Our quick Brisbane jaunt

Raquel posted about our impromptu trip to Brisbane earlier. I’ll just add some more to it here.


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When I was still working in Sydney, my Pinoy friends there told me that they’d happily move to Brisbane because it was apparently just as nice as Sydney but warmer. So, when Raquel and I were trying to come up with a place we can go to for a bit of walking, I thought of Brisbane. They supposedly have these very nice parklands within the city and at the same time, it’s not as cold there as Melbourne even in winter.

We were blessed to have had three solid days of good sunny weather while there. It was warm enough that we didn’t have to wear coats while walking outside even at night. I definitely loved the Roma Street Parklands and the South Bank Parklands. There was a lot of shady green trees and the body of water nearby was marvelous. I wish we had these two parklands right here in Melbourne. I also enjoyed our catamaran ride up and down the river.

What I didn’t enjoy was the cigarette smoke! It seemed like everybody in Brisbane smoked. Either that or the streets and sidewalks were just a lot narrower and all the smoke just gets trapped. I couldn’t enjoy our walks around the more populated areas of Brisbane because of this.

Apart from that, I thought Brisbane was a nice city to live in. It’s a big enough city while only about an hour away from either the Sunshine Coast or the Gold Coast. The weather was pleasant even in winter and the flora there was literally a lot greener than what I usually see here in Melbourne. I can see why a lot Pinoys would want to move and stay there. Specially the older folk.

However, at the end of the day, I still prefer Melbourne to Brisbane. I’m glad to be back.

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Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 11:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

Brisbane break

We’ve been planning a trip to the Gippslands since last month. I’ve pored over brochures, surfed for information about the area for countless hours and we’ve both filed for a one-day annual leave to make a long weekend out of the trip. Wilson’s Promontory looks like a dream in photos and hubby and I could benefit from a little bushwalking so I was really looking forward to the trip.

The only thing that prevented me from booking accomodations is the niggling feeling that the weather may not cooperate and we might end up staying indoors at a hotel in the middle of nowhere. We decided on waiting one week before the scheduled trip before booking anything to see what the weather forecasts would say. Unfortunately, the forecast wasn’t encouraging at all – rain, windy and cold. I don’t mind the cold so much as it’s the middle of winter here and it’s to be expected. But to bushwalk in the rain while being whipped by strong winds? No, thanks.

I didn’t have a plan B at all and had hubby come up with something else. The forecast for the whole Victorian state wasn’t particularly good and so we either have to cancel everything and just stay home or go interstate. Gabriel had a brainwave and came up with Brisbane. We’ve never been there but we’ve heard good things from people who’ve been and it’s nice and warm there. Of course I thought he was kidding at first but quickly found out that he was serious! A frantic search and booking of flights and hotels followed and we’re all set, with no idea of what to do there or where to go.

We left a cold, dreary day in Melbourne and arrived to a perfect, sunny day in Brisbane City. We took the train from the domestic airport to the city (something you’d expect a major city like Melbourne would have but nope, we have to make do with a shuttle here).


Click here to view photo album

Anyway, we stayed at a fantastic serviced apartment at M on Mary where we got lucky and got a room with a view. We walked around the city, watched The Dark Knight at Myer Centre, ate heaps at Hanaichi (won’t they open a branch in Melbourne soon?) and did the touristy thing by riding the ferry and going on the City Sights bus. We also visited the weekend Southbank Markets where hubby discovered the Wicked Banana, which is a banana injected with chocolate in the middle. Our feet were always sore at the end of the day but we had lots of fun and enjoyed the sunshine. Good thing too, since it was pouring down and we got soaked when we got back here in dear old Melbourne.

Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 5:12 pm  Comments (3)  

Of age and beers

We were having some friends over for dinner a fortnight ago and as part of our preparation, have decided to purchase a few bottles of beer for our guests. We headed to the local liquor shop and after browsing for some time, realised that we have no idea what to get. We both don’t drink beer and apart from purchasing cheap beer for cooking, have had no occasion to buy it at all. While seeking advice from hubby’s work colleague via a phone call, we wandered out of the bottle shop and into the supermarket next door.

