Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Of senators and sausages...

So we're heading into officially Politically Interesting Times here in little old Aus. Due to some machinations involving cheeky senators using certain issues to get their own way, it looks like we will be in for an election in July. I think. It's... complicated. But more on the senatorial shenanigans later.

 First, I want to introduce you to the Democracy Sausage.

Photo by Alpha (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Which is an honest-to-god thing over here.

In Australia, you are legally required to vote - you can actually get fined for not doing so - but in order to sweeten the bitter pill of participating in democracy, they reward you with a Sausage Inna Bun*. Or as evidenced above, a Sausage Inna Piece Of Bread.

* All hail Terry Pratchett and Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler...

The Democracy Sausage is a very important thing - so important, in fact, there is actually a website dedicated to helping you find your nearest meaty treat... It even has a 'deliciousness' rating. No, really. And I'm pretty sure it's not the only one.

This is all part of a larger cultural event - the legendary Sausage Sizzle. It has long been known here that the best way to get people to amass in one place and hand over their hard-earned money is to crack out the barbie and throw a few 'snags' on it. Glam them up with some cheap white bread, your choice of sauce* (and maybe even go crazy and add onions), charge a buck or two,
and - boom! Bona fide charity event!

* Tomato or BBQ. This ain't no fancy middle class famers' market with your aiolis and such.

Sausage sizzles are mainly held for local charities and community groups like sports clubs, or the surf life savers, and the Aussie version of B&Q (Bunnings) holds them for charities at the weekend too - cos everyone needs a hotdog with their hardware.

Sadly, as mere temporary visitors to these golden shores, we are not allowed to vote in anything. However, come election day, I might still attempt to sneak a snag! After all, we're living in a democratic society, no? SAUSAGES FOR ALL!!

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Sashimi, slippers and snow...

So we're nearly four months into the year already and the New Year's resolutions from my last post are going really...uhm... not well? I've done NO exercise, been ever more vocal with both TV and computer at work, and have written precisely zero blog entries. But, dudes, is it me? What just happened to January, February and March?! I've barely finished stuffing my face with BBQ Christmas prawns and the darn Easter Crocodile* has been and gone!

* They had an Easter bunny here too, but he went for a swim and, well, you know... he wasn't seen again. They've named a swimming pool after him, though...

Although the 'no exercise' part of the above isn't entirely true, as in February, we over-excitedly dusted the cobwebs off our winter clothes and got ready to go skiing! And those of you who have ever been will know that one week skiing = all the exercise you'll ever need to do for the rest of the year.

Having seen the Australian snow already, we decided to pack everything up and go and see what Asia had to offer. Squeeeee - our first big trip together to Japan! When we first got to Australia, we were under the stupidly mistaken impression we'd be a whole lot closer to Asia than we had been in the UK and could do all our 'Eastern' travels whilst here. Uhm..... no. The only benefit with flying from Sydney to Japan is that, although it's a ten hour flight, there's only a two hour time difference - so no jet lag - a great boon if you're about to spend the next week on an intensive exercise program...

So off we went to the airport, full of pep and vigour. And wine, of course:

We had a bit of an 'incident' when we arrived in Tokyo. When I'd booked the flights, I'd clearly not paid enough attention, and we had only one hour to get off our international flight, collect our bags and board the domestic flight to our final destination, Niseko. It all might have worked, if only the damn international and domestic terminals weren't two different buildings separated by a 10 minute bus drive - which we discovered only after 10 minutes of following rather misleading signage in the international building. After a very tense, "We've already missed it, it's too late, alack and alas" bus journey, followed by an actual real-life 'mad dash' through the airport we made it onto our plane, mostly intact but very sweaty in our winter jackets.

The rest of the trip was far more relaxed* and we met our friend Sophie (who had flown from Perth to join us) with no problems. We got the coach the rest of the way to Niseko, which, to my complete delight (you'll see it later...) was drowning in the white stuff. 

