Playing, swimming, having fun…

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Finding a place to live.

It’s been a while since I last posted. There’s no excuse really, except to say that we are keeping ourselves very busy out here, and taking some time out to ponder things and write it all down has taken a back seat.

Peter and I, a few years ago, stayed in a hostel in Brazil where the main attraction come supper time was a massive barbecue buffet. You bought a ticket and sat down to wait at a table whilst a procession of kitchen staff laid out mouth-watering platters of meats and vegetables, potatoes, salads and other barbecued delights. No one was allowed to approach the buffet until your table was called.

In hindsight, making people wait was a good idea, what would have been a stampede of slavering, slobbering backpackers was carefully managed into a civilised orderly queue of a few people delicately picking over the food. Except that wasn’t how it went, of course. As each table was called, we watched as more and more plates were gluttonously piled higher than was necessary, you could sense the waiting travellers growing more and more anxious as they could see the pile of steaks quickly decreasing and mentally calculating how many people were left to be called against the levels of burgers and jacket potatoes on the trays.

Backpackers aren’t polite, thoughtful creatures with small appetites, they are greedy and underfed and, when faced with an array of deliciously charred fare, they’re not going to be shy of getting their fill. When it is finally your turn to be called, you jump up and take a plate, and help yourself to what is left, silently despairing at not having had a chance to taste one of the prawn kebabs, or a spoonful of the guacamole. And as you walk back to your table you notice people have left their plates, with uneaten lamb chops and discarded bread rolls quietly giving you the rage.

The accompanying feeling of being made to wait your turn (it always seemed we were amongst the last to be called) and hoping against all odds that there will still be a corn on the cob left unpicked, or a rare steak left behind has forever been known in our house as ‘Buffet Anxiety’. I’m sure this is a thing. I hate the feeling of unfairness when people in a group are not treated equally or fairly, when some choose to have two of something, knowing that that will almost certainly mean others going without. Maybe it’s being a middle child? Maybe it’s just because I really like barbecue?

What was the point of that Rio-based rant? The last entry to my blog alluded to the very stressful process we were about to take part in, namely, finding a place to live. The Sydney rentals market has seemingly been designed to bring out the very worst case of Buffet Anxiety, and increase blood pressure to dangerous levels. For a start rentals here are advertised in a two to three week window and some are long gone before they’ve even been viewed, so you have to move fast. There is no thinking, or discussing time, you see it, you like it, you apply for it. Along with thirty other people. No one really gets a fair chance at the rental buffet table.

The inspections (viewings) take place over a ridiculously short timeframe; it’s quite common to see houses advertised as being open for inspection between 12 and 12.15pm. That’s it. That’s all it takes. And very, very many people may show up. All clamouring for the agent’s attention, all desperate to appear as the ideal rental candidate. And that’s not forgetting that your main aim at one of these things should be to view the property, see if it would suit, if your furniture would fit, if all the doors are still on their hinges. In most cases it would seem you cast a speedy eye over the place, agree that it’s not awful and decide to apply.

As it happens, we were very lucky with our first inspection. We spied a place online that looked perfect, went to see it for the allocated fifteen minutes, spent approximately five seconds confirming it was good enough, and the rest of the time chatting up the agent and making sure they would remember us when time came to sort the rental dream wheat from the nightmare tenant chaff. We spent a good few hours filling out the nightmare application form, where they require eleventy billion separate forms of ID, a comprehensive rental history, credit score, bank statements, cheque book, personal and professional references, blood types, breakfast cereal preferences and whether I sleep on the right or the left side of the bed. (I may have exaggerated for comic effect, I mean, who has a cheque book these days!?)

We heard back after a week that we had got the house. Fantastic news really. I just can’t remember a thing about the place. It might not even have any doors, I really didn’t look very hard. It has a wine cellar though, so the essentials are covered.

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Two laptops, two ipads, two iphones and three folders full of paperwork. It still took four hours to fill out the application form.

Settling into Sydney Life

Hello and welcome to this week’s update. We have been having more Sydney fun in the sun, and there is lots to report, so settle in for my ‘Sydney Sunday Summary’. (With thanks to fellow blogger and friend TheQuirkyBrunette for ‘borrowing’ that phrase).

On our first Sunday here in Sydney we were kindly invited to dinner with an ex-pat colleague of Peter’s and his family. They live in a beautiful house in Cremorne Point, which enjoys this amazing view:

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If you want a daily reminder of the beauty of the city in which you live then this is clearly the place to be! Not only did our hosts show us around Cremorne, which included a quick dip in the lovely Maccallum outdoor rock pool and a gander at the Cremorne Point lighthouse, they cooked us an ever-so-British bangers and mash! It was like being back home for a brief porky moment.

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Maccallum’s Pool

Phoebe is now happily settled into her new pre-school, and with a big ‘phew’ I can report she is having a great time. I was worried with the big changes to everything else in her life that she’d struggle to settle into a new school, but after only four sessions she now (mostly) happily waves Henry and me off in the mornings. It helps that the facilities are really wonderful, with a massive garden with a sandpit and climbing frame. Even Henry likes escaping out into the garden at drop off and pick up time and playing with the other children, which makes me think he’ll love pre-school when the time finally comes to send him as well.

