A library of London

I don’t believe there is ever not a good time to travel, and leaving a Sydney summer for a European winter is no exception. Plus, for a girl who finds herself as entranced with fairy lights as I do, London leading into Christmas is a fairytale. Too busy staring up at the strings of lights floating above to navigate the streams of people falling out of buildings, cafes, and tube stations below. But ever so happy.

The first glimmer of the trip sparked from the idea to surprise his younger brother who had been living abroad for the year by turning up at the local derby at Wembley Stadium, creating a memory that floods warmth through your body – “no f#@king way” – and didn’t take much convincing from there.

So with four days in London, and an excited and unexpected tour guide, what do you do?

The first twenty-four hours were a whirlwind. Filled with surprises, station-hopping, and sub-par temperatures, we rode the high until we collapsed back in our perfectly positioned London pad. At 7.30pm – thank you, jetlag.  Wandering around Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland we wasted our first few pounds on carnival games we knew we couldn’t win, and warmed our weary fingers with Bailey’s hot chocolate and good old German beer. With Mariah already filling the air, it really was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, and with his brother back by his side I could tell he already had all he wanted.

One of the things that excites me about travel is having an excuse to eat out for as many meals as you just can’t seem to justify back home. And when we eat, we do it well. Warned about the state of coffee in the UK, our first breakfast at The Modern Pantry was very well received. The savory waffles drizzled in maple syrup and pulled pork eggs benedict definitely didn’t disappoint either. And apparently, without realising, we’d brought a taste of home back to Henry. Coffee. We even stopped for a second cuppa at Prufrock on the walk home.

A stroll through the Camden Markets, where a bubble-machine from the circus shop almost had me in tears thinking it was snowing already, was followed by a proper stuffing at Southwark Tavern with a bunch of Breislin’s who we worked out, I hadn’t seen for almost ten years. Many jokes were made about putting the ‘convicts’ back in their cells (the tavern used to be a prison), and it just felt like home. Funny thing about family.

A walk along South Bank and across Millennium Bridge, we ended up watching the the setting sun trickle through the city’s shades of grey from the top story of a boutique shopping center across from St Paul’s. It pays to know people who know the city inside out. Looking at you, Viv.

Anyway, that’s enough words for now. But don’t worry, there are more to come. A whole load more. For now, have some pictures.

E x

Melbourne Musts

“Do you know anywhere good to eat in Melbourne?”

This message has been popping up in my inbox more and more frequently over the last few years. Maybe it has something to do with millions of pictures of meals that consume my mobile memory, or the somewhat mad ramblings of my love-affair with the not so distant city, but I thought it about time that I officially share my list of musts for Melbourne.

Up until this point, with everyone I have shared the list I have done so with one condition attached: if you go anywhere new, add it to the list.

The same remains for you, whoever you may be. If you have a favourite place to dine or sip, shop or see, please share it with me.

To caffeinate //

Everyone knows Melbourne is no place for mochas, hazelnut lattes or things adorned with cream. It’s about coffee.

So you’ve got Dukes Coffee Roasters, Axil Flinders Lane, Brother Buba Budan, Market Lane and Patricia’s to start with. You get the idea? There are heaps.

Industry Beans is an institution, and also serves food that looks as good as it tastes. Kettle Black, Higher Ground, Top Paddock are all owned by the same people and trust me, those people know what they are doing. I’ve ordered the coconut-set chia from Kettle Black the last four times I’ve been, which is unusual for someone with the level of #FOMO I have, but it’s the only chia I’ve ever liked. It’s that good.

St Ali is an awesome space that makes you want to go home and expose the beams in your ceiling and strip the paint off your walls. It also has perfected the ‘green bowl’. And Proud Mary’s will always be special to me because of that time I was craving hot cakes and they happened to have a hot cake special on that day.

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To eat //

You can’t talk about dinner in Melbourne without dropping Chin Chin. I’ve never actually been though. It was too obvious for me. Instead I found Rice Paper Scissors, an Asian-tapas restaurant with no reservations and no regrets.

Still not sure what I did in a past-life to deserve it, but I was treated to a meal at Lûmé on one trip to Melbourne. A multi-sensory dining experience where the food looks more like artworks. Google ‘Pearl on the Ocean Floor’. Oh my god, I know right. How amazing is it.

If you’re looking for something quick and easy, you can’t go past Pellegrini’s. We did a quick google search before we went last time, which prepared us for the service, or lack there of. Unsure of whether we were meant to sit down or be seated, an understanding regular informed us it’s different every time, depending on the mood of the waiters. Lots of yelling, lots of attitude, no menus, and goddamn delicious pasta. Ask for the watermelon frappé when you go.

Oh and then there is Belleville, Gingerboy, Seamstress, and Easey’s – the most Melbourne of all meals; loaded burgers served in a graffiti-covered tram on top of a warehouse in Collingwood. It just tastes better that way.

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To drink //

Espresso by day, espresso martini by night. A lovely waiter once told me that the best bars in Melbourne are found either underground or on rooftops. These are my favourite stairways to find.

Berlin Bar is located, you guessed it, upstairs. Knock on the door and be met with the eyes of your waiter through a peep-hole, requesting the password to enter. Once you’re in, you have the choice between East and West, and with it the choice of capitalist opulence or communist austerity.

I walked past Eau de Vie three times on my first visit. Down a nondescript laneway furnished with overflowing bins and coats of graffiti. Not until a couple emerged from an unmarked door and jazz momentarily filled the air, did I believe I was in the right place. A prohibition-themed bar with a twelve page cocktail menu, and whiskeys in the hundreds, it’s a must. Simple as that.

