Category: Sydney

Housesitting in Melbourne and other travel plans

Housesitting is the lifestyle plan for me and Phil, my husband, going forward

Eventually we will sign up with an agency, probably Trusted Housesitters. We have not needed to as yet as we were fortunate enough to land our first housesitting assignment through a uni friend.

I hadn’t seen my old uni friend for over 20 years and as part of the round the world trip Phil and I  did in 2011/2 the plan was to go visit her in Melbourne. Our dates clashed with her planned visit to England, which was disappointing as I was looking forward to seeing her again. Then she mentioned that all they needed to organise was a house and dog sitter and I proposed that we could be those sitters. Surprisingly she said yes, having only met my husband at our wedding. I had never met hers. However they entrusted us to look after Mac and Poppy while they were away.

And so it was in November 2011 we got to Melbourne and panicked when questioned by passport control about where we were staying in Melbourne.

‘I don’t know.’

Having since watched Border Control I now realise this was not a good answer to give.

‘My friend is meeting us’

I had realised by then to say ‘a friend I have not seen in over 25 years and just recently got back in touch with through Facebook’ would not have been a good idea.

‘Do you have a phone number for her?’

‘No, I don’t and I don’t have a phone that will work in this country yet.’

‘What if she doesn’t meet you?’

‘She will.’

I don’t think they checked if we were met, but I guess they could see that we had a flight booked out of the country so we reckoned they did not consider there was a big risk of us overstaying our visa. We were let into Australia. Also as it was incredibly busy in the arrivals hall, I think they just needed to get us out of there.

My friend was there at the gate.

And I got to spend two weeks with her as she had to change her dates due to some big music awards thing (Aria is pretty big) she had to attend. It was great because it gave us the opportunity to reconnect, and she and her husband got to show off their city. And we got to see Dolly Parton in concert, for free.

The next time we went in 2015 I had the addresses, emails, phone numbers all ready if I got questioned. Although we had no idea where we were staying in Sydney.  As one of our hosts was a barrister I reckoned she would get us out of the airport if detained.

‘Don’t mention housesitting, I have heard they have a dim view on housesitting.’

I must have said this to Phil a dozen times.

The arrivals hall was empty and we were made to use the retina recognition machines (always a challenge to those of us who wear specs) and sailed through border control in a matter of minutes.

Up until that moment I was convinced we would get the same questions, especially as I had a different visa than I had in 2011. But that is another story. I really must stop watching Border Control.

And now Phil and I are going back for the third housesit at the same house with the same dogs and I am getting all panicky about the visas again. This time it is because we will be in Australia for just under 3 months, the maximum time the e visa allows us to stay.

The reason for the longer stay is that we have two house sits booked now, both in Melbourne, with a gap between them.

Travel plans

The plan was to zoom in, get over jet lag, dump excess luggage in Melbourne and then fly to Darwin, travel over land to Alice and see Uluru. In 2 days, since beginning to write this post, plans have changed. We will now be arriving in Melbourne the day before the sit begins.

This is because Carole King is playing in Hyde Park, London. To make the most of the three-month visa restriction I have had to change our plans. Do you see how complicated and random my life is? Fortunately nothing was booked.

I have three itineraries in front of me and numerous tabs open on the desktop.  Australian Border Control, Viator, Tripadvisor,  tour companies to help decide on tours we can make in-between and after sits. I want to use an Australian based company to tour with, not some big multinational company based in Canada. It is hard to tell with some of them and if you book via Viator I have yet to find out if you can see who the tour operator is.

There are other things to consider.

Do we drive from Sydney to Brisbane? Wait, didn’t I just say we were going to Darwin, Uluru and Alice? Yes I did. That is still the plan between house sits.

We have to go to Sydney as Yum Cha is a must with our friends there.  I wanted to go to Tassie to but no time to fit it in and it will be cold in August. Darwin and Brisbane will be warmer, although the tour operators warn that temperatures drop at night in the NT. I am taking thermals.

