SUP – the New Alcohol!

When you’re travelling alcohol can become a big part of your social scene.  It’s an easy way to get to know people, a few drinks lowers inhibitions and causes everyone to relax and connect. However if your liver is complaining about the constant abuse while you are travelling there is another great way to connect with people.  Something that will help lower your inhibitions, raise your confidence and cause squeals of laughter.  And would you believe that its healthy!!

Stand up Paddleboarding - better than alcohol

Stand up Paddleboarding – better than alcohol

I am talking about stand up paddle boarding! What?! I hear you say – how can this do all of the above as well as alcohol?

Start by inviting some friends… or random strangers who you have met while travelling (or drinking the night before), tell them to get up super early and catch a couple of buses to a place where you can SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard – for those of you who aren’t in with the lingo).  If you’re in Sydney, I suggest Rose Bay, its relatively close to the city, has great places for breakfast around the corner and is off the beaten tourist track so it’s something different – with spectacular views of the harbour. Finally, hope for a sunny day! Now it may be awkward for those first few moments when you stand in the stand waiting for paddle board.  The nice man who organises it, tries to explain the best way to stand on the board, but because you are so nervous you don’t listen properly and inevitably slip off the first time you try to get on.

THIS IS THE FIRST INHIBITOR LOWERING MOMENT

As your group paddles out into the bay there will be one person who will get the “hang” of it straight away – that person is the devil.  You will bond and with all other members of your group as you watch this person sail away towards the horizon while you flail about trying to work out why you are going around in circles. Eventually you realise that you should stop worrying about how awkward and ridiculous you look and concentrate on not falling off – all inhibitions have now disappeared. Suddenly you will work it out and start racing off in pursuit of that uber coordinated friend. Stand up Paddleboarding - better than alcohol Your confidence soars, you add more power into each stroke which releases the exercise endorphins giving you a little high – which when mixed with the confidence you feel at mastering this awkward looking sport gives you the ultimate rush.

THIS IS THE CONFIDENCE GAINING MOMENT

However, as you gain speed and agility there will be one person in your group who takes that little bit longer to master the skill… the squeals that you hear from behind as you race towards the sunset encourage you to perfect this newly found skill. At last everyone is in control of making their boards going in the direction they actually want and you move together as a pack of boarders – confident in your skill and talent. Then a wave comes! At least two of your group will end up in the water, another one will be reduced to crouching on the board, whereas if you are the lucky (and I use the word luck) to have maintained your balance – you must raise your paddle in the air in triumph!

THIS IS THE PART WHERE EVERYONE SQUEALS WITH LAUGHTER SUP the new alcohol Everyone regains their boards, feeling completely relaxed from all of the laughing.  There is now unity within the group as everyone bonds over challenges met and overcome. You are now SUP experts and revel in this success. An hour later as you sit around a café gorging on a well-earned breakfast you bond with your new-found friends by describing their face as they fell in the water.  You now have friends for life! Without a single drop of alcohol being sipped.

It’s Time to Pay Mona a Visit!

Mona art gallery

So you are heading to Tasmania for a weekend of great food, amazing scenery and delicious wine. You are struggling to squeeze everything into your already adventure and gourmet gorge fest itinerary.  The question has been posed – should you visit Mona? It’s an Art Gallery, sure… but it’s in Tasmania… is it really worth giving up some valuable wine tasting time for??

The short answer is: Yes! Hell Yes!

If you are a spontaneous person and need no more encouragement, I suggest you stop reading now, jump online and purchase your ferry tickets to Mona.  If however, you want more a more detailed analysis behind the “hell yes” then keep reading!

Mona Art Gallery

What is Mona: It is the Museum of Old and New Art hat was created by Tasmanian Millionaire David Walsh who is a professional gambler with an extreme love of art. The Museum is primarily stocked with pieces from his own collection and is the biggest privately own and run art museum in Australia.  But it’s not just an art museum – on the site there is also a winery, an outdoor theatre and restaurants – it’s basically a one stop shop for all of your cultural needs.

