Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Melbourne - Stop #1 on our Australian Adventure

Last February, we were 'celebrating' Valentine's Day sitting at our favorite beer bar in Falls Church and talking about the upcoming year, and our planned trips to Europe.  M pipes up and declares: I want to go to Australia.  We'd both always been a little conflicted about Australia - while we've heard amazing things, it always seemed like it would be very similar to the US...whereas our last several trips had been so drastically different.  Plus, despite the looooong flight(s), we always felt that it was a trip we could take when we were in our 50s.  After more discussions, and M getting to work looking for availability on flights, we decided to cancel both Europe trips, and book Australia in November!

So, on November 6, we took off for Melbourne!  We flew through Abu Dhabi, so about 12 hours from Dulles.  We few business class, and then had a 3 hour layover in Abu Dhabi.  Since we were flying first class over to Melbourne, we had free spa services in the lounge!  So we both got 15 minute massages, and I got a manicure and M got a haircut!  It was fabulous!  The only way to travel.

The first class cabin was ridiculous.  M is a huge travel nerd so he was geeking out the whole time.  We had a whole little pod to ourselves...WITH DOORS!!!

Those silver grated looking things CLOSE.  Seriously it's wild. 

So we left Friday night from Dulles and landed in Melbourne around 7pm on Sunday.  We stayed at the Grand Hyatt, which was a perfect location.  We wandered around a bit looking for food, and found this great little wine bar, City Wine Shop.  After the long trip, it was just what we needed - a little wine, some amazing burrata cheese and other yummy snacks.  

After a great night's sleep, we hopped up Monday morning and went in search of breakfast - coffee and donuts!  Melbourne has some amazing coffee shops, and we did our best to try out as many as we could.  The first one was Short Stop Donuts - definitely off to a delicious start!

Once we were full of sugar and caffeine, we walked down to catch our city bike tour.  We met up with our guide, Freddy, and the one other person on the tour, and set off to explore the city.  It was a beautifully hot and sunny day!

We love bike tours, it's a great way to see a large part of a city in a smaller amount of time - you can just cover so much more ground than by walking.  First stop, the Shrine of the Remembrance: "Built as a memorial of Victorians who served in World War I and now a memorial to all Australians who have served in war. One of the largest war memorials in Australia it hosts annual observances of ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day."  It's a beautiful memorial, and has panoramic city views.  

We rode by several government buildings, and the MCG, the largest stadium in the Southern Hemisphere.  We also rode all through the Fitzroy neighborhood, which reminded us a lot of New Orleans.  "Fitzroy has a thriving street art community and many small commercial art galleries, artist-run spaces and artist studios. A hub for live music in Melbourne, and plays host to several prominent venues."  We stopped for a quick lunch and pint at Black Cat Cafe.  

Then we headed to Hoiser Lane, one of Melbourne's great street art laneways - it was amazing!  Literally everything was covered with paint!

Just around the corner from the Federation Square and St. Paul's Cathedral. 

We said goodbye to our new friend Freddy, the tour was fantastic and just what we needed to get a little exercise and a great overview of the city.

Monday night we went to this tiny, amazing restaurant in the CBD, Rice Paper Scissors, for dinner.  They don't take reservations, so we went early and were able to sneak into a great little spot at the end of the bar overlooking the kitchen - best seat in the house!  We tried several dishes, everything was delicious!

After dinner we went next door to this strange little cocktail bar, Double Happiness, for a drink.  One there was enough, as it was a little crowded, so we wandered down along the river - it was a beautiful night and we wanted to enjoy being outside!

If you look closely, sitting in the water under that bridge is what appears to be just a wide base to the bridge.  It's actually a bar!

It's called Ponyfish Island, and was really a great idea - such a fun spot for a bar!  We snagged 2 stools along the edge and enjoyed a couple glasses of wine/beer.  My good friend Ben lives in Melbourne, but works out in Yarra Valley (more on that later).  He came downtown Monday night to meet us for a few drinks.  He'd never been to Ponyfish Island, so it was an adventure for him, too!  Then we wandered on and did a bit of bar hopping along the South Bank.  What a great first day in Australia!

Tuesday's weather was not quite as nice, as they called for rain most of the day.  We wandered down to the Federation Square to get one of the free trams over to Queen Victoria Market.  Apparently it was Melbourne Monopoly release day!  The crowd and press was insane - who knew there would be this much attention for Melbourne Monopoly!

Queen Victoria Market originally opened in March, 1878, and currently spans 2 city blocks.  As with most markets, you can find anything there from meat and produce to oils, spices, even house ware items. 