So far the itinerary looks like this

10 July Birmingham to Melbourne via Dubai

13 July arrive Melbourne

14 July house sit until  22 August

23 August fly to Darwin

24 August 10 day Kakadu to Uluru tour

3 September fly from Alice Springs to Melbourne

4 to 21 September house sit in Melbourne

22 September fly to Sydney

22 to 25 stay at Rocks YHA Sydney – may do a Bridge climb, will go for Yum Cha

26 September drive to Brisbane using this itinerary

1 or 5 October  Five day Fraser and Lady Musgrave Island tour (dates to be confirmed by operator) the trip gets great reviews although it is expensive

11 October fly Brisbane to New Zealand (tbk) or home or……..

With just two days left on the visa.

I am panicking that something will go wrong and we will overstay the visa and be banned from entering Australia for 3 years (Border Control again).

The other issue I have is packing. What to pack and what in? I still have my back pack but my back is not good. On tours you need to take minimum, yet in Melbourne we will be city slickers and need at least one good outfit. My Dubarry boots with a dress sufficed for Melbourne casual dining but those boots will not be suitable for hiking around Uluru and scuba diving at Lady Musgrave Island. They will not fit in a back pack.

And if we go to New Zealand, do we get a camper van again? We had a love hate relationship with our camper in 2011. Do we fly into Christchurch and see more of the South Island? Will it be too cold? It is often cheaper to hire cars and campers in Christchurch if going to Auckland as the companies want the main stock on the North Island.

After New Zealand I would quite like to visit The Cook Islands. Those Dubarry boots will be of no use there either. Men don’t have these problems.

Oh, did I mention we have a friend working in LA ? We would like to go see him too, and maybe drive to Las Vegas, maybe San Francisco and we always said we wished we had spent more time in Pismo Beach.

Maybe one big road trip across America?

Decisions, decisions.

And then there is the insurance to sort out….. our annual policy will not suffice. The to do list is getting longer.

Where do you think we could go?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eating my way around Melbourne – the one about burgers

My first Aussie burger set the benchmark for all burgers, Aussie or otherwise.

Kermonds

In December 2011, on a trip along the Great Ocean Road, we stopped off at Kermonds in Warrnambool. This burger was simply the best I had ever had, so juicy and full of things I had never seen on a burger bun before. In England a burger with cheese and a fried onion was thought of as exotic, up until quite recently. I can actually remember at getting quite excited at my first trip to McDonalds in the 70’s. Indeed, I recall it was the father of the person who we were housesitting for, who was responsible for introducing me to my first Big Mac in Milton Keynes.

Kermonds have had a burger bar in Warrnambool since 1949. And not much has changed. It was almost if I had walked onto a set of Happy Days. A few years ago some would have called it old fashioned. Now of course it is ‘vintage’. Fortunately, no burger entrepreneur came along to improve and modernise, so Kermonds has remained much the same for 66 years.

Also after a long day on the road, I was hungry and tired. This place offered much needed tea, freshly cooked burgers and it was just so cool. It wasn’t just the burger that was good, it was the whole retro experience that makes the burger experience so memorable.

I am pretty sure that is still the best burger I have ever had, but a girl has got to keep tasting them, just to make sure. In the UK The Meatshack burgers are still my favourite. They are a pop up burger stall, and can be found at The Digbeth Dining Club and other events around Birmingham.

On occasions I have missed out as I was not willing to queue for them (is any burger worth a 40 minute line?) but I still rate them very highly. Meatshack describe their burgers as ‘dripping filthy goodness’, and they are not wrong. There are Brummies who would argue that The Original Patty Men make the best burgers, I have yet to try one, so Meatshack is the one for me.

Yet I digress. This is all about Burgers in Melbourne. And one in Sydney. More about that later.

Huxtabuger

Visiting Huxtaburger was on the to do list, and although both Phil and I liked the burgers we had (Bills and Theo, eggs, bacon, beetroot and pineapple were involved) we didn’t like the location. This branch is in a food court off Collins Street, it was too small and absolutely rammed. It was only later we realised we were meant to go to the one on Smith Street in Collingwood. We had plans to go there, but time was our enemy. And other burgers needed to be tasted. Of course, the burger would have tasted the same, but as the Kermonds visit demonstrates, the surroundings adds to the overall burger experience.

