Thursday, December 23, 2010

Leaving Melbourne

I don't feel like I really got to say goodbye to Melbourne. The visa, resignation, and move were really close together.

Melbourne has been a lot of fun and a great experience. We have had the chance to see and do things that many never will, and I don't want to marginalize what we got to do. But I would be lying if I said I didn't have some regrets.

We did a great job of seeing Victoria. We did a good job of seeing western Tassie. But for the other states and territories we really didn't excel.

Trouble is, with different work demands and schedules, it was really hard to do exploring that went longer than a long weekend.

I even have regrets in Victoria. We didn't spend nearly enough time in the alpine region. We didn't spend enough time backpacking. My new job strung out long enough that we (or at least me) sort of checked out of Australia prematurely and didn't take enough advantage at the end.

And that's the thing. For me, this is the end. I expect to make a trip in January. I'd like to think that before it's time to return to the US we will still get to drive around Oz, but I have no idea. I never expected to not be returning to SF when Shannon's assignment ended.

I just hope we really take advantage of NZ. We are embarking on a weeklong trip to Auckland to try to fond a house and a car. If we can knock that out fast, can we break Shannon off her job fast and get started exploring? NZ is small by comparison, but there is a lot to see. We will have more holiday time, but we may have booked out three weeks walking down the street last night.

How does one make the most of a place you aren't sure will be home for all that long? Our two and a half years in Melbourne really flew...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Slaying the Environment

That's really what you're doing when you have professional movers box your life and take it away. I'm sure that the protective wrapping consumed today in our little apartment alone killed at least one species of tree somewhere. Total madness.

They did a good job though.

In related news, what's the fastest way to feel like an ass? Have three women pack your house while you sit around.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Today was a pretty big day. Today, I quit my job.

Some folks are aware that it's been in the works, but for some, it may be news. I've accepted a job with Altitude Aerospace Interiors in Auckland, New Zealand. Shannon and I are in the process of getting our lives together to make the move to Auckland. Obviously, this is a pretty substantial change.

This was also a really difficult decision. In all reality, United has been very good to me. I've learned a lot and work with really good people. I have no complaints. In the end, I wanted to try to find a new challenge, and I wanted to remove some of the uncertainty in my job situation that I feel currently exists. I hope it was a good decision. It did not come lightly.

I finally got notice that my visa had been approved on Friday. This has been a long time coming. It's much more time consuming to get a visa in NZ than in Australia for over two years. There are full medical exams and police certificates that are challenging to get. There is a longer wait (or at least a variable one) with Immigration NZ. It's taken a full quarter to get it all lined up.

I'm excited and nervous. 2011 is going to be an interesting year. The movers come Thursday. That should be interesting too. Oh, and down here, movers are called removalists. Odd.

I guess the next question is - when will we have visitors?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

Photo of the Day

Christmas in Melbourne

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Photo of the Day

The city from the river

Saturday, December 4, 2010

World Cup Follow Up

Just two more pictures. Number one - look at the legs on the guy in the rainbow kit. The announcer called him "quadzilla" after he false started. He was the #2 man.

Number two, looking at the second rider, I'm guessing they eat well in Poland.

Just sayin. I know the sprint isn't an endurance race, but there are enough six packs walking around the infield to start a bar.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Melbourne UCI Track World Cup

I did not expect to get to see a third edition of this race...

The event has a slightly different format this year, in terms of what events are being held and when they are being held. Also, night session ticket prices went up, and you can no longer watch from the ends of the track. I don't know if this is the fault of the organizers or the UCI, but it's sort of disappointing all around. The Madison final on the first night? The place wasn't even half full. Based on the schedule, I doubt I'll check out any more of the events. Too much individual sprint scattered on each day.

Anyway, I still enjoyed myself. The events for the evening were men's and women's team sprint, woman's team pursuit, men's omnium elimination, and the 40k Madison. Below are some photos. No Madison shots, as it's hard enough to just watch the race.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Photo of the Day

Fitzroy Thought Fence

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Euro

How do we manage to take a trip to Europe during the peak between two lows in the exchange rate that touch on historical significance?