We had to prepare a dish for the dinner anyway so I figured we could save some time by grabbing a few things while hubby consults with his work mate. After filling up our trolley with the items we needed, I had hubby wait in a queue and pay for the groceries. I asked him what to get for the beers and went to the adjoining shop to get them, again in the interest of saving time. Since we visited just a few minutes earlier, I knew where exactly to get the six-pack we needed. I grabbed the bottles and went straight to the register where there were a couple of men already waiting to be served.

I debated with myself on whether to pay for cash or credit and had my wallet open while waiting for my turn. My purchase amounted to less than $20 and I don’t want to wait around to have my credit card swiped into the reader, wait for the transaction to be approved, sign the slip and having the cashier compare my signature with that on the card. Cash it is.

When my turn came, I placed the box of beer on the counter and had the cash on hand ready for a grab-and-go transaction. The frazzled lady took one look at me and then at the beer and said, “May I see some identification please?” I nearly laughed out loud but instead mumbled, “Sure” and showed her my driver’s license. She took one look and accepted the money I was handing her.

Hubby was waiting for me just outside the liquor shop with the trolley loaded up with our groceries so I hurried out and told him about the incident. He laughed and asked if the woman had a double look at my ID. I said no and told him to keep his voice down.

The legal age of drinking in Australia is 18. I admit I didn’t have the best clothes on when I bought the six-pack and my hair wasn’t styled at all so it was just plastered against my face. I must have looked like a student to her buying some drinks for herself and some mates on a Saturday evening after some grueling study session. Who knows?

Just days before the incident, I was asking hubby whatever happened to the years as I contemplated life as I approach middle age. I find it heartening that although I may feel world weary at times, some people could still mistake me for someone (almost) half my age. That lady sure made my day.

Published in: on June 26, 2008 at 1:04 pm  Comments (2)  

The Mist

It’s the first night of winter. The heaters were turned on to combat the freezing cold. Suddenly, all the heaters went dead. Our heaters share a circuit breaker with the laundry clothes dryer, too. We probably have one too many high wattage appliance turned on. To get the heaters powered up again, that meant stepping outside to switch the circuit breaker back on.

I’ve come to discover that most houses here in Oz have the fuse box outside. I sort of expected it to be inside a cupboard or in the basement. But, no. Here, they have it outside. It’s stupid, not to mention very scary, if you think about it.

Anyway, I had to step out of the house to go to the dark corner where the fuse box is just so I can switch a circuit breaker. When I opened the door, I stared out into the night. The street was covered with dense fog and it was dead quiet. It’s a scene straight out of a Stephen King novel or story, more specifically: The Mist. Or even a horror game like Silent Hill. It didn’t help any that it was freezing outside. It only added to the chill I was already feeling.

I had no choice but to brave it out. We have to have our heaters back on. I walked as fast as I could toward the fuse box without running, to avoid causing a wind chill. I switched it back on and hurried back into the house where it was warm. And safe.

In hindsight, I probably should’ve just gotten myself a coat before stepping out. Wearing only a T-shirt and long shorts wasn’t at all appropriate clothing for a cold winter foggy night outdoors. Still, it was cool (no pun intended) to see the misty neighbourhood streets. It was awesome. Raquel even took some photos to give you an idea of what it all looked like.

Published in: on June 1, 2008 at 11:31 am  Comments (4)  

Hurricane-strong winds

It’s not everyday we experience winds so strong that it brought trees down and roof tiles flying in Melbourne. Well, that was what we got last Wednesday (February 2). “Winds of up to 100km/h whipped across Victoria as the remnants of tropical Cyclone Pancho combined with an intense cold front in the Great Australian Bight and moved east,” according to an article on The Age titled Victoria’s killer weather causes chaos. I remember hearing on the radio that it was an event that only happens in one in fifty years.