If the best bars are found up high, then Rooftop Bar must be a good one. A local haunt for the hipsters, it’s got amazing views, cheap drinks and an open air cinema in summer. Plus, if you don’t make it up the seven stories it takes to get there, each one on the way is home to an equally cool venue – like Cookie, with it’s 600+ heavy wine list. Yeah. Not a typo.

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This is just a tasting plate of what Melbourne has to offer the senses. A tasting plate that over the years will undoubtedly turn into a banquet. So now back to the rules, because everyone knows I’m a stickler for rules; if you have a ‘Melbourne Must’ that isn’t on my list, drop it in the comments below.

E x

Off to Orange

Not a fan of driving? Not a problem. As I’ve found out, catching the train to the country is easey peasy, and actually aesthetically-pleasing, thanks to TrainLink. So when the parents went up again and I found a couple of days to spare (literally), I hoped onboard and headed out west.

There is nothing more alluring to a city slicker than the promise of rolling brown hills, stunning sunsets, and a paddock of alpacas just metres from your bedroom window. And that’s exactly what I got. Oh, plus an overflowing garden with more vegetables than your local Harris Farm, the most adorable pup called Fergus, heritage-listed barns, and a neigh-bourly horse. Sorry, I had to.

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If you’ve ever dreamed of dropping everything and moving to the country, but haven’t quite been able to muster up the courage, I’ve discovered the perfect solution. It’s a website called TrustedHousesitters. But it’s not just your average house-sitting gig, it’s better. It comes with pets. With worldwide stays available, it can open the door to some amazing opportunities. Like looking after three alpacas and a pup on a small property in Orange.

As a bonus, once you find yourself there, Orange has heaps to enjoy, even if most of it is closed over the long-weekend. And with the Taste Orange food festival headed their way in the coming weeks, Orange has never tasted so good.

From homewares to housebrew, find a few of my favourites from the last trip below.

To eat //

Arriving in late on the first night, I was spoilt and treated to dinner at Lolli Redini, Orange’s very own hatted restaurant. The portions are small but the flavours are strong, and if you’re a girl after my own heart, just read the dessert menu and you’ll know. Creamy fig, rhubarb and honeycomb frozen parfait, with squashed caramalised puff pastry, whipped mascarpone, honey jelly and fresh figs. Yeah.

I know I’ve mentioned Byng Street Local Cafe before but this time I ate there. Simple but delicious, hearty food, plus I hear they’ve started a Supper Club every Thursday with a four course menu for $40 per person. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

Finally you can’t go to Orange without visiting Racine Bakery. The hole in the wall in the corner of a carpark that serves up croissants and tarts and bread and quiches and all manner of good baked goods. I’d recommend the portuguese tart, or three.

To shop //

For lovers of pretty petals, you can’t go past Botanica Florist. Located in a heritage-listed turned crisp, modern warehouse, the space is part art gallery, part woodland fairy dream. With rich herringbone floors, and crisp white walls, colour bursts from the canvases hung on the walls, and the flowers stuffed in vases along the bench. If you’re into the weird and wonderful like me though, you’d probably be drawn to the seed pods and cotton tree branches. A flower that doesn’t die? Yes please. And just in case you’re not already salivating at the thought, it has a boutique clothing store and cafe attached. Ahhhhrmmm yes yes yes.

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I’ve written about it before but I love it too much not to mention it again. Jumbled is where I’m floating off to when I die. I’d have to spend hours in there just to try and find a piece I don’t like, but I’ll spend hours in there anyway. After visiting again, my new goal in life is to be able to have a house big enough to have walls to fit all the art on, beds to cover in their sheets, and shelves to fill with all their bits and bobs. If you’re ever in the market for a present for me, visit here: https://www.jumbledonline.com/

Finally, for all the things you need but never knew you did, there is Eclectic. Giant wooden dice, old salvaged leather suitcases, and refillable soy candles, it’s got that cool ‘oh this old thing?’ vibe that my dreams are made of. And apparently a lot of other peoples dreams too, as they’ve recently opened a second store.

On the bucket list //

Someone wise once told me that you shouldn’t worry about not doing everything a city has to offer the first time, because it just means you have a reason to go back.

I spotted a new restaurant being fitted out while I was there, called Frida’s Mexican. A little research led me to learn it’s being done by the guys behind the Union Bank and the Lord Anson. Needless to say, I’ve got my eye (and stomach) set on this one once it opens.

On one of the ten minute drives it takes to get anywhere in Orange, we flew by the Village Bakehouse. From the outside it looked like everything I like – polished concrete floors, subway tiles, large open spaces and exposed beams. Plus freshly baked breads and pastries. Those I really like. Definitely adding this one to the to-do list.

Down the main strip, in between the chemists and shops with big yellow ‘sale’ signs, I noticed a cool-looking bar called Washington & Co. Apparently a whisky saloon, a quick scroll on Facebook sent it straight to the top of my list.

Until next time, Orange.

E x

 

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Be Mine, Melbourne

You know you’ve got it good when you find someone who is equally as prepared, and even happier, to spend their every last cent on good food and wine. Well, that’s what I’ve got in him. So a post-exam trip to Melbourne for some serious eating, drinking and then a bit more eating, is always on the cards.

It began as any good trip to Melbourne should: $7.80 dumplings in Chinatown. We had arrived in the afternoon, and with only our two new leather weekender-bags we’d been dying to have an excuse to use, we made it to our Airbnb apartment with ease. It did help that our apartment was located right in the middle of Chinatown and no further than a block from almost every establishment on our ‘must go’ list.