But what makes it sooooo special? Mona is a complete experience. Every part of your journey to, through and from Mona is incorporated in art.  This is what really sets it apart from other museums – the complete emersion in the design of the concept.

Start with the ferry ride from the central Warf in Hobart – a giant catamaran painted in camouflage colours sports a bar that sells delicious wine from the Mona winery. Sit back and relax with a glass of wine while looking at some of the art pieces that are gracing the ferry’s decks.  The fun has started before you even arrive.

Spend some time exploring outside before you head through the Museum.  There are loads of great pieces dotted around not to mention some great views of Hobart. Then get in the elevator and descend through the levels to start exploring the exhibitions.

When you first emerge from the elevator it takes a while for your eyes to adjust.  It helps that there is a bar selling delicious wine right there – I suggest grabbing one, if only because the wine is delicious and heightened by the artful atmosphere.  I also strongly suggest you grab one of the audio tour devices – they are great and they completely change, expand and enrich your whole experience.

Mona Art Gallery

Take your time where you need it – with Mona I think its important to linger over the pieces that are speaking to you, that grab your attention.  Plug into the audio tour and relax as you take it in.  Some of the exhibits are fun hands on experiences, don’t be afraid to take your shoes off and jump on the chimed trampoline.

Some pieces are dark and powerful while others are playful and light.  Some I just didn’t understand and others grabbed me like a powerful jolt to the stomach.  There are paintings and sculptures, performance pieces and statement pieces.

Lunch is a complete continuation of the Mona encounter.  The menu is vast and full of fresh local produce.  Everything that comes out of the kitchen will set your tummy grumbling.  There is also a great wine list with loads of local wines to sample. If its warm sit outside with the chickens and the ducks that roam the yard antagonising your fellow art lovers.  If its cold then definitely sit near a window to admire the view and to still be able to see the previously mention chickens.

Mona Art Gallery

If you have time before your ferry home then take a rest and enjoy some sweets and some more wine at the Mona Winery.  There is usually a hens do or two happening so there is plenty of people watching for those who appreciate their macaroons with a side of the absurd.

Finally relax on the ferry back to Hobart – watch the sun set over the sea and sip that final glass of wine before you head home to dream of blank TVs and model cars!

 

5 Reasons why NOW is the time to visit Sydney!

Visit Sydney!

Not sure what the weather is doing in the rest of the globe – but here in Sydney it has turned completely fabulous with gloriously sunny days. It’s just a hint of what is about to come as BOM (the Bureau of Meteorology) predicts another scorching summer. This is my favourite time of year in this beach side city, I like it more than summer.  If you are planning on a trip to Sydney here is why you should visit in October or November.

1. Sydney is Emerging from Hibernation! Sydneysiders like to pretend that they enjoy the laidback lifestyle all year round, but the reality is for most of July, August and half of September we all retreat into our houses as the weather gods hit our beautiful city with more rain than London gets in a year (true story!). As spring starts we slowly start to emerge from our caves and resume normal life at the beach, in beer gardens, bushwalking, paddle boarding, rooftop dining and sitting in sun lit parks. By the time October comes around the city has forgotten that there was ever a thing called winter and has packed away all of its space heaters, donning flower spotted dresses and thongs (flip flops to the uncouth).

When to visit Sydney - things to do!

2. Daylight Savings! Suddenly the days a longer and the mornings brighter and all of Sydney rejoices with dinner picnics in the park or on the beach, early morning boot camps dominate every space of green grass from Maroubra to Manly, and everyone races to finish work as early as possible to try and get in a quick swim before the sharks come for dinner.

When to visit Sydney - things to do

3. The Sydney Good Food Month events! For the whole month restaurants all around Sydney are putting on great specials for ridiculously low prices. There are cooking classes by some of Australia’s best chefs and even a whole weekend devoted to chocolate. But the crowning glory of the Good Food Month would have to be the Night Noodle Markets which transform Hyde Park in the centre of the city into a mini Bangkok for a couple of weeks. You will sit in the warm night air and gorge on noodles, dim sums, rice paper rolls and down it all with more cider than is sensible!

