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It’s official!  We are returning to the US the first week in March.

A year and a half ago this day seemed sooooo far away but here we are, five short weeks away from leaving our beloved friends, our beloved apartment, our beloved life, our beloved Melbourne.

StKildaPier

Photo from the St. Kilda Pier

We’ve been keeping a “Melbourne Bucket List” for ourselves and we’ve been adding to it throughout our time here.  We’ve made our way through the list pretty steadily but if you have any Melbourne Must-Do’s…let us know!

Over the next few weeks there will be more to come including a short-list of our fave foods and experiences throughout Australia.  It’s hard to believe it’s the beginning of the end but as they say, “When one door closes, another door opens.”

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We did it!  We climbed the infamous 1,000 Steps in Ferntree Gully.   Not only did make it to the top, I’m pretty sure we did it in record time.  Well, that is, not counting the runners and joggers and the 5 minute break we took half way up.

The One Thousand Steps, or the Kokoda Walk, is a 2.8km climb in Ferntree Gully.  It’s a popular destination for tourists and locals, as we found out one sunny Sunday.  We’d heard of the walk so often that we figured it must be worth doing.  Now that we’ve done it, we’re happy to say that we made it to the top.  But also happy to say that we’ll never need to do that again.  And  here’s why:

CONS:

  • As alluded to earlier, the track is crammed full of people.  It’s hard to get any real momentum going because you’re stopping and starting and dodging the crazy runners.
  • Speaking of the crazy runners, there are crazy runners who go up and down the stairs at break-neck paces.  No matter what they say, this is dangerous.  Especially on the day we were out when the stairs were wet with dew.  Someone is bound to get hurt.  Oh wait, maybe that’s why the ambo and paramedics are parked at the bottom of the hill just waiting for an accident to happen.  That doesn’t give one, who is about to start the climb, much hope.

PROS:

  • I love that Australians remember their service men and women through various memorials throughout the nation.  The Kokoda Walk (to get to the stairs) has a very nice memorial and info centre regarding the armed forces.
  • The scenery through the Dandenong Ranges is spectacular.  I love the smell of the mountain ash trees and you can’t really beat the fresh air that high up.
  • There are plenty of picnic areas to enjoy a meal before or after the climb and really make a day of it.
  • Ok, yes, it’s a good workout and there is a feeling of accomplishment when you’ve reached the top.

(ONE MORE) CON:

  • The view at the top (One Tree Hill) is less than spectacular.  I didn’t even take a picture.  You’ll see much better views at Sky High

Bottom Line: It’s worth doing at least once but be sure you have plenty of time or choose a time when there won’t be a ton of people to maneuver around.

The Fern Tree Gully Picnic Ground is the stating base for the walk/climb.  You can take the Belgrave Line train (get off at Upper Ferntree Gully Station) and walk East on Burwood Highway for 1 km to the park entrance.  Or by car it’s at the end of the Mount Dandenong Tourst Road (on the west side)
Opening Hours: The gates to Ferntree Gully Picnic Ground are open between 6am and 9pm.

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Today is 9/11 back home in the US.  In the 10 minutes I had the TV on this morning I saw footage after footage of the towers falling.  Instead of focusing on those horrible moments in our world’s history I thought I’d post these photos I’ve been holding onto for awhile.  They were taken the last time I was at Domaine Chandon in Yarra Valley with my dad and today seems like the perfect time to post them.  We will never forget.

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Two times a week I venture to a market to replenish our produce.  Melbourne markets vary in shapes, sizes, frequency, prices, and offerings so while we do have our favorite, we like to spice things up a bit and check out different markets from time to time.  Last week we ventured to the Dandenong Market.

We were met with a river of pedestrians and cranky drivers before we even entered the parking lot.  Before we got out of the car Ryan turned to me and said, “Just so you know, I already know I’m not going to like this place.”  “Thanks for the warning,” I replied.  Fair enough, I thought.

This was our bounty from the Dandenong Market.  You’re looking at the results of a typical trip, minus the salmon that we immediately refrigerated.  We’ve been loving silverbeet and lil mandarins…but not at the same time.  We also can’t get enough of the mangoes when they’re in season.  I’m already salivating over the chicken, avo, and mango salad I plan to make with the first in-season mango.  But, I digress…

Bottom line on the Dandenong Market:

+Good prices and quality produce, meats, and seafood, although we didn’t see a ton of organic, sustainable or free-range options.

-Too many stalls and vendors to choose from and too many people to shuffle through.  Let’s face it, sometimes you’re in the mood for a stroll, a leisurely walk around the market to peruse the produce and people watch.  Most times, I am not.

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Laura and I are now on year two of our “adventure” and we have learned a lot about Australia, ourselves, and each other.  One thing I love above (almost) all else is Footy or Australian Rules Football (AFL).  I love the game and look forward to watching my Hawthorn Hawks play their game that is more physically grueling than any American sport, more exhilarating for both fans and players alike, and honestly just a better sport than any I have ever seen or played.

