Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Ladykillers (Play)

The Ladykillers is back in the West End from 29th June at the charming Vaudeville Theatre and I had the pleasure of seeing the show on Monday night. The play is Graham Linehan's (Father Ted, The IT Crowd) adaptation  of the classic Ealing Comedy, about a little old lady with an active imagination, who unwittingly takes in a band of criminals, who claim to be musicians needing a space to rehearse, but are actually plotting their next robbery.
Cast - The Ladykillers, picture from Londoneer
With familiar faces like Ralf Little (The Royle Family) and Simon Day (The Fast Show) cast in the motley crew of wrong-doers, and with Angela Thorne's innocent sweet old lady and her constant interruptions to the rehearsals, the play is a very, very silly, madcap adventure, with a very, very impressive set by Michael Taylor.

Go, see, I implore you not to laugh your socks off. Tickets start at £20.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Sleeper - Emily Barr (Review)

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Emily Barr's latest book, The Sleeper to review, so even though I have a thirty-book high pile at home, this book got fast-tracked to the top of the pile for immediate consumption.

From the back of the book, "Everyone thinks she has a happy life in Cornwall, married to the devoted Sam, but in fact she is desperately bored. When she is offered a new job that involves commuting to London by sleeper train, she meets Guy and starts an illicit affair. But then Lara vanishes from the night train without a trace. Only her friend Iris disbelieves the official version of events, and sets out to find her. For Iris, it is the start of a voyage that will take her further than she's ever travelled and on to a trail of old crimes and dark secrets. For Lara, it is the end of a journey that started a long time ago. A journey she must finish, before it destroys her..."

It's so hard to write about a book without giving away to much of the plot. The main characters are Lara, the one who disappears, and Iris, an acquaintance who tasks herself with finding Lara. Lara is a bored woman who lives with her sweet but dull husband, drowning in debt after failed IVF attempts. Iris is someone she barely knows and wants to get to know better but seems to always push other people away. When Lara disappears, it transpires that both women have pretty big secrets that they want to keep but that are inevitably all going to come out.

I really rated this book, like all of Emily's so far. I love Emily Barr. She is like, my favourite. Her books are great psychological thrillers, always containing a slightly messed up character who you can totally relate to, with so many twists and turns in the plot it's impossible to see what's coming next. I've now read all but two of her books, but they are firmly on my to-read list, because they are just so easy to read yet not at all chick-litty.

Emily was a journalist, but hankering for other things, she asked her boss if she could go backpacking and write a column on her travels. When they surprisingly said yes, she went off, and ended up with an idea for her first book, Backpack. Now she has written 12, and they're all brilliant. Nearly all of Emily's books have at least a portion that is set somewhere else, like Italy, France, Spain, Cuba and a few recently have been set partly in Cornwall, it's no surprise to find out that's where she lives. The Sleeper has an overseas section too, although you'll have to wait and see where.

The Sleeper is on sale from 4th July, RRP £7.99 but available from Foyles at £6.07. I recommend it highly. A great read for your commute, or if you're off on your travels, your sunlounger (I am jealous).

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Skipping over to Sydney

Our trip to Melbourne was a short one at only 2 weeks, holiday allowances and real life prevented us from going for longer, but naturally we wanted to see as much as we could. Before we travelled, we bought domestic flights to Sydney for an overnighter during the second week of our trip.

We booked through Jetstar which is an Australian budget airline to travel early on a Tuesday morning (flight time 85 mins) and return on Wednesday evening, which cost $136/£90 each including booking fees. As we were there for one night only, we took just hand luggage. We used our return ticket for the shuttle bus from our hotel to the airport, although as we landed back in Melbourne late on the Wednesday night, we had to take the Skybus from the airport back to the City ($17 each) and then the tram back to our hotel.

Sydney is incredible. We travelled mid May so the getting deeper into Australian winter, but the weather in Sydney was much better than in Melbourne, and we had two very warm sunny days. When we arrived we took the Airport Link (approx $16) train straight to Circular Quay and stopped for a coffee overlooking the harbour and the incredible Sydney Opera House. We strolled into the Botanical Gardens and then around the harbour to The Rocks, where we visited the tourist information centre to pick up leaflets, and found a cafe for a breakfast burrito. Our bags were getting heavy so we took the 555 free city shuttle bus down to Museum to find our hotel and drop our bags off.
The Opera House
Harbour Bridge

City from the Opera House


Harbour Bridge
We stayed at the Cambridge Hotel ($119) in the leafier Surry Hills area, which I'd booked through Our room was pretty nice, a decent sized twin room with a bath and shower and mini bar. I always thought that Sydney was far more spread out that it is, so I was expecting far more of a mission to reach our hotel, but it was easy peasy. My only real gripe with it was that they charged for wi-fi. I mean, who does that, in this day and age!? In Australia, loads of bars and cafes have free wi-fi so I decided to forgo it on this occasion.

