Wednesday 19 August 2009

Settling back into Island Life

We are starting to get established into Island Life again, but this time in Jersey. The boys and I joined David last week and it has been rather hectic as we try to get ourselves re-established. All our stuff was delivered the day before I arrived, but when we got unpacked we could not believe some of the things we were missing (as we had thrown them out or given them away before we left). We had to head straight out to buy essentials such as a hoover, kettle, toaster, kitchen utensils, place mats, teapot and pots and pans...not to mention all the big things that we needed such as bookcases, chests of drawers, shelving, sofa and dining table and chairs!!

We are really pleased with our new house, it has four bedrooms and a nice little garden with doors out from the dining room, which is great for the boys to run in and out. It is nice to finally unpack somewhere permanent and we have no plans to be moving again in a hurry!! We are only about five minutes walk to the beach and we have made a couple of trips down there already. The boys were delighted to see all their toys and books come out of storage with Luke being particularly excited about getting his "bike with pedals and brakes" which he took to like a fish to water and can now ride with no stabilisers!! (A video of this will follow in due course but we are not online at home yet).
I started work on Monday and so far it has been okay, not too much of a culture shock, although I do find the office very, very quiet in comparison to home...there is no-one shouting "MUUUM" every five seconds!! David does not start work until September, so he has drawn the short straw of finishing off everything that needs organised while looking after the boys. David has also been spending some time with our new nanny, Sarah, who starts next week, so that the boys do not find it too strange when she is looking after them full time.

First impressions of Jersey...quite different from Guernsey, more tourism, much more going on, busier place...more cars and people...but so far we like it...!


Saturday 1 August 2009

Homecoming 2009

We arrived safely back in Scotland on 21st of June and after collecting our luggage mountain for one last time we went through to arrivals where we were there was a big crowd of family waiting for us and they had even brought cake and drinks to add to the party atmosphere!!

We headed down to Dumfries where we are staying until we start work in Jersey in August. As we cannot go back to Guernsey we are 'island-hopping' to the 'other island' to work and live. Our first week in Dumfries was spent trying to start to sort out our move to Jersey, we spent lots of time on the internet and on the phone making arrangements.

David and I made a flying visit to Jersey for three nights, where we looked at schools and houses as well as sorting out a few other things for before we head to the island.

We are now sorted for our move to Jersey and David has already left (he has the fun job of supervising the removal). We got a roof box for the car, which meant we could fit LOTS of stuff in...including two single beds and mattresses!! I fly down with the boys next week (once our furniture has been delivered). The house we are renting is close to the beach (about five minutes walk away) and about 2 miles from town.

We have been really busy while we have been over as we have been trying to fit in lots of other things around organising our move to Jersey. Peter and David climbed the Grey Mare's tail and as preparation for climbing a Munro, which they did with Graham and his dad a couple of weeks ago in appalling weather. We have done a few walks in Mabie Forest, as well as a bit if cycling. We have also been up to visit Glasgow and Edinburgh and we had a visit from Sian (our old nanny) and Lisa. We spent a lovely day with friends from Guernsey who are over in Edinburgh for the Festival.

The time has flown past since we got back (apologies for the very late update on what we have been up to) and I cannot believe that I will be starting work again a week tomorrow!!!


Saturday 20 June 2009

The final days

We are currently sitting at OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, waiting for our flight back to Heathrow.

After finishing up in the Western Cape we flew back up here a few days ago. After a last minute cancellation from our hotel in Pretoria we had to quickly rearrange two nights accomodation. We managed a real stroke of luck, finding a house which could be rented by the day (although the location, North of Pretoria, was not as good as the original hotel). Peter's asthma has not been good over the last few weeks and we had to take him to the medical centre at the airport when we arrived for 10minutes on a nebulizer (not a particularly cheap thing in an airport). So when we arrived at our fully equiped three bedroom house with lounge, private garden and full time maid we decided that we would spend a restful couple of days at 'home'. The furthest we managed to venture was to the local shopping mall, 3km away!

After a couple of days we left (much to the relief of the maid who I think was tired of cleaning up after Luke and Joe) and headed down to Johannesburg to visit some friends of ours from Guernsey who now live and work there - and have a 1 year old son (Daniel) who we had not met yet. They had just arrived back from three weeks in Europe and we had delayed our flight back by a couple of days to make sure we could see them. We hade a more active time (but also spent a fair bit of time enjoying their beautiful big garden). The highlight was a trip to a small game reserve where we got up VERY close to lions, giraffes and zebra. We also went to a kids play area at a nearby garden centre which had fairground rids, a train ride, sand pit etc. Earlier this evening Ronald cooked up a lovely Braai for dinner after which we sat out in the sun before we had to head off to the airport.