Easey’s

Given that the location is therefore important to the burger taste sensation, Phil and I were looking forward to visiting Easey’s.

Hidden in a back street of Collingwood so many people had said this was a must visit. Collingwood is a hipsters paradise, full of vintage furniture and coffee shops. Which is why we like the area. Phil and I are far to old to be hipsters, but if we were 30 Phil would grow a beard and I would yearn for Ercol. Instead we pretend to despise hipsters for thinking that typewriters are cooler than an ipad and vinyl is so much better than a CD. The truth being that actually we wish we had kept our typewriter and are smug that we have not disposed of the vinyl. Yes, we are that couple in While We’re Young. An older version of them, obviously. Anyway, when someone decided to put three train carriages on a roof of an office block no one thought it was an odd thing to do.

I nearly didn’t eat at Easey’s. The sweary Rap music was too loud. Yes, I sound like my mother! A dad brought his daughter to eat in the train and her face as she emerged from the lift was one of pure excitement. All I could think was that dad would squirm at the lyrics. I also thought the young staff judged us to not be hip enough to eat there, and it was implied that we should have reserved a table (for a burger joint) so we were given the tiny table that faced the lift. I wanted the drivers seat. We then amused ourselves with pressing the button and taking reflection selfies. Old we may be but we can still be childish.

We ordered the Easey Cheesey, Chicken Salt Chips and a dip. The chips were the star. The burger, not so much. Coffee served in a paper cup and the burger in a bag. Afterwards, when the sound system broke, I managed to have a conversation with the guy running Zone 1 (there are 4 Zones, the train is number 4).

The staff turned out to be not too hip to talk to oldies after all. I discovered that the best burger experience was to build your own. I also discovered that it is not just me that hates the music but this was an area the owner would not move on. It was all part of the Hip Hop Culture he was creating. And that the kids loved the PAC MAN games in Zone 2 where there was no music. Hmm, I think the kids would rather have a burger in the train, and that the day time customers (families, and suits) were different to the clientele (hipsters) after dark. It needed 70’s rock not sweary rap. All in all I was underwhelmed by the experience. The burgers were overpriced, undercooked and music just horrible. The owner claims to be a burger king.

Easey’s Burgers was birthed from one man’s mission to consume every burger he possibly can. The man known as Jimmy Burgers has spent the past three years eating burgers everyday. During this time his eaten over 3,000 burgers, released a book ‘The Burger Book – Victoria’ which has sold nearly 10,000 copies; taken social media by storm with a combined network of close to 35,000 and most recently is working on a short film series based on his burger adventures.

 

The upside? The views are good. And there is great graffiti on Easey Street.

The area is definitely worth a visit, but if I were going for a burger there are better options. Huxtaburger on Smith Street is just up the road and I would also check out Meatballs and Sons on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy next time.

Organic and free range meat. And their balls are gluten free. (That’s what they say on their website). They also say this.

Imagine a restaurant that invites you to know the butcher by name, the grower by the soil on their hands, the chef by his grin as he pinches herbs from the store’s garden, and the wait staff by the granny smith apple they gave you as a parting gift, last time you were here.

Too good to be true? We don’t think so. Simple. Delicious. Goodness all ‘round.

Lentil

Neither Phil nor I are vegetarians, yet we still love the food and the philosophy at Lentil as Anything.

We are Lentil as Anything, a not-for-profit organisation that relies solely on the generosity of patrons, partners and volunteers. At Lentil as Anything, we believe in the power of humanity to create stupendous change. At our core are our Lentil as Anything vegetarian restaurants, where guests contribute what they feel their meal and experience is worth, according to their own financial ability.

And they make a pretty fine lentil burger. 

We ate here a lot. It was a handy place to visit with the dogs after a walk in the Botanic Garden. We are biased as we volunteered at Lentil in 2011. And this burger, despite being meat free, was as good as if not better than many of the meat laden burgers we tasted Down Under.