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What’s on that list, you might ask? Well it’s a funny story really. We went down with no real plan of what were going to do. I say that knowing though that he definitely had places he wanted to go, and I was just happy to be, well, easy breezy.

But on our first night, he took me to Lûmé, the most incredible restaurant with a blind, experimental ten-course menu. There we met Orlando Marzo, barman extraordinaire and the man responsible with providing some of the best liquids either of our taste buds had ever had the pleasure of. As it was, he also happened to have just competed in the World Class competition for Bartender of the Year, along with our friend Christian Blair, and as if that little surprise wasn’t enough, he, along with all the staff of Lûmé, including head chef Shaun Quade, composed a list of ‘must-go’ venues especially for us. Speechless.

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I’d recommend the restaurant based on that alone. The service was second to none. They all knew our story and cared. They were fun and professional, and didn’t make me feel embarrassed when I slipped on basic etiquette of “fancy” restaurants. I’m sure we all know the story there. They pushed your chairs in whenever you sat down, and escorted you to the bathroom each time. Speaking of the bathrooms, the ladies’ was stocked up with perfume, bobby pins, and makeup wipes, and I’m informed the men’s had aftershave and beard wax.

All this, and I haven’t even mentioned the food. Each course could only be described as absolutely beautiful, if not the definition of sexy. We ate in total over twelve different meats, none being the classic beef, chicken or lamb. We tried scampi roe, and emu bone broth. We enjoyed apple-fed duck, and artichoke bread with cured eel butter. We even got to dine on a meal that looked like my dream succulent garden. Each meal inducing a jaw-drop; each meal a work of art.

I’ve attached the full menu that we were sent afterwards here.

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The next morning we jumped out of bed, only to get straight back in once we realised how cold it was. Whether we mustered the courage on the second attempt or our stomachs were starting to rumble, we made it to Higher Ground for breakfast, the sister of infamous Kettle Black café. A minced lamb fry up for him, and a roasted quince bircher for me. YUM.

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A quick stop off at Patricia‘s (because #duh), on the way to the Queen Victoria Markets to pick up ingredients for my best cheese board yet that was to come later that night. We took a stroll through the streets of Melbourne as the weather starting turning it up and the jackets started melting off. I’d introduced him to the television show Rake this holiday, and that had quickly become the go-to activity while digesting food between meals. But just around the corner, like most things, was Belleville, a place serious about their seriously-good chicken, and our next meal of the day. Think Philly cheesestick spring rolls, three cheese mac n cheese, and chargrilled watermelon salad. Mad.

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More Rake, more coffee (courtesy of Brother Baba Budan), and more feasting that night. There is nothing quite like sharing a bottle of red wine in bed to make you ditch your plans to go out in a heartbeat.

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Saturday we headed South to St Ali where, after asking for advice from the waiter on which meal to choose, I decided I wished I’d picked the buttermilk griddlecakes instead. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I may not be the best at picking meals, but I know I’ve picked a good partner. Knowing of my regret, he managed to order the griddlecakes without me knowing and even offered to finish my meal for me, knowing I’d need the space for my second breakfast. Find yourself someone who would do that for you.

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By chance, the Swans were playing at the MCG that afternoon, so we met up with his cousin and her husband to see the game. The stadium was insanely big and the game was insanely awesome. Go the Swaaaaannnnnniieeesss! A few drinks at the Boilermaker House and Heartbreaker Bar that night topped it all off.

The next morning we ventured out of the free-tram zone, requiring us to top up our MyKi cards for the first time. First stop was Industry Beans, in Fitzroy – my future post code. He had the truffle eggs with pea panna cotta, and I had cinnamon dusted brioche. We wandered the streets for a bit, while I took photos of every bit of street art and googled every ‘for sale’ sign we walked past. Needless to say, we were there for a while. We did end up at Proud Mary though, where he got a $10 long black that was “worth every cent” apparently, and there is a lot of cents in $10. To finish off our Fitzroy adventure we meandered through the Rose St Artists’ Market and dreamed of things we’d love fill our homes with. If we ever have a home in Sydney’s real estate market.

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That afternoon we met up with Sarah, a friend of his from his time back in London. Always good company, she told us stories of her latest adventures and once again put forward a great argument for me switching my allegiance from the Swans to Carlton. Looking at you, Marc Murphy.

We had coffee at Top Paddock, and then a walk along the Yarra River. Considering the stunning weather, she drove us to Bridge Street where we walked some more and talked for hours. When dropping us home, she mentioned a raffle system that the theater show The Book of Mormon does, where two hours before the performance you can enter to win $40 tickets. It would have been the most incredible way to finish the trip, but we will know for next time. Thank you so much for your hospitality, Sarah!

We visited an institution for dinner: Pellegrini’s, and what an experience that was. An Italian diner with no menu, and a ‘no-f#@k’s-given’ attitude. We weren’t sure how to get the waiters attention until a lovely couple next to us just told us that they’d come over eventually. I don’t really think there is a fixed system though, the staff seem to just yell orders back to the kitchen and then drop massive bowls of pasta in front of people. When going to pay, we told the waitress what we’d had and she stared back at us blankly for a second before responding with “ahh, just make it $55.” We handed the cash over and she threw it on the bench behind her before continuing to clean dishes. It was amazing.

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That night we went to Berlin Bar, which to get in to you have to climb a flight of stairs and ring a doorbell – an obstacle that he hadn’t managed to pass the last time he’d come on his own. The bar is styled around Berlin, split into an East side and a West side, and is pretty cool.