Bags dropped, we headed back to the 555 route bus stop to travel the rest of the circular route back to the Quay and took a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art. My mum, bless her, contemporary art isn't really up her street, and I must admit I can find it pretty puzzling, so while we walked around I tried to understand the point of all the installations and exhibits, but she just assumed her usual position of muttering, "weird... weird" until we left. The Museum has a sweet little shop selling all manner of interesting gifts and books though, so naturally we had a potter. Kati's main thrill in life is a gift shop.

We took another coffee stop and bought our tickets for the ferry to Darling Harbour ($5.80 each). We must have timed this trip just about right, as we ended up making the trip just as the sun began to set so I got some gorgeous shots of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and it was a very peaceful ride. It was interesting to see the other people on board as some, like us were tourists, but others were just commuters. And what a commute. I know we have our Thames Clippers, which I haven't yet had the pleasure of using, but we rarely actually have the weather to make it as spectacular as this trip.
The Opera House from the Ferry 
Harbour Bridge just before sunset
Sunset from the ferry
Once there, we took a walk around the shiny new Darling Harbour area, crammed with restaurants and bars, all with various happy hour offerings. We walked past Madame Tussauds and spied an actual koala in a tree in the foyer, so ogled him for a while before I got totally papped with Eric Bana, awkward.
I promise there's a koala in there
Chillin' with Eric
Darling Harbour also has a big entertainment centre with cinemas, a Chinese Garden (alas, shut by the time we got there), a shopping centre and galleries and museums. We took a wander around the Harbourside Shopping Centre, and spent a while chatting to an English ex-pat who ran an Aboriginal art shop. We headed back to a restaurant my sister's friend had recommended, The Helm, where we both tucked into enormous seafood paellas at $25 each, and glasses of wine for $5 each. Helm does daily offers on food, but that night was steak night, and neither of us fancied it, but a $10 steak is surely not to be sniffed at. We sat outside as it was a lovely evening, overlooking the Harbour. It was very quiet due to being a Tuesday night, so we had the barman's full attention. As we rocked up at about 18:45, he suggested we ordered two drinks each before the 7pm deadline for happy hour, and he'd bring over the second when we were ready, which was very nice of him. The dinner was luscious, and sated us entirely. I do hate a seafood paella which has a couple of measly prawns in, but this one was massively generous. Afterwards we started to walk to find some transportation back to our hotel, but ended up being able to walk it in just over 20 minutes which shows how easy it is to get around Sydney.

On Day 2 we checked out, but were able to leave our bags with the hotel, so we hopped straight on a 333 bus to Bondi Beach, which took about 20-30 minutes. Bondi is spectacular. I loved it and wanted to stay all day and just stare at it, but with only a day left in Sydney we knew we had to head back, so we grabbed a hearty breakfast (God, avocado with everything, I love this place) and bussed back to the city and to the Domain and Botanical Gardens.
Me on Bondi rocks
Bondi Brekkie
We entered the parkland at noon, and as we did, hundreds of city workers poured in in their sports gear. Everyone was running, playing football or frisbee and generally exercising (there was a half marathon on the following weekend, so I expect many runners were training for that). And after seeing the runners and surfers at Bondi that morning, it was clear that it would be difficult to live in Sydney and not exercise. The weather and the open spaces are made for it.
Botanical Gardens
The City from the Domain
After wandering through the Botanical Gardens we decided to hit the shops so headed back on the 555 bus to George Street where the shops are at. I found a Kinokuniya bookshop which I loved, after experiencing the store in Tokyo last year, selling loads of Egnlish, Japanese and Chinese books which I loved browsing and could have spent all day in. Then we headed down to Paddy's Markets and Chinatown. When we reached the market, we headed up the escalators and found ourselves in Market City which wasn't quite what we expected as this was more of a mall than a market. Mum nursed a cup of tea as her little legs were hurting while I scoped out our surroundings. It was basically a mall stuffed with discount stores, so I found a Cotton On and Cotton on Body outlet, in which I picked up yet more cute PJ shorts, and once she'd recovered mum picked up a silk robe like she'd been looking for for $10.

