Days 20-21 – Another Barbie & “Man Eats Shark”

On Saturday we went to Dandenong Market with Andy, Johanne and the kids.

The indoor fruit & veg market is fantastic, with dozens of traders desperately trying to catch your attention by shouting out their special offers. The prices are much, much cheaper than supermarkets, particularly towards the end of the day when they’re all trying to get rid of their stock. The kids came home with whole watermelon for just $1 (ร‚ยฃ0.40). Sara and I are definitely going to come back again during the week when we do our “big shop” and we’ll check out the other sections of the market too. ๐Ÿ™‚

The other reason for going to Dandenong was to buy meat and seafood for a barbecue at Johanne’s mum and dad’s house on Sunday afternoon. Andy & Johanne took us to a big wholesale butcher — which was a bit much for Sara, as a recent-vegetarian :-& — where they bought several kilos of beef, lamb and fish. We then went in the Chinese and Indian cash-and-carries to buy herbs and spices which, again, are a fraction of the price that they are in supermarkets. $-)

On Saturday night we had our first Fish & Chips from our local chippy at Alchester Village. They sell a selection of different fish — which we’ll have to work our way through to find out what we like — but, unlike English chippies, there was no cod, plaice or haddock in sight. We opted for the most popular variety, “flake“, which is actually gummy shark. Very nice it was too. ๐Ÿ˜‰

The other thing we found was that you have to order “minimum chips” (i.e. the smallest amount they can be bothered to cook for you). Naturally we expected this to be a tiny portion, so we ordered two lots and ended up with a mountain of chips. :@)

Day 20 – Revisiting Mount Dandenong

On Friday we took a short drive up the Mountain Highway to revisit some of the places where we stayed when we came here on holiday last year. It’s a spectacular drive up the mountainside, catching panoramic glimpses through eucalyptus trees every now and again as the road winds up and around the mountain. b-)

There are some charming little villages up there: we particularly liked Olinda and Sassafras, which are a bit like an Alpine version of Delph or Dobcross. There are lots of galleries, art & craft shops, English tea rooms and garden centres, if you like that sort of thing. ๐Ÿ˜‰

We really like the quaint cottages hidden on the hillsides but, as we found out during the bad storms last year which brought the electricity lines down, it’s no fun when you’re without power or hot water. [-(

As usual, we forgot to take the camera with us, but we’ll no doubt pay a visit to one of the restaurants in due course so we’ll upload some photos then. :>

Days 18 & 19 – Job Hunting & Swimming

Whilst I’m thoroughly enjoying being off work and would be very happy to take a few more weeks out, sadly we can’t afford a life of leisure so I need to start job hunting again. :((

There looks to be tons of I.T. work available on websites such as Seek and CareerOne, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find something suitable. A lot of the positions seem to be temporary contracts, but that would suit me nicely at the moment. :-”

On Tuesday morning I updated my C.V. rรƒยฉsumรƒยฉ, padding it out to the 4-5 pages that Australians seem to prefer. Unlike the U.K. where employers generally want to see a standard application form with perhaps a single page of “about me” blurb, over here they seem to always want a full rรƒยฉsumรƒยฉ. I’ve sent it off to a couple of agents, so we’ll see whether they get back to me. :-w

Other than that we did some grocery shopping in Boronia and then had a bit of a lazy afternoon. With my PC back in action, I started playing a game called Titan Quest, which keeps me occupied whilst Sara ploughs through her backlog of soaps. @-)

On Wednesday we went swimming at Kilsyth Centenary Pool, about 10 minutes away from our house. It has both an indoor and outdoor pool, but the indoor pool is covered by a strange white tent-like structure rather than a solid building. b-)

Going in the early afternoon, when the local kids are at school, meant that we had the whole of the 50m pool virtually to ourselves, which was nice. :p

Day 17 – Dorset Recreation Trail

On Monday we went back to Knox City to register with Medicare. It’s quite convenient having services like this inside shopping malls, rather than having to go to a different building in a different part of town. There’s also a local council information shop and a public library there too. *-:)

While we were at Knox, we also opened a new joint bank account with the St George bank. We chose them because a) they don’t charge a monthly fee, unlike the Westpac b) their bank card carries the Visa symbol, like a U.K. debit card, whereas most other banks want you to open a separate Visa account. ๐Ÿ˜

Banking over here seems a bit behind the U.K. — the banks still seem to think they are doing you a favour by looking after your money. Most of them also try to impose lots of little charges, such as 50ร‚ยข every time you use an ATM machine or 20ร‚ยข when they pay a direct debit for you. You can, however, avoid most of these charges by shopping around or keeping a minimum balance in your account. :-??