The next day was the last. We explored the streets one more time and talked about how much we wanted to come back already. We walked through alleyways and got a coffee at Dukes. And finally, we finished the trip the same way we had started; with dumplings. It really was the most incredible week. We did so much but felt so relaxed and rejuvenated at the same time. It was the best way to celebrate finishing exams for the semester.

Now to start planning the next trip.

E x

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Traveling through Tokyo

They say there is no rest for the wicked, so then wicked we must be. It was day three already and with a morning up our sleeves we headed out and stumbled upon the Tokyo Skytree. Actually I’m not sure if stumbled is the right word, the thing is 350m high. But with the day (and the queue) being relatively clear, we thought the likelihood of seeing Mount Fuji were pretty good, and finally odds I’d be happy to pay.

Once we reached the top, we opened up to an incredible 360 degree view of Tokyo, a beautiful blue sky, and a view of Mount Fuji as crystal clear as the water that runs off her. We smiled, we selfied, and we were satisfied.

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Next up was meeting the crew at Asakusa, which was actually my hood last time I was in Tokyo. As another blast from the past, it was fun showing everyone where I got my ninja license, where I used to eat, and exploring all the incredible Temples and Shrines that were flowing with people. We got food and fortunes at the market, and then hurried off in search of a knife for him. As a keen cook and after seeing the knife that I brought back from the last trip to Japan, he’d looked up where to go and led us directly to the most stunning damascus steel knife shop. It really is more of an art than an appliance when you see it in this form. Worth every cent. Ed wants one now too.

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Before he tried to shave his arm with his new blade to prove how sharp it was, we headed to Akihabara to be reunited with the gang again. Affectionately known as Electric City, this is the center of the bright lights and the more unconventional novelties. We found Roman and John outside the technology department store having a vape, Brandon on Level 3 professing his love for a $9000 camera lens, and Romy and Michelle on Level 6 checking out BeyBlades and every other gadget and gizmo you didn’t realise you needed.

Once presents were purchased we headed out into the cold to somewhere Akihabara is famous for – the seven story sex shop, where things really started to heat up. Most things I had no idea what they were, most things I never want to know what they were, but an enlightening experience by the city of lights nonetheless.

With a rumbling in our tummies, Roman nailed the dinner choice for the third night in a row. Or was it Brandon? I forget. We went to a Tempura Tsunahachi, and we went hard. Each of us armed with about ten different bowls, some for touching, some for putting, and some for dipping all of the salts and powders and sauces on our tempura. To wash it all down, we headed to Golden Gai – a shanty-town-esque maze of bars big enough to fit up to four people. Some of them were members only, some of them only had the tiniest window to poke your nose through from the alley, and most of them were full. We managed to find one that we all fit in and made it rain cocktails. John trusted Dan’s advice and ordered a Mint Choc-flavoured cocktail, Brandon looked modish with his Margarita, him and I both had Rosemary-infused Gin & Tonics, and Romy was salty with her Salty Bull that didn’t quite hit the spot.

Well watered and surviving the steep staircase out of the place, we headed for Karaoke. Bumping into some fellow Aussie travelers (one of which he remembered from Uni, and the third person he knows that he has bumped into this trip so far), we were recommended the best Karaoke joint, which also happened to provide incredible costumes free of charge. Dressed as a carrot, I saw everyone’s favourite Drunk Dan turn into a Nek Level Drunk Dan who we ended up losing until 7.30am the next morning, I saw Brandon and John serenade each other with screamo, I saw him in a dress, I saw Romy bust a rhyme or two dressed as a microphone, and Michelle shaking it off to Taylor Swift.

The next morning, after being woken up by Dan at 7.30am on his way home from a spontaneous trip with John to the Tsukiji Fish Markets that morning (it was 5am and they were still out, so why not?), there was no surprise that we all woke a little late that morning. Determined to not let a day go to waste, him, Ed and I got up and headed off on an adventure suggested by the Aussie we’d met the night before – to Shim-Kitazawa. Described as the ‘hipster’ part of Tokyo, it lived up to all expectation. Much quieter than Shibuya, every street corner was dotted with Op Shops and second-hand clothing stores. There were murals all over the walls, and the street lamps were playing smooth jazz. We’d been recommended a few cafes, one of which advertised ‘Melbourne-style Coffee’ and spent most of our time wandering around trying to find it. After introducing the boys to the magic that is Muji, and a quick stop off at one of the many games arcades and a game of Luigi’s Haunted House, which involved a lot of me pointing my gun at the screen and screaming, we headed back to Shibuya for an early night.

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An early rise to make the Tsukiji Fish Markets, which we were disappointed to find wouldn’t let us in until 10am, we instead roamed the outer markets and bought jumbo shrimp and freshly grilled scallops, as well as sashimi bowls for breakfast. Disappointing that we didn’t make it far into the actual market before we were stopped by security and escorted out, but understandable with all the trolleys and workers rushing around at full pace.

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This afternoon we are off to Nagano to see the Snow Monkeys and maybe a few onsen before we head off on the rest of the trip. Can’t wait to see the snow.

How’s your heatwave going, Sydney?

E x

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Moving to Melbourne

I exaggerate, I exaggerate. But after spending a week here I really do wish I could just pick everything up and relocate. Even the cold weather doesn’t put me off. Anyone who knows me well, knows that me and my pale skin loooove the cold and any excuse to snuggle up in a thousand layers, eat lots of food and drink lots of coffee. The things we do to stay warm, right? It’s just survival.