Mosman, and indeed Sydney, is surrounded by harbour beaches, coves and inlets, and we are slowly exploring as many as we can. The following weekend we went to Sirius Cove for a morning paddle, and to work on our sandcastle building skills. and then in the week I went with Henry to Clifton Gardens, both lovely local beaches, with adjacent playgrounds and lovely views. The beauty of having so many outdoor spaces nearby is that nothing ever feels too busy. When we visited Clifton Gardens on an overcast Monday morning Henry and I had the place to ourselves!

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Sirius Cove

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Clifton Gardens

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Not the kind of warning we’d need back home!

We have also become ‘Friends of Taronga Zoo’, which is posh for ‘we have a year-long visitors pass’. We have already visited three times, and because we have the pass it means we can just potter around looking at what takes our fancy, rather than rush around trying to fit it all in in one manic visit. Today, at Phoebe’s request, we visited the kangaroos, the lemurs and the gorillas.

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I’m sure no-one in the UK will have any sympathy for this next snippet of Sydney life, but we got thoroughly rained on tropical-style the other day when we went for a walk. I knew it was looking a bit drizzly so threw the waterproofs on the kids and headed out, but since it was still warm I decided I’d risk it in just my vest and shorts. Big mistake. When we finally got home I was utterly soaked through, but Phoebe had had a good time (Henry slept through the whole thing in the buggy, so just had very soggy legs). So, take heart, Brits, it’s not all sunshine and sandcastles over here!!

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Soggy walks

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Phoebe running from the thunder

After three weeks living in central Mosman we moved to a new apartment in Balmoral, and we are very spoiled with both the location and this view:

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We probably won’t end up permanently renting a place in Balmoral as it’s expensive down here, so we’re going to make the very most of our proximity to the sea while we’re here. There’s a children’s rock pool at our end of the beach, and they also rake the sand every morning, so it’s a great safe place for the kids to play.

Our next move will be to our proper long term rental, so we now have to enter the crazy and ever-so-competitive world of the Sydney rental market – where it’s not unheard of for thirty people to turn up to a fifteen minute property inspection. I’m sure there will be a few hilarious anecdotes soon on the subject!

On a final random note, we truly must be living in an exclusive area since Peter nearly ran over Sydney’s finest-actor-ever-to-play-The Hulk, Eric Bana, the other day.

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“You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…”

Man oh Manly!

Last weekend it was gloriously hot and sunny and we decided to visit the surfer’s paradise of Manly beach. A short twenty minute drive north of Mosman over the wonderfully named ‘Spit Bridge’.

For those who remember the to’ing and fro’ing of getting our initial accommodation organised, and trying to make the decision about where to stay for those first few weeks, may recall that Manly was our first choice of destination. This decision was made purely due to the fact we’d be near a beautiful beach, on paper it seemed to be family friendly and it had a quick commute into the city. Once we’d ascertained that Peter would be working in North Sydney and not in the CBD it made sense to choose somewhere to live that was nearer to his office. Apparently the aforementioned Spit Bridge becomes something of a car park in rush hour and would have turned the speedy twenty minute weekend drive into an hour-long slog at 8am and 5pm every day. Not something that Peter relished the idea of. So, Manly as a place to live had been ruled out, but we were interested to see how would Manly fare as a place to visit.

It certainly is a beautiful place, Manly is a slim peninsular with a large ocean-facing beach on one side, and a smaller harbour beach on the other. The two beaches are a short walk away from each other, with a multitude of touristy shops, cafes and ice cream bars inbetween. The feeling I got from the place was that Manly is popular with tourists, backpackers looking for a typical Aussie beach experience, and, judging from the amount of surf shops, surfers. So, whilst we had a lovely bucket and spade day in the sun, we came away from the place thankful that we hadn’t settled on Manly for our family.

This is the larger Manly beach.

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Henry and Phoebe enjoying the sand at the smaller, harbour beach.

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The one thing the kids probably enjoyed more than the beach was a series of water fountains that feature all the way along The Corso (the pedestrian walkway between the two beaches). Despite being fully clothed and shod, they both got spectacularly wet running in and out of the water. At least it was hot, they dried very quickly!

Fountain Fun

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Once we were in the car on the way home the children were both asleep in minutes, exhausted from the beach. So we took a little drive across the Harbour Bridge.

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Then we came back over the bridge to Cremorne Point, where we found this spectacular view.

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Once we were back at home and the kids were asleep, we marked the completion of our first week in Sydney with a glass of fizz. We obviously have lots to do before we’re properly settled, but I feel like we’ve made really good progress.

Cheers!

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Leaving home.

Departures

Departures

It was with a lot of excitement and a few tears that we left our parents at the Gatwick departure gate and headed for the Emirates business lounge. We had told them of our intentions to move to Sydney back in the summer and I think we had all slightly dreaded this day. Saying goodbye is never easy and especially when you’re moving thousands of miles away with the possibility that it may be more than a year until next we see each other (Skype notwithstanding).