Coin Laundry

The other place we regularly ate at was Coin Laundry. Dog friendly, just up the road from the dog park, it was our choice for brunch and was where I discovered smashed avocado. This is their Wagyu beef burger. We really like it here, good coffee, friendly staff and sociable company, many of them also dog walking. And dog people are friendly people.

Bunyip

The breakfast burger.  We had planned a visit to the Iron Houses, and discovered that South Melbourne on a sunny Sunday was the place to be for brunch. The cafes I had pinned on Pinterest were so trendy you had to line up for them. That wasn’t going to happen, so we meandered on towards the market and discovered Bunyip just opposite the market.

When I saw the menu, there was never any doubt what Phil would choose. And this café also encourages customers to buy a suspended coffee, which is another good reason to visit there.

Riverland

On our last visit to Melbourne Riverland became a favourite place to cool down with a beer. Despite it being in the middle of winter it was still warm enough for hardy Poms to take off their coats and eat and drink alfresco.

At $13 Australian dollars (£7.50) for a pint, we decided that even with a strong pound, that it was pricey. And Riverland is better in the summer.

The Pink Elephant

The Pink ElephantPhil also had a Wagyu burger on our first night, at the Pink Elephant. But being jet lagged and all that, no photos. Officially it is called The Windsor Castle and the interior may have you thinking you have gone back to the 1970’s, but for good, solid pub food and well priced beer, it is worth a visit.

The Burger Project

The Burger Project. In windy World Square. Sydney. I had to include this one as it was rather special, if not in Melbourne. And of course I had The Aussie.

Fast food, slow food values, provenance, community, sustainability. You can see why I like the Burger Project.

Burger Project proudly supports local charities and encourages you to continue the responsibility. We believe giving back is paramount and will continue to fundraise through our restaurants, to that end we commit a portion of our turnover to those that need it.

The burgers were very good and for central Sydney, amazingly good value. Not having the hip hop edginess of being in a train on a roof in Collingwood obviously means affordable food. And a better taste in music. Phil said that they were playing the same music that our favourite B&B played on a Sunday morning, and when he remembers what that was, I will update this post.

Update, Phil has remembered. Sunrise, by Norah Jones.

Anyway, we liked the music. Similar to the music style of Sabor y Cultara in LA  it was laid back relaxing music. A place where families, students, suits and hipsters and oldies like me could relax and dive in to a burger and not worry that the kids will ask what the F and MF words mean.

Newsflash

Headline news while we were down under (the press were almost as outraged about this as they are about mislaying some ashes)  American Chef, David Chang said the Aussie burgers were the worst in the world. Has he been to McDonalds? Seems he has:

As for what makes an ideal burger, Chang puts the following on his checklist: ” …bun, cheese, burger. Sometimes bacon. Ketchup on the side, so I can control it. Pickles—yes! Obviously. And the cheese thing has to be very clear: American cheese only.

We need pineapple and beetroot on a burger. And bacon and egg. With smashed avocado on the side please. And fries with chicken salt.

If you are in Melbourne and like burgers here are some more for you to try. 33 Epic burgers. I have mentioned 2 of them and 1 of them was not epic. Or awesome. But you may disagree.

 

From St Kilda to Kings Cross

Back in 2011, in Melbourne, I started using song titles for my blog posts. I had some crazy idea that it would be cool to do this. It lasted a very short time. In one post Talking St Kilda Blues, I mentioned that I had found another song about St Kilda but I would save it for another post. And finally, over three years later, here it is.

In that post back in 2011, I had planned to use it for when I blogged about Sydney. Yet I never wrote a post about Sydney, or anywhere else in Australia, after we had left our house sit in Melbourne. This was mainly because the internet was too expensive in Australia. And I was having too much fun exploring the city, I didn’t have time. It was only recently that I realised had not written anything about Sydney apart from how great the hostel was.

Phil and I loved St Kilda. We volunteered at Lentil as Anything there, and on our last day spent some time wandering around the iconic Luna Park.

