Saturday, 17 April 2010

Extra-Curricular Activities

Tom and I have discovered that moving overseas creates a great enthusiasm to take up new hobbies, try that sport that you’ve been meaning to do for years, and just generally do more ‘things’ that we would ever be motivated to do at home. We started with a gym membership and our photography course earlier this year, but this week our extra-curricular activities have risen to a new level.

Tom was cooking up a storm in the kitchen last Sunday when he heard an advert for the Elance Adult Ballet School in Melbourne. I was promptly called away from the ironing (haha, aren’t I a good girlfriend?!) to listen to the advert, and within two days I had enrolled at the school and taken my first class! The Elance school runs out of a beautiful purpose built studio complex in the suburb of Hawthorn East, and has daily ballet classes for dancers of all abilities. Unlike many of the adult dance schools in big cities around the globe, at Elance you sign up for a full term, must show up on time and wear uniform to class – the closest thing I’ve ever found to the familiar surroundings of my childhood dancing experiences with Diane Gulliford. The parallels don’t stop there however – the school principle at Elance is also called Diane! So, I think this was meant to be and I’ve signed up for 12 classes.

As is normal for me, I’ve managed to turn finding a new activity into an excuse to go shopping! Although I brought ballet shoes with me on the plane from the UK (too precious for the ship!), I didn’t bring any clothing, so yesterday I had a field day in the Bloch shop buying a leotard, tights and ballet skirt. I got incredibly distracted by some tiny but beautiful Baby Bloch ballet shoes – Ella and Lucy if they hadn’t been sooo expensive I was going to buy a pair each for Dora and Amelie! I thought $55 a pair was a bit pricey when your babies aren’t even walking yet, let alone doing first position.. Miss Gulliford if you are reading this though I challenge you to resist buying a pair for baby Catrin!

Severely crippled from Tuesday night’s class, Wednesday evening was the first of five sessions of a wine tasting course. After an embarrassing start by being the last to arrive (we weren’t late, but the tutor was clearly waiting for us!), there weren’t two available seats next to each other. After we took our seats separately, the woman next to me asked if Tom wanted to swap with her so that we could sit together. Tom said ‘yes’ just as I said ‘no’ – cue much laughter from the rest of the class. Sorry Tom, it’s not that I didn’t want to sit next to you, because really I did – I was just being ‘British’ and trying not to cause a fuss!

What followed was some interesting tuition from our (English!) tutor on how to taste wines, plus the opportunity to smell, taste and score three whites and three reds. The room was full of suggestions as to the wine scents and flavours – citrus, spices and chocolate were all suggestions, and we received a flavour ‘wheel’ to help us out with ideas... including the well known and sought after scents of ‘wet dog’, ‘skunk’ and ‘hydrogen sulphide’! I sat quietly and wondered to myself if there was something wrong with my sense of smell and my tastebuds - all I could smell and taste was wine! I confided in my colleagues Neil and Richard the next day, explaining my total lack of ability in the wine department. They then enlightened me that wine tasting is all about lying – “just make it up!”, they said! This has left me somewhat bemused that we’ve paid $580 to a wine company to learn how to bluff about wines. Perhaps the answer is to drink more and think less! I’ll keep you posted...

On Thursday night, Tom’s British colleague Carolyn had invited us to the local pub quiz. We thought it would be a great opportunity to meet some new people, so off we went to join a team of eight Brits and one, poor, lonely Aussie. We’ve since faced allegations that really we are still living in Britain – our social circle is all ex-pats, we read British news and watch British TV (we hope you all enjoyed Masterchef as much as we did!). In our defence however, we are trying very hard to be Aussie, but there are SO many Brits here that it would be rude to not socialise with them! The quiz was challenging, and we placed a respectable fourth amongst a group of eleven teams with considerably more experience. This placing was achieved despite the ‘hot seat’ round being on my specialist subject of musicals, where I embarrassingly failed to remember that West Side Story is based on Romeo and Juliet. Never mind that I was able to complete the answer of the next team’s question.... in the musical My Fair Lady, ‘hurricanes hardly happen’ in which three counties..? Answers on a postcard please.

Friday night was work drinks, with the usual and now very friendly gang of the Canadians Richard and Tamara, the Brits Rob and Jacqui, and the now the newcomers Neil and Claire! We went for dinner on Melbourne’s Southbank and afterwards saw Reginald D Hunter’s stand up show, which was part of the Melbourne Comedy Festival. It wasn’t particularly remarkable, so I won’t remark further!

So now it’s Saturday, and Tom is off playing basketball (a similar resurgence of enthusiasm to my ballet classes) and I’m sitting on the balcony writing this blog. Summer has returned for one day only, so I’m maximising the tanning opportunity. I know that when we come home in June you will all remark that we are very pale, and question whether or not we’ve actually been in Australia for the past eight months!

There have been lots of missed celebrations this week for those we miss and love from back home, so here are a few messages... happy birthday this week to Dad, Anna and Kev, congratulations to Mr and Mrs Smith on your baby news, and much love to ‘you know who you both are’ on your engagement! Girls I’m very exciting to have a SATC2 date with you all, and Emma, March, Jake and Daisy it was lovely to see you all on Skype for the first time last weekend!