Night Noodle Markets - things to do in Sydney

4. The Races! There are racing carnivals on during summer and autumn as well but everyone who is anyone knows that the Spring Race Carnival is the best. It’s a chance for everyone to get dressed up, stand out in the sun screaming hysterically at horses, then due to the sun and the champagne you will probably end up stumbling home before its even dinner time.

When to visit Sydney - things to do!

5.The Weather of Course! How many tourists think that Sydney is the land of eternal sunshine? Spend one winter here and you will quickly realise it isn’t… it rains… A LOT! But then spring comes and brings with it the sun. However this sun isn’t as hectic as the sunshine we will get come January – where you step outside at 8am without a hat on only to find your nose has been burnt off. No, this time of year the sunshine is gloriously warm without any of the painful sting (though please still slip slop slap because that melanoma can still get ya!)

Things to do in Sydney - when should you visit?

An Underground Ming Experience – Things locals do in Sydney!

Uncle Ming's Things to do in Sydney

Sydney is flooded with awesome underground bars – from Baxter’s Inn a 1920s prohibition bar to Shady Pines a laidback North American Saloon, nearly every block in the city has a nondescript door behind which, a dimly lit room, with period music and wall furnishings is pulsating with the unusual mix of hipsters and suits. To a local Sydneysider the underground bar phenomena has long since merged from being a phase to being the norm, whether you stumble across them by accident or purposely seek them out, the search for that nondescript door has become a part of the going out process!

Uncle Ming’s may be my new favourite underground bar – and not just because they serve dumplings! Like all Sydney underground bars there isn’t much signage to indicate its location, peering into alleyways and pressing your ear up against doors is part of the adventure of finding it… OR you can follow my instructions.

Finding Uncle Ming’s is easy as it’s located at 55 York street underneath a suit shop one block down from Wynyard Station. There is a New York style stairway that leads down below the street where you will find a door covered in beads… this is Uncle Ming’s.

Uncle Ming's Things to do in Sydney

Once you step through the beads you can be forgiven for thinking that you are in the wrong place on account of the very dim lighting. But take a breath and walk carefully (so as you don’t bump into any furniture or people) your eyes will adjust shortly and then through the darkness you will see some of the amazing artefacts and paintings that adorn the walls.

Pull up a stool and spend some time perusing the menu, don’t just hastily flick through it until you find your regular beer. The descriptions of the cocktails that are on offer by the teapot are part of the full Uncle Ming’s experience.

How about a Senor Chang – cinnamon infused espolon + agave + pineapple + mint
Uncle Ming spent time in field of Tequila. Uncle like what he see, Uncle goes on to create the first Margarita! What a guy! Uncle not even Mexican.

Or maybe you feel like a Tokyo Rose – tanqueray gin + rose + yuzu + lemon + soda
Aunty Ming is florist. She put Rose inside teapot one day that Uncle drinks. Uncle once again take credit. This drink has nothing to do with Tokyo.

Uncle Ming's Things to do in Sydney

While you wait for your teapot of cocktails to be delivered snack on the ridiculously Moorish and tasty deep-fried edamame bean chips. Also spend some time watching the crowd, the red dimmed lights make you feel as though you are more isolated from the rest of the room than you actually are.

After a couple of teapots you will feel Uncle Ming’s magic starting to flow to your head – it’s about this time that you should make the sensible decision and order yourself some dumplings. There are more than enough per serve to make sharing an enjoyable experience.  Being completely candid – these are not the best Dumplings around, especially not as Sydney has so many great options, I did enjoy them though and they definitely hit the spot.  In particular, I enjoyed the pork ones, though the chicken ones left a little to be desired, the vegetable ones were great but could have used a little more filling.

Uncle Ming's Things to do in Sydney

Once gorged, sit back and relax, order some more teapots and hope that it isn’t still daylight outside as heading back into the real world will seriously distort your eyeballs!