That morning began like any other cloudy day. Then, I started hearing roaring noises that I couldn’t account for. To me, it sounded like the noise generated by a construction site. I thought that maybe a building was being demolished. However, the loud sound repeated every few minutes. The building-being-demolished theory was out the window then. My officemate thought there were jets flying around Melbourne. But that would mean that they were flying in circles for a long time as the noise spanned a few hours.

We looked out the window and realised that it was the winds that was causing all the ruckus. The glass windows of neighbouring buildings were wobbling from the force of the winds. The trees down on the streets were swaying wildly. Looking at the horizon, we saw that Melbourne was being surrounding by a brown foggy cloud. Apparently, the wind picked up a lot of dust as it went causing the sky to turn brownish from afar.

I didn’t mind the strong winds at first. After all, it reminded me of the youth when I used to wish that there was a typhoon so we didn’t have to go to school or to work. So, I’ve always associated storms with happy times rather than sad and scary times. However, nearing the end of the day, I discovered that the winds was causing major damage around Victoria. There were power outages in some parts of greater Melboourne. The West Gate bridge had to be closed (that’s the bridge I needed to use to get back home if I had taken the car to work that day). Trains got cancelled.

For a moment, I thought I’d be staying the night in the office. Some offices allowed their employees to go home early that day. Because of that, Raquel was able to get an earlier train home. It was a bit late but at least it wasn’t cancelled. I had to stay at work till 5.45pm because I had some work I need to finish before going home. The train I was trying to catch was 20 minutes late but apart from that, it was all easy going.

We were lucky. All we experienced were minor inconveniences. Others weren’t so lucky. Some people still don’t have power back as of this writing. Some people lost their homes. Some, even lost their lives.

My main worry is that this kind of storm will no longer be a one-in-fifty-years-type of event. Due to climate change, I’m afraid that we’ll be experiencing this kind of freak weather more frequently. I hope I’m wrong.

Published in: on April 4, 2008 at 1:53 am  Leave a Comment  

Trouble with Nando’s

There is a restaurant chain called Nando’s here in Australia. They basically specialise in roasted chicken which closely resembles the taste of home’s Lechong Manok. You can even order plain steamed rice in some of their franchises, too. No wonder it seems very popular with Filipinos living here. It was one of our favourite places to eat, too.

However, several days ago, we ate lunch at Nando’s at Melbourne Central. We ordered a quarter chicken meal (with rice and 390ml Diet Coke), a BBQ chicken thigh meal (with rice and 390ml Diet Coke again), and one extra side dish (2 pieces of corn on the cob) for a total of $26.85. As you can see, it is a bit expensive to eat out. And this was a non-fancy restaurant. Anyway, I paid for the meal with my credit card and thought nothing more of it afterwards.

That was, until we got our credit card statement. Supposedly, we were charged $86.85 by Nando’s on the day we ate there. We couldn’t believe it. That’s a $60 difference! (Converted, that’s about 2,300 Pesos!) At the time, I didn’t have the receipt on hand so I couldn’t be one-hundred percent sure how much our meal was but I was very sure it wasn’t over 80 bucks!

I rang up our credit card’s bank to dispute the erroneous charge. I explained the situation to the customer support person over the phone. He told me that he could easily mark the charge as being disputed. It would cost me an additional $10 to do this, he said. Then, the bank will bring the matter up with Nando’s. If Nando’s could prove that the charge was all in order, then I wouldn’t get my $60 back and I would’ve lost $10 more for the attempted dispute. I would end up losing $70 instead of just $60! Of course, if Nando’s agreed that they were in the wrong, then I’d get my $60 back but I would’ve still lost the $10 for the dispute fee.

I wasn’t sure if I had thrown away the original receipt so I was afraid to proceed with the dispute. What if Nando’s said that I signed the credit card docket that had $86.85 on it? There was no way for me to contest that claim. So, I told the bank guy that I’d first look for the receipt and call back when we have it.