* Except for the moment I ventured off to buy tissues at the airport and, having to guess what to get because I know NO Japanese, came back with what looked suspiciously like sanitary towels to everyone else. This caused hysteria for at least five minutes, until I opened them to find they were tissues after all.

The hotel we were in was pretty nice, although it had a smell of sulphur about it, due to the natural springs in the area (at least, that's what we hoped). Our room was a lovely apartment with a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms - one with the traditional tatami (rush-covered straw mat) and futon. As part of the hotel etiquette, too, you get an outfit to wear and two pairs of slippers - one for inside your room and one for inside the hotel. That's quite a lot of slippers for a person who spends most of her time at home walking around barefoot and treading on sharp things.

I have no clue why all the Japanese people kept laughing at us... We look chic, no?! I am sporting the 'inside the hotel' slippers at this point. The white slippers are in the 'in room' slippers.

And now to the question I know has been on your minds since I mentioned 'Japan'. The toilets. The weird mystery toilets of buttons. You thought toilets were for numbers one and two only, but in Japan there are numbers three, four and five as well.

Full disclosure - we had a go at all of them. And... yeah, it's a bit eye-popping at first, to press a button, hear a grumbling of machinery, followed by a dreaded pause, then to have warm water shoot out at your, ahem, bits and pieces. But after getting used to it, I have to admit I kind of missed it when we left! Something I was more ambiguous about was the heated seats - awesome, cos your little botty is cold in the freezing weather, but not-so-great because you can't quite shake the feeling that in fact it was someone else's little botty that 'warmed up' the seat before you...

Well, now we've addressed that cultural hot potato, it's onwards to more palatable topics! One of the big things we were looking forward to was sampling all the food in Japan, We love going to Japanese restaurants generally, so were keen to see what was on offer. The first thing to say is Japanese people seem to LOVE LOVE LOVE weird desserts and sweets. The airport is chock-full of them (or should that be 'choc'-full?!). We tried one which was a sort of wafer thing with thick honey in between the wafers and covered in sesame seeds. It was quite yummy, but... I wasn't convinced. We also bought what we thought was chocolate in the hotel's snack shop - only to discover it was some sort of bolognese sauce. The perils of relying on the beautiful packaging when you don't understand a single word written on it... We were on safer ground with the Green Tea KitKats we found - sounds gross, tastes delicious. Multiple bags of those were eaten - all in the name of keeping our skiing energy up, of course.

In fact, one of the best things about skiing is it leaves you bloody starving - erm, I mean with plenty of stomach space to sample to regional delicacies. But first, it was always time for a small aperitif, post-piste and preprandial. And we found the perfect place:

It was a little van containing the friendliest man ever (although to be fair, EVERYONE in Japan is the nicest person ever. I've never bowed and said 'thank you' so much in my life!), serving hot sake, mulled wine and plum wine. Almost every day, we brushed off the seats and settled down to re-live our day on the slopes.

Then it was off to the restaurants. We tried as many as we could in the week we were there (although must admit to one lunchtime where we went French and stuffed ourselves with crepes - savoury for main and sweet for dessert. And, yes, they were huge and, yes, we all ate two each). But otherwise, we tried to keep it traditional and ate yakitori (meat on sticks), sushi, sashimi, gyoza, dumplings, ramen, udon (all the noodles, really), and hotpot.

The smile of hungry people about to be fed...
One of the restaurants we went too - wooden booths all the way!

I could wax lyrical for a very long time about all the YUM*, but I'll tell you about the hotpot. Basically, you get a bowl of home-made broth brought to your table on a heater, followed by a selection of raw meats, fish and vegetables and a small hourglass.

* I will never forgive the school careers 'counsellor' for not telling me that 'food critic' was an actual career choice...

