Thursday, 31 December 2015

De Code Adventures and The Keg

As part of our Christmas present this year we decided to take everyone to an Escape Room. An escape room is an interactive puzzle, where you are locked in a room for a set amount of time and you have to solve different clues in order to get a code that will let you out of the room. We did one of these in Melbourne about a year ago and loved it. We found a place in Mississauga about 10 minutes from my parent's house called De Code Adventures which offers six different rooms/scenarios to choose from, all varying in difficulty. Five of them are for groups of four to six people, but if you have a larger group there is one room that you play in two teams against each other, which is pretty cool. We had a group of six: Andy, my brother Mike and his girlfriend Ashley, our friend Nikki, my dad and me. 

The room we chose to complete was called De Scientific Code and the scenario was this:

The evil scientist. Professor D. invented a destructive element that threatens humanity. The government selected your team to break into the lab to gather research on this element. However, the lab is armed with a high tech security system that scans for intruders every 45 minutes. Will you be able to stop this threat?

There are three levels you can play at: Guiding, where your group can be given unlimited hints to help you solve the puzzle; Challenge, where you get just one clue at any point you choose; and Insane, where you get no help at all. We chose to play at Challenge level. Once we were briefed we entered the room and our 45 minutes began. The beginning of an escape room is always a bit overwhelming, as you have absolutely no idea what you are looking for. There are things in the room that you might eventually need for a clue, but other things that are decoys and will be no help whatsoever. It took us about 15 minutes before we cracked the first code, which my dad ultimately got, but we got stuck while trying to get the second so asked for our one hint at that point. It was reassuring to know we were on the right track and once we solved the second clue we were on a role. In the end we escaped from the room with seven minutes to spare. It was really fun and a good level of difficulty for us, and everyone was able to help out at different points. 

After completing the Escape Room at De Code Adventures
There is also a Board Game Cafe that you can visit at De Code Adventures, but we didn't have time for this as we had dinner reservations to keep. Actually the cafe looked pretty lame and lacking atmosphere which was disappointing as I feel like a board game cafe sounds like the funnest thing ever. I love going to a cafe that also has games for you to play! This place was less a cafe and more just a huge room with tables set up to play at, with some refreshments for sale. They did have an amazing selection of games to choose from though, including like ten different variations of Settlers of Catan. 

After leaving De Code Adventures we met up with my mom, Ella, Nikki's mom Carol and our friend Maria at The Keg for dinner. The Keg is like my favourite restaurant to go to when we visit Canada. It's a steakhouse restaurant with consistently good food and cocktails. I always order the fillet mignon and this time had a variation with a blue cheese and garlic crust, OMG it was SO good. We had a great dinner and Ella was brilliant, falling asleep just before the mains arrived and slept, the entire time we were eating so we were all able to enjoy our meals while they were hot. I did feel pretty stuffed when we left though, I think I ate too much bread before our meals were served... I am definitely going to have to clean up my eating once our holiday is over!

At The Keg
This morning we took advantage of the blue skies and relatively warm weather (anything above 0 degrees at this time of year is considered warm) and took Ella for a walk in her new pram. My brother got us a very generous and thoughtful gift this Christmas: a jogging pram! So now Andy and I can go on runs again together with Ella which is very exciting. I really want to enter a running event in the next few months with it. It means that we won't have the debacle we had last month when we both wanted to do the City to Sea run in Melbourne

Ella in her new jogging pram
I can't believe tomorrow is New Year's Eve and 2015 is almost over! It's been a life changing year for us and we have so much to be thankful for. We will be ringing in the new year at my parent's house with a few close friends... hopefully Ella will sleep through her first New Year's Eve!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

We've been in Canada the past two weeks, celebrating the holidays with my family in Mississauga (a suburb of Toronto). It's been difficult to update the blog since arriving. As usual, the holiday season is packed and goes by so quickly. I had expected our first week here to be fairly quiet, as we arrived pretty early in December. But a few days after getting here Ella had her first ever bout of illness, a stomach virus, which was contagious and struck down my mom, Andy and myself a few days later. Although it was sad to see Ella sick and throwing up, we were lucky that she didn't have a fever and recovered within a day. And I was very glad to have my own mom around to ensure that as first time parents we didn't totally freak out! 

In between illnesses we managed to get out and visit the Toronto Christmas Market with my parents, putting everyone in the Christmas spirit. We had an enjoyable time browsing the different shops and stalls, stopping first for some chocolate fondue and then for a cup of mulled wine. Ella was all bundled up in her snowsuit which was super cute and we got a lovely family photo in front of the giant Christmas tree. 


