En route to Christmas

I am currently sitting on the couch at my sister’s place in Melbourne. It’s been a hot day and the night is balmy and warm meaning that we have every possible window and door open in an effort to catch the breeze. It’s my bi-annual pilgrimage Down Under for a family Christmas, it’s day number two and with Christmas Day looking like a scorcher, I couldn’t be much further away from the chill of a London winter.

It’s a long way so as is my usual habit, I paused for a week on the way through to soak up some sun, read lots of books and enjoy some amazing food. This time the pause was in Hua Hin in Thailand at the gorgeous Anantara Resort.

I had a room overlooking the pool…

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After a ‘busy’ day poolside, I would spend a couple of hours curled up on this comfortable couch before heading out for dinner.

…and there was a lovely message from Dow, my room housekeeper, on my pillow every evening.

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Speaking of locals, there were elephants everywhere – this cutie was my favourite…

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A welcoming hello at the entrance, just one of the Elephant Parade installation scattered throughout the grounds.

…and Alex, the resident blue and green macaw, was a colourful sight around the resort.

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Apparently Alex is bi-lingual (English and Thai in case you were wondering)

All up nature was at her best whether big and breathtaking…

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View from the beach bar at the Anantara Hua Hin resort…it’s a tough life for some.

…small and delicate…

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There are orchids of all sorts everywhere. I passed this one every day on the way to breakfast.

…or there for just a moment.

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This water lily had blossomed overnight so I got this shot on the way to breakfast in the morning – the flower had drooped by mid afternoon and was gone by the evening.

The food was delicious..

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A traditional Thai appetiser. Take a leaf and add a bit of everything – peanuts, dried shrimp, dried coconut, shallot, garlic, lime, chilli and palm sugar paste. Wrap up the little parcel and pop it in your mouth. Delicious!

…and the cocktails many and varied across the balmy evenings…

…but in the main, I lay by the pool – cooling off with a dip in the water every so often – and read.

I devoured four magazines (two Vanity Fair and one each of Raconteur and The Economist’s 1843) and five books: Emma Donoghue’s absorbing The Wonder, Jeffrey Archer’s sixth in The Clifton Chronicles (Cometh the Hour) and the eighth novel in Bernard Cornwell’s Viking series (The Empty Throne), a light and fluffy Lift and Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein and the utterly gripping How I Lost You from Jenny Blackhurst. I was also halfway through Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings when I left.

It was such a blissfully solitary and self-indulgent week. Reading is my favourite thing to do and is exactly what I book the holiday for (as well as a much-needed dose of sun). It also stands me in good stead for the next phase of my trip – a little me-time before the hustle and bustle of Christmas and the inevitable flurry of activity with family and friends.

Which brings me back to where I started – a balmy night in the Melbourne suburbs on the night before Christmas. So before I embark on the various opporunities for festive cheer scheduled in the days ahead, all that remains for me to do is wish you a happy holiday season however and wherever you are spending it.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Drunken monkeys and solar panels

I am a curious person. I’ve mentioned it before, this tendency to lose myself in the pursuit of interesting things. It becomes a bit like the proverbial rabbit hole as I follow some convoluted thread through not only my regular ‘haunts’ but also to new and inspiring sources that I inevitably add to my ‘follow’ list.

This week’s haul has been particularly rich in the ‘how interesting’ department so here are a few of the titbits I loved the most.

The smell before the storm

I love that smell just before a storm hits. It’s a really clean, slightly metallic smell that heralds the impending downpour. Well according to my regular dose of Mental Floss, that smell is caused by electrical charges that break down atoms which then reform into nitric oxide. This reacts with other chemicals in the atmosphere to create ozone which causes the ‘chlorine’ odour.

However, I question the chlorine claim. After all, I swim a couple of times a week and believe me, that pool smells like chlorine. Maybe a lifetime of swimming has made me less sensitized to ozone’s more fragrant charms. Or perhaps there’s something familiar and comforting being triggered in my brain. In any case, it was one more conundrum solved and led me to ponder whether more storms would help to fix the hole in the ozone layer.