Learning the Ropes on a Budget

The weather is starting to change to winter (instead of those balmy 31 degree days we now have 26 degree days) I know it will get even colder but this already feels like the North Pole to me.  I am definitely a weather spoilt Sydney-sider.  In an effort to make the most of the beautiful days before Sydney does the torrential rain thing that it likes to do every winter, a few friends and I went sailing round the harbour.

Sailing Sydney Harbour

Now I can actually hear you rolling your eyes from here  – sailing, that’s for the rich and opulent! How can a simple backpacker/living by a shoestring budget afford to do that?  Well cease your rapid eye movements my friends there is a cheap way to do it.

Groupon.com of course! If you haven’t heard of this site and you are travelling to Sydney – get involved now. In a nut shell it is another deal website that offers cheap versions of things from facials, fancy dinners, cocktail courses and of course sailing. As a local, I love Groupon, it gives me access to things I wouldn’t normally be able to afford. I also recommend it to anyone who is travelling to Sydney as you never know what deal you may find on there – giving you some insight into our very beautiful city that you wouldn’t see if you just sloth through Kings Cross and Bondi.

We paid $120 per person for a full day of sailing round Sydney’s harbour’s with lunch included, was it worth it? (I have just checked the site again and there is a different sailing deal going at the moment for $69.)

Sailing Sydney Harbour

The great thing about this deal is that no sailing experience was necessary and you get to choose how hands on you are – if all you want to do is sunbake and look at the scenery, no one will mind – though of course you won’t be getting the most out of the experience that way.

We met nice and early at the Middle Harbour Yacht Club which is home to the Flying Fish Sailing School – who was responsible for our day of fun.  We would be the crew of a Beneteau 42 which was a former Australian racing yacht.

The weather gods were in our favour as the day started off with some light cloud cover,  there was a medium breeze which meant that the sales were always full but the sea wasn’t too choppy – in saying that I still took some sea-sickness tablets before I boarded (something I inherited from my father’s side of the family).

Our captain was a retired public servant who was teaching young hooligans like ourselves on the weekend for a little fun and some free sailing. There was no “tit-farting” about though – as soon as we were on board he had us grabbing lines and hoisting sales and winding in cranks.  Before we knew what was happening we were out in Middle Harbour with the sail flapping above us.

Sailing Sydney Harbour

Over the course of the morning he showed us how to tack back and forth, to catch the wind, the names of the different ropes and the most efficient way to winch anything. As we headed towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge the clouds finally disappeared leaving us with nothing but glorious sunshine and spectacular views.

Heading towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Heading towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge

We had tacked around the bridges skirts for a little while before we headed to the southern bay of Rushcutters for some lunch and relaxation.  Once the yacht had been moored, our captain and first mate had disappeared down into the galley to prepare our lunch, we hooligans quickly jumped into the water. For a moment we discussed the possibility of sharks (Sydney harbour being infamous for its Bull Sharks) but decided that in the middle of the day they were probably skulking along the bottom and not very interested in our thrashing legs.

Once we had tuckered ourselves out we climbed back on board only to find a feast had been laid out for us! Every delicious picnic food you can imagine, blue cheese, salami, cheddar, smoked ham, olives, salad (which you had to eat quick or the wind would blow it away), crusty bread, three types of dip, chips and some chocolate for desert.  Just what a human body needs after a morning on the high seas!

That afternoon our trusty captain took us up towards the Manly Heads for a little bit of reverse tacking.  At this point he let me steer… which was something the rest of my shipmates instantly regretted. Turns out I don’t have a knack for steering boats… I was constantly over steering to compensate for the previous oversteer I had done –  it was a little like being in a washing machine while I was navigating.

The helm was promptly wrestled out of my grasp and I went back to winching duties as we crossed out into open waters – I kept my eyes peeled for whales or dolphins but sadly none appeared.

Manly Ferry heading out through the Heads

Manly Ferry heading out through the Heads

As the sun started to turn golden and our thoughts turned away from guide lines  to napping our captain wisely pointed us towards home.  As we neared the dock we watched the gauge that told us how many meters of water was below the bottom of the ship.  Our captain assured us that we would be fine, he had navigated this a hundred times.  Just as he finished saying this, a yacht that had been cruising in beside us suddenly stopped – it had run aground!