We also had to get all of our Christmas shopping done, so we braved the shopping mall crowds to get this done... once again cursing myself for not getting my shopping done sooner, and in Melbourne. One of these years I will take a page from my mom's book and start next year's Christmas shopping on Boxing Day. We did manage to get Ella's picture with Santa done as well, although weirdly I don't think the picture really looks like her - her colouring is much darker than it looks here:

We spent Christmas Eve as we usually do, with our close family friends Carol and Nikki. It was so lovely to catch up with them after three years, and it is always nice to have friends that no matter how long it has been since you last saw them, when you do meet again it feels like nothing has changed. 

My mom outdid herself again this year and we had a perfect Christmas morning as a family. Ella was in a great mood all day and we had a leisurley morning, going from drinking coffee and Bailey's to champagne and orange juice and opening presents. My mom also makes this thing called "The Land of Nod" which is sort of like a cinnamon bread, but that description does not do it justice. It is served hot out of the oven and is like a little peice of heaven in your mouth!  Ella was spoiled by Santa for her first Christmas, but like all babies, she was much more amused by the wrapping paper and ribbons. We had a traditional turkey dinner and then a game of Settlers of Catan - which I won! Being the reigning house champion of Settlers of Catan gives you huge bragging rights in my house.

On Boxing Day we visited my dad's family (including my FAVOURITE cousin Joanne, who should definitely come out and visit us in Australia), as per usual. We had to squeeze all the visiting into the morning as my brother's girlfriend, Ashley, arrived from California in the afternoon. But we got to introduce Ella to a lot of her Canadian family which was nice. When Ashley arrived we went for a pretty mediocre dinner at the chain restaurant Montana's (I miss Melbourne food!) and then played the very un-PC but hilarious game Cards Against Humanity. You know you are a grown up when you can play this game with your husband, brother, AND your parents without blushing too much! We also watched the first game of the World Junior Hockey Championships, Canada vs. the USA. Unfortunately we lost which always hurts more when its against the Americans, but it is early on in the tournament so hopefully our boys will learn from this game and improve. 

Ella  and Rudolph
We are having a pretty chilled out week this week, catching up with a few friends, playing games at home and just enjoying spending time with family. I am so grateful that we got to take this trip with Ella to spend time with everyone, and I am already dreading saying good-bye when we leave next week. 

Christmas Morning

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Kindred Movement Yoga

A few months ago a new yoga studio opened up in Abbotsford called Kindred Movement. It is conveniently located about a five minute walk from my house, just off Gipps Street and across from one of our favourite brunch spots, Kitchen. Previous to Kindred Movement opening there was a lack of yoga studios within walking distance of our house - we must live in the only place in Melbourne where that is true. There are classes at Abbotsford Convent, but the timetable is really limited or you have to commit to eight week courses. One of my mother's group friends, Trudie, told me about Kindred Movement opening when we got back from London in October, and that night I excitedly went to my first Yin Yoga class with her. 

I was initially underwhelmed with the studio, but probably for all the wrong reasons. I was used to Kaya Health Studios, where I used to go before we moved to Abbotsford. Kaya is a much larger club, with various group fitness rooms, a small gym and a full shower and changing room. I loved Kaya and would have continued my membership there if we hadn't moved. Kindred Movement is a much simpler space, just one room to do yoga and Pilates with a class maximum of 16 students.

I started by doing their intro offer of $25 for 10 days and managed to fit in three classes. Upon finishing the 10 days there is a follow-up offer of one month unlimited for $90. I signed up for this as well, and ended up going consistently three times a week. I've since completely fallen in love with the studio! It is just such a welcoming space and as soon as I arrive I feel completely relaxed, even (or especially) after a particularly challenging day with Ella. Because it is so new and small it feels like a community you belong to instead of just a huge club where you don't know anyone and no one knows you. I've decided to become a member, which is $30 per week for unlimited classes. My aim is three classes a week, but even if I only do two I figure $15 per yoga class is still cheaper than a drop-in session anywhere (they tend to be about $20 per class).

Kindred Movement Yoga Studio, Abbotsford

There are three styles of Yoga offered: Power Flow, Slow Flow and Yin. The flow classes are both Vinyasa style and pretty similar, except that the flows tend to be faster paced in the power class, and the room temperature is much warmer at around 27-30 degrees. Yin is the total opposite, where poses are held passively for 3-5 minutes, giving a really deep stretch. This class is challenging in a different way to the flow classes, as you have to be really mindful and try not to let your mind wander while you are holding the poses, so there is a truly meditative aspect to the class. It can also be pretty excruciating to hold a pose for that long, and sometimes getting out of them I feel like a creaky old woman! Yin is a really good complement to the flow classes (which are a Yang style) and can really help to increase flexibility. I have been going to one of each class every week for the past two months and am really starting to see the difference. I feel stronger and more flexible than when I started, and the back pain I had due to breastfeeding is almost non-existent. Kindred Movement also offer Pilates which I haven't tried out yet, but my friend Trudie has and said its very challenging! The timetable is pretty limited at the moment, but they are very new and so will be adding classes as demand increases. A lot of the classes are still pretty small, which is so great as you get a lot of individual attention from the teachers and they are able to correct your posture in poses which I desperately need!

