Sunday, 23 April 2017

Bali with Toddler

We spent this Easter term break in Bali on a family holiday. And when I say family, I mean like pretty much our whole family. My parents, Andy’s parents, my brother and his girlfriend all joined us for 10 days on the island. Pre-holiday research led me to choose Canggu as our destination. Canggu is located in South Bali, on the coast, just north of Kuta and Seminyak. We figured that the more popular destinations of Kuta and Seminyak would be too busy for us, and that the laid back surfer-vibe in Canggu would be the right atmosphere to de-stress after a busy first term of school. We briefly flirted with the idea of splitting the holiday into two parts, spending five days in Ubud and five in Canggu. However previous experiences travelling with Ella led us to choose just one destination so we could have a base and she could get used to her surroundings. 

Ella walking with her grandmothers in Canggu
Canggu: villas and rice paddies everywhere!

Scooters are the best form of transportation

Ella walking down the street with her bag and daddy

Canggu after an afternoon of rain

Where we stayed:

We rented this villa for the entire trip, located about 500m from Echo Beach in Canggu. The villa had four bedrooms, each with its own en-suite bathroom. Two of the bedrooms were in the main part of the house, and the other two were in their own separate buildings, with French doors opening on to the pool. The pool was the absolute highlight of the place! Turquoise brick lining, vertical wall fountains trickling water throughout the afternoon, a pagoda at one end, and a Jacuzzi area at the other. It was bliss! We spent A LOT of time in/by the pool: playing games, reading, entertaining Ella, and sitting outside in the pagoda with drinks at night.

LOVED this pool
What we did:

Having a toddler with us meant that we had to plan our days based around Ella-friendly activities and nap times. It definitely helped having lots of other adults around to assist with this. Andy and I were able to escape for morning coffees on our own, and even the odd lunch in the afternoon. Besides playing in the pool, which we spent a few hours doing each day, here are some of the other things we got up to in and around Canggu:
(Note: I’ve listed prices in Indonesian Rupiah. The exchange rate at the time was 1 AUD =  10,000 IRD, a nice and easy exchange rate for us to work with!)

We were closest to Echo Beach, which is a hot surfing spot. We took Ella down there when the tide was out to splash around in the shallow water and play in the black sand along the beach. The waves were pretty powerful so we had to hold on tightly to her while in the water. She seemed to love this though, giggling widely as waves crashed into her, nearly knocking her over. There was another beach close by called Batu Balong, just south of Echo Beach. You can easily walk from one to another in about 15-20 minutes. Batu Balong is supposed to be more suited to swimming but still looked pretty rough to me! Both beaches have sun loungers for rent and there are plenty of options for renting surfboards or taking surfing lessons.

Echo Beach

Walking from Batu Bolong to Echo Beach at sunset
There are endless cafés and restaurants that would rival any Melbourne eatery. Delicious coffee, and tasty, inventive, Instagram-worthy dishes wherever you go. There are a lot of very healthy choices, smoothies and big abundance bowls are very popular. This was the first holiday I’ve ever been on where I ate a lot but didn’t come home feeling bloated and heavy. I’m working on a separate post about our favourite places to eat in Canggu, as there are too many to list here.

Ashley, Mike and I went to The Practice, near Batu Bolong Beach. They run about four classes per day, and the cost was 140,000 IDR for a drop-in class. That was a bit higher than other places I’d looked in to, but it was worth every penny! The studio is a gorgeous space, an open air, domed building made of bamboo, looking out on to rice fields. It was one of the best yoga classes I've been to. The classes are mostly 90 minutes long, so there was time for the instructor to focus on teaching us about the breath and some of the deeper aspects of yoga, rather than just getting straight to the sequence of asanas. After class you can relax and have a cup of tea in a peaceful setting. I'd highly recommend this place, even if you have never done yoga before - there are beginner as well as more advanced classes.