Already decorated for Christmas...in early November, when it was 85+ outside! (just not this day, much cooler weather with the rain)

Notice what type of meat that was...

Parts of the market had very structured, more formal stands than some others we've seen. 

What's that?  A donut TRUCK?!  Why of course!  They were delicious!!

And we stopped for coffee, too!

We wanted to explore parts of the Fitzroy area some more, so we wandered that way after we walked all over the market.  

Hungry for some comfort food on this rainy day, we stopped in Belle's Hot Chicken for some good ol' fried chicken.  They actually did a pretty legit job!  They were quite proud of their greens cooked with ham hock, so we had to try them!

Despite the rain, we were able to cover some pretty good ground walking around, ducking from one overhang to the next.  We also wandered to the Melbourne Museum when the rain really started picking up.  While it was nicely done, we're not really museum people...

Next we jumped on a tram and headed over to St. Kilda beach.  I'm sure on a bright, sunshiny day, it's a beautiful beach area...but traipsing along in the cold rain wasn't working for us.  We found a beer bar that M wanted to try, The Local Taphouse, and ducked in for a break and to try some Aussie beers.  

We sat on their outside, covered deck and listened to the rain!  It was a really beautiful bar and deck, with lots of tasty beers to try!

We ventured back to an area near the Fitzroy for dinner at Foresters Hall.  A few beers and some delicious pizza was a great way to end our stop in Melbourne.

Morning began with a stop at Axil Coffee Roasters for...donuts and coffee!  Well, mine was an almond croissant and M had an Oreo cinnabun type thing..  Coffee is serious business in Melbourne.  Everyone has their favorite shop and specific drink they order.  This was my favorite that we went to ... and we sure tried a bunch!  

Next we went and picked up our rental car.  Time to drive on the 'other' side of the car, on the 'other' side of the road, and head to Yarra Valley!

Details about the Melbourne sights were found on Freddy's Bike Tour website. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Quick and easy Brussels sprouts recipe

If you like Brussels sprouts, you'll love this recipe.  It's so easy and quick, I make it all the time.  Most of the time I make it without the corn, but it's good both ways!  And I really just eyeball the amounts of the spices, just a few shakes over the pan.  I also made it the other day without the lemon juice and they were just as delicious

Brussels Sprouts and Corn

1 lb Brussels sprouts

2 ears of corn, kernels freshly cut off of the cob (or, for quick and easy, out of a can)
3 tbs olive oil, divided
1/2 lemons-worth of juice 
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
salt and pepper 

1. In a large pan heat 1 tbs olive oil over medium-high heat.  Cut Brussels sprouts in half and add to pan.  Sprinkle with lemon juice, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and generous pinches of salt and pepper.   

2. Shake and stir to coat, continue to shake every so often, to enable a caramelized sear but not an over-cook on one side.

3. After about 10 minutes (adding more olive oil as needed), when Brussels sprouts are browned, soft on the outside, but a bit hard and crunchy on the inside, add fresh corn kernels to the pan.

4. Drizzle 1 tbs olive oil over the corn, sprinkle with more salt and pepper; stir and shake to fully mix.

5. Cook altogether for another 5 minutes, until corn is warm but pops to the bite.

6. Serve warm and enjoy! 

Saturday, January 9, 2016


'Tap tap'.... 'tap tap'... Hello?  Is this thing on, can anyone hear me?  'tap tap tap'.....

Happy 2016!  My goodness where did last year go?!  I checked the date of my last blog post and it was the middle of last February!  Whoops.  I've been thinking lately about starting back up - I really enjoy having a bit of a recap, even if it's just for me!  So.  Here we go!

First, let's start with a very quick of a recap of 2015, since my last post.  We had a fabulous 2015 with friends and family!  We visited friends and explored new places in North Carolina, Florida, Cancun, went to Maryland for DelFest, plus California, Maine, Texas, and more; plus we traveled a ton for work, and worked a ton..., and we capped off the year with a 19 day trip to Australia before the holidays.  We celebrated weddings, new babies, birthdays, and our 8th anniversary.  It was certainly a whirlwind!

I'm sure I'll do some Australia posts about our trip.  Plus, people always ask me how's the house - it's great!  We haven't done too much since the kitchen and other projects.  My old computer crashed around the time the project finished, so I never did a kitchen final post with photos - that's on my list of posts to write, too.

And with that, here's to a great 2016... and a new resolution to post on this blog more, and we'll just see where this goes.