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27 January 2012

One Year Expat-A-Versary!

One year ago today, our Qantas flight touched down in Melbourne. We were whisked away to the Quay West in Southbank and we then set out looking for our new apartment on that same day.

Our time here has gone by so fast and yet it feels like a million years ago that we first got here. I mean, the memory of Houston is as far away in my mind as it is geographically far from Australia.

Please excuse me while I have some flash backs:

This is Matt's Corolla. He bought it in 1997. The only reason he sold it was because he had to since we were moving here. He was seriously crushed by having to part with his beloved car.


We decided to sell our house instead of rent it out and worry about it while overseas. It was a great house - I really loved it. On our last day in Houston, the movers finished packing up our stuff and we handed over the keys to the real estate agent. We drove directly from the house to the airport for our flight to LA.

Our bags are packed and ready in the empty house.

The body language says it all: Matt was not happy about saying goodbye to our happy yellow house.
 Arriving in Melbourne was disorienting. On top of the jet lag, it was the middle of the summer after having been in winter in Houston. We struggled to find an apartment than had some ups and downs with actually sealing the deal with the apartment people.

After a week, we moved out of the hotel and into our apartment. That was a great start! And as an added bonus, none of the windows in our apartment had curtains or blinds. When I would wake up when Matt was leaving for work in the morning, I would see this beautiful sight out our bedroom window:

Hot air ballon floating over Ami Stadium in dawn light.
Although the stress of getting set up in a new country was a bit overwhelming at times, I realized what a beautiful and great place this is. We are very lucky to have to opportunity to live in a foreign country and even luckier that Australia is the country! No matter how much I miss Tex-Mex and the comforts of being in the USA, getting to experience Australia in such an intimate way is such a wonderful gift. This place is pretty damn awesome and I am so happy to be here!

I'm keen to see what adventures Year 2 in Australia has in store for us!

-Laurie

23 January 2012

The Week in Pictures

Last week was quite busy. Last Monday I found out that I was going back to work so it was time to get some things done that I had been putting off. Isn't that always the way of things?

On Saturday, Matt and I went to the South Melbourne Market for our weekly food shop. In the parking lot on the way out, there was a pen full of farm animals. My heart went pitter-patter for this little guy! I really, really wanted to take this piglet home as a pet. Matt, of course, said that we couldn't have a pet pig. Party pooper! ;-)


Look at his little oinker!

Pigs are friends, not food!
 The Australian Open is on in Melbourne right now. The city is totally hooked on this event! I went with a few friends on Tuesday and visited some of the side courts. Check out some of the great athletes:



We watched a match between American Mardy Fish versus Colombian Alejandro Falla. It was great to cheer on a fellow American! Unfortunately, Fish lost and did not continue on in the competition. 



Mardy Fish - go USA!
Our apartment building is a stone's throw from the National Gallery of Victoria. On my way to catch the tram, I caught a glimpse of an interactive art installation that was outside the gallery. There was a line of kids and their parents waiting for a turn. Honestly, I wish I had a kid so I could go inside and play around in this:


Interactive art: kids and parents create the "tangles" with spools of fabric.

Man, these people were having such fun in this thing!


Friday, I made my way to the Victorian State Library. It was quite impressive...it made me wish I was back in school so I could spend quiet hours studying inside this place.




I think there were more people on the lawn than inside! It was a great day for such activities.

I was meeting a friend for lunch at Mr. Tulk which is a really good cafe inside the library. Melbourne has so many hidden culinary hidden gems like this - I hope I can explore some of them while I live here!


Sans car, all my commuting is done via public transport (which is really great here in Melbourne). The portrait of everyday life would not be complete without a view into a train station.

South Yarra train station


Summer is such a great time here in Melbourne. The sun is shining and people definitely take full advantage of the warm weather and the sunshine (unlike Houston where you have to hide out in air conditioned buildings for months on end). I hope to soak up as much sun and fun as I can until work begins next week. Before I know it, fall will be here and footy season will be starting up again!


Until next time,
Laurie


12 January 2012

Feature Aussie Food: Milo

I featured the Violet Crumble several months ago and I have been deficient in the follow up! There are so many great Aussie foods to explore.

Today, I want to talk about Milo.

The official definition of Milo: this chocolate and malt powder is mixed with hot milk or water to produce a beverage. It was invented by an Australian is produced by Nestle. For more history and definition, see the Wikipedia article.