This place is really geared towards expats and visitors that want the comforts of home in Bali. The entry cost is 350,000 IDR ($35) for the day, and includes a fitness studio, lap pool, restaurant, water park, various sporting grounds, tennis courts, bowling alley, bounce trampoline studio, spa and hairdressers. We went with Andy’s parents mainly for the water park. Ella loved it, and Andy and I had fun going on the water slides. If we didn’t have a kid I wouldn’t bother coming here (I’m not sure why you’d go to Bali for a water park when you could do that in Australia), but with kids it would be a pretty fun way to spend the day. They have a daycare as well, for children aged 2-12 years. If Andy and I came back on our own to Canggu with Ella, I can definitely see us making use of that facility!

Splash Waterpark, Canggu Club

Every Sunday there is a market in Canggu selling local, organic produce, baked goods (lots of gluten free and vegan options), jewellery and clothing. We bought Ella a doll made by Bali Street Mums, a charity that gives impoverished mothers the training and skills to create incomes and business opportunities. The market is held on the site of Samadi Bali, a small hotel, yoga studio and café.

Ella with her new doll, made by Bali Street Mums
Massages and Spas
There are a few spas to choose from in Canggu. Treatments are ridiculously cheap compared to Australia so it is a good opportunity to pamper yourself! I got my eyebrows waxed at Therapy Day Spa near Echo Beach. A small treatment, but the space was lovely and calming and I wish I had gone back for a massage here. I was given a glass of lemongrass water and cool cloth on arrival, and some tea when I was finished. Also I’ve never had such care and attention given to my brows!  Massages here started at 240,000 IDR, so very cheap by Australian standards.
We ended up having massages at a new place called ModLov Salon, which was on the same road as Samadi Bali. The massages were cheap at 150,000 IDR but the space wasn’t as calming as Therapy and you could hear the noise from the road the whole time. Still, a pretty good massage for the price!

Wildlife Spotting
Ella absolutely loved spotting all the little lizards darting around everywhere. There were also lots of stray dogs to point out (she probably didn't understand why I wouldn't let her pet these dogs), cows and various other interesting insects. 

HUGE cricket!

Day Trips
Andy’s dad really wanted to visit the Bali Bird Park, so we combined that with a trip to Sanur, which is just east of Denpasar. I’d read that the beaches were a lot calmer and better suited to swimming than where we were staying. There is also a board walk that runs along the beach, past many hotels, restaurants and market stalls. This was great for having a pram! Only Andy and his dad went to the Bird Park which they said was good, but expensive at $40 entry fee. (I think this also includes entrance to a reptile park but the reputation of that one is a bit shady… some unethical practices of feeding live chickens to crocodiles for tourists.) Sanur was very calm and the beaches were nice, but I think I am glad we chose to stay in Canggu overall.

Boardwalk along the beach in Sanur
Beach in Sanur
Sanur fishing boats
Andy at Bali Bird Park
Bali Bird Park
Mike and Ashley rented scooters and went to Ubud for two days. We originally thought we’d do a day trip there as well, but in the end decided not to, as it was just easier to stay close to home with Ella. It took them about an hour to get there. I think in a taxi it might take a bit longer as the traffic can be very bad and it’s much quicker to get around on a scooter. They visited Tegalalang Rice Terrace and raved about it, and indeed their pictures were stunning.

Renting a driver for the day to go anywhere is pretty inexpensive, we were quoted 750,000 IDR for the day. That’s less than it costs us just to get to the airport in Melbourne!

All in all we had a great family holiday. I'd totally go back to Bali as there are so many different areas to explore. The Balinese were also great with kids, so it was a relatively easy place to travel with a toddler. 

Monday, 17 April 2017

Easter Sunday in the Dandenongs

We are back from our amazing family holiday in Bali. My mom has travelled back to Melbourne with us, and is staying for the next nine weeks, but sadly all of Ella’s other grandparents have gone back to England and Canada. I’m working on a couple of blog posts about our trip, which I will post over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, here’s what we got up to over the Easter weekend.