Poor timing...

Photo of the Day

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Consualar Services

I've got to give some credit to the US Consulate in Melbourne. I had good luck with them inserting new pages into my passport, but they really came through for Shannon.

The Consulate here managed to get her a new passport in nine days, including a weekend and an Australian public holiday (Note: the US Consulate observes both US and Australian holidays - sweet gig!). Couple that with the fact that all passports have to be printed in the US, I'd call that pretty impressive.

All for the standard price, too.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Last weekend was the Johnston St. Hispanic Festival, which has apparently been renamed hispanicfiesta. Like last year, we stopped by since it's just at the end of our street and whatnot.

Again, we were somewhat underwhelmed by the food. Just as before, we had some seriously high hopes, that left us somewhat disappointed. This food should be out of this world. What's the story? Are the vendors bringing flavors down to suit the market? Is it because of the larger scale production? Some of both? They certainly work the prices to suit the local market, which probably didn't help my feelings on the matter. I've simply had better Hispanic food elsewhere.

The weather worked out well though, unlike last year, and gave us an excellent chance to sit on our roof, polish off our tequila (in honor, naturally) and listen to the music.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Photo of the Day

Stained glass window in Melbourne Town Hall.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Au Revoir, Pajero

We sold the truck. It's quite bittersweet. On the one hand, we had a lot of adventures with it, but on the other, we never got to have the big trip that we wanted.

We did ok on the money. We more or less broke even on the metal, leaving us with just the operating and maintenance costs since we've had it. Not so terrible. We sold it to a French couple that's about our age who have a year to drive around Australia. Just once again proving that Americans are doing it wrong in that regard. I hope they have as much fun with it as we have.

So long.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Funny thing, Westvleteren. It's a brewery that is somewhat of legend in the US. The beer is not available stateside, and is challenging to get in Belgium. From their website:

Please take into account that you may often get a busy signal when you call to make a reservation, due to the fact that our beer lines are overburdened! You're not the only one who is calling at that moment. Due to our small-scale production, the number of telephone calls is much greater than the number of available reservations. That means it's a matter of having a lot of patience as well as a lot of luck.

In order to allow as many customers as possible to make a reservation, there are several limitations built into the reservation process:

  • Automobiles: reservations are made by license plate number, and the automobile bearing that license plate can pick up an order only once during any calendar month.

  • Telephones:
    - Each specific telephone number can reach the beer phone only once during any calendar month to make a reservation. If that telephone number attempts to call a second time within the same calendar month, the call will be automatically interrupted. There's no sense in calling back if you've already made a reservation within the same calendar month.
    - Anonymous telephone numbers are not accepted.
    - Land phones and cell phones have an equal chance. All telephone zones are treated equally.

There's no sense in trying to contact our beer sales outlet or the brewery - in any way at all - if you don't succeeds in placing a reservation. Any such attempts will receive no response.

Thanks in advance for your understanding and your patience!

I was quite keen to put my hands on some while we were there, but depending on who you talk to, there seems to be some cultural nuance about getting it as a tourist.

My first attempt was at a bar where I saw old bottle crates and asked if it was available. Bartender #1 gave me this confused look and told me how hard it was to get. Bartender #2 said that it might be available but there were things to understand. First, it was important to understand that if they were to have some, it would be old, having come from the brewery a while ago. Second, he wouldn't be able to charge a customer for this beer because he would be taking money away from the Abbey. Simply, he could give a friend at the bar a beer, and if that friend chose to leave a donation for the Abbey, it would be much appreciated. Third, if one were to want a beer, it would need a 20 minute lead time so it could reach an appropriate temperature. And fourth, he asked that if one was to be ordered, that the bar wouldn't be mentioned to friends or written about on the Internet. This to me was something akin to "the first rule of Westvleteren is that you don't talk about Westvleteren. The second rule..."

Being caught off guard by this, I opted to not order. I didn't want to be offensive, or have my motives misconstrued. Simply, I don't believe I understand the ins and outs of what might have been going on. Our counterpart down the bar from New York did opt to order one. We had chatted with him, and from my impression, he wasn't trying to bend any rules or take advantage of anything. I think he was just curious.