I have been told that Milo is a kids' drink and it is marketed that way. However, we did have a large container of Milo in the tea room at my past job so the affinity for Milo seems continue into adulthood for many Australians.

As you can see from the image to the left, this beverage is made from malted barley. This is important! Please take notes.

When I first tried this drink for myself, I was expecting the finished product to taste much like Nestle Quik: sugary chocolate goodness! (As a kid I would eat the dried Quik mix by the spoonful. Shhhh - don't tell my parents! What a God awful snack for a kid).

The beverage that results from mixing Milo with warm milk is much different than hot cocoa made from Quik.

It reminded me of something...I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

Then it came to me: Malt O'Meal! (one of my favorite hot cereals which unfortunately is not widely available here in Oz).

Also, Milo is not that sweet. Not the chocolate and sugar overload I was expecting. Therefore, on first taste, I wasn't really feeling it.

But like I said, we had a big container at my old workplace. There was some experimenting. It was a crazy time in my life - stop judging me!

Anyway, I have come to like the stuff.


 





















It's low GI and a good hunger buster. It is rather calorie dense so I don't have it often. Sometimes it is the perfect snack in between meals to tame a raging hunger.

Looks like hot cocoa but don't add marshmallows...not a good taste combo.
So there you have it: Milo. It's an Australian icon and a mainstay for Aussie children. If you ever come across a tin of Milo, give it a try and see how the Aussies do it!

Until next time,
Laurie

11 January 2012

Fancy Tram Car Dinner

Melbourne is famous for the trams that criss-cross the city. There's really no need for a car to get around the CBD (and since we live in the thick of it, we don't own one).

Because it was someones birthday (a-hem), I thought it would be a great opportunity to do something a little bit touristy and something we wouldn't do under normal circumstances: dinner on a tram car!

We walked too the tram stop at the appointed time and waited for our restaurant to arrive. We were attending the late dinner seating which entitled us to a five course dinner with drinks and city views included.
  
Waiting for the gravy train- er, tram- to arrive
  
Our Chariot Awaits: Old School Tram

The trams used for the traveling restaurant are the decommissioned trams from the early twentieth century. They are rickety things that made quite a racket when turning a corner - it added to the ambiance. 
 

The interior of the dining tram is quite poshy.


Most of the diners on board were tourists. It is pretty kitsch but something I felt we HAD to do before we left Melbourne!
  
So many forks!
  
Toasting to another year of health & happiness for my awesome husband!
  
Stunned by the kick-assery of the tram car restaurant.
   
So Aussie: kangaroo fillets (pronounced "Fill-its), tomato sauce, and rocket

 During dinner, we got to check out all the highlights of Melbourne as the tram snaked through the CBD, St. Kilda, and South Melbourne.

The tram received a wide range of reactions by the on-lookers in the city: complete disinterest by those waiting at tram stops, confusion and curiosity of tourists, and smart ass waving from a teenager in St. Kilda.

 After three hours and five courses, the tram car delivered us back to the drop off point. With full bellies we stumbled off the tram and made our way home.

Overall, I thought the experience was pretty fun. The food was good but not mind-blowing. It was also on the expensive side but I thought it was worth the cost for the experience.

The staff was very friendly and the service was flawless. 

If you are planning on visiting Melbourne or are a resident, give it a go! It's a fun night out!

Cheers,
Laurie

08 January 2012

Sunday Afternoon in Melbourne

Unlike downtown Houston, the Melbourne CBD ("central business district") is always buzzing with activity. The business crowd takes over during the weekdays, young club hoppers frequent the city streets at night, and shoppers own the weekends.

Shopping is a huge past time here in Melbourne...the streets are just as packed on a Sunday afternoon as on a Tuesday afternoon. Bourke Street is probably the center of the Melbourne CBD shopping universe as it has both of Australia's largest department stores, Myer and David Jones. There are also other major retailers including Sports Girl, Zara, Addidas, and Just Jeans among others.

Holiday stars form a ceiling over Bourke Street

Pedestrians flood the streets on their way to shops
Besides shopping, Melbournians meet their mates at one of the many cafes in the CBD for a coffee and an afternoon snack.

Weekend Warriors: enjoying a Sunday afternoon tea or coffee

Degraves Street: shops and cool hipster haunts

As promised, I found my way to another one of Melbourne's art alley ways. These walls are constantly evolving as local arts come and leave their mark.