On Friday we took the night flight home from Bali, arriving in Melbourne at 7am on Saturday morning. That flight option worked well in one way: Ella slept the whole time we were in the airport and on the plane so was super easy to manage. However, as adults we didn’t sleep much at all. There was no comfy pram for us to lie in at the airport, nor were we able to spread out on our parent’s laps on the plane like Ella could. When we got back home we were all pretty shattered, except for Ella of course, who was happy to be home and ready to play. We were also all FREEZING, as the temperature seems to have dropped drastically since we left Australia two weeks ago. Winter is coming! (Haha, I think I say that every autumn. Speaking of which, when is the new season of Game of Thrones out?!)

We decided to drop off the suitcase and immediately head to Miss Marmalade in Brunswick for some brunch and much needed coffee. Refueled, we headed to a nearby park to let Ella run around and burn off some energy. Fortunately that tactic worked and we tired Ella out, and she fell asleep in the car on the way home. A long nap for her gave us adults some time to nap as well!

I also used the time to meal plan for the week. I’ve decided to cancel Hello Fresh while my mom is here and get into the habit of planning our meals again in order to save a bit of money. We spent the rest of the day unpacking, grocery shopping, and trying to keep up with Ella. She’s a bit jet lagged now and didn’t go to bed until 9pm (which is 7pm in Bali) so we are back to square one with trying to get our bedtime routine set again.

After a mostly solid night's sleep, (with two Ella wake-ups, argh!) we all felt a bit more human on Sunday morning. The weather was cool but not raining, so we decided to head to the Dandenong Ranges for the day. Charlotte and Adam also met us there, much to Ella's delight (she absolutely adores Cod, especially since our weekend in Rye in March), giving us an opportunity to catch up on our holiday and what they’ve been up to.

We met at Sherbrooke Picnic Ground, and had a little picnic lunch while waiting for Charlotte and Adam to arrive. The grounds are nicely set up with picnic tables, BBQs and washrooms. My mom was amazed to learn that the BBQs come stocked with gas and are free to use. This is pretty standard in Australia and I remember being amazed with it myself when we first moved here.

We passed the 1000 Steps on the way and it was PACKED this holiday weekend. I’m not sure escaping the city to be one with nature has the same impact when there are millions of people doing the same thing.  Luckily Sherbrooke Forest was much less busy. We the short hike to Sherbrooke Falls through the forest, starting at the picnic grounds. The path here is very wide and flat and it is only 1.2km each way, so a perfect walk to do with kids. Ella walked some of it herself, but 2.4km is still a bit too long with her without a rest. We took our robust jogging pram which was easy to take on this path (though there were a few steps around the bridge to the falls which were a little bit tricky with it).

The forest scenery in the Dandenongs is gorgeous, with lush ferns and towering Mountain Ash trees everywhere. Every time I’m there these trees make me feel like I’m in some sort of magical fairy tale. The falls themselves weren’t much to see this time – there was just a thin stream of water running down. I think they are much more impressive after a heavy rainfall. Still, it was a beautiful walk and very refreshing to be in a cooler climate after the heat and humidity of Bali.

Once we returned to Sherbrooke Picnic Grounds (which was now full of people having delicious smelling BBQs) we took a short drive to Burnham Beeches, a historic property that is owned by celebrity chef Shannon Bennett of Masterchef fame. Within the property is the Piggery Café, a restaurant set within the property overlooking the magnificent grounds. The food is all sustainable and ethically caught or farmed, with lots of the produce grown on site. There was a long wait for a  table but we were more than happy to amuse ourselves within the grounds while we waited. There were (smelly) pigs to see, a pack of alpacas walked by, and there was a coffee cart with some yummy pastries to hold us over until our table was ready. There was also a great play space for kids, and the option to rent equipment to play Bocce Ball, Lawn Bowls or Croquet for an extra fee.  

Once our table was ready we all indulged in the local beer and wine that was on offer. I had a lovely Pinot Noir from Coombe Farm in the Yarra Valley, the perfect light red for a rustic lunch. Our meals were good, but a little on the expensive side and not excellent by Melbourne standards (especially when you consider the celebrity chef owner). But the surrounding grounds and atmosphere made up for it. There are plans to expand the site to include a diary, brewery, steakhouse and hotel, though there was no mention of the timeline expected on these developments, so no idea when all that would be ready. There were no signs of building works being done when we were there.