But like I said, I wasn't sure, so I opted out.

Up in Brugge, I had been told that I'd find it on the menu at Cambrinus. We did. Three varieties, in fact. I feel that since this establishment has it on the menu with a price (and a high one, at that) I can advertise them. We had the blonde and the dubbel brune 8. According to Wikipedia, this was grey market beer.

They were very good. In retrospect, neither fell into our top two beers, but they were damn good. What drives this international demand? The quality is tops, but this may be one of those instances where reputation grows by lack of supply. Of course, there is no accounting for taste.

Looking back, I'm not sure where I stand on the fact that we had these beers. The brewery opposes the sale outside the Abbey, and we paid a mint for them, so some middle man other than the official cause is making a killing. I can't exactly say that I regret the choice, as I'll most likely not get to have another for a very long time, but I can't exactly say that I feel great about it either.

I certainly feel that The Bar That Shall Remain Nameless honors the intent in a more noble way, even if they have slight ethical flaws, too.

Beer Wrap Up

Saying that Belgium has good beer is like saying that Versailles has some gold on it. We drank some really amazing stuff while we were there. Forty two unique beers, in all, by our count. Here's the list. Breweries are in Bold. Mistakes may be present - input wanted.

InBev Leffe Brune
Westmalle Tripel Blonde
Westmalle Double Brune
't Hofbrouwerijke Bosprotter
Achel Brune
De Dochter Van de Korenaar Bravoure
Orval Trappist
Valier Divers
Bink Bloesem (1)
Cantillion Gueuze
Cantillion Lambic
Cantillion Kriek
Val-Dieu Grand Cru (2)
Zona Cesarini (3)
Delirium Nocturnum
Delirium Tremens
Bosteels Tripel Karmeliet
Bosteels Pauwel Kwak
Bosteels DeuS Brut des Flandres
A la Mort Subite Gueuze Sur Lie
Grimbergen Brune
De Halve Mann Brugse Zot Blond
De Halve Mann Brugse Zot Dubbel (Brune)
Westvleteren Blonde (4)
Westvleteren Dubble Brune 8% (4)
Brouwerij Palm Rodenbach Grand Cru
Brouwerij Van Steenberge Gulden Draak (5)
InBev Leffe Tripel
Brouwerij Palm Brugge Tripel
Brouwerij Van Steenberge Tripel Van de Garre
Brouwerij Van Steenberge de Witte Van Celis
InBev Hoegaarden Wheat
Duvel Blonde
Brasserie de Rochefort Rochefort Trappiste 8 (5)
De Ranke Saison de Dottignies
Chimay Blanche
Van Steenberge Augustijn Bruin
Brasserie Ellezelloise La Biere des Collines Hercule Stout
Brasserie Lefebvre Barbar (5)
InBev Leffe Blonde
Malheur Blonde 10 (6)
Malheur Brune 12 (6)

(1) Top rated blonde of the trip
(2) Top rated brune of the trip
(3) From Italy. Purchased because of the 5 hop blend from different countries. A tasty excursion from Belgium.
(4) See subsequent post regarding Westvleteren
(5) Honorable Mention
(6) Purchased in Brugge and consumed in Melbourne. Still counts.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Trip Home

Because we are fools and have next to no vacation time, our trip from Brussels to Melbourne was completed in one day. The long way, via Chicago, San Francisco, and Sydney. Thank goodness we had lounge access...

And were in business the whole way...

On the leg from Chicago to San Francisco, I looked out the window just in time to see Yosemite. We were just a tick too far north to see all of Mono Lake, but seeing part of it was my clue.

I was on the wrong side to see the valley, but I did see Hetch Hetchey, and all of it's bathtub ring glory.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Continuing the much delayed Belgium experience...

On Saturday morning, we took the train to Brugge for a quick two day trip before heading back to Australia. The train was just what you'd expect - prompt, affordable, relatively scenic, and quiet. We made it all the way to our next B&B dry, but the weather was threatening.

