and a female owner who just loved the gay boys!

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She has owned the place for about 2 years and is refurbishing it to her own style. We chatted to her about her many trips to Sydney and her search for new tables for the rooms - this was a relief to us as we had thought the god awful pine monstrosity of a table was a permanent and deliberate feature! We practically had the place to ourselves and enjoyed the privacy and peaceful setting.

Our wine tasting took us first of all to Peterson, where we were presented with a terrible dilemma

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Chocolate or champage? Which one to pick first?

We really weren't sure about the wine tasting etiquette in the Hunter - we've been to the Sonoma and Napa valleys in the USA and to Franschhoek and Stellenbosch in Cape Town, and they all have different systems. Sometimes the wine tasting is free and sometimes you pay a nominal amount. Well we were obviously forgetting about the Aussie love of alcohol, as not only was the wine tasting free - but you were often given a wine tasting menu which guided you from dry whites, through reds to sparkling and then dessert! We ended up buying champagne from Petersons as it was quite delicious.

Friday night was Gus' birthday celebration, and he had picked Casuarina. This is a vineyard, a hotel and a well known restaurant. Indeed it was one of the original three restaurants that established the Hunter as a culinary destination. And it has not changed since then. The decor and the food are firmly rooted in 70's! When we arrived I did think the whole thing was going to be a bit Fawlty Towers but we loved it. It is known for the tableside flambe's - the chef cooks your meal next to your table, and chucks in a whole load of alcohol before setting it alight. With flames shooting high into the air this was a great experience - the lobster and prawn dish we had was superb - it's their signature dish.

The next night we went for a more modern choice - Botanica. With a great view of the vineyards from our table, we had a great meal - three courses for $60. And top entertainment too. Not laid on by the restaurant but by the couple at the next table. A young couple - they told the waiter that they had come down from Newcastle to see the Xmas lights at the Hunter Valley Gardens (more on that later). She had dressed up for the occasion in a stylish black dress; he was wearing denim shorts, a t shirt and canvas espadrilles! You see this all the time in Australia - the girls make an effort, the boys can barely bring themselves to put on clothes. They were a good looking couple, but dear lord, he had the manners of an ape. Does no-one get taught how to eat anymore? You bring your fork to your mouth - you don't lean down, bringing your mouth to the plate and shovel it in....this ain't Maccas. No wonder they'd gone out for the night, she probably knew not to take him home to meet Mum & Dad....

After dinner we too headed off to see the Xmas lights. Hunter Valley Gardens are display gardens - their Xmas lights display is a major attraction. And on that night it seemed that the entire population of Newcastle was there. Too many over excited children for me. Though we did see ape boy again - he had changed out of his canvas espadrilles and was now wearing flip flops (thongs to the Aussies). Clearly even canvas shoes were too formal for him.

Driving home the next day we met more of the local wildlife! These ones had much better table manners and even took time out from their meal to smile and say hello!

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