After lunch we decided to play a round of mini-golf, to finish up our day of activities. We went to Wetland’s Golf and Games which was about halfway between Melbourne and the Dandenongs. Ella was looking a little sleepy so my mom took her on a walk while the four of us played. No surprise, Andy won and Adam came in second, but I’m happy to report I came in THIRD, and not last! (I always lose!) I even got a hole in one!

We got back home that evening tired but happy from a full day.

Today is our last day of holidays, and we are just spending it chilling out at some local parks and getting things ready for a new term at school. It is much less stressful than normal, as we have my mom here to help out with Ella for pretty much the whole of this term.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Puffing Billy

Last weekend, our first of the school holidays, was a very busy one with Dave and Bunny. On Saturday morning we woke up to much cooler weather - the fresh autumnal mornings are upon us! We got going early and headed to the Dandenong Ranges to take a ride on Puffing Billy.

Puffing Billy is, apparently, one of the most well-preserved steam trains in the world. It runs along a 25km track from Belgrave to Gembrook, through the mountainous terrain of the Dandenong Ranges. Belgrave station is about 45 minutes from Melbourne, so it is a very easy day trip. We decided not to do the whole track, because we thought it would be too long for Ella. Instead we booked one-way tickets from Belgrave to Emerald (about halfway to Gembrook), which is a 50 minute journey. Andy drove between stations, dropping us off at Belgrave and picking us up at Emerald so we didn't have to do the return. We took the first train of the day, which was at 10:30am. We were not able to pre-book tickets online for a one-way journey, only returns, so we had to just take a chance that it would not be sold out. It was pretty busy as it was the first weekend of the school holidays but luckily we were able to get on the train.

Ella loves watching trains pass in Melbourne, so we thought she would like this. She did, although it was challenging to keep her seated the whole time. I had a range of snacks for her; bribing her with food was pretty much the only way to keep her seated. I did have to hold her up against the open sides of the train so she could see outside better. She loved it when the train went around a bend so she could see the front of the train, pumping out steam and tooting its horn. The train passes through some gorgeous scenery of leafy fern and tall Mountain Ash trees as it meanders through the Dandenong Ranges.

The next station after Belgrave is Menzies Creek, about 30 minutes away. We stopped here for seven minutes. There isn't much at this station, so the stop was mostly just so people could use the bathroom. Once we got going again we passed Andy, who was stopped at a train crossing in the car. We all waved at him, which I thought Ella would love, but instead she burst into tears. Oops! We then had to try and convince her that we would see him at the end of the train ride. 

About 20 minutes later we arrived in Emerald which was where our journey ended. There is a great playground next to the station where we let Ella run around while we waited for Andy to catch up with us. There were a few cute shops in the town which Bunny and I would have like to go in, but of course Dave and Andy kept us marching along! We went for lunch at an excellent café called The General Food Store. It was about a 10 minute walk from the train station, and there are a few others that are much closer, but this was well worth the walk. Tummies full, we headed back to Melbourne for the afternoon. Andy and I had an engagement party to attend, while Dave and Bunny helpfully babysat Ella for us. 

Waiting for daddy at Emerald Station

Checking out the plants at The General Food Store

On Sunday the clocks went back an hour to end daylight savings. What a great time of year this is for people without children. An extra hour of sleep! For us, it meant a wake up time of 5:30am. Yawn. 

By 8am we were all ready to get out of the house (read: Ella was driving us crazy), so we ventured to a kid friendly café for brunch that I'd been wanting to try for a while called Miss Marmalade. It's in Brunswick, but unfortunately just a bit too far to walk to on a regular basis. What a find this was though! The café has two separate seating areas. The front if for your regular brunching adults, and the back room is geared towards families complete with play area. Ella did some colouring at a small table while we waited for our food, although she was a bit shy so Andy and I had to take turns staying with her. There are also tons of high chairs and booster seats available and a very good kids menu. For the first time Ella drank the entire babycino we ordered for her, helped, I'm sure, by the fact that it was sprinkled with chocolate! It was also served in a child-size coffee cup which I think she liked. The whole experience at Miss Marmalade was great. A delicious menu and staff that are very attentive and patient with children, along with things to occupy the little ones while you wait for your food. Once we finished eating Ella went back to the play area, a bit more confidently on her own this time. In fact it was hard to get her to leave!