The drunken monkey hypothesis

Flipboard is a great app that allows you to choose what types of articles you’d like to receive and I love dipping in and out during my commute. This week I found my way to a piece in Esquire that delved into the origins of alcohol consumption. It appears that this goes well beyond the human condition and was critical for our predecessors’ survival.

You see, while modern life finds us all looking for ways to reduce our caloric intake, our primate ancestors found feasting on over-ripe (and therefore fermenting) fruit an excellent way to get the energy needed to swing from tree to tree all day long. Add to that the need to survive by hunting and gathering enough to eat and you’ve got yourself the perfect excuse to booze all day, every day.

I wonder how much booze my fortnightly online grocery shopping would permit me. Not much I suspect.

The pyramid inside the mountain

Flipboard also led me to BBC Future piece on the ancient pyramid beneath a mountain – well, actually underneath a tiny hilltop church in Chohula in the Mexican highlands. The article reports that the pyramid is four times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. I’ve been to Giza so I can only imagine how huge this one must be. Chohula was described by Cortez as “the most beautiful city outside Spain” and the BBC article reports that there are over 500 tunnels to be explored.

Mexico has been on my travel bucket list for some time but fell away as I started to read more about China and the Silk Roads cultures. However, an archaeologically-inspired visit would be an amazing thing to do. So much to do, so little time (and money).

*Sigh*

And last but not least…

The car that gives back

There’s been a lot in the press about self-driving cars and I had my first Tesla close up a couple of weeks ago at their showroom in a local shopping centre. While there was no test drive (or test no-drive as the case may be), I did think that the Model S was very nice indeed.

But Tesla are not just applying their energy breakthroughs in the automotive industry. Via this week’s Springwise newsletter, I learned that my very own hometown of Melbourne may have their first sustainable suburb in new development, YarraBend. Applying Tesla’s technology may mean energy reductions of up to 34% with the developers also suggesting significant decreases in water usage (43%) and landfill (80%).

Before I moved to London in 2004, I read about an initiative to place solar panels on the roof of Melbourne’s Victoria Market in an effort to power the surrounding suburbs. I felt a little swell of Aussie pride that Melbourne continues to champion ways to address some of our critical climactic challenges.

So there you have it – my top four commuting gems from this week. It’s certainly been a rich vein so I hope you found something here to pique your curiosity.

Shining on a rainy night

Well here we are in July and embarking on the second half of the year. Can you believe it? Where did the first half of 2016 go?

In Britain, we’re also a third of the way through Summer. This year we’re yet to hit the sweltering heights of last year’s temperatures but we have had a goodly swathe of low to mid twenties days (that’s in Celsius of course) which have been the perfect excuse for lunches in the park and lolling about on the patio.

But over the last few weeks, the weather has become somewhat schizophrenic – full of yoyo-ing temperatures and dry days fractured in the blink of an eye with intense, heavy downpours. Just this morning, I wandered over to Homebase in the warmer-than-expected sunshine (I was thinking that I may have over-egged my outfit) only to emerge 15 minutes later to big fat drops of teeming rain (and feeling smug grateful that I had my umbrella). Five minutes on, the sun had emerged again. And it was a repeat affair this afternoon. I was ready for it though and dashed outside in time to rescue the washing.

There is something about this rain that reminds me of living in Melbourne. It’s mercurial and torrential and insistent. There’s no polite drizzle but rather a spate of sudden downpours that overflow drains and splash up from the pavement to dampen bare legs and trouser hems. And there’s that peculiar, distinctly rainy smell just as the heavens open that lingers a little once it’s over.

Yesterday was the first of the month and therefore time to turn to a new page on my wall calendar. It – the calendar I mean – was a Christmas present from Mum (& Co) and contains a series of black and white images taken by Aussie photographer Matt Irwin. His pictures capture the Melbourne beyond the postcards – they celebrate her moodiness, her light and her spirit. With the gentle touch of his camera lens, he shows me the Melbourne I love.