I don’t have any exciting photos from this week, so this is my on the balcony writing the blog:

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Easter in Queensland

Forget chocolate bunnies, Easter 2010 was all about sun, sea and scenery, as Tom and I took our first inter-state holiday in southern Queensland. Home to Australia's third largest city, Brisbane, and the famous Gold Coast beaches, Queensland is a holiday destination for the masses, and it was very obvious why. Our host for the weekend was super-guide Merryl, who I've introduced on the blog several times before, but for those who you haven't read all of the previous editions (and shame on you!), Merryl is Tom's second cousin, and emigrated to Australia from the UK as a teenager. Super-guide is perhaps an understatement, as Merryl planned an unbelievable itinerary of sights that took us not just around the city of Brisbane but also all over southern Queensland. Merryl was not only a great tour guide but an uncomplaining chauffeur, and we zipped around to all of our destinations in her blue Honda Jazz (Dad I know you'll be jealous!).

We flew from Melbourne to Brisbane on Good Friday morning, and our plan for the day was to explore Brisbane. We took a long walk on the stunning southbank of the Brisbane River - it really reminded us of London's Southbank, with similar architecture (think Royal Festival Hall), a wheel almost as good as the London Eye, and several bridges crossing the river into the CBD. What Brisbane had to trump London however, was beautiful park areas and foliage, plus two outdoor swimming areas! It was the southbanks of all southbanks, in my opinion.

Brisbane Southbank

Brisbane Southbank

'Brisbane Eye' (I don't think it's actually called that!)

At the end of our walk awaited a blast from the past - and old friend from Bath university, Lisa Price - who since I last saw her 6 years ago has become Lisa Brownhill, mummy to Rhys and resident of Australia! Needless to say, we had a lot to catch up on, and it was great to meet her husband Richard and gorgeous little boy. Avid readers of my blog will know how baby-deprived I've felt since leaving Dora, Amelie, Ben, Ellie etc behind in the UK so any local babies are much doted upon.

Baby Rhys

L-R: Tom, Katie, Lisa, Rhys, Richard

Back at Merryl's house in the suburb of Daisy Hill, we were at one with nature. The house is on the edge of the forest, and built on a hill, so her first floor dining veranda is at mid-level tree height and provides a fantastic viewing opportunity for the local flora and fauna. Tom loved it, but you all know how I feel about bugs, and as darkness closed in whilst we ate our dinner, I couldn't hide my wandering eyes as I kept an eye on the moths, spiders and little geckos that were running around on the ceiling above us! Merryl tried to tell us about the spiders in the house before Tom immediately interrupted her with, "I don't think Katie needs to know about that at all thank you...!". Flashbacks of our Christmas trip and the huntsman spider encounter were fresh in both our minds, and Tom didn't fancy having that trauma on his hands again!

On the veranda

Dinner on the Veranda

Enjoying Merryl's swimming pool!

On Saturday we started the day with a long drive to the Glasshouse Mountains, and then headed further north to Noosa - a wonderful unspoilt beach resort. The beach was sandy and clean, the sea was warm and inviting - if only I'd had my swimming costume! We enjoyed a good paddle and then strolled along the main shopping street - Tom and I loved it and will definitely be heading back here for a relaxing holiday. Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo is also nearby so we'd like to return to visit his contraversial legacy.

Beautiful unspoilt Noosa beach

Tom and I

There were more beaches ahead of us on Sunday, but this time it was Surfers Paradise – just as beautiful a beach as Noosa, but totally contrasting surroundings. Instead of parklands and little hotels, it was skyscraper city, with dozens upon dozens of high rise apartment blocks to cater to the mass of tourists that flock to Surfers. The Costa del Sol of Australia is perhaps a fitting description, and it is this part of town that earns Brisbane it’s nickname of ‘BrisVegas’. Lots of the theme parks are in the vicinity, but we didn’t have time to visit so have put these in the list for next time. We had find time to swim however – my first proper swim in the Ocean here in Australia! The water was clear and warm and the waves were HUGE! I’d love to have a photographic record of my first Aussie swim, but unfortunately although Tom was left on the beach in charge of the camera, he didn’t take a photo!

Surfer's Paradise aka BrisVegas

Me being silly in Surfers
I thought this was an atmospheric shot


The rest of the weekend went by in a flash, so quickly in fact that we’ll definitely try to go back to Queensland and spend more time seeing the beautifully scenery and ticking off some of the zoos, aquariums and theme parks. Brisbane is only a two and a quarter hour flight from Melbourne, so it’s close enough to go for a weekend I think. We weren’t totally devoid of Easter tradition, with yummy Easter bunnies from Merryl, and a very lively debate about religion during Easter drinks with some of her friends!

Coming up over the next few weeks are lots of dinners with friends, Melbourne Comedy Festival, and plenty of sport – Aussie Rules football and Pacific Rim Gymnastics Championships. We’ve also booked some theatre and a weekend away in local-spa town Dayelsford and will be arriving back in the UK 7 weeks today! We are looking forward to catching up with you all....

Here’s some more Queensland photos to close:

View of Brisbane from Mt Cout-tha

T&K, with Brisbane city in background

Surf anyone?! This was on a bus in Noosa.

Noosa beach

Stereotypical Aussie image

This was taken on Brisbane's Southbank, not Merryl's garden!

Kate, this one is for you - the first in hopefully a long list of Australia's 'BIG' landmarks that we will spot!