What a quick 10 months it has been (but looking back at the blog we did squeeze in a pretty good amount). We have a few weeks in Scotland to look forward to before we go back to the world of employment - in Jersey.


Wednesday 17 June 2009

The Western Cape

With the clouds and rain forecast to clear after our first weekend in Cape Town we decided to get up early on Monday morning to head up for the views from Table Mountain. As we drove clear of the highrise buildings of the city we had a crystal clear view of Table Mountain for the first time since we arrived.

The highlight of Table Mountain for the kids is the cable car ride which takes you to the top. Once on top we were pestered with “can we go back down now” from the kids (to which the answer was “do you know how much it cost us to get up here?”). We had a very short walk on top, where it was quite cold, and enjoyed the views down to the City and Harbour before retreating to the cafe for refreshments and riding the cable car back down. We also took a quick drive to Signal Hill,another of the major hills in the city, where we enjoyed more spectacular views and some warm sunshine.

On another day we went out to Melkbosstrand (north of the city) to visit Ann and Rod (Dean's parents). The last time we had visited them was when Nicola was pregnant with Luke. We spent a relaxing day with them at their house and took a little walk down to the nearby beach. Rod and, particularly, Ann are really great with kids and the boys all quickly felt at home. We also saw Ann and Rod again this week when they came out to visit us at our vineyard guesthouse in Stellenbosch where we visited a nearby Cheetahs park and went out for a lovely lunch.

The other highlights of our time in Cape Town were a half-day trip to Robben Island, one time island-prison home of a number of high profile political prisoners (most famously Nelson Mandela), and a road trip down the Western Cape to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. On the road trip we tried to re-create the route we took on our last visit (which wasn't quite possible due to road closures) including a lovely lunch stop in Simonstown and a visit to the African Penguins at Boulders Beach.

When the rain returned again at the weekend we took refuge at the Cape Town Book Fair (which opened on Saturday) where Joe and Luke got to meet Noddy, who gave them lots of free books. Peter, being too old for Noddy, hid at the back of the room and read several Ben 10 books. Peter also bought his favourite Percy Jackson book at the fair (one he has borrowed and read twice before from the library!).

On Saturday afternoon we moved on to a new apartment out in the wine region of Stellenbosch for three nights. We were worried that it might be a disappointment after the beautiful place we had in Cape Town, but while it wasn't quite at the same level it was nice and, best of all, the boys had a bed each. Saturday and Sunday were a washout but on Monday we finally got to see the scenery and managed a couple of decent walks around the vineyard. On our morning walk we were followed by the farm dog which Joe soon named Scrufty. In the afternoon the boys insisted that we try to find Scrufty before we headed out for our walk, but sadly he was nowhere to be seen. Luke suggested that instead we might be able to find a cat to go walking with us (again no luck there). It was a nice place, but next time we hope to visit when the weather is better (and the vines are full of grapes).

Our next stop is Johannesberg/Pretoria and is the last before we head back over to Scotland.

Photos from The Western Cape are here and from Robben Island here.


Tuesday 9 June 2009

Weekend with Hatish and Asha

We spent our first couple of days in Cape Town trying to adjust to the new time zone and as the weather was a bit overcast and wet we had a quiet few days.  We did venture out for a couple of walks, but the weather meant that there was not much to see...Table Mountain was hidden from view behind low clouds.  The highlight of these first few days was a trip to the aquarium, where Luke enjoyed seeing penguin and Peter and Joe were delighted to be able to get close to a shark!

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny and we felt we had finally recovered from our flight over as we headed off to meet Hatish and Asha (old friends from Guernsey) for the day.  We hadn't seen them since they left Guernsey nearly four years ago, but it felt like we had seen them last week as we spent an hour or so catching up with them at their apartment before heading out to Canal Walk (a huge shopping mall) to browse the shops and have some lunch.  After lunch we took a drive past their new house (which they move into later in the year) before heading to the beach for a walk then going back to catch up some more over a lovely dinner.  

On Sunday we had a walk around central Cape Town in the morning, before heading up to the Rhodes Memorial  for some spectacular views over the city, followed by tea and scones at the tea room.  