But seriously, after making the conscious (albeit regrettable) decision not to travel over the Christmas holiday, I got to April before I called it. I thought that was a pretty good effort. And I only went a little bit mad.*

*debatable

There is another reason that sparked the trip: a newly acquired travel companion. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I have found the equal match to my coffee, food and travel addiction. Call him my partner in crime, the mascarpone to my hotcakes, or the mac n cheese to my burger (yes that’s a thing), the idea of a week exploring one of my favourite cities without work or uni or any other distractions with him was a no-brainer. And after being spoiled on the first night by a surprise dinner to Shannon Bennett’s Bistro Vue I knew I had made the right choice. Delicious drinks, phenomenal food. He even let me get the famous warm chocolate orange mousse for dessert. Google it. I still haven’t stopped smiling.

What followed was four days of non-stop eating. I’m going to be completely honest with you, the holiday was so relaxing my memory is somewhat of a blur, and I am not even going to pretend that the following list was completed in order. Nevertheless I am going to provide some insight into the weird and wonderful ways my brain remembers things.

Patricia’s
He almost swept me off my feet when he suddenly whisked me off the main road down the small alley that leads to an inconspicuous and unsigned door that is Patricia’s. So #melbourne. Had it not been for the line of people gathering in the alley, I would not have believed what lay behind the door. A standing coffee bar who means business.

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Duke’s Coffee Roasters
One of my favourites, I couldn’t wait to show him. Oh the lights, the timber, the mosaic tiles, two coffee machines. Its fair to say I am in my element when a place nails the design as well as the coffee. Yeah, I will stay here for a while, thanks.

Industry Beans
I have eaten here before but this time we stumbled upon Industry Beans on a food-dazed coma/trance following a feast at Easey’s so the thought of eating again was just not on the table. Watching the boys roast beans out the back while enjoying an aeropress did give him the chance to talk coffee which always impresses me, and from memory at this point I just sunk into a deep blissful state of serenity.  FYI, I haven’t stopped smiling yet.

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Easey’s
Speaking of Easey’s, all I am going to say is: tram carriages…on a roof top…burgers…with mac n cheese…and chicken…and bacon…and beer. Shut the front door. The only thing more #Melbourne is posing ‘candidly’ in front of graffiti. But so good. Oh so good.

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Proud Mary
Anyone who knows me well will know that I have the weirdest and strongest food cravings that can hit anytime and anywhere. He is particularly good at identifying these cravings and locating the quickest and best place to satisfy them, probably more for his sake than mine. But how perfect is waking up craving pancakes and promptly being taken to Proud Mary to find that the night before they changed their menu to include Ricotta Hotcakes with honeycomb, cardamon sour cream, butterscotch sauce, half poached pear and chocolate crumble. Maybe a little too perfect. Probably planned. Definitely planned. By someone who knows me too well.

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Rice Paper Scissors
Cocktails at lunch are a requisite here and it doesn’t take me too much convincing. Five dishes for $59, asian-fusion tapas. Consider me sold. Beef rendang with roti, chargrilled wagyu beef, soft shell crab banh mi, lime cured kingfish ceviche, and mekong whiskey marinated lamb ribs. If you need more convincing then there is something wrong with you.

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Eau de Vie
Obviously with all this eating you need to throw in a few drinks to wash it all down and where better to go than the best: Eau de Vie. Located a hop, skip and a jump away from our AirBnb, between the garbage bin and the carpark entrance is an unassuming black door that leads to a dimly-lit whisky wonderland. Here cocktails are nothing less than a work of art. The Smokey Rob Roy: a mix of single malt whiskies, cigar infused Zacapa rum, vermouth and orange bitters served under a cloud of wood smoke. The Pop Corn Flip: salted popcorn infused cognac paired with curaçao and white chocolate and served with a popcorn basket on the side. And don’t forget the 1984 nip of whisky for $420. Yes.

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The Kettle Black
Now sit back and think of every cafe you have been to in the last 6 months. You can bet your bottom dollar that every single one of them is trying to be like The Kettle Black. Or at least they should be. The coconut-soaked chia with fresh fruit, dehydrated mandarin and maple syrup is too much goodness to handle. I almost lost my place in the Clean Plate Club but alas, he helped me. What are baes for. Ladies, ammiiritttee?? He had chilli scramble with goats cheese and cured wallaby, and yes, he finished his and then helped me with mine. We spent the next hour or so ambling around the streets of Melbourne walking off a mother of a food hangover, but so so worth it.

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St Ali
Home of barista champions and the most delicious salted caramel and sea salt chocolate biscuit sandwich that we scored for free after he did some smooth talking, St Ali is good enough to give you heart palpitations. He got the potato hash for maybe the third time this trip? And I ventured out and got chilli scramble with merguez spicy lamb sausage. After 17 or so coffees on this trip, I decided to skip it this time so he made up for it and got three.

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Tall Timber Eatery
One of our final stops *sad face*, buttt we got to see the Block! He saw it first and presumably instantly regretted it when I started screaming and trying to take a selfie with it. Tall Timber had a lot of hype and breakfast was good, but the best part was getting to see the lovely Sarah again, a friend of his who I have adopted as my own. That and having him alter my latte art of a heart to boobs. That was good too.

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It wasn’t all eating and drinking though. We managed to find time to visit some awesome places like the National Gallery of Victoria to see the Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei exhibition (which was incredible) and the Queen Victoria Markets where we bought fresh pasta and vegetables to make for dinner. Also, and arguably most importantly, we spent a lot of time getting me hooked on Game of Thrones before the sixth season comes out. I think I have 47 hours left to watch and about 72 hours in which to do it.

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All in all it was an amazing and totally refreshing trip. Only complaint was that my face started hurting by the fifth day from smiling too much. Can’t win them all though I guess.

Until next time,

E.