Raquel and I looked all over the house desperately hoping that the receipt was just stashed somewhere and not in a rubbish bin somewhere in the city. Luckily, Raquel found the receipt just on top of our coffee table. In fact, there were two receipts. There usually is when you pay by credit card. One is the official receipt that comes out of the cash register and another receipt that comes out of the credit card device (that also prints out a docket for the owner of the credit card to sign on).

The Nando’s receipt said we paid $26.85 for the meal. However, the credit card receipt said that I paid for $86.85! It’s basically a carbon copy of the receipt that I signed. I couldn’t believe that the amount on the cash register wasn’t the same as the amount on the credit card device. I thought those two devices were linked electronically!

Now we know better. Apparently, the cashier had to type in the amount twice and unluckily for us, she typed the amount in the credit card device incorrectly by pressing 8 instead of 2, 86.85 instead of 26.85. With this in mind, Raquel and I decided that disputing this with the bank wouldn’t be such a good idea. Nando’s could always claim that I did sign for the $86.85 charge, and they would be right.

In the end, we might have a better chance of getting our money back if we disputed this with the actual branch of Nando’s at Melbourne Central. Luckily, we work in the city so we could just easily go there during our lunch break.

One day during our lunch break, I went to the Nando’s where we ate. Nearing the place, I tried to muster up some anger so that I could visibly show my great displeasure to the manager while I explained to him our problem. In the end, I’m not that type of guy. I ended up explaining the matter with the manager very calmly.

I fully expected him to immediately refund the difference to my credit card right then and there. Instead, he photocopied my receipts and told me that he would consult their video footage to prove my claim. I couldn’t believe it (for the nth time!). But since I was in a rush to get back to my office, I just asked how long should I wait for a resolution. He told me that he would call me.

I went back to work not at all hopefull for a quick resolution. In fact, I was pretty sure I would have to call back the manager after one week just to follow up on my complaint. My officemates at work couldn’t believe the situation, too. Consult their video? How would that help? Did they take a photo of me so they could make a match? Why didn’t they just refund the money directly back to my credit card? It was the same credit card as on the receipt? One of them even suggested I raise the issue to Nando’s ombudsman (apparently, each company has one).

However, near the end of business hours of the same day, the Nando’s manager called. He told me how very sorry he was for all the inconvenience and told me that I could pick up the $60 at the store that afternoon. I was pleasantly surprised at how fast they looked into our problem. And not only would I get a refund, but I would get it in cash (as opposed to debitting the difference to my credit card).

When we got to Nando’s, the supervisor (the Manager went home for the day) profusely apologised to us for the inconvenience and handed us an envelope. Inside the envelope was the $60 in cash along with a few vouchers to upsize our side dishes and/or drinks plus a fridge magnet. That was nice of them.

I was frankly thinking of never eating there again. But since they handled this issue so quickly, I forgave them. The free vouchers certainly helped in soothing ruffled feathers. Bribes do work. 😉

P1000318

Published in: on March 28, 2008 at 9:38 pm  Comments (4)  

Train Chaos

Woke up to a pleasant cool morning today when we got a text message from Connex stating that “due to vandalism, trains between Laverton and Newport may be delayed up to 15 minutes. Buses are running between Laverton-Westona-Altona-Newport.” What sort of vandalism would affect so many stations? Nothing came to mind and we had hoped for the problem to be fixed by the time we get to the station.

We got ready as usual and went on our merry way to the station. As we walked to the station we got a glimpse of the first sign of trouble. There was a massive crowd of people in our platform – an indicator that the previous service either didn’t run at all or was by then terribly late. Then as we were entering the station, we saw a number of people milling about, asking Connex staff about where the trains are and there was a horde of people hurrying out of the station with frustrated looks on their faces. In short, chaos all around.

Hubby and I looked at each other then decided that we’d just drive to work today. Connex isn’t really known for providing great service at the best of times, let alone at a time when they’d have to organise buses for transfers.