After this we decieded to head to the University of Cape Town (UCT) campus for a walk...which nearly went wrong after we started to follow the wrong car out of the car park...luckily we realised after a few minutes and managed to find Hatish and Asha again (which was purely luck!!)...who knows where we would have ended up if we hadn't realised!!  Once we got to UCT we really enjoyed our walk around the campus, which had lovely buildings and some spectacular views over the city.  

On Monday the weather was still clear so we got up early and headed for Table Mountain, we arrived early enough to avoid the queues and the views from the top were as stunning as we remembered from our last visit.  It was quite cool at the top of the mountain so we did a short walk then headed to the cafe for some tea and hot-chocolate to warm us all up again before heading back down.

The temperature at the bottom of the mountain was a lot warmer and when we got down we drove along Signal Hill Drive, which has more amazing views over the city and back towards Table Mountain.  We did another short walk, taking in the views before heading back to our apartment for lunch.

In the afternoon we headed back to the V&A waterfront where the sunshine had brought out the crowds and the street performers so we spent some time wandering around and enjoying the atmosphere.  After picking up some shopping for dinner we headed back to our hotel and then went a walk in the streets around the hotel, which had much more atmosphere now that the sun was shining!  Hatish and Asha came round for dinner after they had finished work.  The boys were all very tired, so after getting Luke and Joe in bed early (and getting Peter to sit and quietly read his book) we managed to have a nice peaceful evening.


Saturday 6 June 2009

Next stop South Africa

We left Perth on Tuesday night, taking to the air just before midnight, for our 12 hour flight to Johannesburg and then on to Cape Town.  Because of the six hour time change we hoped that the late flight would mean the kids would be awake later making the time change less of a shock.  Waiting to board the flight we had to keep prodding Joe to keep him up so that he could board himself whilst Luke was a lost cause.  

Unsurprisingly once on-board Joe's eyes miraculously brightened and he stayed up for an hour chattering away.  There were loads of kids and babies on the flight and the airline had clearly decided that we would all sit together in a kid-zone at the back of the plane, but amazingly there was very little noise until the last hour when there were a couple of screamers.  Our boys slept for most of the flight and played/read happily for the remainder of the time, but by the time we disembarked we were all thoroughly confused by the time (having been served dinner just after midnight (Perth time) and breakfast at 4am (SA time).  As we came down the steps from the plane Peter was his usual hyperactive self pretending to be a Ben-10 alien using his airline eye-mask as a face mask.  To the other passengers it looked like he was wearing a Swine-Flu mask, which caused us some embarrassment!

We had a four hour wait in Johannesburg before boarding our onward flight to Cape Town (during which time we managed another couple of snacks - eating really helps pass the time).  This second flight was only 2 hours and with Luke sleeping for the duration it was very easy again.  

On arrival at Cape Town we were through immigration and customs quickly and our bags soon appeared at luggage collection - nearly there.  There was a slight hiccup at the car hire desk when they handed me the keys to a Ford Fiesta which I quickly pointed out could hardly be described as "intermediate" (as booked) and after pointing to Nicola and the boys standing by our luggage they soon found a Ford Focus for us.

The drive to our hotel in Cape Town was a slight disappointment - normally the drive from the airport provides an amazing view of Table Mountain as the motorway descends towards the city, but cloudy and wet weather completely obscured Table Mountain.  However, when we arrived at our apartment in the city our spirits were quickly lifted.  

Our Bargain hunting had turned up a real gem - our apartment is a lovely modern flat with a large open plan kitchen/living room and two good sized double bedrooms.  Luke is particularly pleased because he not only has his own cot, but there is a large bath in our en-suite.  Nicola is happy that we not only have our own washing maching, but a tumble dryer too (and a wireless internet connection).  For me, having a large freezer is great so I can pick up all of the bargain bin items in the supermarket! (and a wireless internet connection).  Peter and Joseph were delighted to find that there is both a TV and DVD player.

The first couple of days have been marked by jet-lag induced apathy, so we are particularly pleased that the apartment is so nice because we have spent so long here.  The TV was a useful distraction for the boys when they were up at 5am on the first day.  The weather forecast says the weather will improve early next week, and with lots of visiting to look forward to (Hatish and Asha - our friends from Guernsey, and Ann and Rod - Dean's parents) and sights to visit the next week is likely to disappear fast.


Last few days in Perth

Our time in Perth flew past and our last few days were no exception.  We managed to squeeze in a trip to mini-golf, feeding the parrots at the park, a day at the outdoor pool, another trip into the city, a morning walking in Kings Park and lots more time on the beach, a sunset picnic and another fishing trip out on the boat.  Our last couple of days were touched by sadness as Robert's brother John passed away very suddenly which was a great shock for Nancy and Robert.  