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Barcelona Baby

After a long, bumpy and uncomfortable journey home, I am finally attempting to break my habit of always forgetting to write the last blog post of my holidays. I think it is a psychological thing of not wanting to accept the holiday is over. Or just me being lazy. Probably that, actually. But Barcelona was too wonderful to not write about. So here goes.

We spent the most time in Barcelona than anywhere else on the trip, which turned out to be a lucky thing as we ended up wasting essentially an entire day. That’s bound to happen by the end of a holiday though. So instead of writing what I did each day, I am going to simplify it and just talk about the highlights and must-dos of Barcelona.

La Boqueria Food Market
Staying at St Christopher’s Inn near La Ramblas we were super close to one of the largest and undoubtedly most spectacular food markets in Europe. Hands down one of the most GoPro-able experiences of the trip, I could easily spend hours in this place. Delicious fresh fruit juices of all different colours and flavours for just 1, cups of fresh mango for 2, sweet and savoury pasty for 2.5, seafood, meats, cheese, lollies, and everything and anything else your heart could imagine. So cheap, so fresh, so fun, and a definite must-do in Barcelona. I would argue this one experience alone is worthy of a trip to Spain. And if you are a foodie like me, I recommend you bring a paper bag because you will hyperventilate.

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We discovered a street filled with the most adorable and hipster ‘brunch’ cafes that reminded me of home. We settled on one called Brunch & Cake and were not disappointed. In retrospect I’m glad we had to wait for ten minutes to be seated because it took me about that long to decide what I wanted on the very attractive menu. And of course we had to finish up with cake because the name of the place is Brunch & Cake after all. Find it here: http://www.tripadvisor.com.au/Restaurant_Review-g187497-d3163747-Reviews-Brunch_Cake-Barcelona_Catalonia.html

11750643_10153574224849497_667266251151645362_nSagrada Família
Hands down one of my favourite cathedrals of the trip and we didn’t even go inside because we are stingy backpackers. This incredible church designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí looks like something out of a Dr Seuss novel. Although it remains to this day unfinished, the exterior is an absolute spectacle and arguably advocates for the use of hallucinogenic substances. There are also a few other Gaudí buildings in Barcelona that are worth checking out. We went to visit Casa Batlló which was awesome, as well as La Pedrera. Park Güell is also one of the most famous of Gaudí’s work in Barcelona and after trekking there one morning we worked out that you need to buy a ticket and they sell out fast so we missed out. Learn from my mistakes and save yourself disappointment and buy a ticket – definitely worth it. If I had just one more day in Barcelona I would have gone back. But at least now I know for sure that I will be returning to Barcelona in my lifetime to see it as well as some of Gaudí’s other work: http://www.globotreks.com/destinations/10-gaudi-buildings-barcelona/
11745821_10153574225094497_6937562951992903035_n11800325_10153574224939497_5781834071195007610_nBarceloneta Beach
Coming from Australia, I have a high standard of beaches and I honestly would not rate Barceloneta Beach high on my list. Regardless of there being absolutely no space on the “sand” even at 8pm at night, and the water being filthy it is still a must-do European experience. Embrace the lack of personal space, the incredibly tanned Europeans that make you feel like a vampire, and the hundreds of people treading on you as they try and sell you something useless. 11754878_10153574227029497_7440106860701977246_oMonjuïc Cable Car
There are two cable cars in Barcelona: one that goes across the port, and the other that goes up the mountain to Montjuïc Castle. We did the Montjuïc one, and pre-booked tickets at our hostel after the previous disappointment at Park Güell. You access it from the Montjuïc funicular (tell me that doesn’t sound fun!) which takes you halfway up the mountain. From there you jump on the cable car and get incredible views of the city on the seven-minute journey to top of the hill. Relaxing, fun, and beautiful.

Piscina Municipal de Montjuïc
Across the road from the cable car station is the Piscina Municipal de Montjuïc, a pool originally constructed for the 1992 summer Olympics diving and waterpolo events but now open to the public. We found out about this from two girls staying in our hostel room and once we got there discovered it was something of a hidden gem, only known about by locals. But may I just say, OH MY GOD. The pool is stunning and has the most magnificent panoramic view out across the city. Screw the beach, here you’ve got plenty of space, crystal clear water, and stunning views out to the city. Plus as it is not a tourist attraction as such, you can feel much more comfortable leaving your bags and going swimming together (something that is an absolute NO NO at the beach). Less than 5 to get in, it closes at 6.30pm but they don’t let anyone in after 5.30pm, so don’t miss out! It’s in my top three experiences of my whole trip. Best afternoon and the perfect compliment to climbing the hill on the cable car. Find it here: http://www.timeout.es/barcelona/es/espacios-deportivos/piscina-municipal-de-montjuic 11224573_10153574224714497_2198913154788289075_n 11698688_10153574224624497_8782864824491427411_n11705530_10153574229134497_1029367634419693921_oOther than that we did another free walking tour, the perfect way to introduce yourself to the history and sights of any city, and as a result I think I will be moving to Barcelona at some point in my life in order to explore all the incredible back alleys, food haunts, and churches (which FYI most of are free after 5pm but cost money during the day).

Jemima joined us for our last few days in Barcelona and finally Sarah got the mad clubbing experience she had been dying for. Can’t thank the girls enough for their awesome company on another fantastic adventure. Time to start planning the next trip!

Until next time, folks!

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Greetings from Granada

One of my most anticipated stops, Granada definitely delivered. After an interesting train ride there, where halfway we all got kicked off the train and instructed in Spanish to a load a buses out the door, around the corner, and across the car park (mind you this was in the middle of absolute nowhere), we arrived in Granada alive. A positive was that we bonded with a fellow traveller called Lyndon, whom was also completely and utterly confused by the process, and ended up going for dinner and drinks with her for both nights we were in Granada.