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Action shot of Phoebe on her Trunki

The children were excited to stay up past their bedtime and were looking forward to finally seeing the plane we had talked about for so long. We had a good two hours to wait before boarding so we ate a late supper (and enjoyed the free champagne) whilst the kids watched a Disney movie on the laptop. The flight was finally called and we made our way to the gate. It was a treat to be in business class (fresh flowers in the bathrooms!) and the extra room, and extra helpful staff, certainly helped with the children. There were some empty seats so about two hours into the flight, after another movie (thank goodness for Disney) and a second supper, we were all able to get some sleep.

We had decided to break up the long flight with a three night stopover in Dubai, which was a welcome chance to stretch our legs, start to adjust our body clocks and experience a new city. We stayed mainly close to our hotel, in the Jumeirah beach district, only once venturing out to the Dubai Mall. The journey downtown to the mall involved a frustrating ninety minute attempt to hail a cab and a forty minute hotel-booked car ride. The Burj Kalifa, currently the world’s tallest building, towers above the Dubai Mall, and is the rather imposing backdrop to an hourly display of dancing water fountains set to music. We had a good view of the display and although it was a bit shorter than expected it was impressive. Our next stop was the in-mall aquarium, where sharks, rays, turtles, groupers and other impressive sealife reside in an enormous tank. The kids enjoyed dinner in the Rainforest Cafe, where they were kept entertained by the animatronic wildlife that periodically came to life. The rest of the short break was spent by the pool or the beach, Phoebe and Henry were in their element splashing about and frolicking in the sun.

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World’s tallest building

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Dancing fountains

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World’s largest acrylic panel apparently

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Rainforest Cafe

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Frolics

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Slighly unsuccessful seaside selfie

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The kids in their new swimmers

All too soon it was time to get back on the plane and start the second leg of our journey. We managed to get some sleep on this flight too, but it was interspersed with bouts of typical toddler mania, and again we thanked our lucky stars for business class and the bar at the back of the plane, which meant we could let them walk around and burn off a bit of energy without disturbing the other sleeping passengers.

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Perusing the menu whilst sipping on some champagne. Phoebe trying out the flight socks.

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Nothing changes, not even the bedtime routine!

We disembarked from our fourteen hour flight into a drizzly Australian morning, not quite the heat wave we had been led to expect, but at least it was warm. We found our driver and soon two excited children, two weary adults and fifteen pieces of luggage were on their way to the district of Mosman, in the Lower North Shore. Apart from a short drive around the area while our apartment was being prepared we did nothing more that day than catch up on some sleep, have a quick dinner and go for an early evening stroll for some ice cream, which is when we found this view:

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Look!! It’s the Harbour Bridge…no, honestly it is. Try looking a little harder. That’s the view from the bottom of our street that is.

We happened to land in Sydney on 26th January, Australia Day, a national holiday and the next day was a bank holiday. We decided to clear away the jet lag cobwebs with a stroll to our nearest beach, Balmoral. The harbour beach and esplanade stretch for roughly one and a half kilometres and looks out to the Sydney National Park reserve. It is truly beautiful, not a bucket and spade shop in sight, much to Phoebe’s disgust. Wikipedia has this to say:

The Balmoral Beach Conservation Area is heritage-listed. The area includes Edwards Beach as well as Balmoral Beach, plus the promenade, esplanade, rotunda and Bather’s Pavilion, which date back to the 1930s.

I also stole these pictures from the net, since my snapshots won’t do it justice:

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Balmoral at sunset

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View towards Rocky Point, separating Balmoral from Edwards beach

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The beach, esplanade and Bather’s Pavillion

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Some sea and sand, actually I took this one

We had a paddle in the sea, ate some fish and chips and ice cream, got a bit sunburnt and came home a happier, slightly more awake foursome. The next day I went to the park with the kids, while Peter went into the office to get started in his new role, and with that, our new life had begun.

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Peter was given a good Aussie welcome to the new office

An evening stroll on the beach.

The time difference between Sydney and the UK is +11 hours. It is commonly thought that it will take a day for your body clock to recover for every hour’s difference, and we’re only on day 4. Add into the mix two children who find it difficult to sleep at the best of times and you have a recipe for midnight Toy Story marathons, requests for breakfast at 3 am and very inconvenient nap and bed times.

I write all this to explain why we were to be found on Balmoral beach at 8.30pm last night, a time where at home the children would have been tucked up in bed, snoring. Plus, once the sun has gone down it’s a nicer
experience to be able to potter about in the sand and sea without worrying about how much factor 50 the kids have on. (Barely four days here and I’m already worrying about the sun!)

The kids had a lovely time playing with their new bucket and spades, courtesy of Daddy, and getting some cool air into their scorched little lungs (it was 29c here yesterday). Here are some photos:

Getting sandy We're here! New buckets Best foot forward Phoebe looking out to the harbour Henry playing in the sand