12 months!

Melbourne 1074 2013-06

It has been about a year since we moved to Melbourne and I am approaching my 12 month anniversary at my current position.  All the clichés apply, time flies, where did the time go and the lot but in all honesty the past 12 months have been amazing, we have made new friends and a new home, Beth is doing what she always wanted to do, which was to work with children and I have gone back into the food business.

 


IMG_6260 IMG_6252

Driving around the city that we now call home things start to look familiar.  I was driving earlier today and as we passed the exhibition center I saw the ANL building in the Southwarf, a building that I have now visited many times as my friend George (george-vrakas.com) works as we have lunch often.  The same building and the area of Southwarf and Docklands were completely new to me, I remember looking at it 12 months ago and it was just one of many.  The same goes for so many parts of the city, I have started making connections and little by little things not only make sense now but they are familiar.  Driving through South and Port Melbourne , I remember getting lost, now I know the streets, some of the restaurants and cafes, we have friends there and we go to the beach and the playgrounds with Ben.

This has also helped put my mind at ease, for the psychologists under you, system 1 is now more at ease because of the familiarity with the surroundings and the establishment of routines. You see it is system 1 that makes that has problems making sense of the new and in our case it has been working overtime and it has been exhausting at times.

IMG_6205

Winter… that is a surprise

Ice skating Melbourne winter festival

Ice skating Melbourne winter festival (Photo credit: dracophylla)

 

 

 

It is November… no wait it is May… but it is cold… so it cannot be May…   …but it is.

 

That does sound confusing, well we are as confused as it sounds, in a funny sort of way.  There is no harm here but it is interesting that our brains are hard wired in a certain way after repeating the same routine over and over for say about 40 odd years.  At work I keep talking about the summer, for me that is June, July and August when all the flower bloom, the vegetables grow and our industry starts its cycle but that is over there so after a brief moment I realize that for us here now it is winter.

 

Winter in Melbourne is interesting, it does get cold if you are conditioned to the climate here, we do get near freezing temperatures at exceptionally cold days but around the 5C mark is as cold as it gets, during the day peak temperatures do get to low double digits, so it is cold enough to warrant light winter clothing.  I have seen people walk around on a nice, clear 18C day with coats and gloves that has to do with the conditioning I believe.

 

Here in Victoria we also have alpine country, a four hour drive north east of Melbourne there is a whole snow and ski resort, we have not been there yet but the season officially starts next week on our Queen’s Birthday and we are planning to take Ben to see snow again.

 

The days are also much shorter, so it does get dark by the time I arrive back home in the afternoon and if you live in suburbia, like we do, there is very little activity to be had as opposed to the summer when there was enough light and we used to go to the beach or bicycle riding.

 

What surprises me though is that houses here in Melbourne for the most part are not really geared up to this weather as they lack proper insulation and efficient heating.  Housing is a subject though that I will write about separately.

 

 

 

Melbourne!

Yarra River & Melbourne City Skyline View at A...

Yarra River & Melbourne City Skyline View at Alexandra Gardens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our new home is the city of Melbourne.  A city of more than 4 million people in the Southeast coast of Australia.  It is as far as geography is concerned very far away from anywhere.  The closest “big” city is Canberra although most Australians ignore that city, Adelaide and Sydney are about a day’s drive away and cities like Bangkok (8000km), Tokyo (10000km), Los Angeles (12000km), New York and Frankfurt (16000km) and the list goes on.  So the isolation in terms of distance is without a doubt, a fact.  In many other ways though Melbourne is so central in the big scheme of things and beyond that, as it is typical for Oz, there are so many events and festivals that keep one entertained and relaxed.

ANZAC Memorial

ANZAC Memorial

Let’s start with my favourite Australian sport, The Footy, it is one of the most exciting sports out there and while I do not claim to know all the rules or understand it completely I have my favourite team and I have been in quite a few games both here in Melbourne and in Adelaide to see Port Adelaide games.  It is not the most powerful team but it is most certainly my team.  The game itself, for those who have never seen it, is spectacular.  It is fast paced and while it seems to be very hard it is still in a very Australian way easy going with everyone trading punches during the game and then taking it easy once the horn sounds.  Other notable sports events cricket season, the Australian Open, the Grand Prix, the Races and so many more.