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We then made our way along the beach for a pot at another iconic spot, The Esplanade, aka the Espy.The Epsy

And watched the sunset.

I want to see the sun go down from St Kilda Esplanade
Where the beach needs reconstruction, where the palm trees have it hard
I’d give you all of Sydney Harbour (all that land, all that water)
For that one sweet promenade

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St Kilda from the Epsy

And like in the song, as we found out on the day trip to Manly, it rained in Sydney, a lot.

Have you ever seen Kings Cross when the rain is falling soft?
I came in on the evening bus, from Oxford Street I cut across
And if the rain don’t fall too hard everything shines just like a postcard
Everything goes on just the same

Rain clouds over the Opera House

I was told by Melburnians that while Sydney had the wow factor, Melbourne offered liveability factor. And I cannot disagree. Sydney is wow.

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I am hoping that the friends I will be staying with in Sydney this July will work hard to make me love their city. It won’t be difficult. Of course, I expect rain.

Didn’t we have a lovely day, the day we went to Manly?

Summer in Sydney. This was in January 2012.

Rain in Sydney, from YHA Room

It rained in every city Phil and I visited. Even in Perth. In Perth we had a cyclone, on Australia Day. In Melbourne on Christmas Day we had hailstones the size of your fist.

Me and the trusty kagool

The Kagool came in handy.

Do you reckon we may get sun when we go back in June this year?

We only had a few days in Sydney and had been told a great and cheap way to see the harbour was to take the ferry to Manly.

So we did.

Manly from the pub balcony

It was sunny and warm and we found  great pub for lunch.

Lunch

Hung out at the beach for a while.

I like Manly and if I were to live in Sydney it would be somewhere I would consider. If I won the lottery.

I actually have no idea where we are staying on our next visit. We have friends there, they said we can stay with them. I do not know where they live. Maybe I ought to ask them?

On our last visit we were questioned about where we were staying in Melbourne by immigration. I told them that we were staying with a friend. I was asked the address. I told them that I didn’t know. Did I have a phone number for them? Err, no. I told them she was meeting me, and they said that perhaps next time it may be a good idea to have at least an address.

Having watched Border Control recently I reckon we were lucky to have not been taken to a room for questioning. Luckily the airport was so busy, and we didn’t look like drug runners. We just looked tired and old, so they let us in. And I didn’t mention that she was an old uni friend, who I had not seen for over 25 years and that we were house sitting for them.  Phew.

Note to self, have addresses of where we will be staying in Australia with passports. Another thing to add to the growing to do list.

Three months to go! Can you tell I am excited?

 

 

Hostels: the good, the bad and the downright ugly

I had read a post on OIK Strategy with tips about hostels by @About London Laura. I found that standards in hostels (in Australia at least) can vary. I was travelling with my husband and we did some trip with groups (who chose the hostels) and some independent travel, where we got to choose where we stayed.

Until this trip with I hadn’t stayed in a hostel for over 40 years. As we were going on a RTW backpacking trip hostels were part of the deal if we were to afford to see more of this wonderful country.

The Good

This is possibly the best hostel in the world ever. Sydney Harbour YHA. It nestles in-between five star hotels and this was the view from our bedroom window.

IMG_7291This was our private double room.
IMG_7244The ensuite.
IMG_7243 On the terrace.IMG_7252 IMG_7255 Just at the front of the hostel and we can see the Sydney Harbour Bridge.IMG_7261 Barbeque night at Sydney Harbour YHAIMG_7293 I cannot see why anyone would check into a hotel in Sydney when you could stay here. There were all ages at this hostel. Families, backpackers and flashpackers. It is most definitely not a party hostel. Except at New Years Eve of course. Can you imagine the views on NYE?

The kitchens were well equipped. A team of hardworking cleaners ensured that everywhere was spotless.

This was a really good hostel. Previously we had stayed, as part of a tour group, in some absolutely dire ones. And had experienced the dreaded mixed dorm.

The Bad or not so good (yet compared to the next one it was 5*).