All of the teachers I have had are excellent, very unique in their styles, and they always give me something to think about each class, an intention or a theme to focus on. The owner, Mandy, teaches the Yin class I go to on a Tuesday night, and she always has a delicious pot of lemongrass and ginger tea for us brewing before class. Last week Mandy started the class by reminding us that our lives are a series of moments, and all you really have to do is attend to the moment that you are in. I've thought about that a lot this week, as it is so easy to worry about "what might happen" in the future, or "what has happened" in the past, instead of just focusing on what is happening now. Since her class I've been trying to bring myself back to the present by telling myself to "attend to the moment", whether it is while I am walking somewhere, or trying to get Ella to sleep, or talking to Andy or a friend. It's so easy to just let my mind wander to where I am going, or what I am going to get done when Ella falls asleep, or how I am going to respond to whoever I am talking to... I'm so busy thinking about what happens next that I forget to enjoy what is happening now. When you focus on the now everything becomes much simpler and easier to deal with, and I think it has really helped me to be more calm, especially when dealing with a fussy baby!

Since having Ella "me time" has become much more scarce, and so I really appreciate the hour I have to myself when I am at yoga. I feel a lot more committed to my practice than I did pre-baby, and I now even do about 20-30 minutes of yoga at home on my own each morning. It is basically a priority for me during Ella's first morning nap. As soon as she is asleep I roll out my mat and put on a video via YouTube. I have told myself I am not allowed to do ANYTHING prior to yoga... No checking my phone, Facebook, replying to text messages, etc. (OK, I do allow myself to go to the bathroom, but I think that's a valid exception!) I've found two yoga channels that I really like: Bad Yogi, and Yoga with Adriene. Both have 30 Day Challenges which give you a different class every day for 30 days, so its not like you are watching the same video over and over again, which would get pretty boring! I've already completed the Bad Yogi challenge and am on Day 7 of the one on Yoga with Adrien. 

On Friday we leave to go to Canada for Christmas which I am so, SO excited about, and I am determined to keep up my daily yoga practice while we are there. I will really miss practicing at Kindred Movement and have to put my membership on hold for the next six weeks as we will be travelling for most of that time. But it does give me something to look forward to at the end of the summer, and I am eager to see what additions to the timetable there will be in the new year.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Hoyts Crying Room

When I was pregnant, one of the main things people told us to do before having a baby was to go to the movies. According to these experienced parents, we wouldn't be able to do this for YEARS once we'd had a child. This wasn't hugely devastating news to me as we are not major movie goers anyway, however I will admit it can be pretty nice to go and see an excellent movie on the big screen with a huge tube of popcorn and just chill out for a few hours. 

I had heard of cinemas here doing "Mums and Bubs" movie sessions during the day, which is one of those things that sounds fun at first, but then when you really think about it sounds kind of horrible. A dark room full of babies all crying at different times while trying to watch a movie, anxiously waiting for your own baby to start crying? No thanks. I think I'd rather stay home and watch a movie for free with just my own crying baby to worry about.

The closest cinema to us is Hoyts Victoria Gardens in Richmond. When I went to enquire about the Mums and Bubs sessions they told me only ran once a month. However, they told me, they do have a "crying room". A crying room?! This I had never heard of, but it is a fantastic idea. Two of their biggest theatres have a small, soundproof room with seven seats at the back of the theatre. There is a big pane of glass to watch the movie through and the sounds is piped in through speakers. So you can watch the movie with your baby, safe in the knowledge that if they start crying you are not disturbing other customers, and you can continue to watch the film. Brilliant!

Ella at 6 weeks in the crying room

I've since been twice to the movies and its been a great experience. The first time was with my mom, we saw the movie "Trainwreck" when Ella was about six weeks old. She did indeed cry during the adverts at the start, but then slept through the whole movie on my mom. Success! The great thing about the room is that it is like you are in your own personal movie theatre, so I could also talk to my mom during the film without annoying anyone else. (When we went it was actually a Monday afternoon so I think there were like two other people in the main theatre anyway, but you get the idea).