We stopped a passer-by and found that the actual market was downstairs, and there we found a much more markety vibe, with knock-off handbags and tonnes of cheap souvenirs, way cheaper and exactly the same as we'd seen in more upmarket gift shops, so we stocked up on as much as we'd be able to fit in out hand luggage. For mum, this was tea towels galore, and for me, a set of wooden Aborigine style coasters which were $10 instead of the $18+ I'd seen them sold for in Melbourne.

Late afternoon, we headed back to our hotel to pick up our bags, and took a wander along Surry Hills' Crown Street were we found vintage shops and opp shops galore. We picked up a tasty burrito from the very cool Cantina Mobil and made our way to the station where we found a nearby bar with wi-fi for a quick drink and email check, and then we were on our way Melbournewards once more.

I loved Sydney. I loved Melbourne. I can't decide which I liked better. I feel closer to Melbourne but I spent 12 days there, compared to 2 in Sydney. I found it perhaps a shinier city, and everything was more compact, whereas Melbourne is rather sprawling. The weather is generally better too from what I gather, it certainly was for those two days. But then the people in Melbourne seemed friendlier. I would jump at the chance to spend more time in both cities so I could decide! Any offers to take me back?

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

This week I are been mostly...

  • Flathunting. We live in North London but are looking to relocate to South London. The fiance is moving back to Sheffield to finish uni so my flatmate and I are looking for a new pad. This occasionally means we end up looking at things we can't afford. But that's part of the fun, right? We have so much viewings lined up, we don't know what we are doing anymore.
  • Eating Ben and Jerry's. Our local shop is doing it half price, so between the 3 of us, we are keeping the fridge well stocked. Favourites are Half Baked and the Vermonster but I got my eye on Peanut Butter Me Up.
  • Buying pretty dresses. I got this Yumi treasure from Rhoda in Crouch End for £30 on Saturday.

  • Realising it's now less than a year til our wedding, and bar the venue, nothing is booked in. Cue a million emails to photographers, marquee hire places and DJs.
  • Watching Arrested Development. Late to the party as usual, but we're watching a couple of episodes with dinner most evenings so catching up quickly.
  • Gymming it. I have Pru Health private medical cover through work, which also gets me 50% off membership at Virgin Active, so I've been heading to the Strand branch to work out after work. Which makes up in a small way for all the ice cream. I love the yoga and pilates classes, and have enjoyed a swim tonight. The pool is only 16m so I had to do 65 lengths to cover 1km! One of the gym instructors has also put me together a killer circuits workout, so I should have arms like Madonna (or something less scary) in no time.
  • Remembering. My Boy's Nanna died last week, aged 79. She had been diagnosed with Dementia a couple of years ago and was in a bad way. Her funeral was yesterday so we popped to Essex to remember her with the family. Dementia is a horrible, horrible, undignified thing but she was a brilliant, feisty woman and I am choosing to remember her that way. Should you so wish, you can donate to Dementia UK here.
  • Laughing: My flatmate introduced me to Louis CK yesterday. Very funny. Live at the Beacon Theatre is available on Netflix.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Melbourne: Eating

It's been a month since I was in Melbourne. Time flies right? I was thinking about this post, thinking, "urgh, no too much time has passed, there's no way I am going to remember what I ate and where", but after thinking about it for all of about ten seconds, the food memories came flooding back.

My sister and I base everything on food. She's 22, I'm 28. I once said to her, "do you remember when we went to Great Yarmouth?" ad she said "is that where we  went to the Little Chef?". Yes, yes it was, and you were 7 years old. And you still remember sausages, chips and beans in Little Chef?! Food is so evocative though, isn't it? Anyway, I digress.

When we landed in Melbourne it was early morning. We went to the hotel to drop our bags, then my sister and one of her friends met us there and we went to one of their favourite spots for some breakfast. This was the first of 3 trips to La Roche, because it was bloody good. They do deals on food every day of the week. At weekends, it's breakfast, and when I tasted this breakfast I thought, "I think I'm gonna like it here". The breakfast consists of eggs poached, fried or scrambled on toasted Turkish bread with bacon, sausage, tomato & hash brown. Simple but effective. The poached eggs were like perfect teardrops. Amazing.