July’s page shows a couple huddled beneath the curves of their umbrella as they stroll past the National Gallery on St Kilda Road, the wet pavement glistening beneath their feet.

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It’s Melbourne, shining on a rainy night. It was perfect, I thought.

And I smiled.

Old places, new faces

I spent a couple of weeks in Melbourne with family over the Christmas/New Year period and one of the things that I love to do (and miss) is hang out with my sister. There are the things we girls traditionally do – shopping, manipedis and generally hanging out over coffee (and I was reminded once again that Melbourne has the best coffee in the world) – and then there are the moments of ‘inspiration’ subject to how we are feeling at the time.

We were off to partake in a musical favourite of mine, Grease. I know every word and every song (having played Frenchie in our high school production) so I was looking forward to an afternoon of energetic A-Wop-Boppa-Looma-A-Wop-Bam-Boom-ing. And it was on the way to the theatre that I stumbled across a distinctly different face of Melbourne.

Hosier Lane is a cut through between Flinders Street and Flinders Lane alongside the Forum Theatre. It is an unexpected riot of vibrant colour and expression in the midst of the area’s architectural melting pot of gothic (St Paul’s Cathedral), Moorish Revival (Forum theatre), French Renaissance (Flinders Street Station) and contemporary (Federation Square) styles. I could not stop myself from whipping out my phone in an attempt – let’s face it, these things are never as good ‘on film’ – to capture its brilliance.

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We made our way along the alley, the air littered with ‘ooohs’, ‘aaahs’ and the subtle snap of selfies. My head swivelled touristically from side to side to admire each urban canvas and as I meandered along the cobbles with the other Sunday strollers, what struck me most was the how vividly the character of each of Hosier’s painted residents had been brought to life.

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Are any of you old enough to remember this young lady from The Wacky Races

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…or youthful enough to know this ‘lovable’ pair from Monsters Inc.?

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I have been told that shoes hanging from a light indicates where one can score a fix…or is this just an urban myth?

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I would not like to meet this dude in a darkened alley, alone or otherwise…

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…although the location nearby of Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, could be considered fortuitous.

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And last but certainly not least, a look skyward evoked the spirit of Australia’s indigenous past.

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Street art continues its emergence as the next ‘big thing’ and a quick google on the way home from the theatre yielded both a list of sites to visit and the hows and wherefores of getting your particular expression of self into Melbourne’s urban spaces.

Unfortunately, we did not get to any of the others during my sojourn Down Under but it has inspired me to look for even more of this in London having browsed Brixton’s backstreets last year. And it would appear – according to a range of stuff-to-do sources that drop into my Inbox on a fairly regular basis – that East London is the current jewel in this city’s urban art crown.

So stay tuned…Shoreditch, here I come!

Bean Reminiscing…

I was travelling to Pilsen with a colleague this week and having only met before very briefly, we took the opportunity to chat en route…in the taxi, on the Heathrow Express, in the airport lounge. You get the picture…lots of finding ways to make the time go faster while getting to where we had to be. 

Anyway, we were chatting about my living in the UK and the invariable questions came up: Why did you leave? Will you go back? and What do you miss most?  Nothing unusual.

But this time the last question really made me think. What do I miss most?

It goes without saying family, family, family. And usually at this time of year, I would have answered something about really feeling the lack of sunshine and daylight hours during London’s winter months. But we’ve had a mild winter which in the last few weeks, has merged into a lovely Spring – beautiful blue skies, double digit (celsius) high temperatures and patches of colour everywhere as London’s parks, gardens and suburban streets are transformed by a riot of daffodils, crocuses and cherry blossoms.

And I’ve just come back from my Vitamin-D top up in Abu Dhabi so I’m missing the sunshine much less than usual.