I know this is a bold statement due to the fact that I come from America the home of the NFL (National Football League) aka Gridiron to the Aussies, NBA (National Basketball Association), MLB (Major League Baseball) and NHL (National Hockey League) where players and coaches alike are paid not in thousands of dollars but millions and the media portrays the players as if they were Gods….or stars in an upcoming hit TV series.  This has given me one more reason why the AFL is now my number 1 sport.  In the AFL players are ‘big deals’ if they sign million dollar contracts and the most this will be is 1 million per year up to 5 years.  The other thing is that the majority of AFL players are rarely in the news for extra curricular (aka illegal) activities and seem to be very grounded individuals even though they risk brutal injuries and receive major criticism from their fans every week.

Everything revolves around the game for these athletes; they live, eat and breathe footie.  They train like Olympians and they must if they want to play full games which will leave them bruised, battered and drained from running approximately half marathons each game.

You have a great mixture of players, ones like Buddy Franklin, who is by far one of the biggest names in footy right now, and of course plays for the Mighty Hawks.  He can do things that make the men guarding him look like little boys and go on to kick 13 goals in one game!  Then you have players like Sam Mitchell, another legend on the Hawks side, who is a man built for the hard ground work, always seeking out the ball and getting it to the outside players who have the legs and magic to exploit the defenses weaknesses.  Finally you have players like Cyril Rioli, my favorite player, who is a player that does things that are literally out of this world.  Rioli has been called the ‘little wizard’ and ‘little genius’ and rarely goes a full game without doing something spectacular.  This can be anything from turning his opponent inside out on his charge to kick a goal or laying on a tackle that his opponent didn’t even see coming.

I was recently asked if I believe if the AFL could find a home in the good ol’ USA.  I responded by stating that I don’t believe we have the current talent pool that would be needed to play the sport.  The men that play the sport are a mix marathoners, rugby players, soccer players, and footballers.  They play the sport for the love of the game; without pads, little regard for the next game, and for relatively little pay.  The fans are spoiled with fair priced tickets, easily less than $80 per ticket, and a game that hasn’t been tainted with America’s culture of ‘bigger is better’.

I know I’m being harsh on my home country’s sporting culture even though I’ve had years of enjoyment playing and watching many American sports.  They are part of who I am.

But this is about AFL…Footy.  So here is to the Mighty Hawks and the sport I have grown to love.

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This weekend we enjoyed a night out with friends watching the Melbourne Storm — currently first on the ladder — take on the 2nd place Brisbane Broncos.  It was our first live rugby match and we loved every minute of it.  The experience can be summed up as follows:

Learning the rules of the game

One small scuffle that was squashed before it could become an all-out brawl.

Very few hoaky mid-game marketing stunts…although there were cheerleaders and a mascot.

Ended after two seemingly short 45-minute halves.  The clock doesn’t stop except in rare occasions unlike NFL (Gridiron, as they call it here) where it seems there is a TV timeout after nearly every play.

Really solid, large-necked, big-legged, strong-armed men running at each other with ungodly amounts of force and speed.

Un-adulterated brutality.  Imagine NFL without the pads.  So Brutal. 

Great seats at a really cool venue, AAMI park, pronounced “Amy“.

Bundled up in our warm, hooded, winter jackets we felt like we were at a football game at home.

Yes, VICTORY for the Storm!

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In a recent post I tried to convince you, our readers, that we still have some of our cool… got it goin’ on, you know?.  Not convinced yet?  Well, this weekend we went out to trendy Fitzroy neighborhood and had a night out at Kanela, a popular flamenco and tapas bar on Johnston Street.  Having studied a bit in Spain (and having a not-so-secret obsession with anything to do with Spanish culture) I was very excited to hit up this hot spot with a couple of friends of ours.  The experience was a bit of a mixed bag.

CONS:

Food: If you stay to watch the show there is the option of a $60 pp which includes a tapas per person and then paella for the table to share, along with bread and olives.  The portions were decent and we left full.  The tapas were pretty average and the paella was not really to my liking but traditional in terms of what you’d expect of a Spanish paella (mariscos, pollo, arroz, and saffron). Going into the night you sort of know that you’re paying for the performance anyway, not the food.

PROS:

Decent drink/wine list: I myself sipped a lovely Tempranillo…or two…when in Spain, right? 🙂

Fun atmosphere: From the quaint space, the Spanish décor and guitar music overhead, I felt like I was back in a bodega in Sevilla.

Performance: The evening includes a 40 minute performance by flamenco dancers, a Spanish guitar player, and a singer.  The music and dancers were as good as any I’d seen in Spain.  Flamenco is so amazing and emotional and moving.

I will mention that I thought the performance could’ve been a tad longer, maybe a full hour, given what I mentioned above.  The place was slightly overpriced for the quality of food which could’ve been well compensated for if the performance had been longer.

As we left around 11:15, Johnston street was really coming alive.  We noted that most of the young’uns were just starting their night as we sleepily and slowly made our way to our vehicle.  Once in the car we talked about how we “belonged” there and how well we fit in with the trendy crowd.  And then we laughed.  And yawned.  And headed for home.

Kanela Flamenco Tapas Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

*Photos from Kanela

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