The other amazing thing that never ceases to amaze me is that loads of people are active anytime of the day and anywhere you look.  I see people running to work, I had never seen that before.  When I drive along Beach Rd in the mornings rushing to a meeting I see people in the water and the same goes for most afternoons.  Obviously the mild weather and the proximity to water is a key driver for this behaviour but every weekend there seems to be some kind of athletic event or competition.  Most people at work are active and regularly exercise at all times, I among few others are the exception rather than the rule.  There are outdoor groups of people who get together to exercise in parks, the beach, anywhere where they can really.

Flinders Station

Flinders Station

There are so many festivals around from cultural ones like book or movie festivals to something a lot more interesting like a BBQ festival in St. Kilda.  Multicultural events like the Greek Antipodes festival that took place in the city this last weekend draws thousands and then there are those regional ones like Jazz Festivals and River Festivals where artists from around the globe come and visit.

One thing that we really have taken advantage of is concerts and plays/theater in Melbourne.  I have seen more concerts here in the past few months than the last few years back in Germany.  I even got a chance to see Jimmy Buffett one of my favourite one, that was a very special night!

Melbourne MCG

Melbourne MCG (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The list is really endless, there is something new and exciting to do every single day.  It is an amazing place, we live so close to this metropolis and these opportunities to enjoy so many things…  …it is an unbelievable place!

This does not change the fact that it is so far away from most places but it does make for an extraordinary place in its own right and one we are proud to call home!

It has been a year!


In a few weeks it will be 12 months since our arrival in this beautiful country.

IMG_0116

So many things have happened, so many changes and more is to come in the next few weeks.  Anyone, that sees my FB page would thing it was easy and in many ways it was but it is still hard in different ways as well.  Any new beginning is hard, the heartache for your friends and your home – our old home – is ever-present, we miss our old ways and we miss being in place that is familiar and where things make sense.

We are now in a new home, it bears a German nameAltona North– Altona is a borough in the city of Hamburg in the north of Germany.  Altona North is a suburb to the west of Melbourne.  It is about 15 min drive to Federation Square and the Southbank, it is a 10 minute drive to Altona and Williamstown beach and more importantly it is within 10-15 minutes drive from either Beth’s and my workplace.

Nevertheless, after almost 12 months it is still a place where we often struggle to make sense of things.  The biggest issue and the one we are currently facing again is our dwellings.  We just signed the 4th lease in about 7 months and besides the 1st one where we disputed the lease on account of false claims about the property it has always been involuntary.  The new property, we are picking the keys up on the 22nd, will hopefully be the last place we will have to move for at least a couple of years.  They are telling us it is a good time to buy but it is not yet time for us.  We will want to try it out for another couple of years and make sure that this is home.

In the past 12 months a lot of the misconceptions have been cleared, loads of new views and opinions have been formed, this Lucky Country certainly does not lack surprises… ….more on that in subsequent posts…

The view of the heads protecting the harbour in Sydney from the Sydney Harbour National Park

Ballarat, VIC

Melbourne Skyline from the aquarium

After Sydney we flew back to Melbourne for a quick weekend before we headed out again to Port Douglas in Queensland for a week of R&R.  After all when you are on vacation for two months you do get tired of it and an R&R in the tropics is the way to go.

The weekend in Melbourne was easy, no worries as they say.  We were not sure of what to do and Beth was not up to driving hundreds of kilometers to go to the Promontory, the southern most tip of Australia.  A very nice National Park with nice beaches and good trails for hiking.  So we decided for something that was closer, Ballarat was the destination.  A city west of Melbourne, we drove through it on our way from Adelaide.  What we did not realize at that time was that Ballarat is the

My BB's

biggest inland city in Australia and has played a pivotal role in the history of Victoria and Australia as a whole.  So we headed back the way we came on the Western Highway for about 100 kays to the city of Ballarat.  The next biggest town west is Ararat, go figure!