Yesterday I went again with two of my other mummy friends to see "Mockingjay Part 2". We decided to go as the weather was 33 degrees and windy, which is not fun weather to hang out in with an infant. A cool air conditioned cinema seemed like a much better idea.  This time I didn't think Ella would sleep the whole time as she is older and doesn't just drop off for a sleep after a feed like she used to. However luckily she woke from her morning nap about two hours before the start of the film, so she actually did sleep most of the time as she was due a nap anyway. I brought the Hug a Bub wrap for her to sleep in, and she cuddled up inside next to me from the start of the film until about 15 minutes before the end. Well done Ella! The only thing was it was quite a loud movie, even in the crying room, so I spent most of the movie with my hand covering her exposed ear thinking a loud sound would wake her up. (This never happened... it is amazing what babies sleep through when they are in a deep sleep!)

Ella at 4.5 months - checking out the Maltesers!

So there you go, Hoyts cinemas are amazing. This is just another example of how child friendly this city is, I love it! The only real downfall is that you have limited selection of the movie you want to see as there is only a crying room in two theatres, but hey, when it comes to being able to get out of your house and do something with your baby that isn't stressful you tend to be less picky about things like that!

Friday, 20 November 2015

City 2 Sea

Last weekend I participated in City 2 Sea, a 15km run from... you guessed it... the city to the sea! Andy and I did this run back in 2013, when it was 14km and started at the Arts Centre on St. Kilda road. For whatever reason the race organisers extended the race by a kilometer and this year it started at the MCG.

Now, back in my pre-pregnancy days a 15km race would not have been a huge deal. Not that I am some sort of amazing runner, but I did get out and run a few times a week, and have done a few half and full marathons. While pregnant I stopped running altogether after the first trimester, and wasn't able to start running again until about two months after Ella was born. I stupidly thought that signing up for this race, four and a half months after giving birth, would be good motivation to get back into shape. Quite an attainable goal, I thought to myself. Unfortunately it didn't quite work out like that! Not only has it taken me longer to get back into shape physically (and I am no where near where I used to be), but I don't actually feel like I have the time to go running anymore. During the day I am obviously with Ella (and I don't have one of those cool jogging prams... maybe I should get one?!) and in the evenings Andy and I sort of alternate who gets to go out and do exercise. This is one of the things I really miss about our pre-baby lives: being able to exercise together. Andy and I both like running, swimming, cycling and yoga (ok, I like yoga and Andy would grudgingly join me sometimes) so it was nice to do those things together. Now we do go on walks with Ella together but anything else is on our own really.

Anyway, back to the race. Andy and Ella came with me to the start and then drove down to St. Kilda to meet me at the end. Pre-race I had these lovely images of running to the finish line, and then spotting Andy and Ella cheering me on, Ella's face lighting up when she saw me, and then having a burst of energy to finish the race. HAHAHA. The reality was a bit different...

We arrived at the MCG at 8am to meet Adam, Charlotte, and Charlotte's brother Luke. I, of course, had to use the toilet before starting. The toilet lines were pretty much the longest I have ever seen at the start of a race. It was ridiculous. I waited in line for about 40 minutes and there were still over 20 people in front of me to use two toilets. I'm not sure why there weren't more toilets, or why they didn't some in the MCG. This was a huge mistake on the race organisers, in my opinion. Having to go to the bathroom while you are running is the worst! Especially if you have just had a baby. Everyone from my start group had started before I go the chance to go, so I panicked and left the toilet queue and started my run, hoping to find a toilet on the way. What a mistake! About 200 metres in I seriously thought I was going to have an accident, and thankfully there was an empty cafe that I ducked into to use their toilet. I'm sure the girl working there thought that hoards of runners were going to start streaming in after me, but luckily no one followed me in. After that I felt much better and was able to settle into a nice, steady pace.

I had my phone with me but hadn't put together a specific playlist, which is always a pre-race mistake. I just had my whole library on shuffle which meant I was constantly flipping past songs that were too slow, or I just wasn't "feeling" on my run. The course was good, nice and flat, and the weather was cool in the morning, about 14 degrees and cloudy, pretty much perfect for a run. I just didn't have a great time. The whole bathroom thing was a terrible start, and it meant that I didn't even get to start the run with my friends and was running alone the whole time. The longest run I'd done in "training" was 7km, which wasn't even halfway, so I think in my mind I kept questioning what the heck I was doing! I did have a loose plan which I stuck to of walking at each drink station, every 3.5km, and for the last 4km I walked about 100m every kilometer. That sort of kept me going, because I only ever had to run 900m at a time and at that point my legs were starting to tire. 

As I ran down Fitzroy street towards the finish I pictured Andy and Ella waiting for me and searched for them through the crowds. However traffic and parking was so horrible that Andy only arrived in St. Kilda just before I completed the run, and didn't have time to get to the finish line. So that was a pretty big letdown! When I found them after the race, Ella was cranky as she was now hungry and the milk we had for her was too cold, so we left quickly and walked 20 minutes back to the car with an unhappy baby. Andy had to carry her the whole time so that she wouldn't cry. Once we got back to the car we realized that she'd had a huge poo and that was probably why she was so upset. We changed her in the back of the car (always a fun place to change a baby) and then left the busyness of St. Kilda to find a quiet cafe to feed Ella and ourselves.