After a comfortable house sit in Melbourne we headed off along The Great Ocean Road to Adelaide. We were quite a big group and the guide, Pete, admitted at the end that he had concerns about the dynamics. As it was we all really got on. Never a cross moment. Mixed ages, fitness levels and nationalities. 3 days on the road.

Our first hostel was Warrnambool Beach Backpackers. Tour guide Pete advised us not to head into town where there was a carnival on as it would be full of Bogans. I am not making any judgements here, this is what Pete said. Fortunately the town has one redeeming feature. Kermonds. The burgers here are amazing.

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Yup we really got dug into probably the best burgers in Australia.

Bellies full we checked in to a packed hostel and scrambled to find beds. I tried to get in a small dorm but a group of younger girls got their first declaring it to be a female only dorm. (They obviously had more experience in grabbing the best rooms and I learned from that and kept close to them at the next hostel.

Phil and I nabbed, with another couple, 4 bunks in a mixed dorm of 8 beds, which at first didn’t seem to be too bad. We had lockers with keys and were only here one night. There was a group of boy scouts in another dorm who went to bed early. We thought we would get a good nights sleep. However we then realised that we were the entrance room to a much larger dorm full of young men who had joined the bogans at the carnival. Result, no sleep. At all.

Pete the tour guide put me in charge of getting breakfast ready. He clearly recognised my inner Monica. This meant that I was up early and had a shower in the shared facilities before the hordes formed a queue in the corridor. Good move.

It was clean, it was ok for a hostel, but large mixed dorms with smelly farty young men isn’t for me. One to avoid if you like privacy.

The downright ugly.

The next hostel was Ned’s Beds at Halls Gap.

Addendum 2016 * I have been informed that this hostel is now under new management. I visited in 2011 and this post is based on my experience then. Not now. I would advise all travellers to research all accommodation before booking (I need to take my own advice as I just checked out of the worst accommodation ever) and check if things have improved/management changed.

Possibly the worst hostel ever.

The owner had an all night orgy in his jacuzzi.

I got bitten by bed bugs.

One good thing was that I was in an all girls dorm. As I said, I kept close to those girls that had got the best room last time.

Pete did a good BBQ after the grill had been cleaned with beer and newspaper beforehand.

Pete cooking

The group we were travelling with were great.

A great group

Watching the kangaroos and the attempt to play football with them was a bonus as was the Halls Gap ice cream parlour.

Watching the kangeroos

If a tour company lists this hostel on an itinerary, don’t use the tour company. No really, don’t. It is a horrible hostel and only the fact that the location is great, our tour guide was excellent and the group we were travelling with were good, stopped it from being an experience that wrecked the trip.

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Halls Gap has better hostels and is worth visiting for many reasons, one being to climb the Grampians. Well worth the effort!

We stayed in other hostels and some hotels. In some cases hotels were cheaper. It is worth doing the research.

 

 

 

Au Revoir St Kilda

A while back I posted a blog about St Kilda and linked it to a song. I promised a second song with a reference to this beautiful suburb of Melbourne. From St Kilda to Kings Cross is it. I chose this as this is the last day we spend in St Kilda before moving on from Melbourne to other Australian cities, including Sydney. Where Kings Cross is.

We did our last shift at Lentil as Anything today. I am very sad to leave there.

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The staff and customers are so lovely. Today we were exceptionally busy as the holidays are in full swing. Customers today included a backpacker down to his last dollar, until the banks open in the UK. He is eating there for free, but promises to help as a volunteer and pay as he can, when he can. Then we had a family, dad Aussie, mom Japanese with two delightful, bi lingual children. They put $60 into the magic box. This illustrated to me perfectly the philosophy behind Lentil.

I’ll miss them.

After along shift we headed off to see Luna Park then off to the Espy

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For a pot. And these views.

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Goodbye St Kilda. I’ll miss you. But Adelaide, Sydney and Perth are waiting for me.

We’ll say a proper goodbye to Melbourne on New Years Eve, when the city turns to gold.