We were lucky with the weather while we were in Perth, we had only a couple of days of rain and we spent most of our three weeks in shorts and t-shirts.  The first of June is the official start of winter...we spent the day in 26 degree heat on the beach at Scarborough watching the surfers...not quite the same as winter in the UK then!!

Perth has been one of the highlights of our trip, especially for the boys who loved spending time with Nancy and Robert....since we left we have had to explain quite a few times that we are NOT meeting Nancy and Robert in South Africa...and Joseph informed us that he has two sets of Grandparents in Scotland and a Grandma and Grandpa in Australia!

Some more photos here and here.


Friday 29 May 2009

Fishing trip

Today we took Nancy and Robert's boat to a place called Guilderton, about 100km North of Perth city for a fishing trip on the Moore River.  The drive took about 90 minutes, including a stop to pick up fishing supplies.  The scenery we drove through on the way up was very unexciting.  The highlightof the journey was when we pulled up alongside Nancy and Robert's car and Peter noticed for the first time that Joseph wasn't in our car.  We all had a good laugh at him - he had been so engrossed in his book and hadn't noticed when Joseph and his booster seat had been removed from our car so he could ride with Nancy and Robert.

By the time we arrived at the riverside we were all hungry, so we tucked straight into the picnic we had brought with us while Robert sorted the fishing gear.  
It wasn't long before we were backing the boat into the water by which time Joseph and Luke were getting very excited about the prospect of going in the boat on the water (since we first arrived in Perth their favourite game has been playing in the boat - parked in the garden).  Peter agreed to let the little two have first shot (partly bribed with an ice-cream).  We took a quick spin around the lagoon before heading upstream and dropping anchor for our first attempt at fishing.  Robert gave us all a quick lesson with the fishing rods and it wasn't long before I had managed to put a knot in one of the lines, reducing our rod count to two.  Luke managed a very basic fishing method, while Joseph worked on casting the line properly.  

After a short lesson we headed back to port where Nicola and Luke disembarked and Peter joined the crew.  Peter had his lesson on casting and we headed further upstream, trying several different spots.  Both Joseph and Peter were soon fishing like little pro's, while Robert watched on (probably wishing I hadn't wrecked his chance of a catch!).  

Despite improving technique and a host of spots, we failed to see a single fish.  We did, however, have great fun and saw loads of birdlife (black swans, pelicans, parakeets etc).  On the way back Joseph helped Robert skipper the boat back - mainly making sure he didn't go too slow.

The boat was easily winched back onto its trailer as the sun gave up the last of its heat for the day and a tired group headed for the long drive home and some well earned bangers and mash.

Full set of photos can be found by clicking here.


Thursday 28 May 2009

Cycling around Rottnest

On Tuesday we caught the ferry over to Rottnest, a peaceful little island off the coast of Western Australia, leaving Nancy and Robert to rest for a day or so!  Rottnest has a laid back atmosphere with lovely beaches, beautiful views and the added attraction that the main way to get around is on bike.  We stayed overnight and while the accommodation was a bit grubby we had a fantastic two days.  

We hired bikes for David, Peter, Joe and I and a trailer for Luke.  Joe and Peter were delighted to have bikes again and while Luke was devastated that he didn’t get his own bike he soon began enjoying travelling in the bike trailer.  After a quick lunch stop (where a peacock tried to steal Joe’s pie…much to his distress!) we headed out for a cycle.  The maps of the island were fairly poor…not all the roads seemed to be marked, but at least the kids didn’t mind doing a couple of circles before hitting the road properly!  

Joe was in his element the whole time we had the bikes.  The highlight of the two days for him was ’riding fast’ and he was fairly quick, he embarrassed some struggling teenage girls as he sped past them with ease!  Joe was so happy as he cycled along, chatting away while his little legs worked overtime - he seemed to have endless energy.  David and I just enjoyed watching him and were so proud of how well he did, as we cycled over 30km over the two days.  

Peter also enjoyed being on the bike and he spent a lot of the time riding out front leading the way.  He got a bit of a shock on the first day when he cycled over a snake!  This was a bit too close an encounter, even for  Peter, who loves animals and nature!  

Rottnest is home to a marsupial called a Quokka, which looks a bit like a large rat.  Most of the quokkas living on the island are fairly tame and they always have their eye out for food, one of them had a good look into the bike trailer as Luke was sitting munching his crisps!  As well as quokkas we also saw pelicans (which I thought were amazing), peacockAdd Images (which Luke was very impressed with) and Peter spotted some jellyfish in the water while waiting for the ferry.  