Basically, this was one of my worst races ever, mainly due to things that were my fault: Not training properly, not having a good music playlist, not having a plan of how to warm Ella's milk. I do blame the toilet situation on the race organisers though!

Once we got to the cafe it was like a huge relief to just be in a calm, quiet environment with Ella. We are realising more and more that lots of the things we used to love doing are just not as fun with a baby. I know that it will only be like this for a short period of time though, and things like this will get better as she gets older. However, it is times like these that I feel the absence of close family - I know either of our parents would have happily watched Ella and the race so that we could have both run it stress-free. It really is a different experience being new parent expats, and I find myself again questioning why we chose this life, and how much easier things would be if we had just stayed in the UK or gone to Canada! But, there is no point in dwelling on this, and of course we need to enjoy the time we have here in Melbourne - just maybe at a slower pace while Ella is still small!

Charlotte, Adam and me at the finish 

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Swimming Lessons

A couple of weeks ago we started taking Ella to swimming lessons. Most of the pools around us, in Yarra Council, will only let you start lessons with babies that are at least six months old, but the pool that is owned by Andy's school, part of Paul Sadler Swimland, starts with babies that are four months old. And even better, babies that are four and five months old swim free. Four months old is the recommended starting age by Swim Australia, as by then babies' immune systems have started to mature and they have established a bond with their primary carers. They also say to start earlier rather than later, as babies naturally like the water (they were in water for nine months in the womb, and usually bath time is very pleasant for them), but they can start to develop fears about water as they get older. This does mean that we have to trek across the city to the western suburb of Sunshine for the lessons, so once she hits six months we might look for a pool closer to home. 

Ella has had three lessons so far, and she seems to really like them. I wouldn't say she is loving them yet, as she isn't smiling or giggling heaps, but she isn't crying either so we are taking that as a good sign. Andy has gone in the pool with her every time so far, but eventually I will get in with her as well. They have not had hot water in the showers at the pool the past two weeks, so there is no way I am going until that is fixed! I'm actually having a ball watching them... before having a baby I thought that watching your kids do all their various activities must be SO boring, but I couldn't have been more wrong! It's like, the best thing ever! I'm the crazy one taking loads of pictures at the side of the pool. To be fair, there are other mums doing this as well!

Ella's lessons pretty much consist of her being in an inflatable ring and Andy pushing her around the pool, kicking her legs for her, singing songs, and tummy time on a floating raft. The older babies crawl across the raft, but Ella is not quite there yet. At some point we will have to completely dunk her head under water, but for now she just gets the side of her face wet, prompting her to close her eyes when her face touches the water.

After swimming we've started a little family tradition of going for brunch (What? Brunch? On a Saturday morning? In Melbourne? How original...) I thought we'd sample some new cafes from the west side of Melbourne but so far we've ended up going to the same place twice, called West 48. Both times we have been there the food and service have been amazing. The first time we both ordered the special, which was waffles with bacon two ways (I'm not even sure what that means...), poached eggs, blueberry mascarpone cream and honeycomb. It was the perfect combination of sweet and savoury for me, although Andy said he found it too sweet by the end. I actually would go as far to say that it was one of my favourite brunch plates ever, and that is saying something. Ella was so tired after her first swimming lesson that she fell asleep on Andy's lap in the cafe, and stayed asleep while we put her in the car and drove home. Being pushed around a pool is hard work!

Post swimming brunch at West 48
This week we ordered two different meals to share, which I can hardly ever convince Andy to do, so that was a win. We again tried the special of the day which was soft shelled tacos with pulled beef and beans, corn salsa, avocado and fried eggs. Our second dish was a sweet one, ricotta hotcakes with vanilla mascarpone cream, poached pears and topped with a white chocolate and macadamia crumble. Amazing!! This week Ella stayed awake through brunch and stared at our food while we ate. She now will follow the fork from plate to our mouth and makes chewing motions while she stares at the food... I think she is telling us she wants some! So this week we will start introducing solids to her by way of cooked and pureed veggies. I am looking forward to this new milestone and also to the look on Andy's face when he sees what a mess she makes!

Give me some food!!