So what really happened? As it turned out, thieves got to the electrical cabling yet again. I’ve written about a similar incident over a year ago and it seems like it’s still going on. Connex really need to re-think their security measures.

Published in: on February 18, 2008 at 8:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Fancy Valentine’s dinner

For Valentine’s Day, Raquel and I went out for dinner at one of the finest restaurants in Melbourne. People we know keep on gushing about this Italian restaurant so our expectations were a bit high. Personally, I would have preferred to have gone to a fancy Chinese or Japanese restaurant instead but I thought it was worth eating there once, specially since I have a $350 voucher for that restaurant, hand-signed by the owner/chef, as prize for winning an art competition a few months ago.

The restaurant itself wasn’t large but it was still quite obvious that it was a fine-dining restaurant. They had a headwaiter (or is it called maitre d’hotel?) wearing formal wear plus several more employees waiting on us, ready to serve. At the lobby, there was a whole wall with photos of the owner with various celebrities and hand-written letters of personal praise for the establishment. The toilet even had those stacks of folded hand towels which you dispose of in a basket after one use. We totally felt out of our element.

When we sat down, the maitre d’ offered (more like insisted) to take my blue backpack for safe keeping in their office. They probably just don’t want me to strap my backpack behind my seat or leave it lying on the floor. Raquel left her bag on the floor but soon, one of the waitresses came over with a small old-world upholstered stool where Raquel’s bag could sit. Very fancy.

While discussing what we should be ordering, they brought us what looked like breadsticks in a tall silver cylindrical container along with four slices of bread in a metal basket plus two varieties of butter: salted (which tasted like wonderful creamy cheese) and unsalted (which tasted like, uh, butter). We weren’t sure if the “breadsticks” were indeed breadsticks or some decorative plant with no leaves. In the end, we didn’t touch those. We did eat the bread in the basket but I found it really tough to bite. I even tried ripping it to pieces but still found it very tough. Anyway, the butter tasted great so it wasn’t so bad.

We had a difficult time deciding what to get. We basically have $350 to burn there but after looking at the prices of the dishes, the money probably won’t go a long way. We ordered two appetizers to begin with and the portions were smaller than an entire cheeseburger at McDonald’s. It tasted okay but for $40 each, I would have expected it to have tasted like something that fell out of heaven! Or at the very least, the portion should have been bigger. Ah, well, it’s free anyway, we justified to ourselves.

After the waiters got our empty plates, one of them approached us with a plate. On the plate were two very small salmon-topped pastries. Apparently, those were also complimentary. I didn’t realise you get a lot of free food eating in fancy restaurants. Although I don’t personally like salmon, I wasn’t about to let a freebie get away so I took one anyway.

Anyway, due to the small food portions, we were far from being full. So, we ordered our next meal. We both got entree-sized risottos. These were about $48 each if I remember correctly. The portion of the risotto wasn’t big either. We weren’t surprised at this point. We did get an extra side dish which the waiter suggested: a small bowl of spinach with a bit of parmessan cheese for added flavour. It actually tasted quite nice. But again, we couldn’t stop thinking about the cost and portion size of what we had just eaten. For that much money, we expected more or something that was delicious by far.

Still not full after the risotto. I had wanted to eat something with meat this time. When I looked at the menu, I saw an entry called Wagyu beef and was immediately drawn to it but then saw the word carpaccio after it and thought to myself, “oh no, you don’t!” I recently went to an office lunch where I ordered an angus beef carpaccio and when the dish finally came, it was a thin shaved piece of beef which looked raw. In fact, it was raw! There wasn’t much meat there and there was a bit of a salad and all that for a whopping $20! I won’t fall for that again.

Okay, so no beef carpaccio. But there was a 1kg rib steak in the menu for about $160. That would probably be good. Although I’m sure I won’t have problems eating meat, I felt like the 1kg steak might just be too much for both of us. We might end up being too full.