One of the plates of YUM to cook in the broth
With each type of meat/fish,  you get a guide as to how long to cook it for. Then you turn over the timer, grab a piece with your chopsticks and swish it about in the broth until it's done. Rinse and repeat for all the delicious things - and the bonus? You end up with an even yummier broth, full of the flavours from the veggies and meat juices.
My 'feed me NOW' face...
All in all, we ate very well for the entire trip, complementing the food with sake and plum wine, and following our main courses up with green tea ice cream where we could.

Another thing we had to try while we were in Japan was the onsen. These are thermal baths/hot springs, where you go to relax and get clean - in the nuddie. There are many rules to the onsen and most are single-sex. We did manage to find a 'mixed' outdoor onsen a few hotels down and went for our first experience there. When we arrived, we found out that because it was mixed, the girls had to pay for the pleasure of wearing a bright orange, linen 'dress' and Jan had to pay for a face flannel with which to cover his vitals. Obviously cameras are not allowed in or around the onsen, so the image of Sophie and I running through the freezing outdoor complex in our bright orange one-size-fits-none dresses to meet Jan, wading about in a pool, trying to hold a floating flannel to his privates is one you will have to conjure for yourselves.  Once in the pool though, it's lovely and warm  to lounge about in, and at one point it started snowing, which made it all poetic and beautiful and stuff.

Sophie and I ventured to our single-sex hotel onsen later in the week, This was slightly less 'touristy' than the mixed one. We immediately shamed ourselves by walking into the tatami-covered changing rooms in our 'inside the hotel' slippers, and incurring the wrath of a lady, who kept shouting 'NO SHOES' at us. Apparently slippers on the tatami is highly verboten - oops! Once inside the onsen, there are plastic stools in small, open shower cubicles where you go and wash yourself before and after going into the pools. You get a small hand towel whilst inside the onsen, which most people seem to wear on their heads, given the lack of pockets to carry anything in. We spent our time in the outside onsen, unsure of the rules, and slightly paranoid when a Japanese lady walked outside, took one look at us and walked back inside again. I do love a good hot spring though, and it's a great way to ease the aches and pains after a day of skiing.

And talking of skiing - which I realise I haven't done any of yet - it was awesome! So awesome, that words are just not enough - you should totally check out Jan's amazing video - behold the powder and weep! Then cheer yourselves up by watching us crash into trees! 

Niseko is famed for its powder snow and, boy, there was plenty of it. Sophie and I took lessons and both of us loved learning the new skills of off piste skiing, going through trees and into deep snow, while Jan also amused himself off the slopes:

We had heard rumours of a great volcano - Mount Yotei - opposite the mountain we were skiing on, but for three days it was so snowy we couldn't see it at all. Then came the sunshine, and.... wow.

So all in all, we had an AMAZING holiday in Niseko and will definitely be going back there for more! We learned loads on the slopes, and ate and drank loads off it - which adds up to the perfect skiing holiday if you ask me! 

Arigatou gozaimasu, Japan!

Friday, 1 January 2016


Another year Down Under has whizzed by! And although I still have about ten bazillion posts to write to cover everything that's happened, I thought I'd do a review of the year in pictures (mainly because I'm still too full of pavlova and prawns to do much of anything else...).

January 2015 got off to a rockin' start at the country music festival in Tamworth:

Pigs were raced and silly pictures were taken:

Last one back gets turned into a sandwich!
If only I'd obeyed the sign...
In February, we apparently had a quiet month. Pig racing will do that to you.

In March, we went all Lord of the Rings and forged our own wedding rings with metal, flame - and love:

These are NOT the finished product. I just like this picture...
In April, we stepped away from the furnace for a sneaky weekend away in the Blue Mountains - and I coined the phrase 'Prunnymoon*'.
* Pre-honeymoon, innit. You're welcome.

Relaxing on mah prunnymoon...

Funky bedroom

Technically it wasn't cold enough for a fire, but we opened all the doors and lit it anyway...

Bush bath.
In May, we celebrated Easter in the traditional way:

In June? Well, this happened*:

* Eternal thanks go to the marvellous Jay Emme who was just an absolute legend the whole day, and gave us the beautiful pictures below and many many more.