I don't usually talk about current events on here, but I do feel the need to mention the atrocious acts that happened today in Paris. We have been fortunate enough to have had a wonderful day with Ella, those in France have suffered a day of horror after the coordinated shootings and bombings across the capital. I have contacted those that I know living there and have heard back that they are ok thankfully. My thoughts are with those who have lost someone. It is sometimes sad and scary to think about raising a child in a world where attacks like these are becoming more and more common. I hope that those in power and they media start to think about and report on the underlying causes of terrorism and what we can do without responding to violence with violence. This TED talk called "The Surprising way groups like ISIS stay in power" is very interesting and though-provoking. 

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Cup Weekend in Lakes Entrance

Last Tuesday was Melbourne Cup, which is Australia's biggest horse racing event, held on the first Tuesday in November every year. It is a public holiday in Victoria, and most schools in the Melbourne area have the Monday off as well. We decided to spend the four day weekend in Lakes Entrance with our friends Charlotte, Adam, Chris and Ness. Lakes Entrance is in Gippsland, about 320km east of Melbourne. The Gippsland Lakes are the largest inland network of waterways in Australia, and Lakes Entrance is located where these lakes meet the Southern Ocean. 

Sleeping baby in the car!
We headed off on Saturday morning in two cars, girls (including Ella) in one and boys in the other. I have no idea what the boys talked about although I can guess it consisted mostly of football, the activities we would do that weekend, and moaning about their respective wives/girlfriends ;) All three couples are going through some big life changes at the moment: Obviously Andy and I just had a baby, Chris and Ness are expecting their first child in March, and Charlotte and Adam just moved in together. So lots of deep and meaningful conversations about life in the girls car. (No moaning about husbands and boyfriends in our car... nooooo, of course not!)

We drove for about the first 2.5 hours straight, our first stop dictated by when Ella woke from her nap in the car. We had lunch at a place called Wa-De-Lock Cellar Door in Stratford, fed Ella, and then headed back to the cars for the last hour and a half. Ella slept most of the way, which was very considerate of her!

Lunch break with Uncle Adam!
We stayed in a five bedroom holiday home with an amazing view over one of the lakes (located on the aptly named View Street!) Adam did the booking for us, and as usual came up aces. We had two big lounge rooms, three bathrooms, two deck areas, a pool and BBQ - more than enough room for six adults and a baby. Our only real complaint was that some of the decor was a bit tired, mainly the bathrooms, and also they could have done with a new BBQ (or so I'm told from the boys!)

View of the lake from the lounge room
Kitchen area in our holiday house
We arrived in the late afternoon. Chris, Adam and Ness went to get groceries for the weekend while Charlotte stayed home to get some work finished off. Andy and I dealt with Ella - early evening is her notoriously fussy time, so we took her for a walk through the main street in town to get some fresh air after having been in the car most of the day. Andy also had to work out the nearest place for his daily morning coffee run!

That evening we had the first of three amazing BBQs. Chris and Adam did the majority of the cooking on the trip, and we enjoyed a variety of barbecued meat along with fresh local prawns, halloumi, corn and salad each evening. Because of this we didn't end up sample any of the local restaurants, however I think we probably ate much better this way, and of course saved money in the process. 

On Sunday we rented a small boat to explore the lakes and waterways. The weather was calling for thunderstorms, but luckily these held off until the evening and we had beautiful blue skies up until then. I was a bit apprehensive about having Ella on the boat all day. I wore her in the Hug a Bub most of the time while on the boat (when I say boat... it was a pretty small motorboat that went a maximum of 5 knots) which worked well until the afternoon when it got pretty hot. We stopped off to check out the Ninety Mile Beach, which is the third longest uninterrupted beach in the world. We only stayed a short time there though, as the ocean was freezing and probably too rough to swim in. Or second stop was on a beach on a lake, where we had some shade to lay Ella in. She seemed to enjoy the beach, and the boys got in a game of skim ball so of course they were happy!

We're on a boat!
Ninety Mile Beach
Beach selfie!
Skim ball in the lake

Beach baby
We then set off to find a place for lunch, and ended up scoring an amazing table. As we moored our boat next to some tables on the dock, overlooking the lake, the family at the table next to our boat asked if we wanted their table as they were just about to leave. Awesome timing! Andy and I split the fish and chips which was delicious. It ended up getting pretty hot through the afternoon and having Ella in the Hug a Bub started to get pretty uncomfortable. Andy and I decided we would head back to our house after lunch, thinking the others would want to do a bit more exploring, but it turned out that everyone was happy to go back as well.

Lunch lakeside
We spent a bit of time in the pool when we got home... well the other four did while Andy and I tried to settle Ella to sleep for a nap for about an hour! The thunder and lightening storms arrived in the early evening, which made for a pretty good show out the full-length windows overlooking the lake. Everyone was pretty tired after the full day in the sun so we all had pre-dinner naps, because, why not? That's what holiday weekends are for.