In the afternoon, armed with the Walks & Trails in Maroondah brochure, we went for a stroll around the Dorset Recreation Trail. It’s a pleasant walk through trees, around football fields and a golf course. It’s only about 4kms long — about 45 minutes at a leisurely pace — but it was really nice to be outside doing something in the fresh air. :-s

The Dorset Recreation Reserve, we discovered, is situated just behind the Dorset Gardens Hotel complex. At the moment this is currently our nearest pub — 2.8kms away — but there’ll soon be one much closer, once they finish rebuilding it. #:-s

We haven’t been in the Dorset Gardens Hotel yet, but according to their website [which seems to have expired this week] they have a Best Western hotel, bistro restaurant and several different bars, including a nightclub, live entertainment and a sports bar. They also proudly claim to have “the biggest bingo hall in the Southern hemisphere”. :-??

Day 16 – Our first Aussie Barbie

On Sunday we went to a barbecue to celebrate John Paul’s birthday. <:-p We drove up to Cardinia Reservoir, about 20 minutes away, which is an absolutely beautiful spot. b-) This being our first barbecue, we didn't really know what we'd need to take, so we just called in a supermarket on the way and bought a some meat, pre-skewered prawns and drinks. We knew we could rely on Andy & Johanne to bring all the essentials -- like firelighters, oil, tongs and plates -- this time. ๐Ÿ˜• We arrived early and Andy set about getting a roaring fire going in one of the park's free, cast-iron, wood-burning barbecues while we waited for everyone else to arrive. It was interesting to watch other families and "professional BBQers" doing things differently on nearby tables -- we got some good ideas for next time. *-:) It's amazing to have kangaroos hopping right through the barbecue area, no more than a few feet away from you, while you get on with your picnic. ๐Ÿ™‚ Unfortunately the good weather didn't last long and the the skies soon began to darken. We ignored the first spots of rain and carried on cooking, but eventually we had to make a dash for the covered tables under a nearby shelter. ๐Ÿ™ Luckily we had just about managed to cook everything, so we enjoyed far too much food -- huge garlic prawns, lamb chops, burgers, frankfurters, honey-soy chicken, salad and, of course, birthday cake -- whilst sheltering from the pouring rain, watching the barbecues steaming as a thunderstorm rolled in above us. =p~ As we left the park, the weather changed again and the car was pelted with hailstone. In a few mintues, the road looked like it was covered in broken polystyrene. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Then, as we made our way back home, we were caught in the middle a huge electrical storm, with flashes of forked lightning every few seconds and sheets of rain that Sara's car's little wipers just couldn't cope with. All the roads were flooded, the gutters unable to handle the downpour, so we took our time and drove really slowly. :-s I've already used the "four seasons in one day" quote, but it's completely true: if you don't like the weather in Melbourne, just wait 15 minutes and it'll change. We really can't complain though, it's the middle of winter over here, after all. :-h

Days 13-15 – Back Online

I spent most of Thursday assembling a flat-pack computer desk that I bought from a place around the corner called Just A Second. It’s a big, beech three-tier corner unit that’s the perfect size for all my stuff. When we came to take it away, it wouldn’t fit in Sara’s little car even with the seats down, so Andy gave us a lift bringing it home. #-o

On opening the boxes, I found that a) it came as 36 separate pieces and b) the instruction sheet was missing. All I had to go off was a small photograph on the front of the box, so it took a lot of trial & error and bad language before I eventually got it sorted. x(

I then spent another couple of hours trying to resurrect my PC which, after 14 weeks at sea, was dead on arrival. It turned out that the video card had gone rusty, killing the AGP socket, and the PSU is also poorly. I managed to revive it eventually, but I’ll have to replace the PSU, motherboard and video card in due course. $-)

On Friday we went out for lunch with Andy at the Springvale R.S.L. (a bit like a British Legion club), where he often goes on Friday lunchtimes with colleagues. We all had the $10 special — T-Bone steak, chips & veggies — not bad at all for ร‚ยฃ4 including a small draught beer. :d

With our broadband due to be activated today, on the way back from lunch we called in a nearby computer shop, MSY, so I could buy an ADSL router and filters. It’s probably the cheapest place to buy PC components in Melbourne, with prices much the same as in the U.K. I think. It’s a strange little shop, very similar to what the old V.I.P. or Spot-On Computers shops used to be like in Manchester.

Yesterday, back online at last, I spent a couple of hours reinstalling and patching the PC and then set about downloading some of the UK television programs that we’ve missed over the past couple of weeks. Thanks to Andy’s ultra-fast 100Mbps BitTorrent server in Chicago, I was able to grab about 35 episodes of Corrie, Eastenders, Emmerdale, Bad Girls, Where The Heart Is, Big Brother, Saxondale, Sorted and Top Gear. Who needs Sky! <:-p So last night we had a quiet night in watching UK TV on the DivX player with a bottle of wine. ๐Ÿ™‚

Days Eleven & Twelve – Exploring Maroondah

For the last couple of days we’ve been exploring some of the nearby suburbs. Kilsyth South, where we live, falls within the boundaries of Maroondah City Council, so we set out to see what was on offer in the neighbouring districts.