We were all tired out by the time we got back on the ferry on Wednesday, but we had a fantastic time on Rotto!


Monday 25 May 2009

Was there a ghost in San Diego?

We just found this photo when looking through some of the older pictures from the trip.  It was taken on our first evening at La Jolla (just North of San Diego) along with a number of pictures taken at sunset that evening.  

In the preceding picture the man fishing looks solid enough (he appears as a silhouette), but in the picture shown here it appears that you can see right through the man (particularly the edge of the rock seen through his legs).  The photo has not been edited or manipulated in any way.  I have uploaded a copy of the picture file (unreduced in size and unaltered) in which you can zoom in on the man to see the full effect - click on the picture here to open the full file.

Is it a ghost or is there another explanation?


Sunday 24 May 2009

Thomas Day

Nancy and Robert had planned a bit of a surprise for the boys while we were over as there was a “Friends of Thomas” day on at a local park during our visit.  David and I thought it would be just the sort of thing Joe and Luke would love and we decided to keep it as a surprise until the day.  Nancy and Robert picked up a few Thomas things during the week and I set up a Thomas themed breakfast table for Sunday morning.  The boys got a surprise when they got up and were very excited to hear they were going to see some trains.

We headed down to the park first thing and followed the crowds of small kids and parents down to the station.  We did three train rides before lunch and stopped off to see model aeroplane flying and remote control car racing (very popular with Peter and Luke respectively).  When we arrived back at the station before lunch it was chaos…there were hundreds of people waiting for trains.  We made a quick exit through the crowds and found a shady spot for 
our picnic.  

After lunch we decided to walk to the last train stop, rather than face the crowds on the platform.  It was a nice walk through the bush and alongside a pond.  When we found the station we had a look at some old buses and fire-engines which were on display and then watched the train in the station before heading back (on foot).

Luke loved the day, he is mad about Thomas and really enjoyed seeing and riding on the trains (although was not too keen on their whistles!).  Joe also had a really good day as he is fairly train mad too.  Peter was being our ‘bored teenager’ this morning, appropriately dressed in black and moping about complaining and muttering something about trains being boring…however he seemed to cheer up after lunch (maybe because we didn’t go on any more trains) and overall I think he enjoyed the day.  


Keeping busy in Perth

After spending a few sunny days on the beach we decided to head into the city for a day in case the forecasted rain arrived at the end of the week.  We spent a day wandering around Perth and relaxing in Kings Park.  Perth city did not seem to have changed too much since our last visit ten years ago and the driving in and out was certainly far easier than in Melbourne!

The weather forecast for Thursday was a storm, but we decided to head down the coast to Rockingham where you can often see marine life like sea lions and dolphins.  It seemed a good idea until we stepped out of the car into howling winds, although it was not cold it was pretty blowy andafter a quick walk we retreated to the car to re-think our strategy for the day!   

We decided to head into Subiaco, a trendy suburb of Perth with lots of nice shops.  When we arrived the weather had picked up and we parked up at Hungry Jacks (aka Burger King) and had a quick lunch in the car, with the windows open and the sun streaming in.  After lunch we were about to head into the shops when the storm hit…luckily only I had got out the car to get the parking ticket before we decided to abandon.   The wind and rain were ferocious and we could  hardly see the road, there were tree branches down on the roads…then ten minutes later the rain stopped, winds eased off and the sky started brightening….the storm had passed!   If we had known how quickly it would pass then  we could have sat it out, but instead we headed back to Nancy and Roberts and lucky old Peter had some extra homework time!

We headed into Fremantle on Friday with Nancy and Robert as we wanted to see the weekly markets.  The weather was still a bit cold, wet and blowy, which was an extreme contrast to our previous visits to Fremantle where we had to rest in cafes due to extreme heat!!  We wandered around the markets and Nancy and Robert bought the boys a boomerang.  Then we went a walk to build up an appetite for a fish and chip lunch (which was delicious).  

On Saturday the weather was still looking a bit dodgy so we got up early and headed into Scitech, an interactive science museum (much like Scienceworks which we went to in Melbourne).  We arrived for opening at 10am and spent the whole day trying out the exhibits and going to the various shows, we had to literally drag the kids out as they shrieked “just one more go” at 4.30pm to take them home for tea.  The kids were tired and after their tea they settled down to watch Ice Age 2 while David and I went out for an Indian meal then went to see Angels and Demons (which was excellent!!).