There was laughter and tears: many tears:

 Also, some DIY:

(But that explanation is for another blog).

In July, we recovered - much like pig racing, weddings will do that to you...

In August, we went for our first trip to the Australian snow:

September saw me up my walking game, enjoying Coogee to Bondi in all its spring beauty:

October saw me turn 21 again. Just how does that keep happening?

In November we discovered some more of our adopted home on our honeymoon in Tasmania (with a brief stop in Melbourne to see friends - and the Lego Christmas tree!):

Our rolling wagon of love....

Tasmanian devil eating her dinner... It's the ciiiiircle of life!

It's made out of Lego! (The tree, not Jan's beard...)
And we finished the year with a real Aussie Christmas - sunburnt and having eaten too much - in the country (more on which soon):

And on that note, we wish you all a wonderful, prosperous and happy 2016! We'll be back with more exciting adventures then - promise*!

* It's one of my new year's resolutions to write WAY more up in here. But then again, my other resolutions are to do more exercise and to stop talking to the television at work... So, you know....

Thursday, 29 October 2015


Arggggghhhhhh! 37 is the first birthday I've hit where I've really felt like, oh crap, I am meant to be an adult by now. I AM SO NOT AN ADULT RIGHT NOW. SOMEBODY STOP THIS AGEING PROCESS MALARKEY!

As is tradition in our house, the day started off with the Official Birthday Table and Cake For Breakfast ritual. Also the Age Represented In Flames To Show You How Your Time On Earth Is Rapidly Burning Away, You Candle In The Wind, You...

That carrot cake is all miiiiine...
Also at this stage is the PREZZIE OPENING!! I had some lovely gifts from friends and, after much cajoling and hissy-fittedness, Jan got me what I wanted - a new camera. Those of you who know me well, will know my history with cameras is... uhm.... iffy. In fact the lake where we got married is currently in possession of one of my cameras, thanks to a boat trip that saw me drop it into the murky depths*. Enjoy your selfies, fish!

* In fact, we were a bit dubious about getting married at that lake, as I've also fallen into it fully clothed...

So Jan patiently tried to explain to me that my choice of new camera was probably a bad idea, as it was not a simple point-and-shoot jobbie, but involved me learning things such as 'aperture' and 'Focus' and 'F Stop' and I am more of a 'break down into full toddler tantrum when <insert any technology here> requires me to do anything beyond pressing one button'* kinda gal.

* iTunes is my nemesis and I will loathe it for eternity. WHY CAN'T I EVER JUST DO WHAT I WANT TO DO, DAMN YOU!!!

But I held firm to my choice, because why? Because it looked VINTAGE and that clearly trumps everything.

Oooooh, aaaaaah, look at the lovely VINTAGE, everyone!
I'm super pleased with it, and have even started to learn about all its functions, which I hope to work on more when we go to Tasmania next month. And it has already enabled me to take these super-artistic, highly professional shots:

Knobbly Knees (in all their glory)...

Breakfast Detritus (with NOTHING on any coasters...)

And my personal favourite - Top Of The Bottle.
Due to some shortsightedness on my part, I was actually working all day on my birthday. Although this totally eventually paid off in a whole extra cake - very kindly made for me by my lovely, lovely work friends.  Clearly, however, I don't have a picture of this, as I snarfed it down pretty much instantly - as a comfort for the fact it was 34 DEGREES outside and I could have been ON THE BEACH and not in the office casually know as 'Siberia. This was highly upsetting given that my birthday is usually conducted in cold, rainy autumn weather in England. Woe and alas - let me eat more cake to compensate!

However, it was still pretty warm in the evening,so  our friends came round for dinner and we ate outside on our balcony, which was really lovely, and the perfect way to usher in our next summer of Aus living!
Hmmm, maybe I need some more work on that Focus thang...