Our further two trips to La Roche were on Monday nights. Monday is when they do Surf and Turf for just $17.50 and boy is it tasty?! A great big steak topped with big juicy prawns and an amazing garlic sauce, with chips of course. Wine is just $5 a glass during happy hour, so a glass of red wine with that and you've just had, like the best meal ever for £12. Mum spent the whole of the following week saying, "I don't care we go to eat as long as we can go back to La Roche next Monday for Surf and Turf again." Fine by me! We went back, but this time I had a chicken parma, an Australian classic. It was an enormous chicken escalope covered in cheese, it was so big it covered the plate. The fries were hidden underneath, there was so little room left. Incredible.
Surf and Turf
Mexican Chicken Parma at La Roche
Melbourne has a number of foodhalls, inexpensive places to get lunch which quite frankly poop all over our foodhalls which normally contain a Spud-u-Like, a McDonalds and a Harry Ramsdens. Lacklustre. One of the best I found was at Southgate Plaza, right by the Yarra and Flinders Street station, which has Mexican at Salsa's (lovely burritos to rival our Chilango) and Rhumbas for great tapas and Italian food, the counter is full of mouthwateringly good-looking arancini and piadini. Then there's sushi, Chinese, Indian, a juice bar, coffee shops and a bit of everything. There's also some sit-down restaurants like Wagamama (which I didn't realise they had in Oz), bars (including an ice bar) and some more upmarket fare. Being part of an office complex, this place gets pretty busy at lunchtime, but after nabbing a table it was fun to people-watch and see what everyone else was having.

Down the road from Southgate Plaza is the impressive Crown Melbourne, boasting a huge casino, hotels (the luxe Crown Metropole included), spas, luxury shopping, another great food hall and restaurants galore. On one of our first days in the city we walked in and had a good gander at everything and spied a fancy seafood place, The Atlantic which is hard to miss with window displays crammed with succulent crabs, lobsters and oysters.

Over the next couple of days I realised that it was Mother's Day in Australia while we were there, and my poor old mum had a crappy UK Mother's Day, my present was late and my sister probably didn't even acknowledge it, as she lives in Australia so wasn't subjected to the same marketing messages that we were here. So I emailed the restaurant and booked a table, pulled my sister aside and told her the plan and on Sunday we managed to gear her over to that side of town right in time for our booking. So we suggested walking through the complex because it had just started to rain (for once, rain was welcome) and as we strolled through, I said "Let's just take a look at that divine menu again. Oh isn't it lovely? Such a shame we can't go here. Except we can because I have a table booked in 3 minutes time." Mum was swept off her feet, delighted and very, very surprised. We had the feasting menu which consisted of oysters and prawns, luscious soft shell crab and barramundi, fries and salad and a delicious cassonade for dessert. Everything was delicious. The feasting menu is $60 each (£40). We checked out the wine list but the prices made me want to cry a bit so we opted for water and carried on our tradition of $5 supermarket wine back in our hotel room. Heathens like us wouldn't appreciate fine wine anyway!
Oysters and Prawns at the Atlantic
Barramundi,Soft Shell Crab and Fries at the Atlantic
Another highlight was Joe's in St Kilda, which is a really cool, fairly new diner selling American nosh with an Australian twist. The food was incredible, we opted for several plates and shared because we just wanted a bit of everything, so we had kranski sausage, soft shell crab, harissa chicken, fries and a chickpea salad. There was a relaxed vibe, it was clean and the staff were really helpful, and the final bill was modest too.

We had so many other amazing meals in Melbourne, including Mexican at Taco Bill which is a very reasonable sit-down restaurant, lovely authentic Thai food, fantastic Greek cuisine in the now miniscule Greek Quarter and so so much more. We happened upon a down and dirty takeaway establishment which was newly opened on Chapel Street, the Cheeky Prawn. As it was newly opened, they were boasting 50% off selected items on the menu (they were pretty vague about how long the deal was for, "oh maybe a few weeks?"). We each had the soft shell crab burger (are you spotting a theme yet?) which was delicious and came to something ridiculous like $5 each, and we shared a seafood chowder which is the best I've ever eaten. It's fast food like with its formica tables and plastic cutlery, but damn I wish we had something like it in the UK.
Enchilada Nuevo Mexico, Taco Bills
Our final night was spent at Cafe Cavallino on Lygon Street which is the Italian part of town. There are tonnes of Italian restaurants, some with staff outside trying to tempt the tourists in. My sister had asked an Italian friend for recommendations, and she told us where to go and where to avoid. We opted for Cavallino. We wanted to tick off as many main food types as possible, and Italian is a big part of Melbourne's culture. The whole place is covered in Formula 1 memorabilia and has cute gingham tablecloths so it does feel like you're in a southern Italian ristorante. The menu was huge, so much choice, so we spent ages poring over it. I've just had another look at the menu and I can't actually remember which one I had, it was so vast. But I know this: we all agreed it was one of the best pizzas we've ever eaten, far better than UK chain restaurant fare.

