Archive for the ‘Leisure and Outdoor’ Category

Call this a winter?! :)

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

It’s over a year now since we decided to move to Robertson, and I must say I’m thoroughly enjoying the place. The people are lovely, the scenery’s beautiful, it’s great having a decent-sized house and yard, and everything is so easy and laid-back. Just as we’d hoped.

One of our concerns, though, was that the winters here are supposed to be pretty cold. “If you make it through the first winter you’ll be all right,” was a common comment from the locals before we moved here.

Well we are now over half-way through our first Robertson winter and so far it’s been like an English spring! There have been a couple of frosty mornings and the odd cold wind, but much of the time I’ve been walking around in a T-shirt and sweater (not even a jacket). Also there have been days and days of blue skies with hardly any rain (which of course is bad as well as good).

Here’s a pic of our back garden on a typical winter mid-afternoon. You can see that the sun has gone behind those tall trees (a bit pesky as it puts our garden into shadow). I was actually lying on the deck in the sunshine at lunch time on this day and I got too hot!

I do wonder, though, if it’s just unseasonably warm here at the moment. (Maybe down to climate change?) There are even daffodils coming out already:

All very strange. Still I’m not complaining, as I love warm weather! :) Another nice thing is that the days, though shorter than summer, are still longer and brighter than in an English winter. So I think we’re going to cope OK with the winters here.

Australia: The Car Country

Monday, December 24th, 2007

Map of Australia with car iconThere’s no doubt about it – Australia is a nation of car drivers. It’s understandable in a way, when you consider the size of the place. (You can’t really expect decent public transport in the middle of the Outback.) However, even in major cities like Sydney with good public transport networks (in my opinion!), cars rule the roost:

  • People tend to look at you strangely if you don’t drive a car
  • Many roads in the suburbs don’t even have pavements (sidewalks if you’re American) – presumably you’re supposed to drive everywhere, or take your chances walking in the road
  • Fuel is cheap (compared to the UK, anyway)
  • Many couples have two cars (one car each)
  • Sydneysiders love their nice big gas-guzzling 4×4s (complete with roo bars to protect them from all those feral urban kangaroos bouncing down the high street)
  • “Camping” for Aussies means taking a tent the size of a small house, 4 fold-up tables, 8 chairs, 2 BBQs, and a portable shower – which of course, means at least one car if not two
  • Trains are so slow when you get out of Sydney that you’d be crazy not to go by car. For example, it takes 1.5 hours to drive to Kiama on the south coast (120km south of Sydney), but 2.5-3 hours to go by train. (more…)

Australian fashion

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

An example of Australian fashion

No comment.

Books, the Dalai Lama, and how to calm a screaming infant

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

I’ve been a bit slack at the old blogging over the last couple of weeks. This is mainly due to the Photoshop book I’m co-writing, which is sucking up all my time and energy like a black hole. Who’d have thought a 700-page book would take two people 7 months to write. (Ooh, that’s a cosy 100 pages per month!) Well it’s nearly finished now, so soon my life will return to relative normality.

We did manage to snatch half a day off yesterday, and head into the city – with me carrying Zack in the Hug-a-Bub – to watch the Dalai Lama in the Domain (a big park in Sydney). The rain was coming down in sheets so we weren’t expecting much of a turnout, but it was pretty busy. Nice to see the man in person, even if it was on a big-screen monitor from half a kilometre away! He talked about inner peace, dialogue, 9/11, religion and a lot of other stuff that I couldn’t really hear properly. (The rain pelting on umbrellas didn’t help!) He was asked lots of questions from the audience – some good ones, and some daft ones, such as “What can we do to stop our drought?” To which he replied, “You should know better than me!” and laughed his head off. (more…)

Australia: A tough country for vegetarians

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Chicken saltI’m not vegetarian, but my wife Cat is. She finds it hard going in this country.

She’s not vegetarian for any moral “think of the furry-wurry animals” reason – she just hates the taste (and texture) of meat. The thought of eating meat or its various products makes her sick. So it’s not like she can have chicken “just this once”. It’s no meat, or no food at all.

Trouble is, the Aussie definition of “vegetarian” seems to be “pretends not to like meat, but likes it really”. Cat’s had this conversation in more than one restaurant:

“Here’s our menu, madam.”

“I’m vegetarian. What dishes can you offer for me?”

“You’re vegetarian? Do you eat chicken and fish?”

“Er, no. I’m vegetarian.”

You wouldn’t have thought it a hard concept to grasp.

Quite often we’ll go out for a meal on holiday, to find that only one restaurant in town has anything veggie on the menu. And that will be “stir-fried vegetables” (which Cat is understandably sick of by now). Often restaurants will have a veggie entrée, then the mains will all be meat. (As if vegetarians somehow have smaller stomachs or something.)