We picked up some leaflets from the Council Shop at the Eastland Shopping Centre (I’ll scan and upload the map as soon as broadband is enabled) and discovered plenty of interesting things on our doorstep. ๐Ÿ™‚

We started off in nearby Bayswater, about five minutes away, which looks to have everything we need but seems a bit run-down. After a quick look around we headed off to Croydon, another five minutes away, which looked very nice with an old-fashioned High Street, market and an Arndale centre all worth checking out properly some point. We then noticed the outdoor pool (open November through April) and this prompted us to look for somewhere where we could go swimming.

According to TomTom — which has been worth its weight in gold since we arrived — there are actually eleven public swimming pools within a 10 minute drive of our house. (It also said there are seven cinemas, five golf courses and 99+ places to eat in the same radius.) b-)

So, in keeping with our new healthier lifestyle — we’re actually eating fruit (non-fermented) for the first time in years — we decided to check out a few of the nearby Leisure Centres. We checked out the Ringwood Aquatic Centre, the Centenary Pool, Lilydale Olympic (outdoor) and finally the Knox Leisureworks, which seemed the nicest of the bunch. Don’t laugh, but we also plan to buy push bikes and take advantage of some of the nearby cycling trails. :-ss

Whilst out on our travels we’ve mainly been looking for some kind of blinds or curtains for the bathrooms, since the full-height windows aren’t even made of frosted glass and the poor neighbours could easily cop an unexpected eyeful when we’re showering. I think the previous owner was perhaps a bit of an exhibitionist. ;))

It’s been tricky to find something that we could put up without causing any marks to the woodwork or walls, since the lease agreement explicitly forbids us putting up any hooks, nails or screws. We thought about using suction hook thingies but they’d have been rubbish in a steamy room, so we ended up buying some nice roller blinds and we’ll just have to be careful to hide any marks we make when we eventually take them down. We figure it’s better to cause a bit of minor damage than be arrested for indecent exposure. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Days Nine & Ten – Just Chillin’

We haven’t really done anything worth blogging about for the past couple of days, but I won’t let that stop me… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Yesterday we just chilled and read the Sunday papers whilst waiting for our new furniture to arrive. We bought copies of the two major Melbourne newspapers — The Age and The Herald Sun — both of which come with at least a dozen supplements on a Sunday, so there was plenty to read. Disappointingly, despite there being about 50 pages of sports news, there wasn’t a single mention of English Premiership football in either newspaper, so I had to make do with reading the RedIssue website via poxy dial-up. ~X(

Our new settees eventually arrived late in the afternoon, so we spent the evening rearranging furniture and hopping from one seat to another smiling. I’m still suffering from jetlag so I turned in at about 8pm only to be up at 5am again this morning. Now that we’ve got comfy furniture I’m determined to stay up later and beat it, ‘cos it’s no good at all being off work and still getting up early every morning. ๐Ÿ™

Today we’ve traipsed around the big shopping centre at Knox, picking up a few bits and bobs that we didn’t buy last week. Nothing exciting, just mundane things like an ironing board and some extra towels. We browsed around virtually every shop on the ground floor but didn’t go upstairs today; we’ll save that treat for another outing later in the week. /:)

We received our first proper correspondence in our little mailbox at the end of the driveway today (previously we had only received flyers for fast food, money-off coupons for groceries and freebie newspapers). Our WestPac bank card has arrived, so we can now withdraw cash from ATMs without having to use our U.K. debit cards. We also received our signed copy of the lease agreement for our house.

Key Moves e-mailed us from tge U.K. to say that three viewings of our old house were scheduled for Sunday afternoon, so hopefully we’ll have a tenant soon. I also received an e-mail from Wild confirming that our ADSL will be activated within the next 5 days. :d

I forgot to say that we bought a pre-paid telephone calling card the other day. A $10 (ร‚ยฃ4.15) “Happy Calling” card buys 1800 anytime minutes to the U.K., so Sara will no doubt be speaking to everyone at length over the next few days. I don’t even want to think about how much the calls cost during the first few days we were here. #-o