N.B. My favourite ever Italian Restaurants in the UK for authentic Italian are La Pizzeria Italiana, Catford, and BB's, Sheffield.

Other highlights included:
These enormous sushi rolls were$2 each
  • Sushi. It's everywhere. It's cheap. Try Edo Sushi and Noodles on Degraves Street.
  • A deep fried scallop. I mean, can you even imagine a better way to debase such a delicate thing? It's amazing. Funk Fish, Queen Victoria Market
  • Gooey cakes at the famous Ackland Street bakeries. apparently Monarch is the best.
  • The coffee. Almost anywhere. Our chainstore fare in the UK sucks in comparison.
Because Melbourne is such a multi-cultural city, you can get almost any food, from any place, at any time. It's incredible. I want to go back, there's a million restarants I didn't get to try, and what better way to live your life than by a food bucket list?

Friday, 7 June 2013

Glamping Fun

I interrupt this spate of posts about Australia, to bring you one about something a little closer to home! This weekend, I went on a dear old friend's hen party, which was a glamping trip in the Kent countryside, not far from our hometown, at Bloomsburys Biddenden.

Bloomsburys used to be a garden centre, but has recently had a revamp and transformed itself into a lovely relaxing tearoom/restaurant, arts centre, complete with farm shop and glamping site. Being so closed to home, I got the train to Ashford International straight from work and got my mum to drive me to the site and pick me up again on Sunday which was uber-handy, but other girls who took the train went to nearby Headcorn and got a taxi, or drove, it's easily reachable from Tunbridge Wells, Ashford or Maidstone.

We had a lovely teepee decked out with mattresses for five of us, a large tent with a terrace (with actual real beds) and a caravan, which was a little musty but had a kitchenette with a fridge which was promptly filled with prosecco for the do as well as a 2 bedrooms, one was empty but for a mirror so that was used as the hairstyling room by us 16-odd girls. We had electricity and thus heaters in both tents, and loads of benches and space outside to spread ourselves out. 

There seemed to be another two groups on site, but we all had plenty of space to ourselves, one group was another much quieter hen do and another a mixed group who seemed to be having a blast, but nobody got in each others way and there was no cause for complaint between any of us about noise.

The bathrooms on site were fab, four cubicles with a toilet, sink and decent shower, which were in the main hot enough. One of my concerns usually when camping is the bathrooms so when I heard this place had luxury bathrooms I thought, "do they, do they really?" but I was pleasantly surprised by the facilities available.

On Friday night, we had ourselves a barbeque with food the bridesmaids had ordered beforehand before lighting outselves a campfire and toasting marshmallows, and then popping away from a dip in the hot tub. Nb: first proper summer Friday evening + hot tub + prosecco = good times.

On Saturday morning, the bridesmaids had arranged for a local beautician, Sophie to come and do mini treatments for everyone that wanted them for a very reasonable price per person. I was weighing up massage versus manicure but after seeing one of the other girls coming back from her massage absolutely blissed out, I knew I had to go for that, and it was 20 minutes of heaven.

We had afternoon tea at the venue, which was a little later than planned. The people that run it are very laidback, and despite being told several times we wanted the tea at 2pm, they prepared it for 3pm.  This was the only real gripe though, because they are so laidback, we were left to our own devices for the duration.

The staff were helpful and clearly described to us the sandwich fillings and cake flavours I personally found the afternoon tea a little sparse, but then I like to eat a lot of food., I could have done with someone else's portion!

We took a mini bus to Tunbridge Wells where we had a refined cocktail in Hotel Du Vin, doled out the dare cards and tottered off to Pitcher and Piano, for more, far less refined drinks and dancing. Luckily, everyone abandoned the dare cards pretty quickly, mine was to go to the bar with my skirt tucked into my knickers so you can imagine my relief! The minibus driver from Clarkes arrived to collect us at 02:30 and we headed back to baseglamp, where we had a hilarious time trying to find the footpath leading to the side gate, as the main gate had been locked. The "footpath" was an unlit mudbath so this took about 20 minutes, with 16 girls shrieking as mud oozed into their peeptoes!