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Visa displeaser

If you've been with us from the beginning, you'll know that the whole reason we came to Australia was a random conversation with a colleague of mine, who had been offered work out here, but who couldn't go herself, so... hey! Why don't you go?! Jan and I discussed it at length* and decided to go for it. And so we got a company-sponsored visa for four years,

* "Cate: Fancy moving to Sydney?
  Jan: Yeah, sure."

But recently, the company I work for was bought by another company. And so the saga began.
"But surely they can just transfer your visa to the new company?", I hear you ask. And the answer? Stupid governmental bureaucracy is much the same as estate agencies - universal and universally awful.  For undisclosed reasons, they couldn't just transfer the visa - I had to apply for a new visa.  Only..... *pauses for dramatic effect*..... they've changed the list of jobs that can qualify for the visa! And, yep, you guessed it, mine's not on there! Your name's not down, you're not coming in! Release the Border Police:

The only real option was for us to ask Jan's company to sponsor him and get a new visa that way. Fortunately for us, there were already registered with the relevant authorities, as a company that is eligible to sponsor employees. Also fortunately, Jan is very good at what he does, and they didn't want him to be eaten by the Border Police just cos his loser wife had a loser job. So they got on making the application for Jan.

And so began.... the.... waiting..... Anyone who has had to fill out any sort of complicated paperwork will feel the pain of The Wait and the stress of your life being in the hands of someone else. Shall we book our honeymoon?! No, for fear we will get booted out. Shall we plan our next trip home? No, we might be there sooner than expected. Shall I book that dental appointment? NO, we might need your gold* fillings to pay for the flights home. Shall I book that leg waxing? Uhm.. maybe - it could make you more streamlined in the water for when we have to swim to Manus Island.

* Neither of us has gold fillings. Don't get me wrong - I have several fillings, I'm just too cheap to pay for gold ones. Heck, I'm so cheap I didn't even pay for the porcelain version! I got the old amalgams - who cares if they're black and they've got mercury in them?! They're cheap!

Anyway, a few centuries* later, we heard we had got a bridging visa. No illegal immigrants, us! A bridging visa is basically a visa that allows you to stay in the country while they work out if you actually can stay in the country - and in fact on a bridging visa, you are unable to leave the country! So we had basically gone from being unsure whether we should be here,  to being unable to leave. Uh, progress?!

* weeks, but dayum waiting is hard..

Then, after another couple of weeks, the wait was finally over and the country has deemed Jan, at least, good enough to stay here. We have a shiny new visa valid for four years - and now I am the dependant! Which means I can gad about quitting my job and spending all day on the beach if I like, while Jan is tied to the grindstone, providing for his ineligible wife! Hey, this might not be so bad after all!

Highly professional graphics added by me!

Sunday, 30 August 2015


Lalalala.... oh, hello! You're still here?!

Yeah, sorry about the ridiculously long blog silence. It due to a mix of lots of things, really. Enjoying married life being one of them, of course! Although people keep asking us, does it feel any different? And to be honest.... uhm, kinda? I mean normal day-to-day existence is pretty much the same. Just with extra added eternity. We've also been away for a fun weekend, plus we've had the sheer delight of the Prime Minister trying to boot us out the country*. So, you know, it's been busy.

* Uhm, well, not Tony Abbott directly or anything. Mainly the immigration department. Again, this will no doubt feature in all it's monotonous, bureaucratic glory in another blog entry. Suffice to say for now, we are fine and staying put, like the naughty immigrant squatters we are.

So with all that going on, what to talk about first?! Hmmm, being so out of practice with the art of bloggery, I think I may take the easy option and go with telling you about our fun weekend, because  (1) it's educational* on Australia, (2) it's not wedding-related, and I'm gearing up for a huge WEDDING FEST in the near future, so I am giving you a break, and (3) it's the most recent thing that's happened, so I can remember it still.

* You will learn precisely ONE new fact. That you may have already known about. What?! This isn't National Geographic, you know.