We had another amazing BBQ that evening along with games of Uno, Cards Against Humanity (Aussie version, not nearly as funny as the UK version), and "that game with the words" which has no name but those that know us will understand!

Monday was pretty cool and rainy all day. Andy and I were up early with Ella while everyone else had a lie-in... parenthood... sigh... But then we both went on a nice long run (alternating of course, sadly we can no longer go on runs together.) Adam, Charlotte, Andy and I are meant to be doing the City to Sea run on 15th November, which is a 15km run from the city centre down to St. Kilda. None of us have done a huge amount of training so it should be interesting to say the least. I have already conceded to doing this as a walk/run, and am definitely not worried about getting any sort of PB!

Tuesday we packed up the house and started our long drive back to Melbourne. We had two stops along the way. Well we tried to stop for brunch first only to realise that everything was closed because of Melbourne Cup. There was only one small bakery that was open and seemed overwhelmed by the amount of people there that day, as it was the only place to get a coffee and something to eat. So after that our first real stop was Raymond Island, located in Paynesville in Gippsland. To get to Raymond Island you catch a ferry which costs $11 for cars or is free for pedestrians and departs every 20 minutes. We took our cars across as we didn't know how far we would have to drive to get to the famous Koala walk... turns out it is basically on the other side of the river. Oops! So not recommended to bother paying to take your car!

Chalotte and Adam with Ella - great friends and so helpful with the baby!
The Koala walk is about 1km long and you are pretty much guaranteed to see a lot of koalas. We saw koalas sleeping (of course), eating, climbing a tree, and we even saw one sitting on the ground at the base of a tree. We also saw a few echidnas just walking around on people's front lawns. The only downside to this walk was there were quite a few mosquitoes and I ended up with about 10 bites on my legs and back, and also stressing that Ella would get bitten. I can only imagine how annoying a mosquito bite would be for a baby. 

Koala spotting

Our second stop was at a pub somewhere between Lakes Entrance and Melbourne to watch the Melbourne Cup. So much fuss for a three minute race - I will never understand it, but who I am to question a public holiday?! This year for the first time a woman jockey won which was pretty cool. Unfortunately none of us thought to bet on her, so no big winnings from our group.

The rest of the ride home was not that fun with Ella as she was pretty cranky and tired from being in the car a lot of the day. We ended up having to stop a few times to feed her or just cuddle her to calm her down. Poor Charlotte was in our car with us and had to put up with the crying and also Andy and I getting stressed about it! We did finally calm her down and she slept the last 45 minutes or so back to Melbourne, and then thankfully had a good nights sleep when we got in.

And that was our weekend. Whew, that was a long post. Thanks for reading to this point!

Friday, 30 October 2015

Back to the Motherland

Well, back to Andy's motherland anyway, and my adopted one! After spending a week in Portugal we flew back to England for nine days. We split our time between Andy's parents house near Portsmouth and Lee and Claire's place in North London. Lee is Andy's best friend who we met up with in Vietnam earlier this year.

A few highlights and observations...

  • Ella had the opportunity to meet her only living great-grandparent, Andy's paternal grandmother. Ella is also her first great-grandchild so the meeting was pretty special all around. Andy's family is full of boys (his dad is one of 2 boys, and they have two boys each) so Ella is the first girl as well. Andy's grandmother gave us some of her jewellery to pass on to Ella which will be such a lovely way for her to be remembered by Ella.

Ella with her great-grandmother
  • We had a great afternoon at the pub The Alwyne Castle in Islington where lots of our friends came to say hello. That night was the England/Wales rugby match which meant the pub got pretty rowdy once that started... I did the responsible mum thing and took my baby back to Lee's with Claire. Although she was in a deep sleep in the Hug a Bub, even through all the yelling and cheering.

Ella meeting Alison at The Alwyne Castle

Alwyne Castle - Ella and Sinead (aka Sweaty Betty), before the pub got packed!
Mmmmmm hamburger!
  • The tube is not a fun place to have a baby. Not all stations have lifts, and for many of those that do you have to walk miles to find them (I'm looking at you, Green Park). It's also super loud and screechy. Actually all of London is loud. You notice these kinds of things a lot more with a baby.