If you're planning a hen do or just a holiday in this area I thoroughly recommend this. Here is what the weekend cost me, which is obviously based on our own itinerary and approx 16 glampers (a couple of the girls could only stay one fo the two nights)

£40 glamping
£13.50 high tea
£8 treatment (based on a deal offered by Sophie)
£5 hot tub
£25 Food and drink (the bridesmaids did an online food shop at Tesco and had it delivered to one of their houses before arriving)
£13.50 Minibus
£21.20 Train to Ashford from London (with Network railcard)
The rest is up to you...

The contact details for Bloomsburys are:

If you want to speak to Sophie about potential beauty treatments at the site or elsewhere locally, you'll find her website here.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Melbourne: Staying and Seeing

More on Melbourne, I only got back last Saturday but already it feels like a distant memory, so I am trying to get it all down before I forget any of the lovely details.

We flew with Royal Brunei Airlines as it was the cheapest option with the best flight times for us, at just over £700 each. We flew Friday evening and landed Sunday mornings, with stop-offs in Dubai for refuelling and in Brunei which meant we had the opportunity to stretch our legs every 7 hours or so (though at Brunei not so much space to do so, the airport is tiny). The middle leg of the journey was perfection, as a lot of people disembarked at Dubai, meaning we had loads of space to spread out (no such luck on the way back). I can't fault the airline, the service we received, and the food was pretty good for plane food too. It's a Muslim airline so there is no booze served on board but to be honest that doesn't bother me as I always get really dehydrated during a flight.

We booked the Cosmopolitan Hotel a couple of months before we travelled via's Top Secret Hotels and we got a real bargain at around £550 for 12 nights instead of £750. We'd toyed with finding an apartment and doing self catering, but we ended up going for the hotel option as it was better value, and we could use the saving we made for eating out, it was a holiday after all!

The hotel was great. We'd asked for a twin room (I didn't fancy sharing a bed with my mum for two weeks) and the room we got was huge, with a double and two singles, so it must have been a family room. There was loads of extra space which was great for a long stay as we actually felt comfortable, some hotel rooms are so poky you don't want to spend any time in them. The room came equipped with a mini fridge, air conditioning, a hairdryer and TV with DVD player and free wifi (although signal could be pretty weak, on a couple of occasions I had to go to the hotel reception and hover just to upload a photo). The hotel staff were really helpful and were flexible enough to let us check in early when we arrived after the long journey, and were also able to help with airport shuttle bookings and local information, and there were DVDs and magazines to borrow in reception, along with a computer for guest use.

The location was great too, just off Ackland Street in St Kilda and 5 minutes from the beach, with a tram stop just over the road to get into Melbourne which took about 20 minutes. Being out of the city and right by the beach just added to the holiday feel. The trams start pretty early so a couple of times we were woken by that, and we had been told that St Kilda was pretty lively too. To be honest on a couple of nights there were some shouty folk loitering outside the hostel/club opposite but in the main it was pretty peaceful, maybe it wouldn't be so much in the height of the Australian summertime. Breakfast wasn't included in our rate and was pretty pricy (hotel breakfast always is) but there were plenty of cafes nearby for breakfast. We opted to go to a nearby supermarket and bought raisin bread and some butter and had that in the mornings if we weren't dining out.

Now for the sights:

My sister, who we went to visit bought us some iVenture cards, which cost $50 and can be used at a number of attractions in Melbourne. We used ours for a one hour Melbourne River Cruise which is usually $23 dollars per adult, as well as entry to Melbourne Aquarium, normally $35, and Old Melbourne Gaol, normally $25 again, so the pass was well worth the money.

The river cruise on the Yarra, departing from Docklands gave us a leisurely start to our trip, the day after we arrived still up to the eyeballs with jetlag, a relaxing one-hour cruise with live commentary and complimentary tea and coffee on board

At the aquarium, a great attraction for kids (or big ones) there's plenty to see in terms of colourful fish, fancy seahorses and sharks, but the highlight for us was the King and Gentoo Penguins. We spent ages watching them eating, swimming and playing, my sister and I were completely giddy!