So the question gave me pause. What do I really miss?

And then I thought back to my last trip Down Under and I knew…the coffee. Great, great coffee. Creamy lattes, foaming cappuccinos and pungent espressos with velvet-y golden crema.

I have not enjoyed coffee anywhere nearly as much as I have in Melbourne. Not even in Italy, the self-proclaimed mecca of coffee.

And it would seem that the voters on website booking.com agree, with 301 of them nominating Melbourne as having the best coffee in the world (followed by Vienna – 187 and Rome – 116).

It’s not the first time I’ve waxed lyrical about coffee here at Gidday from the UK and I have found a treasured favourite or two serving sensational shots here in London but there’s no hunting for these rare gems in Melbourne – great coffee is everywhere.


So I’ll be booking myself a Christmas Down Under this year to get me a fix!

Oh and Sydney? Sydney got 20 votes in the survey. Not that I’m competitive or anything.

There’s No Place Like Home…

I’ve been back from my holiday for a week now. Colleagues have enquired about my Christmas, commented on my relaxed face/glowing tan and shared their own festive family stories. I am starting to sleep through more than 3 hours at a time and feel hungry when I should so am hoping I’m through the worst of the jetlag. And I’m settling back into my cosy routine at Gidday HQ.

After a long week at work, I curled up on the comfy couch on Friday night to watch an old movie favourite, Love Actually. I love the opening scene: the Arrivals Hall at Heathrow crammed with expectant faces and open arms, a testament the narrator says, to the fact love really is all around. And it took me back to my own Arrivals Hall moment just two weeks earlier, walking through the doors to my own sea of expectant faces and finally into the open arms of my loved ones.

As a frequent traveller, I see a lot of Arrivals Halls but there is nothing like searching out the faces that I love in the throng, that moment when I first catch sight of them, when my heart leaps, my step quickens and my travel-weary face beams. And this search was made all the more poignant by an unexpected voice to my right as I headed towards Mum’s smiling face, a soft ‘hello chicky’ which made me swing around with delight and in just two steps, enfold my Lil Chicky in my arms. And yes, there were tears of joy and love and relief that the long wait to see each other was over.

The 12 days in Melbourne flew by. Joined by my itinerant old man and stepmum, there were family days out – like a visit to see the Sand Sculpting and a day trip to Williamstown – and chilling out time with Mum and Lil Chicky – massages, shopping, mani-pedis and many a soy latte. I even managed to squeeze in a couple of old friends (old in the sense that it had been 25 years since we’d been at school together) where conversation flowed between like and open minds as the years between the words simply disappeared. I remember thinking how funny it was that people don’t change. Not really anyway.

So I drank in the magic and nostalgia of Marvellous Melbourne: the people, the food, the weather, the relaxed and cosmopolitan vibe of the city I used to call home. And on a glorious sunny Sunday morning, whilst sipping yet another soy latte, feeling the warmth on my shoulders and the colourful energy of the crowds at Southgate, my heart was assailed by the most overwhelming wave of homesickness. For London. Its damp grittiness, its eclectic colour, its commuting-friendly infrastructure, its mix of cultures. And for my very own Gidday HQ with its cosy warmth, comfy couch and familiar bed. And I felt my divided heart tear – just like last time I visited. And the time before that, and the time before that.

I’m back in Fab Finchley now with my first working week back behind me. All of the washing has been done, the fridge is full and there’s a vase of fresh flowers – purple and white tulips – sitting prettily on the table in the kitchen. Workday routines and weekend rituals are settling in again. And here I am, curled up on the comfy couch on a chilly Sunday night tap-tap-tapping away. The memories are wonderful and will help to sustain me between hugs and lattes.

But there is indeed no place like home.

Of Hearts And Minds…

As long term readers of Gidday from the UK will know, about 16 months ago I crossed to ‘the dark side’ and got a Kindle. Audrey quickly became an integral part of my daily commute and bedtime ritual and it wasn’t long before I wondered what I had ever done without her.

