First off – sorry! I totally didn’t plan on taking that long a break from my travel diaries and I realise I’m now way behind, but I had a few technical issues with the blog in the last week (why is it that things like that always happen when you’re away and can’t do anything about it?). Thanks to those of you who emailed to let me know the blog was down – we’d been staying in some remote parts of Borneo where we had little to no WIFI and I hadn’t been checking in as often as normal so it was much appreciated. Anyway after some frantic emails to my web host and removal of some corrupt files, we are back up and running and I can finally fill you in on the fun from our time in Australia. I hope you won’t mind venturing back a bit with me?
If you wondered why it took me until we were actually on honeymoon to discuss even the smallest detail of our trip on this blog, it’s because I had very strict instructions to stay Schtum in the run up to our adventure. Those of you who have your own lifestyle blog will appreciate how difficult keeping quiet about such a big event really is. With almost every part of your life being shared online when the really juicy exciting stuff comes along, not sharing is excruciating! But I persevered and for the last six months since we started planning and booking our trip I dutifully refrained from telling anyone other than close friends and family where we were going (and avoided all honeymoon chat online).
The reason being that we didn’t want one particular friend to know anything about our route, so that when we turned up on his doorstep in Melbourne for the middle leg of our journey, it would be a complete surprise!
Pete is one of GB’s oldest school friends and emigrated to Australia around 6 years ago after meeting and falling in love with an Aussie girl (Jess) while on Summer camp in America (All together now – aww) – isn’t that the best story? They now have two kids, a five year old who we hadn’t seen since she was two, and a three year old who we’d never even met!
Pete was GB’s official best man at the wedding but unfortunately due to the dates clashing with his work (he’s retraining to become a firefighter and November was a key period in the program) the family weren’t able to make it over. I knew it was tearing GB up not being part of the kids lives and having not seen his best mate for over three years, we decided pretty early on that if we could somehow work a stop off in Oz into our honeymoon plans we’d be silly not to.
The planning was actually very easy. After deciding on visiting Borneo, and realising some beach time in Bali would be an obvious choice with it only being around 5 hours from Australia, we found we could easily slot a week in Melbourne into the middle of our trip and be there in time to bring in the new year with the gang. We roped Jess into the secret who helped us pull together the logistics, make sure Pete had some free time and arrange some activities for us all to do. We later observed that her secret keeping skills had seen her withhold this exciting information from her other half since Feb of last year, a whole 361 days!! Someone give the girl a medal.
Being on opposite sides of the world, initially keeping the visit secret from Pete was no big deal – GB created a ruse and told him we were heading to the Maldives for two weeks (our friends has just come back from a holiday there so we had plenty of insider info to regale whenever we spoke to him to make it more believable) – but as the holiday approached things got trickier. With me being a bit of a social media nut and at least a week of golden Instagram opportunities ahead of us before we reached Melbourne, I knew we’d need to resort to desperate measures once we actually set off for our adventure. Rigorous unfriending and blocking was carried out on Facebook for Pete and anyone who was connected to him, Instagram posts weren’t allowed to specifically mention locations and we made sure all social media and blog intake was censored in Pete’s household. Luckily being a busy dad of two embarking on a new career doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for aimless Facebook browsing, whew!
As we left Bali behind and boarded our flight to Melbourne it was only then that we started to feel a little nervous about the whole surprise element. By the time our flight got in around midnight and we’d met Jess (who was practically jumping up and down in excitement) the nerves and excited butterflies had grown. We spent the whole hour of the drive to their home town trying to devise a plan for how the surprise should play out. As it was so late and Pete had been on an early shift we knew he’d be in bed by the time we arrived so our original idea had been to wait until morning and surprise him by casually making breakfast as he woke. But we soon ascertained that we all had way too much nervous energy to manage to go to sleep for seven hours in the same house as him without blowing the surprise. And so it was decided – we’d have to wake him up. So Jess created a ruse and woke him by telling him something was wrong with the car, meaning he had to get out of bed and walk through the living room to get to the driveway. GB sat on the sofa engrossed in a Postman Pat book (we were looking for a newspaper but had to improvise) with a cuppa while I hid behind the kids bookshelf. I was tasked with filming the reunion but I failed on my duties completely when the camera I set up to capture the moment died on me around 2 seconds in and I had to resort to using my iPhone, attempting to stick my hand out from behind the bookshelf without being seen and then jumping out at just the right moment (easier said than done when all I could hear was sniggering and didn’t know whether Pete had emerged yet or not). I also absent mindedly left my carry on bag, floppy hat and copy of Marian Keys book sitting on the table, forgetting that Pete would walk straight past that! (Jess has told him she was picking up a male friend from the airport but I’m pretty sure he isn’t into Marian Keys and cross dressing).