Mmmmm babycino!

Play area at Miss Marmalade
One block away was a playground so we went for a play here before heading home for her nap. (Side note: I am so grateful for the amount of playgrounds there are in Melbourne. Seriously, they are everywhere. The amount of green, open space in the city is one of my favourite things about living here.)

Swinging with daddy

Something for all ages at this park!
Sunday afternoon Andy was coaching soccer, so once Ella woke up we all went to watch the game. We arrived just before the end of the first half, and his team was down 1-0. Ella happily ran up and down the field, sometimes watching the game, but mostly just playing her own games of who knows what in her head. She does this thing now where she starts walking backwards, going "beep beep beep" as if she is a truck backing up. Hilarious. Andy's team went down 2-0 at the start of the second half, but then scored a goal with about five minutes left. So it could have been an exciting finish, but unfortunately there was no last minute goal to tie the game and they lost 2-1. Ah well. It was pretty cold and windy at the game so I was pretty happy to go home after that!

Watching daddy coach soccer
So it was a pretty full weekend, but a great start to our school holidays. Next up: my mom arrives (tomorrow, yay!) and the Bali on Wednesday (double yay!) 

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Collingwood Children's Farm

Last week on my day off Dave, Bunny, Ella and I spent the morning at the Collingwood Children's Farm in Abbotsford. We used to live about a five minute walk from here, and frequently took walks along the Yarra Trail which runs past the farm. You can see some animals from the trail, and loved taking Ella to see the cows, sheep, horses and goats. This was my first time actually taking Ella in to the farm, as when we lived there she was really too young to get much out of it. The entry fee is $10 for adults, $5 for children/seniors and free for under 2s. It is a lot bigger than I expected; there is much more to see than what we could view from the trail. 

Walking towards the entrance the first thing Ella saw was a metal cutout of a dog which she was super excited about. I'm not sure she understands the difference between real and fake animals yet! She stood there patting it for a few minutes before we had to drag her away to actually enter the farm. The first animal we encountered was the farm cat, who was not very friendly. Ella was giggling and pointing to it, saying "cat! cat!" from about a foot away, when the cat decided she'd had enough of this small child laughing at her, and took a swipe at Ella. Ella was shocked and started crying - poor thing! Maybe the fake animals are a safer option at this point?!

Luckily the farm hands were just about to start milking a cow, so we were able to quickly distract her with that. We also got to brush the cow while it was feeding and being milked which was nice. After that it was time to cuddle a guinea pig. There are three Guinea pig cuddling sessions at the farm every day, and the first is nicely timed to coincide with the cow milking. All the children sat on a rug while a farmer explained how to hold them: legs straight out in front of you, guinea pig held snug in your lap with at least one arm, the other can be used to gently stroke the pig. Ella was excited to hold one, and lasted about thirty seconds with it on her lap before starting to quietly whimper, which was the cue that she'd had enough. (Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of this to post as all the ones we took have pictures of other children in them.)

Next we walked through the farm visiting the different animals. There are horses, sheep, pigs, cows and and goats in different parts of the farm. You can actually go into the field with the goats which is cool. There are also lots of chickens and hens just roaming free. 

Once we had visited all the animals we stopped in at The Farm Café for some lunch. We used to go here all the time for coffees and brunches when we were living in Abbotsford, and the food is delicious. 

It was then just about time for Ella to have a nap, so we decided to head home. On the way to the car, Ella ran and stood against a wall and refused to move. She then started shooing us all away, saying "bye bye" and waving and pointing for us to leave. We have realised that this is now what she does if she needs to have a Number Two. At first I tried to stay in view, thinking she might get upset if she couldn't see any of us, but every time she saw me she would wave me away. She obviously wants a bit of privacy to do her business. We had to hide behind a bush and wait for her to finish before going to collect her again. It was a very humorous way to end our farm visit!