Gold was discovered in Ballarat in 1851, this discovery spawned the Victorian gold rush and within a year became the biggest city in Victoria.  It was not too last tough as fortune seekers followed a trail of gold discoveries that went around the coast to the north in Queensland and on to Western Australia.  The story of gold is told very well at the Gold Museum in Ballarat.  More large gold nuggets have been found in the goldfields of Victoria than anywhere else.  The world’s largest gold nugget “Welcome Stranger” weighing in at 64.5 kg was found in these fields in February of 1869 by two miners laying a mere 5 cm below the surface.  The second biggest was found three years earlier around Ballarat, from the 47 nuggets weighing over 18kg found around the world 40 were found in this area.  And gold has not disappeared since then, there are regular discoveries of nuggets worth well over 50,000$.  The city of Ballarat and the surrounding region named officially the Goldfields region of Victoria have also found that tourism can also be a gold mine of sorts.  There are many things to do in this area but as we only had a day to spare we decided to spend our time in Ballarat.  The city has about 80,000 people and it has many fine victorian buildings that have changed little in the last 150 years.  Looking down some of the streets with these grand structures bar the cars and bitumen was like looking though a window 150 of history.  We headed  to Sovereign Hill an open air live gold mining museum that is the most popular attraction in the city.  The museum depicts the first ten years of the gold rush, the 1850’s, you can pan for gold just like back then, there are volunteers walking the streets in period costumes happy to pose for pictures and answer questions, mines to tour and spend a few hours in a place that might very well have been a movie set for a western.  It was an amazing place and one of the best I have seen, well worth the $40+ that we paid to get in.  It is also a sort of place that children enjoy a lot as they can discover and learn a lot by “living” history.

Panning for Gold

Ballarat turned out to be a nicer city than I had expected, so besides the Gold Museum that we enjoyed where we saw some of the larger nuggets found (replicas & originals), we also walked in some of its parks and wondered aloud about how easy going Australians are.  They are outdoorsy and they make use of their many parks.  They barbecue, walk, bike, laze in the sun or whatever else they feel up to and they seem totally at ease.  Despite the crowds in some of these parks -not only in Ballarat- there is some tranquillity about in the air.  The fair weather surely is a factor but it also their general “no worries” attitude towards life that give us that impression.  It is also something that our Greek cities can surely learn from, instead of just cementing every little patch they should make sure that citizens can enjoy the outdoors by providing parks like they have here.  That is a different discussion though for another time.  The parks and barbecue/picnic in Australia go hand in hand and are as simple as it gets but a wonderful combination.  The Wendouree Park is worth mentioning because it also has a memorial to POW (Prisoners Of War), a wonderful memorial that resembles the Vietnam Memorial in DC and a nice little Tram Museum.  There is also a very nice Victory Arch on the main entrance of the town from the west.

Sovereign Hill

Ballarat is also significant as it is the place of the only civilian uprising in Australia.  In September 1851 the Victorian government introduced a Gold License in order to raise money for services and also as a way to discourage people from leaving their jobs to become gold miners.  Most of the miners though lived in absolute poverty in the hope of striking gold so they resented this measure which they saw as unfair taxes.  It did not help that the local government and police were corrupt as well.  They regarded this as taxation without representation, much like the Yankees did in Boston about 80 years before, as they could not vote for the people who governed them.  In November of 1854 the diggers appointed an Irishman Peter Lalor as their Commander in Chief and vowed to defend their rights and liberties and build a stockade, made a flag and burned licenses.  On December 3, 1854 about 300 soldiers and police officers attacked and massacred the diggers, ove 30 killed and many more wounded.  More than 120 diggers were put on trial but none where ever found guilty.  Public opinion sided with the diggers and finally Australia introduced major reforms among them the most important the right to vote for parliament.  The diggers had finally won.  Well, I get easily carried away but this also shows how many hidden gems there are in Australia besides all the known sites and cities.

Goldasaurus weighing in at 4.4kg found in 2003

On that weekend we finally managed to get back to the Aquarium in Melbourne from which we were evacuated a couple weeks ago because of the storm.  I had expected more from the aquarium but Ben certainly enjoyed watching all the different fish, including sharks.  We then went to Oakleigh, the Greek neighborhood, to meet with relatives on my father’s side.  So for the first time I met my aunt Parthena and her three children Coonie and her husband Jan, Varvara and Ari and her grandchildren.  We first had to entangle how we are related but then we had fun catching up.  On the weekend we also met Maria Mitropoulos and her husband Darren Favretto, Beth’s friends from Adelaide who now live in Melbourne.