Anyway despite only seeing fragments of what was going on through a gap in Beatrix Potter I gathered that Pete had walked straight past GB on the sofa, went straight to the car, got confused when nothing was wrong and then looked up to see us all sniggering in the living room before clicking what the hell was going on… His first response upon seeing GB for the first time in four years was ‘there he is’ and I jumped up just in time to see a lot of hugging and laughing… And record the worlds worst video.
After we all got over the shock and excitement and Jess had regaled tales of how she’d kept the secret for the last 361 days, we poured some drinks, sat on the sofa and spent the next few hours catching up. Considering it was around 2am I’ve no idea how we all found the energy but we finally retired to bed in the early hours of the morning with a successful surprise under our belts and excited anticipation over the few days of fun ahead of us.
Long hot Australian summer
We woke the next day to the sounds of two excitable children playing and the smell of a top notch breakfast being cooked by two super human parents… Suddenly I felt terribly indulgent for lying in until 9.30am and still feeling tired – how do they do it?
At first the kids were a little apprehensive of the two strangers with funny accents who had emerged from their spare room, but after a couple of games of ‘duck duck goose’ or ‘pancakes, eggs, poo head’ as it turned into, I was given the highest honour of being invited onto the trampoline and knew I’d won them over. That being said I was practically laughed off the trampoline when I suggested that we should really stop the game to apply some sunscreen. In my defence at only 10am it was already around 30C and still sporting my patchy sunburn from Ubud, I was being extra cautious.
30C, I soon learned, is like a cloudy day for the Aussies and later that day the temperature rose to a whopping 36C!! This was by far the hottest heat I’ve ever been in and I felt the need to reapply the factor 30 every ten minutes just to make sure I wasn’t feeling the burn of those rays (even if I did catch sniggers from the Aussie camp every time I did so). Unlike Bali, this was a very dry heat, the type of heat that tires you out within seconds and makes you feel like you can’t breathe unless your in an air conned surrounding.
We visited a small town called Healesville and took the kids to the Healesville Sanctuary to see the kangaroos and koalas (and by kids I of course mean me and GB who were much more excited at the prospect of this than the actual kids, for whom kangaroos were apparently a rather everyday occurrence). The second I stepped out the car, the wide brim sunhat I was wearing had turned itself into a floppy disaster so I knew it wasn’t just me who was feeling the heat. As it turned out, as exciting as kangaroos and koalas were, we all became increasingly interested in water rats and nocturnal voles, mainly because they were the creatures housed indoors in dark and cool areas.
We did however manage to brave the heat for long enough to watch a man play the didgeridoo (when in Australia and all that) and attend the bird show to see some exciting bird life soar amongst us before deciding it might be time to retreat to a nearby pie and cake shop (yup you heard that right – a giant fully air conned food establishment that sold chicken and beef pies and amazing assortment of cakes, pastries and cream puffs – it was as close to heaven as you can get on a 36C day) where I tried an Aussie tradition – the lamington cake – for the first time. I can report that as far as cakes go this one was super tasty (sponge + jam + cream + coconut = what’s not to love). This turned out to be just the first in a long series of cake adventures throughout our week in Oz but more on that soon (the cakes were so good I’m dedicating a whole post to them).
One perk I have observed about such high temperatures is that returning home mid afternoon for a siesta (or afternoon nap) becomes totally acceptable behaviour even when your in your thirties and should probably know better. Don’t get me wrong, when you’re on holiday pretty much anything goes and GB and I had already got pretty attached to the idea of afternoon naps, but never more so than in Oz.
If you’d told me however that I’d find myself napping on New Year’s Eve I might have waved that idea away with some chat about how I was much too hardcore a party-er for that. That was before I had embarked on a Hogmanay brewery tour which started at 10am though, and before I knew that we were expecting 40C that day.
Celebrating 2016 from the future
As far as stories over how I spent my Hogmanay go though, this one is probably my best yet. So let me paint the picture for you…
Previous day – 36C – me practically dying when standing anywhere other than air conditioned pie and cake shops for more than 2 seconds flat.
This day – a whole 4C hotter than previous day and an all day drinking experience planned which would see us travel through the Yarra Valley (an area known for its vineyards, brewery’s and expansive countryside). In other words very. little. shade.
I don’t know if you’ve ever attempted to drink beer for breakfast in 40C heat but let me fill you in with what happens. You get drunk. Very drunk. Very fast.
The first brewery we visited was beautiful – a huge green landscape of farm land and trees with an industrial style restaurant and bar housing the stylish rose gold beer tanks (I have no idea what you call the things you brew beer in?). Situated amongst the countryside, small gravel paths connected all of the buildings and their own home brewed beer and cider was available throughout. It was no surprise when they told us the place also operated as a wedding venue and was booked up three years in advance. Knowing how popular industrial style venues are becoming in the UK (and how few of them there are) I could easily see why this would be a top choice. ‘Where did you get married?’ ‘In a vineyard’ has a nice ring to it.