(more…)

Culture shock for Brits

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Culturally speaking, Australia is pretty similar to the UK, so if you’re a Brit moving over here then things will mostly be plain sailing. However there are a few oddities that’ll catch you out when you first arrive:

  • Saying “Alright” to someone doesn’t mean “hello”, it means “are you OK?”. So you’ll get some strange looks if you go up to someone and say “Alright mate!”
  • A “hotel” is sometimes an actual hotel, but more often than not, it’s a pub. (Aussies also use the word “pub” for the same thing, just to add to the confusion.)
  • Manchester isn’t a city over here – it means bedding and linen. So don’t be surprised when you see shops selling Manchester.
  • Woolworths isn’t a cut-price department store flogging music and pick & mix – it’s a supermarket like Tesco.
  • Speaking of supermarkets, you can’t buy alcohol in supermarkets here. You have to go into the bottle shop, or “bottle-o” – otherwise known as an off-licence – next door and make a separate purchase. (Crazy, but them’s the rules.)
  • Most banks charge you for the privilege of banking your money with them. The concept of “free banking” is relatively novel here, despite existing in the UK for over 20 years now. HSBC’s online accounts were some of the first to abolish charges, and other Aussie banks are slowly starting to follow suit.
  • And speaking of banks, Aussies call a current account a “savings” account, just to confuse the foreigners. Sometimes they call them “check” accounts too, just for fun. When you pay via a bank card in a shop, you have to press either the “cheque” or the “savings” button, depending on your account type.
  • 9/532 Sydney Street is the Aussie way of writing “Flat 9, 532 Sydney Street”. Except they don’t call them flats either – they call them units. (Not quite so romantic sounding, is it?)
  • Contrary to appearances, “Sydney” isn’t, strictly speaking, the whole city, but just a small suburb in the middle. (Much like Kensington isn’t London.) So if you’re addressing a letter to someone in the central-ish Sydney suburb of Newtown, you must write “Newtown, NSW” on the envelope, not “Sydney, NSW”. Assuming you want your letter to get delivered of course.
  • You’ll find that locals will call you a Pom quite a lot. This is quite normal and they’re not trying to be offensive.
  • Automatic transmissions are much more common here. In fact, most cars are automatics. If you hire a car, you’ll probably be given an automatic by default. (Suits me – one less pedal to worry about.)
  • In the UK, a B&B (bed & breakfast) is often cheaper than a hotel, and often consists of a mouldy old room in a ramshackle terrace house with a deaf host. In Australia, a B&B tends to be more of a luxury option when compared to a standard hotel or motel. (Although we have stayed in a couple of fairly grotty B&Bs here too.)

These are just off the top of my head. If you’re British then no doubt you will encounter (or have encountered) many more!

Cheap eats: Eating out in Australia

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

Plate, knife, fork and spoonOne of the things I love about Australia is that you can have a really good meal out without breaking the bank, even in big cities such as Sydney. You can easily get a decent meal for AUD $30 (£12) a head, including wine, and superb meals are available for AUD $100 a head should you feel like splashing out.

This is in marked contrast to the UK, where eating out can set you back a week’s wages. Well OK, I exaggerate, although there is a place in Reading, my old hometown in the UK, that costs over £100 (AUD $250) a head. Fantastic food, mind. And there was the time I spent 20 quid (AUD $50) for the worst meal of my life in the Beefeater outside Paddington Station in London. (The best bit was the waiter cleaning the table next to mine, flicking bits of cabbage off the table onto my plate as he went. I guess that’ll teach me to eat in a restaurant next to Paddington Station. But I digress.)

I’m not sure why eating out in Australia is relatively cheap, but I guess it’s a combination of lower rents and cheaper sales tax than the UK – 10% GST vs. 17.5% VAT. Actually it’s more expensive now than it was when I first visited Australia in 1999, as Australia had no GST back then. Those were the days.

Maybe raw ingredients are cheaper here. Maybe business taxes are lower. Or maybe Australians simply demand affordable eating out as their birthright. (If so, good for them I say.)

BYO (bring your own) alcohol licences probably help a lot. They’re a great idea. Basically, a BYO restaurant carries a BYO licence instead of a full licence to serve alcohol, and you just bring along your own wine or beer. The licence is cheaper for them – which translates to cheaper food for you – and also means you can choose from the much wider (and often cheaper) range of booze from your local bottle shop (off-licence if you’re a Pom), rather than relying on the range that the restaurant has to offer.

Whatever the reasons are, such affordable dining out makes me glad – and proud – to live in Australia. We definitely eat out more than we did in the UK, although less so these days thanks to little Isaac! Having said that, we had a fantastic meal at Emilia’s, our local veggie restaurant, last Thursday; one of Cat’s mates generously offered to babysit the little’un. If you’re ever looking for somewhere to eat out on the Northern Beaches, I can heartily recommend them. (Cheap, too!)

Sydney weather

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

It’s May in Sydney right now, so not even winter yet, but already we have the heaters going full blast in our apartment. It feels like it’s getting colder each year, but in reality I know that it’s just us getting wussier. To paraphrase the late, great Bill Hicks, I’m turning into a lizard.

Sometimes I give myself a reality check and compare Sydney winter temperatures with UK summer temperatures. There’s not a lot in it. Houses are more geared up for winter in the UK, of course, with thick brick walls, double-glazed windows, roof insulation and central heating. A bit of a contrast to your average wooden Sydney home with a fan heater in the corner of the bedroom.

Random facts about Sydney weather:

  • The sun burns you even in the middle of winter, and even when it’s cloudy. I have the panda-faced photos to prove it. You can actually feel the sun prickling your skin as you start roasting.
  • It sometimes hails – great big bloody marble-sized hailstones – even in the middle of summer.
  • Sydney actually gets more annual rainfall than London (hard to believe, but true).
  • The wettest period tends to be January to July. There’s usually a couple of times a year when it rains for 2 weeks solid, which is pretty miserable. And when it rains, it really rains. Then, suddenly, the rain goes, and you have 3 weeks of lovely sunshine.
  • Most days there’s a breeze – sometimes a gale – that kicks in during mid-afternoon. This is great in the middle of summer; not so nice in winter, or when you’re trying to light the BBQ.
  • Air conditioning certainly makes life more pleasant in the summer months, but it’s not essential (in my opinion). Evaporative (”swamp”) coolers are next-to-useless in the Sydney humidity, especially near the coast where we are.