Union Lane is an alley that comes off busy Bourke Street



 
Quintessentially Melbourne: the painted alley way

This bear painting is gorgeous! My favorite on Union Lane.
Everyone needs their own Owl for flying about!


Although it is pretty busy during the day on Sundays, stores typically shut down fairly early (most close around 6 pm). Therefore, you need to get out early to get your shopping done.

There are so many of other shopping options in Melbourne besides the CBD that I couldn't even begin to list them all. Some of the more famous shopping hubs include the Queen Victoria Market, the South Melbourne Market, Chapel Street, Richmond Street, and the huge American style shopping mall, Chadstone Mall.

06 January 2012

New Zealand Trip: Last Days

I realized that I did not do my final post on our New Zealand trip. Our last three days in New Zealand was a our transition out of the other-worldly environment of the west coast back to reality.

The west coast of the south island of New Zealand is very mountainous and full of the stunning views that we took so many photos of. After visiting the glaciers, Mt. Cook, and Milford Sound, it was time to drive to the east coast and eventually up the east coast back to Christchurch where we would hitch a ride back to Melbourne.

Day 8

This was a travel day: we hopped in the rental car and made the five hour drive from Te Anau to Dunedin (pronounced "done Eden"). The high mountain peaks gradually gave way to lower, rolling hills.

When we finally arrived in Dunedin, we decided to go right away and check out some of the local wildlife.

We saw ONE albatross (bird with large wingspan) but the picture was quite blurry. I was MUCH more excited about seeing these guys:

A curious face pokes out of the water to get a better view of the human life (us!
 
Quite furry!
 
Scratchy-scratchy! I love the human-like qualities of these guys - so fun to just sit and watch.
 
There were quite a few seals resting on the rocks in the bay near Dunedin. We were told that these are adult males and can be quite aggressive. We stood about 10 feet from them and we were a bit intimidated when they started coming out of the water when they saw us. But no need to worry, they were initially curious about us but quickly turned their attention to soaking up the late afternoon sun. Lazy buggers! LOL

There were also some great sea cliffs with plenty of birds nesting and circling.



Those lumpy things on the rocks are more seals

 Penguins are supposed to come ashore near where the picture above was taken. However, they come ashore at dusk and we were at this spot around 5pm. Remember that this was summer and pretty far south...dusk is close to 10pm! It wasn't meant to be...we left without gawking at the penguins. It's okay, we have penguins close to home at St. Kilda pier in Melbourne.

As the sun went down, we walked and found some food. We had to do a little bit of planning about how we were going to spend the next day in Dunedin.

Day 9

Time to explore Dunedin! From the locally produced film about the city that was playing on our hotel TV, we learned that "Dunedin" is old Scottish Gaelic for Edinburgh. The architecture of the buildings in the city made us feel like we were in a Scottish city! (except for the heat and the intense sunshine).

Apparently, this is the most photographed train station in the southern hemisphere. Add this one to the stats!
  



I got to choose what we were going to do with the day. I decided I had to take a tour of the Cadbury chocolate factory. (Wow, a girl who likes chocolate...how original!)

Anyway, we got to wear hairnets and tour the facilities. It was good fun! Here are some pics:


I made him pose like that! hee-hee!

Umpah-lumpahs handle the heavy lifting

We were up inside the purple silo...there was a giant chocolate waterfall inside! Yum!



This is just some of the free candy each of us got on the tour. The Pinky bar was the best!


After our chocolaty tour, we walked around the city. The biggest industry in Dunedin is education (i.e. it's a college town). The city reminded me a lot of Austin and Matt remarked that it was a lot like Madison, WI were he went to grad school. It was a nice city. 
 Day 10

Back in the car, we drove north up the coast back to Christchurch and caught our flight back to Melbourne.

I was a little sad leaving NZ, it's a great place and I really enjoyed it there.

On a side note, New Zealand Air is a pretty good airline! It's on par with Qantas minus the annoying strikes and shut-downs - I would recommend it for those flying around these parts.

I hope you enjoyed these posts about New Zealand. It definitely ranks as one of my favorite trips I've taken in my life. Near the end of our trip, Matt was already asking "What's next?"

We have so much to see before we leave Oz, I hope we have enough time to get to it all!

Until next time,
Laurie