Anyway luckily the consensus amongst our tour group of 12 was that the indoor air conned restaurant was much more appealing as a drinking location than the outdoor tables, as attractive as the view was, and we got some respite to try around 13 different types of drinks, from lager to cider to ale made from coffee beans. Cloudy apple cider remained my favourite but I set about trying them all, even the darkest of ales and the one that smelled of bacon frazzles. An hour in, at only 11am, with 13 jugs having been consumed by 12 people, things had already got pretty funny. My ability to drink has somewhat diminished over the last couple of years and it seems once your a parent it practically disappears so our little team were clearly the biggest lightweights of the group and were giggling away on the table as Pete tried really really hard to keep both eyes open at the same time and Jess found the fact I was putting suncream on indoors hilarious.
With us all feeling slightly merry already, the thought of another 6 hours at this pace I’ll admit was worrying me a little but luckily the brewery tour motto seemed to be – get them all really drunk really quickly at the first location and then they won’t mind where you take them next. Over the rest of the day we visited various wineries and breweries all with gorgeous Yarra Valley views (my appreciation of which slowly waned the hotter and drunker things got), my favourite of which being an establishment where we tried blueberry wine and moscato and picked up homemade rhubarb jam (I’m such an old lady sometimes), my least favourite of which being the last stop before lunch which served us five different types of gin… All demanding to be drunk straight. Now I’m a gin drinker and I’m pretty sure as far as gins go, these ones were very very good but a bit of tonic wouldn’t have gone a miss.
Never before had lunch been so welcomed, and a tall glass of liquid without a percentage rating on the side tasted so good. A couple of Panadol later, and a rant about how anyone could ever survive living in a place this hot, out of my system, I was already feeling much better and ready to take on our final stop – a pub serving cider cocktails.
As we departed our tour bus for the final time around 5pm and made our way back to Pete and Jess’s house we were in high spirits (read: drunk) and had grand plans for the rest of the evening. We would make a quick stop back at the house to get supplies and refuel and then we’d head into the city to watch the fireworks from prime position.
But, as I mentioned before afternoon naps are very appealing when you’ve spent a whole day in the sun, and when you’ve spent a whole day in the sun drinking copious amounts of alcohol they are decidedly unavoidable. Pete was the first to cave – drinking a Powerade of electrolytes and declaring he wasn’t strong enough to last until midnight. I followed after falling asleep on the couch mid social media update, at which point Jess decided to also give in and GB eventually fell asleep on the living room floor while watching Charlton Heston’s version of Planet of the Apes (if that isn’t a film to fall asleep to I don’t know what is).
The beauty of the afternoon nap however is that you wake only a couple of hours later with it still being pretty early and are ready to start afresh. By the time I emerged (at around 8pm) I was convinced I’d slept right through the bells but thankfully found it was only dinner time and Pete had already fired up the BBQ and started cooking up some rather delicious looking salmon fillets. Jess meanwhile was ready with another glass of gin, this time with the welcome addition of tonic water, ice and raspberries. Let me tell you if you find yourself flagging after a day of drinking but still have a party ahead of you, make your first drink a raspberry gin – it’s the most delicious way to get back on the horse.
Between the smell of freshly cooked salmon and the taste of fresh raspberry gin cocktails, I knew where I wanted to spend the remainder of my Hogmanay (seriously if there was a special New Years Eve version of ‘Come Dine with Me’ which challenged hosts to get their guests party ready again after a day of drinking coffee ale, Pete and Jess would be outright winners) and thankfully a quick round robin confirmed that we had all come to our senses and realised attempting to fight out way through the city crowds to catch a glimpse of the fireworks was probably the worst idea we’d ever had, and an evening of BBQ’ing, gin cocktail drinking and smite playing was altogether the more appealing option.
We counted down to midnight while outdoors on the patio, a now comfortable heat abound and the stars shining above us, still with bare arms and not feeling the cold, gin cocktail in hand and a full belly of delicious fresh food, before watching the fireworks erupt on the television and somehow trying to fathom how as we welcomed 2016 ahead of time, we were a whole day in the future compared to most of our friends and family.
New Year’s Eve can often be a bit of a let down, but 2015 was probably my favourite Hogmanay party to date.
Happy New Year to you all! I hope you all celebrated in style and the future we are now all living in is treating you well.
Next up: come on a culinary journey with me as I eat my way through Melbourne’s cake establishments.
P.S I’ve just realised that I didn’t mention the kids at all during my New Years Eve run down so for anyone suddenly worried and wondering whether they need to make a call rest assured they were safe and sound throughout the above antics. Suffice to say we didn’t take them with us on the brewery tour. Even for non parents like myself and GB we understand that would come under the ‘irresponsible parenting’ category. No they got to see in the new year having a sleepover with their cousins, allowing mum and dad and the funny accent visitors to remember how big lightweights they are and how fun hangover days (especially New Years Hangover days) are.