Ok, so are you ready for an exciting piece of information?! Drum roll, please..... Australia has SNOW. Yes, I know! Who would have thought! I certainly didn't! It's so special here that Australians literally say they are "going to the snow". That is one of my most favourite expressions here, it sounds so sweet, "Ah, yeah, we're takin' the littlies to the snow this weekend". LOVE. IT.

Thanks for the photo, Rebecca M!
So when I found out my friends from work were "going to the snow", well naturally I had to invite myself and Jan along! After all, our ski/snowboard stuff is looking embarrassingly underused in our garage next to the perma-sunny beach. It deserves an outing!

Even more exciting, the location of 'the snow' is merely a six-hour drive away! Oh be quiet, Europeans, a six hour drive in Aus is still 'just down the road*'! And what a road it was. After the fight to get out of Sydney, you end up on a pretty straight, open road with gorgeous views all the way to Canberra.

* It's worth mentioning, it's pretty damn hard to get lost anywhere in Australia, at least in a car, given that mostly there is ONE ROAD going to the next town/city. I can describe getting from Sydney to Perisher as basically, right out of Sydney, right, left, right again and you're there. The sat nav is most despondent with its lack of usage.

Once we were around Canberra, we went down another long road which I don't remember the actual name of, but will hereafter be known as Kangaroo Graveyard. I have only once before seen so many dead animals at the side of the road - and that was in Scotland where the rabbits there seemingly have learnt nothing from Watership Down. And for the first time, I realised why it is that people here always look highly worried when you say you might be driving at dusk. The reaction is a bit like if you were living in Transylvania and mentioned you were popping out for a moonlight stroll. But seeing these huge, muscular mammals lying by the side of the road makes you realise there's a mighty big difference between a rabbit and a mahoosive kangaroo hitting your car - so we proceeded rather cautiously, and sadly, down the kangaroo gauntlet.

After stopping off for a filthy McDonald's and some snow chains (mandatory in the national parks at this time of year), we finally started heading up into the mountains to our 'luxury' chalet and spa hotel. It was a huge building, with it's very own fountain out front, and looked quite impressive against the hills behind it. However, luxury may have been pushing it somewhat. The room we had paid a significant amount for elicited the response from Jan that it reminded him of going to the Czech Republic before the Berlin Wall had come down. Now, please don't get me wrong, I'm not one of these snobs who goes on TripAdvisor to denigrate a hotel because they haven't used the right thread count on the Egyptian cotton bedsheets, but let's just say, it was rather basic for what we were paying. On the other hand, downstairs had a big roaring fire, and a lovely bar with comfy sofas and we had a three course meal each night that was most definitely the right side of YUM. Plus, it had that thing that all serious boarders and skiers will pay for - location. They provided guests with a minibus to take you the final 10 minutes to the lifts.

So up and early on Saturday morning (with Jan in full GEM* we were off to the skifields!
* German Efficiency Mode

The party people...
Everyone had told us to expect the Australian snow to be crap compared to the lofty heights of Europe and North America, but we were pleasantly surprised. They'd had snowfall quite recently, so there was enough to make the slopes fun and not too icy. The weather was stunning - blue skies and sunshine, and there were lots of little areas to explore and have fun with. For sure, it's not got the range of its northern hemisphere counterparts, and there was way less off piste stuff for Jan to enjoy (haha, sucks to be a boarder!) but we still had loads of fun and the views were gorgeous.

Blue skis and white stuff

We went to Perisher on the Saturday and after a shamefully early night, we were up and off to Thredbo (another mountain about 30mins away) on the Sunday. Thredbo has some slightly longer runs, which was nice, and we had another beautiful sunshine day of exploring the area. When it was time to come down and go home, we took a route under the lift (there wasn't much other choice) which a fellow boarder claimed was "fun, but a bit green". No, this isn't some funky boarder language - we were literally skiing over grass by the end! We just about made it though. Now we just had to face the six hour drive 'down the road' home again....

TL:DR - check out our awesome ski trip!