In short, I fell in love.

But even the best and most faithful of companions needs a little TLC so I am pleased to report that my stalwart commuting friend has a gorgeous new red frock.

Audrey’s new duds – given it was a Christmas gift from Mum, it seems rather appropriate that ‘melbourne’ appears front and centre.

Doesn’t she look fab?

This amazing cover is actually designed by artist Sharyn Sowell, a relentless traveller and blogger who is fascinated by the juxtaposition of the very old and the very new.

Just like me.

So it would appear that this meeting of hearts and minds continues…

…mine and Audrey’s that is.

Everything Old Is New Again…

Being in Melbourne over these last couple of weeks has given me the opportunity to revisit some of my favourite haunts and one of these is Southgate. This cosmopolitan stretch of shops, restaurants and cafes line the Yarra River between Princess Bridge and the Crown Casino complex and offers wonderful views of the City Centre across the tree-lined river.

This view takes in the ‘expensive end’ of the City – where Victorian Parliament, designer shops and many of the banks’ head offices are located – as well as the spires of Melbourne’s own St Paul’s Cathedral in the foreground.
A great juxtaposition of the elegant clock tower of Flinders Street Station (built in 1910 to replace the previous station built in 1854) against the more modern buildings behind.

The day we were there it was a gloriously sunny Sunday morning and this riverside precinct was buzzing with activity.

Street entertainers attract a fair crowd…
…while quirky sculpture adds local colour.
Crown Towers Hotel offers premier accommodation for both high rollers as well as those wishing to spend just a few dollars.

But being away means that each time I come back, there’s something new in the landscape. Six years ago, Melbourne’s newest tallest building, Eureka Tower, sliced into the skyline.

Eureka Tower is Melbourne’s tallest building…but only since 2006.

This time it was The Docklands that captured my imagination. When I left in 2004, this area of Melbourne was early in its development so I was curious to see how things had turned out.

View of Melbourne from The Docklands with Etihad Stadium (venue for football matches, concerts and the like) in the centre.

The thing that struck me most were the stark and modern shapes…

New ‘rooms with a view’.
This ‘car park in progress’ generated discussion about its interesting facade.
I love the use of adventurous shapes and textures which really typifies iconic Australian architecture for me.


And there’s even a nod to old London Town with Melbourne’s very own ‘Eye’…

Melbourne’s Southern Star awaiting the installation of its viewing pods. Again lots of opinions amongst Family Hamer about its false start (cracks found in the infrastructure apparently) and its location overlooking Melbourne’s Western suburbs.

So whilst my Melbourne meanderings evoked many wonderful memories, I found much to admire about the clever blend of nostalgia and innovation into a spectacular cityscape…

…and it just makes me wonder what I’ll find next time.

The Eye Of The (Sand)Storm…

Well here we are in 2013 and with it comes resolutions that for me, are just begging to be broken. But I have gathered the very best of all my intentions to fulfil a promise I made a couple of posts ago to give you all an overview of my visit to Sand Sculpting Australia’s Under The Sea.

Custody changes during my Melbourne stay (of me from Mum to Lil Chicky and back again, the latter of these taking place in a car park) meant that uploading of photos for this post did not go as seamlessly as planned. But with perseverence – and a return to Gidday HQ’s wifi realm – I have prevailed. So take your marks, get your thongs flip flops on and let’s get this Armchair Tour underway.

This hard working fella can be found in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea….
…as the ‘in’ crowd – complete with piercings and an assortment of headgear – gathers at The Sign Of The Seahorse to catch up with the latest snail(mail).
The sirens’ song and come hither looks of Mermaids tempt you to venture further…
…whilst this giant of the sea keeps a beady eye on visitors and carries the weight of a former civilisation – the Lost City of Atlantis – on his back.
Maintenance is an important part of the Sand Sculpting world so it’s best to invest in regular check ups
…before things get out of hand.
This creature of the sea casts a lascivious eye over passersby…
…as it would appear that, like Poseidon, wild horses can’t keep them away.
And just when a couple of cuties might convince you that it’s safe to go back into the water…
…you might find yourself caught out by the bare (faced) cheek of the natives.