So long….

Victory Arch in Ballarat

POW Memorial

Downtown Ballarat

With Maria and Darren

Aunt Parthena and Varvara

Ari feeding Ben

The Family

The family

Great Ocean Road – Part 2

As far as coffee places is concerned, I stand corrected, I actually have seen a Starbucks it was empty and it is the first one after driving for about 8000km since we got here in the beginning of February and that is fine by me. The drive on the Great Ocean Road was planned from the beginning and it was among the Top 10 things to do in Australia.  Unfortunately, the way things turned out with the weather and all we cut it short by only taking a day to enjoy the drive.  So we decided to take the Princess Highway west and then turn south when we reached Terang and reach Port Campbell, which is at the west end of the Road.  This was necessary as the Road itself is quite narrow with many curves and although the whole length is about 250km it takes more than 4 hours to drive it all.  So we took a shortcut, on the highway to Terang we could drive fast (for Aussie standards) and reach Port Campbell in about 2 1/2 hours.  Again, we drove through some very nice towns, towns like

A candid moment...

Colac, like Camperdown.  The highways in Australia dissect many towns, actually the highway usually forms the main street, so it does make an interesting drive.  Most of these towns are like very much like towns in the US, in the 50s or 60s.  There is a main street where cars park at an angle, there are the occasional McDonalds, KFC or Subway but these sleepy towns are mostly left in peace.  There many shops and combo shops that cater to the needs of the local community.  This is a stark contrast to my personal experience back home or back in the US where, for whatever reason, people tend to shop in national or international chains, where the shops look the same no matter if they are in New York or in Dusseldorf. As soon as we reached Port Campbell we stopped at the Grotto, basically a sink hole with an awesome view.  We got our first taste of what the Great Ocean Road is all about.  It is full of magnificent views, awesome landscape, waves, wind, a dramatic sky and the great wide open ocean, green hills, nice little sea-side towns and National Parks.  It is probably one of the finest roads that I have ever driven on.  We stopped at a few of the look out points and the pinnacle of our trip was the 12 Apostles.  The formations that have been shaped by the unrelenting waves and wind that have hit the limestone formations for millions of years.  South from of here there is nothing but Antarctica, about 5000km.  The waters are

The London Arch -it used to be a bridge 🙂

cold and the beaches of Victoria although spectacular and great for surfing are not great for swimming, the same actually goes for most beaches around Australia.  I still believe that the best beaches can be found around the Mediterranean.  We then stopped at the London Arch (formerly London Bridge) and then at the 12 Apostles.  At the 12 Apostles there were hundreds of tourist, not sure where all these people came from, as most of the other spots along the route were not nearly as crowded.  I dislike these huge crowds, all these package (or as I like to call them packaged) tourists that go on a well beaten path laid by thousands before them dictated by special interests that do not allow for any interesting side trips and to me is he most boring form of tourism.  Anyway, we had to weave our way through the masses, it was always a hassle to get the pictures we wanted.  There was the constant roar of helicopters and planes flying overhead, carrying tourists.  You cannot convey that in the pictures, the pictures look great but the masses and the noise did distract from the beauty, the

Awesome!

awesomeness of the formations and the sounds of the ocean. So while it is the most popular spot we enjoyed the other spots more as you could just sit there and marvel in peace and quiet.  The Road also took us inland through rolling hills with spectacular views, we drove through the Great Otway National Park.  This park, while relatively unknown, contains ancient rainforests, tall wet forests, waterfalls and a rugged coastline.  It is also here that we saw the only Koalas that we have seen on all our travels.  We had to pick up our pace but we were also hungry so we stopped at Apollo Bay, a nice little town that is much quieter than Lorne.  It sits at the edge of the Great Otway N.P. and it has a nice little beach.  Of course we went for fish and chips, which this years celebrates its 150th birthday.  I am not sure if we are attracted or somehow it is coded in our DNA but we walk into one of the places and it was owned by Greeks.  Throughout our travels we have met so many Greeks, it was

Beth at the Apostles

really nice as we are Greeks from Greece and not Greeks from Melbourne, that automatically elevates us to a special status and we do occasionally enjoy better prices but always excellent hospitality.  We had to try their own homemade Greek deserts and had kataifi, gianiotiko, etc. while looking out at the sea. Ben as always did put up a show and he was adored by everyone.  This stop lasted longer than we had anticipated and hence had to get going as everyone was getting tired and still had a long way to go.  So we left the Great Ocean Road at Apollo Bay and headed north the way we came.