We have nothing much planned for the rest of the week, so I’ll probably update the website less frequently unless something interesting happens or if I find something else that’s different or peculiar over here. :-< Weather-wise it's certainly not the year-round sunshine that some of you probably thought we'd be going to: It's the middle of winter over here now and temperatures are about 13-15ร‚ยฐC and rainy. That said, the sky is usually more blue than grey and there are occasional patches of warm sunshine most days. It was really nice when we went to Nunawading last week; it felt like a lovely May/June day in England, even though it's the equivalent of January/February at the moment over here. Everyone we speak to says "at least we're getting some rain" or "enjoy it while it's cool, you'll be wishing for weather like this in a few weeks". We're looking forward to it. Our house lies at the foot of Mount Dandenong (not to be confused with Dandenong city) and there's usually a halo of fog around the mountain, which looks quite spooky, a bit like smoke from a volcano. I'll upload some pictures as soon as I can, it's really not what you think of when someone mentions Australia. b-)

Day Eight – Furniture Shopping

This morning we had a drive out to Dandenong, about 25kms away, to look at furniture.

Whereas all the smaller suburbs we’ve seen are quite quaint, with their little shopping precincts and laid-back pace, Dandenong is more like a large, bustling town. Surrounded by retail parks, it also has a busy market place and a couple of large shopping centres. It even has “Rob’s British Butcher“, in case we fancy a bit of black pudding or haggis (I believe he also sells Walkers crisps). Dandenong is the kind of place we’d go to when we need something, definitely not somewhere we’d want to live. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

There are dozens of furniture outlets on the Dandenong-Frankston road, so we pottered around for a few hours and eventually found something we both liked at a price we didn’t mind paying. With two living rooms to furnish — eek! — we ended up buying a pair of leather settees for the main living room and some cheaper fabric settees for the family room. The shop were even able to deliver them within 24 hours, which suited us nicely. We also picked up a vacuum cleaner from one of the many electrical outlets. #:-s

One of the weird things about shopping for household items in Australia is haggling. The price on the tag is not the price you pay. When you’ve decided what you want, you’ve got to be cheeky and say “OK, I think I want it but can you do me a deal”. They’ll almost always give you a bit of a discount. It’s very un-British but it’s quite funny. We got $65 knocked off the sofas and $3 off the hoover. Not much, I know, but it’s better in our pocket than theirs. :d

Later we went shopping at BI-LO, another supermarket chain (owned by Coles) which is a bit like Kwik-Save in the U.K. It’s certainly much cheaper than the other supermarkets we’ve visited, but whether their own brand no-frills products are any good is another matter. For now we decided to try the things they couldn’t get wrong: dried pasta, tinned tomatos, mineral water etc. :-s

Fact: Tim-Tams > Penguins. ๐Ÿ˜ก

Day Seven – Aussie Driving Licences

Today we went to switch our U.K. licences for Victoria ones. The appointment was at the huge VicRoads building in Burwood East. Since we didn’t know the area we arrived really early. Once we knew exactly where we were supposed to be going, we popped around the corner to nearby Nunawading where on a previous outing with Andy we had seen loads of furniture shops.

There are dozens of furniture shops on either side of the street at Nunawading; some are cheap and cheerful, others are very classy and expensive. We hadn’t really decided what we wanted so we just wandered around looking for ideas, arguing about whether to buy something nice or just something functional. In the end we ran out of time so we’ll probably try going to Dandenong over the weekend, where there are even more furniture stores. 8-|

I also called in “Dick Smith’s Powerhouse” (i.e. Dixons) to buy a pre-paid internet card, to tide us over until broadband is enabled. I picked up 10 day unlimited use dial-up access for $8.80 (ร‚ยฃ3.60), which I’m using right now. It’s so slow, it’s driving me nuts. :-w

Back at the VicRoads offices it was very busy, with dozens of learner drivers sitting their driving tests and people coming in to renew their licences or register their cars/boats and collect new licence plates. All we had to do was fill in a form, present three forms of I.D. and pay $43 each. Then they took our photos and printed out our new driving licences on the spot, it was all very efficient. ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s quite scary that they didn’t require us to do an eyesight test even though we both wear glasses when driving. They also gave Sara a licence that allows her to drive any vehicle, whereas in the U.K. she had an automatics-only licence. The good news is that my speeding points have disappeared. :d

Later in the afternoon we went to a small shopping centre in Boronia, rather than going to one of the nearby supermarkets. The two main supermarket chains in Australia are Coles and Safeway. Although they’re very convenient — there’s one every few miles and they’re usually open 24/7 — they seem quite expensive, especially for fresh produce. >:p

So while we’ve got time on our hands, we’ll try to use local independent shops and markets whenever we can – the quality and prices are much better. It’s really nice going in to a proper greengrocer’s; everything smells so fresh and interesting, unlike the supermarket fruit and veg aisles where you can’t really smell anything at all. =p~

Now that’s Sara is an omnivore again, we went into a local butchers and bought some lovely fillet steak for tomorrow night. 3:-o