It’s a fascinating exhibit with lots of intricate detail and cheeky fun throughout – it’s worthwhile going back and revisiting each to discover new elements you didn’t see the first time around – as well as a speedy 10 minute demonstration of sand sculpting by one of the team on site.


If you want to read a little bit more, you can pop over to Mum’s write up on Weekend Notes. Or if you are actually in the Melbourne area before the 28th April, get yourself down to the Frankston Waterfront and find your very own fishy favourites.

Phew! At last, that’s post 1 (and resolution 1) for 2013 done.

Boats And Bridges…

Being part of a somewhat caring and supportive family, Lil Chicky and I decided that it was time that we do a little window shopping to find the next lucky man in my life. Fortunately, the family had decided to take a ferry ride over to Williamstown yesterday so at 12.30 the family Hamer (including those with a myriad of other names) gathered at Southbank, boarded our ship of dreams and set sail.
 
The one hour cruise took us along the Yarra River and out through The Docklands which has developed significantly since I last lived Down Under – there are lots of interesting buildings to ooh and aah at on the way but for now, let’s maintain some focus on the purpose of this post and leave architectural meanderings for another time.

The title promises bridges and we headed under many of them – here are my top three:

The Bolte Bridge, named for Henry Bolte who remains the longest serving Victorian State Premier (17 years from 1955). The bridge was opened in August 1999) and also forms an integral part of the entrance into Melbourne by car from the airport. The view of the City from here always feels like a big ‘welcome back’ to me. 
This bridge is a new one since my departure – it was difficult to capture the whole bridge but I loved this side, looking like one of those hooped underskirts from yesteryear.
The clean lines of this bridge and the Australian flag fluttering in the breeze typifies the clean, stark lines of the Australian landscape for me – no idea what this bridge is called either but I loved it all the same.
The weather was gorgeous – a pleasant mid 25C – and a gentle breeze cooled our sun-kissed noses and cheeks as we motored along. There were many boats out of all shapes and sizes, some puttering along at a more sedate pace…

Before we knew it, we had arrived at Williamstown Pier so it was off the boat for a stretch of the legs, something to eat and a hearty discussion about our plan of attack (which mainly revolved around ice-cream).
 
Docking at Williamtown foreshore…yes, that bright shiny object is the sun…
One of the great things about Williamtown (apart from the ice cream) is the fantastic view of the City of Melbourne so here’s the shot, complete with the millionaire shopping arcade boats in the foreground… 

After a pleasant few hours we decided to head back but finding a millionaire/boat had not gone so successfully so we decided to keep our eyes peeled on the way back. A single girl’s work is never done, you know…

As with some of my past experiences with you critters from Mars, this one seemed to over promise (Global Dream? Really?) and under deliver. I know it’s a working boat and all but a lick of paint wouldn’t have gone astray. There’s always something to be said for making an effort.
Now this is more my style: Sleek and white and celebratory even in name. Unfortunately a small child appeared as we chugged past which is just going a bit overboard (pardon the pun) with the accessories I feel….
This one has a spot in the boot for one’s jet ski. Very handy!
Suddenly the Bolte Bridge loomed above us again, signalling that our sea adventure (well the combined waterways of the Yarra River and Port Phillip Bay in any case) would soon be over…
The Bolte Bridge with the bright shiny sun-thing again…
So that was the Day of the Family Hamer, seven intrepid wanderers out to see the world of Williamstown and conquer it with ice cream.
 
Which brings me (not so neatly) to the end of this post, my last for 2012. And all that remains is to wish you a Happy New Year wherever you are and however you choose to celebrate it.
 
There’s one ‘sleep’ left peeps – let’s show 2013 we mean business!