Ella's first tube ride
  • Living in Melbourne we are obviously massive coffee snobs, and wouldn't be caught dead in a Starbucks anymore (not totally true... airports are an exception!) Luckily Harris + Hoole has a branch outside of Southgate Station which is where Claire and Lee live.  It's almost like being in Melbourne, except of course its a chain and we don't have any of those here in Melbourne ;)

Morning Coffees at Harris + Hoole, Southgate

  • My dear friend Guillaume unfortunately got sick right before Kristin's wedding which meant he was not able to attend. Luckily I found an evening to travel down to Brixton to visit him when he was feeling better, and we were joined by our friend Jamie for a few beers at the Trinity Arms in Brixton. It felt just like old times and I was so sad to have to leave them at what would have been considered ridiculously early before baby Ella came along! Miss those guys :(

The Emirates Spinnaker Tower

  • We spent the day before we left in Portsmouth with Andy's parents. We did Dave's favourite walk along the seafront, the Renaissance Trail from Old Portsmouth to the Spinnaker Tower. Earlier this year Emirates sponsored the tower (making it the Emirates Spinnaker Tower) and they wanted to repaint it red and white, the colours of the airline. However, those also happen to be the colours of Southampton Football Club, Portsmouth's biggest rivals. After huge public outcry they relented, and they were in the process of repainting part of it "gold" (yellow) when we were there. Looked much better when it was all white, if you ask me!

Portsmouth Harbour

Walking along the seafront in Portsmouth

Last night snuggles with Grandad

  • All in all we had a lovely time in England, and as usual it went by way too quickly. We are so grateful for the quality time Ella got to spend with her grandparents, and for Lee and Claire for being such amazing hosts while we were in London. We are going back to London in June/July next year for Lee and Claire's wedding (Andy is best man), and we are already looking forward to that. 

Gearing up for our 25 hours of travel!
Apologies in advance for any typos... I am frantically trying to publish post before we go away for the long weekend!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Colares and Sintra

So, whenever we go on holiday I feel like I have to completely update this blog with every detail of what we did. Then I feel completely overwhelmed with writing and end up writing nothing. So I am going to keep this short and sweet in order to get it done, so that I can move on with the blog!

After my friend Kristin's wedding, we had a couple of days in Colares to spend with Andy's family before going back to England. Colares is in the region of Sintra (which, confusingly, is also a town), about 30km west of Lisbon. It is about a 10 minute drive to the beaches on the Atlantic coast. There is not much to do in Colares itself (although we were surprised to learn there are 20 restaurants listed on Trip Advisor!), however it has a beautiful, calm old world feel to it, and the restaurants we ate at (especially Sussegard) were very good. One of the highlights of the trip for me was walking five minutes down to a local coffee shop for a morning coffee and a Portuguese custard tart (Pastéis de Nata).
Walking through Colares near our airbnb
Colares old town square - Sussegard Restaurant on the left
Colares town centre
Coming back from our morning coffee and 'Nata' run

We spent two days exploring castles in the Sintra area. The first was the Park and National Palace of Pena. The Palace itself is brightly coloured and almost looks out of place surrounded by the natural beauty of the park. The castle is a good 45 minute walk uphill through the gardens, although there is an option to get a bus. The park/gardens surrounding the castle are lush, and there are pretty spectacular views once you get to the Palace. You can walk through the interior which Andy's family did, however Andy and I decided to walk back down to the car as it was getting pretty hot and Ella was in need of food. We ended up feeding her in the car, ah, the life of a breastfeeding mom, so glamorous!

Palace of Pena

The second castle was Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors). This castle was built in the 10th century so all that is left of it are the ruins. You can walk along the fortress walls high in the hills (where you have a great view across to the Palace of Pena) and again there are pretty amazing views all the way around. Not great for those afraid of heights, there are no guardrails along the walls and it was quite windy at times so it's important to watch your step!

Castle of the Moors

We also spent an afternoon in the town centre of Sintra. It's cute and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but was VERY busy and touristy. The first time we tried to visit we ended up turning around and going home as we couldn't find a parking spot. 

The Hug a Bub wrap came in really handy while exploring the castles and Sintra as walking around with a pram would have been pretty annoying. Lots of cobblestone, narrow paths, and plenty of other tourists to contend with. We weren't the only ones that thought this - we saw plenty of other babies being carried by their parents on these trips. I am a little bit obsessed with "babywearing" at the moment (yes that's actually a word) and am currently on the hunt for a more structured carrier for Ella as she gets bigger. I have actually booked a "babywearing consultant" to come and help me choose the right one... Yes I am aware of how ridiculous (and middle class) that sounds but there are so many to choose from and they are pretty expensive so I've decided this will be the best way to find one that both Ella and I find comfortable. Andy just rolled his eyes at me when I told him. I will update next week once I've had the consultation.

 We had a fantastic time in Portugal once we got over the initial rush and stress of getting there. It was wonderful to have the opportunity for us and Ella to spend some quality time with Andy's family, and I know his parents loved being able to get to know their first grandchild.

After Portugal we flew back to England spending time between Portsmouth and London which I will write about in the next post. Hopefully it doesn't take me too long to write that one!

Auntie Lauren
Uncle Russ
Changing diapers... a three man job!

Playing with Grandad