Tuesday 19 May 2009

First few days in Perth

We arrived in Perth last Thursday and stepped off the plane into the bright sunshine and heat of Western Australia.  Nancy and Robert had come to meet us at the airport and it was lovely to have familiar faces waiting for us when we emerged into the arrivals hall.  Peter, Joseph and Luke were instantly won over as Nancy and Robert had got them a helium balloon each!

Our luggage quickly appeared and I was packing it onto the luggage trolley when the “food-smuggling sniffer dog” took an interest in my bag.  We had already put the food we were carrying into the quarantine bins so I knew we were okay, but the dog was not taking no for an answer, so they did a quick search of my bag to make sure there was not a rogue apple in

The weather has been warm and sunny every day so far and we have spent a lot of time on the beach.  The boys have really enjoyed the beach, they have been building sandcastles and playing endlessly in the water.  

We had a quieter day on Sunday, we went to see the kangaroos at a nearby cemetery then went to the park for half an hour of Aussie Rules football, badminton and boomerang throwing.  

Nancy and Robert had bought a paddling pool for the boys so Luke and Joseph had a great time playing in the water and trying to surf!  In the afternoon we headed to the nearby historical “Cockman House” which had a family fun afternoon on, so as well as having a look round the house there was also lots of old fashioned games such as skipping, stilts and the hula-hoop which we could try out and some tasty scones and tea.  

Yesterday after a day at the beach we headed out for dinner to the nearby “Hog's Breath CafĂ©” where most of us enjoyed steak and chips (Joe and I had chicken) before squeezing in some chocolate cake then taking three very tired boys home to bed!

David has even managed some training as he headed out to a 6.30am swimming session with an ex-England team triathlete who now lives in Perth and coaches triathlon and swimming for a living.

Tomorrow we are off into the city for the day, so we are hoping the good weather holds for another day.  We are having a great time here in Perth…our main concern is how quickly the days are flying past!!


Thursday 14 May 2009

A quick visit to Melbourne

After a bit of a disasterous first day in Melbourne (see the day that turned to custard) we had a restful second day - in the morning we took our boys and Aaron to the swimming pool and then spent the afternoon chillaxing back at the house (except Peter who caught up on some school work).  The kids all woke early again the next day (waking us too).  We drove into the city early and did a walking tour around the Botanic Gardens (4 miles) which was somewhat spoiled by an attack of the Grumps from Luke and an unusual navigational error from me (as a result of this rare occurrence, getting lost in the Botanics was a regular topic of discussion over the next few days). 

Although Dan and Fiona's house is quite big, the downstairs sleeping quarters (which we shared with the four boys) are quite small.  Aaron’s excitement at having his cousins visit never really wore off and we were regularly woken by roaring well before 6am!  Luke suffered the most from the early rise, but slept a bit better when we moved him in to sleep with us after a few days.

In the afternoon I dropped Nicola and Joseph off at a nearby shopping mall for a couple of hours birthday present shopping and took Luke home for a sleep while Peter did more homework.

On Saturday we drove down to visit  the Formula 1 Grand Prix circuit at Albert park - which for the rest of the year is a fairly regular park and lake, with the pit complex used as a sports centre. We then took a quick drive down to the nearby St Kildas, the famous beach area close to the city. The afternoon turned slightly custardy when we got stuck in traffic trying to drive to the shopping centre to meet Sarah(Holmes) and Sarah (Southpaw) who had taken Aaron out for the day.

Highlight of the week: on Sunday Sarah and I went on the Neighbours tour  which included Ramsay Street, the external sets and a surprise meeting with……..(drum roll)…….Dr Karl Kennedy, who kindly wrote some nice messages for fellow doctors Chris and Dan.  Nicola had also wanted to come, but since we would have had to then bring the boys (the tour lasted almost 4 hours) and because I had some birthday money which I wanted to put towards the tour, she spent the day making birthday cards with the boys and took the 5 kids to the park with Dan.  

Over the next few days we spent a lot more of the daytime with Dan, Fiona, Aaron and Maria. We visited a great museum in Melbourne called Scienceworks which was full of excellent interactive activities for the kids.  We also took a drive out to an animal sanctuary at a place called Healsville - the kids liked getting up close to the kangaroos and seeing a display of the birds of prey.   (Although it was a fun day for the kids, we wouldn’t normally visit a zoo or animal park because of the confined space the animals are kept in and sadly this was no different at Healsville.)  Healsville is located at the start of the Yarra valley, one of the areas devastated by this year’s bushfires.  We took a drive to one of the worst affected places, a small town called Marysville which was almost wiped out.  The scene was amazing - most of the rubble and mess has been cleared away but there is very little left standing.  In some cases a charred sign was the only evidence of businesses and other buildings which once stood there.