We spent most of our time meandering through town stopping to gawk at architecture, have coffee, enjoy a beer (including a Westvleteren), have a snack, but with no specific plan in mind.

Four shots from the Markt.

It's easy to just get yourself lost walking through town. Every time you turn a corner there is some other wonderful building or piece of artwork to look at. It's no wonder that so many people come up for weekends. Inside the ring road, it's like an entirely different world.

There were of course some signs of the modern world inside the fairy tale land. Translation: Blonde - Do Not Blame Me

Brugge at night.

We did manage to have some fairly Belgian food in Brugge. Despite having been caught in a rather heavy downpour, we stopped and had mussels in white wine and carbonade flamande. While probably somewhat touristy (as most things in Brugge are) they were both very good. And, by comparison to a lot of places, I think we got a good deal.

Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day (at least in the morning), but before we could get out in it, we had breakfast with our hostess, Maria. She was absolutely hilarious, and she makes a heck of a good omelet. She had a fantastic story, having lived all over Europe. We talked for nearly an hour, in at least the following languages: English, Flemish, Spanish, Italian, and German. She told us a lot about her life story, and didn't really pull any punches about the low points. But she seemed overall to be very happy, and love having visitors and getting to hear their stories, too. She was a wonderful hostess, and even prepared us a bag of food to take away the next day, as we had an early train.

We spent some time walking around the ring canal and found a number of cool bridges, gates into the city, and even windmills.

There were plenty of little details that are so typically European.

We meandered some more and found a couple more churches and got some nice views of the Belfry from afar.

We made our way to De Garre, as we were told they had an excellent house beer. They did. But finding it was pretty entertaining. We walked by it a couple times before we finally sorted out that it was down this alley.

Good thing we got there when we did, too. As promised, tables were impossible to come by about 10 minutes after we sat down. At 11 am.

After leaving, we were off for lunch. We had a place in mind that we read about that sold pancakes really cheaply. This seemed tasty. On the way, it started raining. Then the lightning started. And then it started to hail.

It came down for the better part of 40 minutes, and by the end, there was a good inch of hail on the road. It was actually really pretty - it looked sort of like snow. This is what was left after we had lunch.

Oh, and about that lunch. Pancakes seem to leave something behind in the translation. It was really a crepe house. But, it was awesome. The prices were fair, and I had a crepe that must have weighed a kilo. Plus, it was made out in the open, so you could watch. If you're in Brugge, make sure to eat at De Bretoen. You will not go away hungry.

Other fun facts. Here's Smedenpoort.

Here's the casting of the traitor who opened the gate to the French in the 15th century and was hung on the spot.

I do have some regrets about this little stop. If one stood at the gate and looked in, you saw the medieval town you'd been walking around. If you looked out, you saw what looked to be the much more modern part of Brugge. I think it would have been interesting to check this out and see what "real life" is like (at least for those that live outside the ring) but, as per normal, it started raining again. Hard.

Our travels took us back to the east part of the city based on a planned dinner stop. We decided to skip it after having a better look at the menu, but did wind up at Nieuw Museum where we had a couple beers and a really interesting conversation with the owner. We had originally been drawn in by what we thought was a fireplace, but was instead a huge open cooking pit. Lots of tasty looking dead animals were coming out. It's a family business (save the grill man - "he came with the place" and one of the young hands - "him? no, he is NOT my brother") and it seemed to be a local scene on a Sunday night. We thought the prices on food were a bit high, but if you were a local, paid in Euros, it would be fairly par, from what I can tell. I have slight regret not having dinner there.

Tragically, that brought our time in Brugge to a close. The next morning, we took the train back to the airport, and were on our way. I found it sort of crazy how many people commuted into Brussels. It's not a really long train ride, but I think it would get old back and forth every day. A number of people went to Gent, too, but that's only about 20 minutes. I'm guessing that outside of tourism, there isn't much work in Brugge.

In summary, I'm really glad we went to Brugge, but two days is probably the perfect amount of time. After that, I think I'd want to check out Gent and Antwerp.