Settled in at Granada Inn Backpackers, and filled with fresh grilled calamari, we headed for the hills, and got quite lost in the Albayzín district that strangely resembled images I’ve seen of the backstreets in Greece. Two for the price of one, awesome! After what seemed like hours of walking up, we reached the Mirador San Nicolás look out, and could not be distracted from the incredible view across the valley to the Alhambra (although the young teenage couple making out in front of where everyone was taking photos gave it a good shot).  11707525_10153568852654497_7612906513413538825_n 11041037_10153568852779497_2771318323950389130_n

That night we met up with our new mate Lyndon, at a tapas bar recommended by the cute guy from the hostel called Bar La Riviera. It was here that we discovered the concept of free tapas. With every drink you order, you can choose two tapas options from the menu and they bring a plate enough for everyone at the table to eat. For free. Therefore it is economical to drink. Did I mention I like Granada?11240093_10153568851184497_7611325041498055511_n

Next morning Catherine went on a guided tour of the Alhambra, and in an attempt to ensure our day was better, we headed out early to catch a free walking tour. Eric was fantastic, even though he was a bit nervous as he informed us as his parents were part of the tour that day, and we learnt a lot about the history of Granada. He still owes me tapas though as I stunned both him, the group and myself when I perfectly guessed the height of the bell tower (57m). I think the gypsy ladies flicking rosemary around the church must have blessed me, or I’m just a genius. (Free walking tour: http://www.panchotours.com/tours-granada/tour/free-walking-tour-granada).11737973_10153568852389497_798061113727190250_n11217804_10153568851939497_5198379978072410465_n 11264858_10153568851639497_8771039461239411131_n

Next up we hopped on a bus and headed up the mountain to the Alhambra. We didn’t buy tickets because we are tight-asses, but still got to see enough of it for free. Apparently 30% of the Alhambra is free. Just make sure you get off at the Puerta de la Justicia stop before the last stop on the mountain to save yourself the walk. Although it is a good excuse to get an ice cream on a hot day. We even ended up bumping into Catherine on her tour, looking like a goof with her headphones in.11742860_10153568851289497_1302923126655887860_n 11743007_10153568851354497_6354907144267095234_n

After a quick flick through our Lonely Planet guide we decided to explore the Alcaiceria markets more, which were the old Moorish silk markets, to find one of the many tea houses or teterías that lined the Calderería Nueva. With a five page list of teas, we each selected one and relaxed in the candle-lit, bohemian teahouse. A definite hidden treasure of Granada.11755917_10153568851244497_1394163094950679448_n

When we finally returned to our accommodation to find Catherine, we also found three new roommates: two awesome girls from Australia (small world), and Tobias, our favorite costa-rican weed-loving larrikin. We got on with the girls like a house on fire and couldn’t wait to introduce them to the world of free tapas so brought them to dinner with Lyndon that night. God knows how we made it, but by 3am we were dancing up a storm in a tiny hall/nightclub in some random backstreet that was completely empty when we arrived at 1am. We still claim that we brought the party that night, but with a mixture of Beyoncé, Elvis and Spanish pop, who could resist. And nothing quite tops a night off like a gigantic plate of churros to share! I only wished I had eaten them before and not after my zumba-like dance sesh in the club.

10406771_10153568852259497_2214409896790608648_nAfter bidding our new friends goodbye, and planning a reunion once we all returned to Sydney, we hopped on a bus to the airport for a quick flight to Barcelona, baby! It was a whirlwind stop in Granada but a definite highlight of the trip. I’ll be back.

Adios!
P.s. No memory will ever surpass the one of me drunkenly ninja-kicking the bathroom cubical door at the club after Emma locked herself in there. I don’t know what possessed me to do it, maybe I did pick up some ninja moves in Japan afterall. All I know for sure though, is that it was fricken awesome. 11143417_10153568852204497_8259950756164554506_n11781664_10153568852454497_3083840934899123005_n 11760334_10153568852489497_6499775249252137034_n 10410707_10153568852559497_4360289396272756774_n 10394036_10153568852589497_7033414956053805214_n

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Sightseeing Sevilla

I am currently sitting on a plane, jet-setting to Barcelona, our final destination. Emails have already started arriving from home, as reality starts to set in. I’m a city behind on blogs and I don’t know how time has managed to escape me so quickly.

We stayed in Seville for three nights at the Cathedral Terrace apartments (http://terrazas-de-la-catedral.sevilla-hotels-spain.com/en/), with a great central location near the Bull Fighting Museum. With Sarah on board now, and also picking up (another) Emma, a friend of Sarah’s from her time in England, we planned to find the nightlife most of us by now were so desperately craving. With high hopes we were met with a (in retrospect) relatively expensive tapas bar that tried to keep my €20 as a tip, and a rather quiet night-scene. Don’t let me turn you off Seville though, we honestly didn’t look very hard because we ended up most nights on the private rooftop of our apartment, overlooking the Cathedral, with a bottle or two of Tinto de Verano until the wee hours. An attempt for class with a bottle of wine was met with quite the struggle as we realized we didn’t have a corkscrew. Difficult but proved not impossible.