But our nerves were for nothing as we watched the depth gauge increased as suddenly as it had dropped.

Back on land my legs felt strange and as I lay in bed that night completely exhausted and sun burnt the world still felt like it was silently rocking.  An awesome day that was worth every penny!

For when you need a little escape!

So you have been back at work for a couple of weeks and holidays are quickly fading to a distant memory.  What you need is a quick escape from reality, and if you live or are visiting Sydney I know just the place to runaway to.

Kangaroo Valley

Just follow these 10 easy to steps on how to avoid reality in Kangaroo Valley

Step 1 Preparation: Grab a good group of mates. Pack your essentials, bikini, sleeping bag, playing cards, food – I suggest cooking up Jamie Oliver’s Vegetarian Lasagna for re-heating when you get there – means you have a great meal after the drive.

Step 2 – Getting there: Convince your boss to let you finish work early on a Friday so that you can get out of Sydney before the commuter traffic clogs up the M5. Employ your amazing packing skills to cram in all of your belongings, food, beer and friends into the car. Find a short cut from Mittagong that will cut off half an hour travel time and put your rally driving skills to the test. Avoid killing any wombats that are suddenly crossing the road in the dusk light.

Step 3 – Arrival:  Arrive at Glenmack Caravan Park (call ahead if you are going to be late so they will leave a key out and the light on – great customer service!). It’s a great Caravan park for those travelling on a budget.  We had a caravan that slept 5 for just $20 a night with a built-in shower and microwave. Unpack, open wine, re-heat lasagna, relax, stay up late talking, sleep

Kangaroo ValleyStep 4 – Kayaking: Get up early and cover yourself in sunscreen. Pack your friends back into the car and head to Safari Kayaks. Spend twenty minutes discussing the logistics of who is going in single and who is going in double kayak on the way to the river. Go get coffee. Push your kayak or have someone less clumsy push your kayak onto the river. Jump in and paddle down stream, be careful not to tip over. Get left behind a few times, then paddle ahead of the group a few times, work out how to steer in a straight line. Pull over and go for a quick swim as all of that kayaking is hard work. Sick of the downstream view? Why not turn around and give yourself a real work out by paddling up-stream for a while!

Step 4 – Lunch: Pull your kayaks up onto any space where you can sit and relax – hopefully a nice grassy knoll… if not, stones and fallen trees will suffice. It is important that someone reliable and not likely to tip over has the lunch bag in their kayak, it’s even more important that you packed lunch.  If not scab lunch off the sensible friends who thought to bring an amazing picnic. Explore the area, being careful if the spiders whose home you are invading.Kangaroo Valley

Step 5 – Kayaking again: Head back down stream and hope that the head wind that helped push you up stream with so much ease isn’t still blowing in the same direction – if it is you are in for a hard afternoon.  Remember the skills you learnt in the morning… or forget them completely and zigzag all the way back.Kangaroo Valley

Step 6 – Relaxing: Return exhausted to your caravan, flop down on beds and chairs, eat left over cookies and chips (you earned them). When you can breathe normally, jump in the shower, lather on moisturiser to try to combat the sunburn you know is coming up. Crack a cider/beer.

Step 7 – Evening fun: Meander slowly in the dying afternoon sun into town (30 seconds walk) to the pub, The Friendly Inn Hotel – which is also the only two-story building in town. Discover that there is a giant beer garden out the back complete with playground, long Viking sized tables and a bocce pitch.  Order up a steak that is hearty to match your appetite. Try to avoid spilling beers as you climb in and out of the benches to go and play bocce. Stay there until its dark and you are being eaten alive by mosquitos.

Kangaroo ValleyStep 8 – Sleep: Avoid wombats on the way home. Lather yourself in more moisturiser, that sunburn is kicking in now. Curl up in a ball on your bunk, you are asleep before your head hits the pillow.  You are then awoken at the crack of dawn by the plethora of native birds that apparently live on top of your very thin caravan.

