Diving into the Maldives

The lap around the island took us a whole two minutes to walk. It was beautiful from every angle. Water the colour of blue jelly and a sprinkling of icing sugar sand. Only accessible by seaplane, fish swam just inches from the beach and there was the most soothing silence all around.

The day was shaped, not by time, but by the strength of the sun, the service of food, and the occasional shower that did nothing but delay the drying of your bikini by a minute or two.

Days started just as they ended; swimming off the back deck among fields of coral and fish. Floating in the saltiest sea water required little effort, and thus was enjoyed until the salt dried on the tips of our noses. The sun hitting the soft teal-blue ripples caused diamond-like sparkles. You could call it something like Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The view above the water, though, is almost rivaled by the view beneath. Sinking to fifteen metres, him a little more, we danced with turtles and drifted by glittering fish.

If you ever find yourself in the sinking state, we’d recommend drifting to Drift.

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A Christmas in the Country

Off to Orange we go, after a quick pit stop in Thirlmere for his family Christmas (it’s on the way, right?). Loaded with ham, turkey and all the trimmings, plus some pretty sweet Santa sacks, we messaged mum to get the Christmas pudding in the oven and hit the road.

It would be the first time in a while that the whole family would be together again and with the parents considering moving to Orange permanently, it was kinda sorta a big deal. I’d been promised wine, wineries and warm weather, which sounded like a win to me.

Day 1.
A second round of Christmas was toasted with an early coffee from Byng Street Local Store, a meander around Cook Park, a fiddle with my new drone, plums freshly picked from the trees lining the streets outside, and a table set with a 1986 Penfolds. Adorned with Santa hats we cracked crackers, swapped stories, mesmerised with magic, and drank a drop or two. Or three. Okay, it was five.

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Day 2.
Once more shops had begun to swing open their doors again after the Christmas break, we headed to the new local Omar by Academy Coffee where we ended up staying much longer than expected after he started talking to the two guys behind the machine about coffee. No surprises there. But with the promise of a menu filled with bagels to start in the next few days, we promised to be back again soon.

A breakfast big enough to fill our Christmas-stretched stomachs at The Agrestic Grocer, followed by a visit to Thornbrook Orchard to try our hand at fruit picking (one of the last surviving forms of slavery in Australia, according to Jack). If the kilo of apricots we got for $6 didn’t fill us up, the trip to Lake Canobolas for a picnic of Christmas leftovers surely did.

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It was a chilled afternoon in front of the cricket, as he was getting a withdrawal headache from being away from it for too long, followed by a pub crawl with the parents. First stop was to the Union Bank, sitting in the beer garden staring up at the ivy covered building while sipping on a lychee spritz. Then just around the corner to the Lord Anson, an old-school English pub where we feasted like kings on chicken parmys the size of our face, which I managed to finish much to his surprise and pleasure for not having put money on it. Last but not least, we ventured to the Greenhouse, a new nine-million dollar wonderland on top of the Orange Ex-Services Club, where mum tried to sign in using her library card, and we considered buying a beer tower each but settled on a wine just because of the way the Spanish guy behind the bar said it.

Day 3.
Rise and shine and off to Racine Bakery for a breakfast of baked goods, before heading back to Omar by Academy where we are now ‘known’ enough for him to get a free coffee thrown in to his already three-shot coffee order. Convincing ourselves that it’s definitely 5pm somewhere in the world, we headed to Ross Hill Wines for the 10am tour and tasting, and were taught all the tricks of the trade by owner James Robson himself. Having tried ten wines by twelve, and now be able to talk about tannin, comment on climate and organise oak from tank, we learned that not all chardys are crap and that white wine can be cellared (if you can wait that long). Oh, and that Ross Hill is the goods.

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Next we headed to Heifer Station where I not only got introduced to my spirit animal, the llama, but also two baby llamas, along with the most randomly awesome chickens I have ever seen, a Shetland pony, and a solid-looking sheep called Brutus. Oh yeah, and there was wine. Orange is definitely starting to grow on me.

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With the hangover starting to kick in around 2pm, which is never a good sign, we headed to Groundstone Cafe for some hip food before a solid siesta in the afternoon. You know what they say – start early, end early. Just in this case it was very very early.

Having become regulars at the Racine Bakery, for dinner that night we headed to Racine La Colline, the restaurant behind the institution. Up a winding, vine-lined dirt road we found the beautiful restaurant sitting atop the hill, picturesque water tank dripping in ivy, a garden overflowing with roses and lavender, and the smell of fresh hay. Three beautiful courses were enjoyed with the sun beating softly against my city skin. Best of all, Thursday night are training night, so we both enjoyed ourselves for only $50 a pop.

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Day 4.
We made pack-up day a picking day by heading to Huntley Berry Farm on our way home. A non-for-profit farm run to support those with a disability where visitors are free to roam the paddocks of produce, picking from the plentiful berry trees and vines and pay by the kilo at the end. We scored strawberries, the best blueberries, the ripest raspberries and my first mulberries. There is heaps to choose from, even vegetables. Highly recommended.

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So Orange, with your wine and your weather, your coffee and your croissants, your rolling hills and restaurants, you’re a place I wouldn’t mind calling my second home.

You have my tick of approval, mum and dad.

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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