As usual we started our time in the city with a free walking tour with Feel the City tours (http://www.feelthecitytours.com/en/tour/free-tour-sevilla/). A bit of a bigger group we were not as impressed as with the other tours we’d been taken on in other cities. That or maybe it was just the fact that the other English-speaking group got the hot guide. Yes, it was most likely that. We were taken around the Cathedral and shown the inscriptions that were painted on the walls in bulls’ blood to advertise an honor student, which were discovered, still intact, after the walls were cleaned recently. I incorrectly guessed that they were written in red wine, but still maintain it was a reasonable assumption for Spain.

11755779_10153561310884497_951371435819314573_n11745312_10153561312959497_6904426399193305093_n 11036413_10153561312814497_5575392429526175222_nWe were shown the Giralda Tower adjacent to the Cathedral that was originally built by Muslims with Roman ruins and then added to by Christians, which we climbed the next day. I think its safe to say we all seriously reconsidered our love of heights after we hiked the thirty-five story’s of ramps to the top – ramps because there used to be stables located at the top of the tower.

11694943_10153561310744497_4185498749461083701_n 11760235_10153561310589497_4209421192313231757_nWe walked by the Palace, which we later returned to and discovered for the first time ever that someone considered Sarah disabled. She got free entry as a result though, so she is most definitely going to whip that one out next time we have to pay €10 to get into a church.

11223806_10153561310519497_2783527510272176571_n 11755259_10153561310464497_4260189575692511816_nWe finished up in the stunning Plaza de España where we found out parts of Star Wars was filmed. Connected to the Plaza was a luscious green park and some much needed shade. We enjoyed it so much that we came back the next day and hired a quadracycle and rode around the park looking like morons. Much fun was had.

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Adios chicas.

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The Real Madrid

A hop, skip and a jump and we found ourselves flung 2000km across Europe to Madrid, Spain (more like a 40min Terravision bus ride and a Ryanair flight that managed to leave late but arrive early?). We found Sarah amongst the crowds of yelling Spaniards and jetted off in a taxi (splurge, I know) to our hostel, TOC.

With a new city, new country AND new companion, we took the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets, adjusting to the new language, smells, sights and most importantly food! We meandered into an incredible looking deli that turned out to have three levels to it and pointed at the picture of a seafood platter, a grilled cheese and jamon salad and a bottle of moscato. The English is not as good in Spain as in Italy, so we just crossed our fingers and hoped. It sort of adds to the excitement though, not being 100% sure of what you are going to get. We almost ordered two bottles of moscato “accidentally”. With a quick look around the shops near our hostel we finished the night off with a €12 bottle of Sangria. Free pour, baby!

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Supposed to wake up for a 9am free walking tour the next morning, we were lucky to make it to the 10am. Meeting our tour guide Juliana from ‘Sandemans New Madrid’ in the famous Plaza Mayor, she sent us around the corner to a supermarket to grab something for breakfast before we met the rest of the group. Oh My God. She sent us to heaven. This place put the SUPER in market. What turned out to be the shell of a church which was turned into an open market and then enclosed with glass panes, the San Miguel markets are beyond words. Like a gourmet tapas market, it was filled with a range of stores selling everything you could imagine in tapas style, so you could run around and fill try something from each shop. Needless to say we went back from dinner and breakfast the next morning.

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Once we reunited with the tour we were taken to the Worlds Oldest Restaurant, where we got the chance to look into the kitchen and see them preparing the most amazing looking suckling pig, as well as into the cellar which boasted bottles of wine from 1702. Legend has it that a girl once broke a bottle while in the cellar and her ghost is still seen in the kitchen cleaning dishes to pay for the damage. Eek!

We were treated to beautiful plazas and gardens surrounding the Royal Palace, churches, cafes, and fountains. We were shown the spot where an attempt was made to assassinate King Alfonso XIII on his wedding day by throwing a bouquet of flowers covering a bomb onto his bridal carriage. Unfortunately, while the bomb missed the King, it did kill 28 people and injured over 100. There is now a monument on the street and a bouquet of flowers placed on the balcony in which he stood to commemorate those lost.

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One of my favourite sites was the street with all the big banks. They were all such grand and beautiful buildings. In the middle of a large intersection sat a gorgeous fountain which Juliana told us could be drained through an underground passageway that linked the the bank’s gold vault as to drown anyone attempting to steal the gold. How James Bond is that!

After bidding Juliana farewell and tipping her appropriately, we headed to a supermarket, made some sandwiches (saving money!), tried to fit the rest of our ingredients in the overflowing hostel fridge, went for a shop on Gran Via (the main shopping street), and headed back to our beloved San Miguel Market for some paella among many other delicious treats.

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Around 10.30pm, when one would expect to be calling it a night if you weren’t already out, we headed to Puetra del Sol to meet Idoya, a local and friend of Sarah’s that she met on a train to Vienna a few years ago. Idoya kindly took us for the real Madrid experience, starting at a proper Spanish bar that she explained was easily identifiable by the florescent lights and €3 gin & tonics. After that we headed to a much trendier establishment called 1862 Dry Bar where I enjoyed at Singapore Sling, a type of cocktail that happens to be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, made by a bartender called Jesus. We starred in a short film that happened to be being filmed there, before heading off to the final bar where we struggled to finish one of the biggest gin & tonics I have ever seen (for only €5 of course) where we met some lovely people who had been having a bet about where we were from for ten minutes before building up the courage to ask us. Sarah ended up adding one of them on Facebook as she is moving to Sydney later in the year – what a social butterfly.

Groggy morning but made it to the station and on to the train headed for Cordoba. More on that later, loving Spain so far.

Adios!

N.B. This is a link to the free tour we did, as there are lots of different groups that meet in Plaza Mayor: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187514-d1913235-Reviews-SANDEMANs_NEW_Madrid_Tours-Madrid.html

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