The Old Melbourne Gaol was an interesting place where you can learn about infamous Australian criminal Ned Kelly, as well and conditions in the gaol, along with the history of the place. You can also opt for the Watchhouse experience, where a prisonguard treats the group present like they're actual criminals including locking you in a cell! That was quite an experience. For this portion, they warn of "adult themes" but there was a couple with a small child in our group so I think the guard toned it down a bit on this occasion.

We also took ourselves to the Immigration Museum, which gives the history of Melbourne in terms of the migrant population that have made the city what it is. The whole museum (and my whole experience in Melbourne) gave me the impression that the attitude in Melbourne is "come on in, there's enough for everybody", which is refreshing when you're faced with bigoted attitudes in Britain about foreigners "coming over here and taking all our jobs". There was an incredible moving photography exhibition called "Leaving Dublin" by Irish photographer David Monahan, about Irish people coming to Australia seeking a better life. Their despair at their current situation and apparent hope of more prosperous times in Australia was really touching,  I am actually welling up just thinking about it. My sister lives in a house with 14 other English and Irish young people, and their views match the tone of the exhibition, they don't feel like there's anything for them at home. If you happen to be visiting Melbourne before 25th August, I recommend it. Entry is $10 per adult, but free for concessions, so my pensioner mum and student sister got in for free. Before going here we went to the Melbourne Visitor Centre at Federation Square and picked up loads of attractions brochures, some of which had coupons inside, so I was able to redeem a 20% off voucher at the museum and paid only $8.

On arrival in Melbourne we found out that the Hollywood Costume exhibition from the V&A was in town, I missed it's London tenure so we went along to that ($19.50 per adult). It was at the ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) at the incredible Federation Square. It was so incredible to see Vivien Leigh's green curtain dress from Gone with the Wind, Audrey Hepburn's ultimate LBD from Breakfast at Tiffany's and an array of costumes from the Mighty Meryl's back catalogue. The ACMI's permanent exhibition is pretty awesome too with loads of interactive activities for kids and a load on Australian film (Baz Luhrmann, y'all). The Hollywood Costume exhibition remains at the the ACMI until Sunday 18th August.

Hollywood in Melbourne, ACMI

Federation Square
In terms of European exhibitions mum really wanted to check out Monet's Garden, whose work was on display at the National Gallery of Victoria, on loan from Paris. This was a lovely peaceful exhibition, especially the film which depicted the last day of the season at Giverny. we paid $26 each for entry to Monet but the rest of the museum was free entry so we enjoyed checking out the European and Asian art and the small but perfectly formed Dior and Yamamoto exhibition, as well as the Ballet and Fashion exhibit. 

A major trip highlight was a day trip to the Great Ocean Road with AAT Kings. We got the best possible weather that day, it was hot and sunny, perfect viewing conditions. We went through Anglesea, Lorne, Apollo Bay up to the Twelve Apostles and finished at London Bridge in time for sunset. The coach driver gave a lot of information throughout the tour and was very helpful throughout. The tour cost $120 which included lunch at the Apollo Bay Hotel. I wouldn't bother taking the lunch option. It was $21 extra but when we got there we were given menus showing a limited number of dishes from the main menu which were all priced $15-17 each. It was also a bit downmarket and my portion of fish and chips was miniscule, it hardly resembled the luxe surroundings and large tray of succulent prawns displayed in the brochure. The driver mentioned that there were plenty of places to eat in the area for the benefit of those who hadn't had lunch included and we ended up wishing we'd gone for something different.

Regardless of the lunch aspect (to be honest, we ate enough other glorious food across the rest of the trip so it wasn't much of a hardship, yet another post to come on food later!), this was one of the best days, with glorious weather and breathtaking scenery. Here's some snapshots.

On our last full day in Melbourne, we took a trip to Melbourne Zoo ($26.10 per adult) which is just a short train ride away. It was a rainy day, in fact it never stopped, but we got to see some giant things (elephants), fluffy things (bears), some cute things (penguins, seals, meerkats) and some downright scary things (snakes). It was so great seeing the kangaroos, penguins, emus, koalas and platypus and acting like a kid with my sister. That night, as we made our way back to the hotel, we were talking about all the great, Australian things we'd seen on the trip when a possum ran along the wall next to us - FULL HOUSE!

There's so much to see and do in Melbourne, I know there's probably loads more that I haven't even touched on, there's something for everyone in this amazing, multicultural city, I loved every moment.