It was and probably will be for a long time the best and most scenic route we have done.  There is something for everyone and the combination of water, rugged coastline and very nice vegetation is a eyesight to behold.  We will have to return and take more time to explore and hike along the coast, maybe when Ben is at an age where we would not have to carry him.

So long….

Some of the Apostles

Another wonderful beach

A place I'd like to live....

I love the guy!

The travelling family!

Another view of the Apostles

The youngest driver

Beth and the uncle!

Melbourne

Flinders Station

Well, we have been here in Melbourne for the past few days and it is definitely a different Australia to the Australia that we have seen up to now.  Our first impression of Melbourne is that it is a metropolis.  It has a nice skyline with sky scrapers, office buildings and a victorian era train station.  It is especially impressive at night with all the lights.  Melbourne in its look outside the CBD is distinctly English.  The buildings, the houses, the shops, if I had to guess I would have thought I was in a suburb in London.  The constant rain that we had in the past few weeks may actually just helped a bit as well.

The life on the streets is a totally different matter.  It is colorful, very ethic and chic at the same time.  The streets are lined with boutiques, street side cafes, restaurants, hotels, etc.  There are so many

Flinders Station

different neighborhoods and they tend to be distinctly different.  You may have heard of St. Kilda or S. Yarra, the shopping strip of Chapel Street.  It is rumored that Melbourne has the most cafes per capita in the world and I can believe that.  What makes this even more fun to enjoy is that there seems to be a leisurely atmosphere, sure people hurry and rush but somehow it feels very different to a city like Dusseldorf or London.  Maybe it is the Aussie no worries attitude, maybe time on this side of the world passes slower.  Whatever it is, it is wonderful and it is one of the things we have really enjoyed.

Melbourne is also the sports capital in Australia.  In a few weeks they will host F1 here, there is Tennis and other sports but it is mainly Australian Rules Football that makes them crazy.  I hope to be able to go see a match.  Cricket is of course very popular and very difficult to understand.  Cricket is so popular in so many places but I do not understand one thing about it, it has not gotten better after watching an hour on TV.

Federation Square

One thing that Melbourne is for sure is very Greek.  Melbourne is supposed to be the third biggest Greek city after Athens and Thessaloniki and after a week here I can attest to that.  Wherever we have gone we have heard or seen Greeks.  In Oakleigh, a suburb, there are streets that are purely Greek, hairdressers, library, cafes, restaurants, butchers, pharmacies, etc.  It was crazy, I have seen Astoria in New York and it is very much like that.  There hasn’t been a day that we did not hear strangers talk Greek.  We have impressed a few with the fact that are Greeks from Greece (or Germany close enough:).  These people love their country like nothing else.  They long for the day that they will visit or go back to Greece.

Another thing that we have noticed about Melbourne is that it rains… let me repeat that it rains…. sorry if I have

My BBs!

to repeat that because it is important as you will see in the video below.  It rains… …a lot.  It is much greener than anything we have seen until now but that was to be expected.  The amount of rain though is surprising.  We have not had a dry day yet.  The first outing in the city we walked around Flinders St. in the center of the city and took wonderful pictures of the skyline.  We walked around and wanted to visit the aquarium to end the day before heading back home.  The visit started quite well, we wend through the first section up the escalators and there out of the window we saw hail coming down the size of golf balls!  People got really excited, they do not see much snow or ice here…  So people started taking picture of the hail, themselves standing on hail and other peculiar shots.  Then came the rain.  The aquarium is situated on the bank of the river the other side is say about 30 meters away from where we were standing, right in the middle of the river there was a tourist boat, well we could not see  that boat.  The rain was so thick and dense that the boat disappeared in front of our eyes, sure it was there but we could not see anymore.  Then all hell broke

My BBs again!