In the end, the waiter suggested the 500g lobster they had on special for that day. I can’t remember having ever eaten lobster before so that was a good time to give it a go even if it did cost $120 (as far as I can recall). We have a $350 voucher anyway.

The lobster finally arrived. It was nice of them to split the lobster to go into two plates for us. They also set aside the bulk of the lobster flesh aside for convenience but still left much of the lobster’s carapace and limbs for us to slurp clean, I assume. What I didn’t expect was to be slightly grossed out by the sight of the lobster itself. It reminded me of an oversized insect and taking it apart with my cutlery and nutcracker silverware only added to the gross factor, for me. In the end, I only ate the lobster meat that was already set aside and that tasted good. It certainly went well with the extra bowl of spinach that came with the lobster.

That must have been the only time I’ve eaten that much spinach in one single day. I asked Raquel if they had a dedicated “kangkongan” (place where you grow spinach-like vegies in the Philippines) out in the back of their restaurant. At least, the spinach tasted good.

After the waiter took our plates away, one of them placed on our table two bowls of what looked like hot water with a lemon in the middle. We looked at each other, wondering whether this was another free dish or was it for washing one’s hands with. If it was for washing hands and we sipped it, that would have been gross. If it was actually some kind of broth and we washed our hands in it, that would have been embarassing. We ended up just ignoring the two bowls. They soon took the bowls away which sort of proved that those were for hand washing.

To finish off, we decided to have some gelato for dessert. Each order was about $24 and what we got was a plate with four scoops of sorbet/ice cream, each one a different flavour: mocha, lemon, apple and licorice. I admit that I’m not a fan of the actual licorice lolly but I found that the licorice-flavoured gelato was the best tasting of the four. The mocha probably comes in second. The lemon was too sour for my taste and the apple was a bit too sweet.

After that, Raquel had a cup of coffee and that came with 3 small treats. A small cube of lamington, a small piece of nougat and a small heart-shaped biscuit with jelly in the middle. I was too full to even take more than a few bites from these treats.

Finally, we asked for the bill. The total cost of our dinner was $380. Since we only have a $350 voucher, we had to still pay an additional $30 out of pocket. Ah, well. It was a good experience. At almost three hours, it was the longest time we had to sit down for dinner. At $380, it was the most expensive dinner we’ve ever had. Would I eat at such a fine-dining restaurant again? Not if I can help it. If I ever win a voucher for such a restaurant again, this time around, I’ll try to sell it off to my friends first.

The food, while it tasted nice, wasn’t the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. I could get food that is a lot tastier and has a bigger serving size for less money. I just don’t get the point of eating in such a place. I’ll probably be more willing to spend the same amount at a very fancy Japanese or Chinese restaurant than at a Eurpoean restaurant (well, maybe except Spanish or Portugese). At least in a fancy Asian restaurant, chances are, we can order lots of rice and whatever fancy dish we wanted. I also don’t have to worry about all the fancy European table etiquette.

In conclusion, we’re not going to try that again unless it’s free and we can’t absolutely help it.

Published in: on February 15, 2008 at 12:53 am  Comments (2)  

Sorry

The government finally said sorry to the stolen generations of aborigines today. About time too, as it was long overdue.

Published in: on February 13, 2008 at 9:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Trip to Tasmania

We just returned from a six-day vacation in Tasmania earlier this week. I honestly thought that it was going to be a bit ho-hum over there but, as it turned out, I actually liked the time we spent there. I usually hate driving long distances but driving all around Tasmania’s highways didn’t bother me one bit. I love the scenery there and the quaintness of it all. If I wasn’t working in IT, I can imagine myself living there and loving it.

Anyway, enough words. Here are the photos grouped by locations, sorted in chronological order.

Launceston

Sheffield

Cradle Mountain

Bicheno

Freycinet

Swansea

Richmond

Hobart

Published in: on January 31, 2008 at 11:35 pm  Leave a Comment