Step 9 – Climbing: After packing everything back into your car, drive towards Mittagong again.  Stop off for coffee and world famous pies. Take a friend with you who knows all about the secret climbing locations and who also has all the fancy ropes and gear.  Let them lead you to a secluded place in the bush (hopefully that this isn’t a recreation of Wolfcreek).  Wander around the bush for a while looking at cliff walls and thinking “Seriously, climb that?!” Watch in amazement as they set up the harness and ropes and scale the 15 meter sheer rock face. Work out how to climb into the harness, then the cliff, climb up at least 2 metres before having a panic attack and demanding through tears to be lowered back down. Eat lunch and marvel at your crazy friends who have turned into monkeys.

Step 10 – Head Home: Back in the car once more. Stop off for ice creams. Switch drivers several times as you are all tired.  Sing songs really badly. Laugh at the three in the backseat who have fallen asleep.

If you follow those simple steps I guarantee that you will feel refreshed and as though you have been away on a real holiday break.

Kangaroo Valley

Learning to Live While Still Budgeting.

Budgets – they always start with the best intentions, then slowly those intentions are forgotten as we wander through shops filled with shiny things, or head out for a dinner and decide to have just one more bottle of that REALLY nice wine.IMG_0049

I have always thought that I am good at saving – having been on several big trips over extended periods of time, therefore I must have saved up a fair bit to get started.

In keeping with my new year’s goal I have created a rather ambitious savings plan for myself where I will live off only $350 a fortnight – that’s $125 a week – after rent and bills. When I first came up with that number I was like, shme whatever, that is so easy – I could totally do that! To prove that I could do it I spent this last fortnight recording all of my spending’s – while also consciously ensuring that I lived as frugally as possible.

I spent a whopping $733.10

I was gob smacked – how on earth did I spend so much when I thought I was being good? Luckily I kept a full break down of what I spent my money on.  Looking back over my expenses for the last fortnight I clearly wasn’t as frugal as I thought when there are things like “Sneaky Cupcake” and “Australia V England Cricket Tickets”

Watching England lose... again!

Watching England lose… again!

I decided to divide up the list so I could get a better idea of my frivolity.

Essential for living

The bare essentials such as groceries, suncream (I live in Australia after all), doctors and a bus tickets only came to $249.10. If I am honest I wasn’t stingy when I was grocery shopping, if I thought things through a bit better and planned things ahead I could probably shave off another $50.

The cheapest things to buy are vegetables so I may just have to get in touch with my inner vegetarian (I tried to be a vegetarian when I was eight after watching a David Attenborough marathon… it only lasted two days) – no more fresh salmon and prawns!

Because I wanna or should

This category hit a massive $310.80! At the time all of these items felt like they were essential but in retrospect… eh… maybe not so much. I could definitely walked on the days I lazily took the train to the gym.  Basketball registration is essential if I’m going to fulfill my New Years Goal of winning some games… but it’s not something I would die without. Farewell gifts for a workmate and team lunches are important for the workplace bonding – so they are almost essential – but maybe I will have the cheap soup next time.

Seriously you don’t need this

$173.20 of stuff I clearly didn’t need – or even want that badly. A sneaky donut forced me to do an extra Zumba class, the cheese and crackers evening was tasty – but maybe a triple cream brie could be exchanged for my famous avocado dip (a 3rd of the cost), I definitely didn’t want that sack of goon on Australia day, and although I loved going to the cricket (watching Australia obliterate England, again), having friends round and watching it on the TV would be just as fun and cheaper. The thing I regret the most was the takeaway Chinese – it left me feeling blah for days – so blah I didn’t even want the left over’s.

The trick when saving for a trip is not to forget to live in the place that you are.  If it becomes all about the saving you run the risk of wasting time, and traveling is all about appreciating time – don’t wait until you are on a plane to start. Although I am cutting back on things like goon sacks, I am doing more bushwalking (swimming in a waterfall beats a goon hangover any day), less cupcakes and more strawberries (healthy and yummy), passing on the cricket matches but having friends round for dinner – or better yet going to theirs.

Bush Walking

Bush Walking