On my birthday Sarah and I went down to the pool for a short training session while the kids played at the park outside.  In the afternoon we took a drive out to Ramsay Street so that Nicola and the boys could have a look (no Karl Kennedy though).  We got back early to prepare for the traditional birthday tea (sandwiches, crisps, cakes, biscuits etc) and had everything ready to eat when the others arrived back from their drive (Dan was still refusing to go to Ramsay Street!).

Our overall impression of Melbourne?  Initially we weren’t impressed having come straight from Sydney, but by the end of our stay we found that there is quite a lot to do around there.  There were several city walks which we would like to have done but didn’t have time - and due to our tram crash we didn’t get to see as much of the city as we would have liked.  If you could only visit one city then we would recommend Sydney, but if you have more time Melbourne is worth a visit.

The complete Melbourne photo collection is here.


Wednesday 6 May 2009

The day that turned to custard

From the moment our plane touched down in Melbourne Peter, Joseph and Luke's excitement levels started rising...they were going to see Aaron again!  We arrived at Dan and Fiona's house before the kids were home from nursery, giving our boys time to inspect Aaron’s toy collection before he got home.  From the moment that a very excited Aaron burst in the front door and raced upstairs the house descended into a few hours of ‘little boy chaos’…toys, games and books were compared and inspected and four little voices babbled away to each other until bedtime!  Maria looked on and tried chewing on a few of the boys toys and she looked like she was very keen to be joining in!

The kids woke early this morning and had a few hours of playing before we decided to head into the city.  We headed in first, with Dan, Aaron and Maria coming in later to meet us for lunch.  Our first stop was the tourist information, where we learned about the free tourist trams…as the boys had been asking to go on the trams everywhere we went for weeks we decided to do this before lunch.

We headed to the nearest tram stop and were lucky to just make it in time to get onto a tram.  We sat up the back and the boys looked out the windows and enjoyed the ride.  The tram does a circle, so we were planning to do a loop then meet Dan and the kids for lunch.  

We were about halfway round when disaster struck…while the tram was stopped at lights there was a huge bang and a jolt.  Luke fell over and started screaming…we had been hit from behind (at some speed) by another tram!  Once we worked out what had happened and had ascertained that we were all fine (and everyone else on the tram had been reassured that a screaming Luke was okay…he just got a fright) we had to get off the tram and watch a huge ‘tram-traffic jam’ build up behind us.

From this point on our day “turned to custard” (to borrow a phrase from Dean).  As  no-one had been injured and it was clearly the fault of the tram driver behind us we decided to head off on foot, but we were now quite far away from where we were meeting Dan and needed to calm Luke down before we could re-board another tram! 

After half walking, half tram-ing it back to meet Dan, we then got lost (due to confusion on our location when we were talking to Dan), had lunch late, then decided to walk round the centre…however after a tedious stroll at dawdling child pace Joe was exhausted and Luke and Aaron wanted to go home.  So we decided to call it a day and headed back to the car and after negotiating the rather scary and manic Melbourne traffic we made it back home, where the boys enjoyed another few hours of ‘hyper-powered’ excitement before bed.

Let’s hope tomorrow is less eventful…we might even try the free bus!


We love Sydney

We walked through Hyde Park on our first morning and met Sven outside his hostel on the way into the city centre. It was then a short walk through the Botanic Gardens before we reached the harbour and our first views of the world famous bridge and opera house. Both were stunning to see in real life and with a warm sun sparkling off the water made it a really wonderful view. We walked round to the opera house and the boys played at running up and down the steps for a while before we headed over towards the bridge. The Southern end of the bridge is a place called “The Rocks” which is the original European settlement in Sydney. Many of the original brick buildings remain and it is very English in style. We wandered around the markets at The Rocks before ascending several flights of stairs to reach the bridge. Out on the bridge we had more good views of the opera house so Nicola took another couple of million snaps before we headed back . By this time the boys were getting tired so we picked up some snacks and drinks and headed back to the steps of the opera house for a break. After their snacks Peter, Joseph and Luke counted the steps up to the opera house (50). On the way down Luke tried to find out how many steps he could jump down face first before Nicola could catch him (3) - and came out of it with interesting bruises. We finished the day going back through Hyde Park and fell exhausted into an early bed.