loose rain started pouring in the building, the power went out, the alarms went off!  This all happened in minutes but I had realized that there would be problems as the roof started leaking and water was everywhere.  The problem is that the way through the museum is one way, you follow a specific route and come out on the other side.  People started rushing towards that side, I looked back at the escalator we had just come up onto and decided, although it was flooded to get back down and out that way.  It was a quick decision, Beth grabbed Ben and I folded the stroller and quickly made our way out.  It was an exciting five minutes but outside on the street the situation was worse.  You can see the video and judge yourself.  There were many things that I found odd but the one that topped it off is that after the fire brigade came stopped and then moved on, a police car came.  They were driving along the tram lines and the one cop in the back rolled his window down and started taking pictures!  I guess we were an attraction, a bunch of people stranded on one side of the street surrounded by a mini flood.  Beth was worried I just could stop laughing!  We went down to meet friends

Melbourne Skyline

and have dinner the following day and we got soaked wet on our way to the car park.  I was told that Australia is a very dry continent, second only to Antarctica, I guess 2010 is an exception.  It is good though for the locals, as there risk of fire is significantly lower than it was last year and the water reservoirs are also filling up, although Perth from what I hear had an exceptionally dry summer.

So we have to go back to the aquarium, we have ended up doing little things in Melbourne as the weather has turned surprisingly cooler and as I mentioned it rains.  We did go down to Portsea and Sorrento and drove back up the coast on the Mornington Peninsula, it is beautiful country out there.  There are parts of the road where you think that you are going to drive right into the sea and there are look out spots that show some nice cliffs and wide beaches.  Of course we had rain but not as bad as the one in Melbourne.  It is a funny thing again with the Greeks, I was looking for a fish

Another view of the Melbourne skyline

and chips place and found one in the seaside town of Rye.  We walked in and it was Greek owned, same as the coffee place a few doors down that we stopped for coffee and the same goes for the pharmacist another few doors down.  It is incredible, although there are many around here that are third or fourth generation but they do speak the Greek language and keep many traditions alive.  I have had the best Greek food ever here in Melbourne.  There is a restaurant called the Hellenic Republic owned by the Cypiot-Australian celebrity chef George Calombaris, it is awesome.  My description of the Hellenic Republic is simple, authentic, tasty and with attention to detail and a great service, awesome in a nutshell.

We have taken a few frequent drives down town especially in the evening and at night and the city seems to be

Ben and me, the Aquarium is in the background.

alive at most hours of the day, it is clean and it feels very safe.  People I have talked to seem to all be very proud of this city and most people I had talked to in Adelaide seemed to prefer Melbourne over Sydney.  We are going to Sydney on Friday for a week, I will let you know what I think when we are back here.  Melbourne’s population is projected to grow to 5 million in the next 15 years and you can feel the change.  A lot of new places have gone up just the past few years, the Docklands is a good example.  The city seems to have come out of the crisis relatively unscathed and the real estate market seems to be healthy as ever, sure it went flat for a bit but in a city that is projected to grow so much it is certain that things are looking up in most regards.

The one thing I really love about Melbourne is all the little shopping streets with its specialty shops, second hand bookstores, coffe places, etc. They make the city more interesting, more exciting.  It is not sterile and boring as it is in most towns in back in Ben and dad having fun!

Ben and Beth at Portsea

Germany, where the shopping streets are confined in a few distinct centers scattered around in a city.  It is also not as in the US with all the nation-wide brands of stores.  Of course you can find McDonalds, Borders Bookstores and Athlete’s Foot (the most terrible name for a shoe store ever!) but they are a few among so many other small privately owned store.  Then you have the tram that drives through most main streets in Melbourne and its suburbs, which adds so much to the character of these streets.  It reminds me of Germany of 20+ years ago, when times different and this madness of unifying everything to a few brands that make life more monochrome than we like was not as prevalent as it is today.

We are hoping for good weather on Thursday as we want to drive down the Great Ocean Road, on Friday we are leaving for a week to Sydney. Ben is doing great, he now has three teeth with a fourth one on the way.  He seems to enjoy meeting people at least as much as we do.  In the next few weeks there will be a lot of flying, I sure hope that he won’t mind them.

So long…

Our car was in there!

Ben and me on the beach at Rye

...and a family pic!

A beach on our drive

The place we are staying, it is called Marysville

My BBs again... ...more to come 🙂