We were up early on our second day after a long sleep. I headed out for a run down near the gardens on the Olympic triathlon course (2000). After I got back we looked at the map and measured how far we had walked yesterday and were surprised to see it was almost 9 miles (we think Joseph’s longest walk prior to that was about 5 miles) - no wonder we were so tired!

We met Sven at our hotel and headed over towards Chinatown where we bought tickets for the monorail. We took a ride right round the monorail loop before disembarking at Darling Harbour on our second lap. We had a good look around the maritime museum where the main exhibits were a Darwin exhibition and “trash or treasure,, souvenirs of travel” - something we have accumulated plenty of. We had a picnic lunch at the harbour while a military jazz band played in one of the waterside amphitheatres. The harbour area was really busy and there was an excellent atmosphere. After lunch we wandered around the harbour and saw a few street performers - my favourite was a three piece band in which the drummer and trombone player were on stilts and the saxophonist rode a Segway. We rode the monorail back round to Chinatown and after a quick visit to Paddy’s Market (selling the usual junk found in any UK market but ten times the size) we finished off with dinner in Chinatown.

By day 3 we were fairly exhausted, so after walking into the main harbour for breakfast (via the Botanic Gardens where we stopped to watch fruit-bats coming home to roost) we caught a ferry over to a place called Manly, North East of the city. We spent most of the day on the beach (but couldn’t help doing a little two mile walk along the esplanade because it looked like such a nice walk). The shops and cafes in Manly also looked lovely (but the only shopping we did was picking up some sun-cream, we have got out of the habit of taking it everywhere we go since we got to New Zealand!). After a relaxing ferry ride back to the city we stopped off at Peter’s favourite eating joint “Pie Face” for dinner. Once the kids were in bed Nicola and I started the epic re-pack, which surprisingly went ok.

Day 4 - our first day of rain in Australia, but after a quick swim in the hotel pool with the boys, we left by taxi for Sydney airport to say goodbye already. After being under whelmed by New Zealand it has been great to visit somewhere which really blew us away again - the first place we've been to for a while that we think we would like to live.


New Zealand to Sydney

Our journey from New Zealand to Sydney went really well.  As we had stayed near the airport the night before we were able to walk over with our luggage in the morning once we had checked out.  Our flight was not until 14.30, so we had  some time to spend in the airport before we left.  It was just as well really as we had five “Departing New Zealand” forms to fill out, as well as five Australian arrival cards…so those kept us busy!

Our flight was about 3 hours and by the time we got on board Joseph was exhausted by all the excitement of the day and he promptly fell asleep for an hour (until the food arrived!).  Peter was disappointed not to find a ‘back of the seat entertainment centre’ and had to make do with listening to the Rock Radio station.  

Luke was very excited about going on a plane (but only if it was green…which ours was not, but we had to pretend it was).  However, as the flight wore on he became increasingly tired and therefore increasingly mischievous.  He twice pressed the cabin crew call button without us noticing…much to our embarrassment as a member of the Qantas team came each time to check we were okay!  Luke found this game amazingly funny and therefore spent the rest of the flight trying to prise my hand away from the armrest where I was covering the buttons to stop him touching them.  I resorted to threatening him with time out if he misbehaved (in the van we used to sit him on the passenger seat if he had been really naughty).  When I told him he would be going in time out if he didn’t stop trying to press the buttons he looked at me a bit puzzled, then said “Will the man who flies the plane come and sit in my seat then?”….he thought I was going to make him sit in the cockpit…I had to laugh!!

On our way out of the plane the boys got to have a look at the flight deck and sit in the pilot and co-pilots’ seats.  Luke seemed rather bewildered that he was allowed to touch the speed control for the plane when he had got into so much trouble for touching the button on his armrest!

Once we got off the plane, got through immigration, got our bags and got through the bio-hazard screening we had to work out how to get to our hotel (as we have not hired a car).  We decided that first stop should be the cash machine and as we were withdrawing cash Sven appeared!  We knew he flew in the same day as us, but he had decided to hang around and travel into the city with us.  We were debating how we would get our luggage mountain into town when a minibus taxi driver came over and offered us a great deal to get us all into town…we were sorted!

We arrived at our hotel, got checked in and then wandered down with Sven to his hostel.  Sven kindly let David carry his pink surfboard through the gay district!  As we walked down we got our first impressions of Sydney and it seems lively and interesting and we can’t wait to go sightseeing tomorrow!

Pictures from our last day in New Zealand are here