Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Wonder of Woolworths

Just been down to the local Woolworths for a grocery shop. Unlike F.W. Woolworth UK which died in 2009, Woolies in Australia is still going strong and is one of the biggest supermarket chains. And like most UK supermarkets they sell lots of things, apart from booze that is! In the state of Queensland you have to get beer, wine, etc from special bottle shops. Just as well for us that there was one just around the corner!

Ha, ha!
And on the way back from the shop we heard and then saw a Kookaburra - these famous birds have the most interesting call which sounds just like a human laughing - well that's what they say - it sounded to me more like a monkey laughing. The birdlife in Queensland is a bit different to Victoria and they all sound quite unlike birds in the UK. And last night we fed a bandicoot at the pond over the road - it comes out at 4.30 pm on the dot and we fed it half a dozen peanuts which kept it occupied for a while - we'll try to get a photo of him and post it here.

This week's Parkrun was at Mitchelton and I came 7th in a rather slow 21.15 but it was a real switchback course and, unlike the Parkrun in Melbourne, this one started at 7 00 am so I was a bit not warmed up if you know what I mean! Vicky was pleased with her 142nd in 34.54.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Christmas in July

Just north of Antarctica.

We've done a bit of travelling in Victoria State going right down to the Great Ocean Road where the beaches were wide and deserted and stretched for miles and the sea was deep turquoise blue. It's over 150 miles long so a day trip of 300 miles is a bit of a challenge but we got nearly half way down. There is a Great Ocean Road Marathon but I don't think I'm quite up to that sort of thing these days.

Who's a pretty boy?

This part of Australia does not seem to be too infested with seagulls and we're not missing the huge Herring Gulls of the North Wales coast. But nature abhors a vacuum and into the gap on the south coast of Oz steps the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo; not quite as big as Herring Gulls they nevertheless roam the seaside towns in great numbers and are considered a pest. This one seemed very friendly though and sat just outside our car at Lorne in Victoria state.

Up in the Dandenong Ranges, a ridge of hills to the east of Melbourne, we came across a village called Sassafras with a tea shop called Mrs Marples advertising 'Christmas in July',  Seems like this is common practice in Australia in the depths of their winter - this place had Christmas decorations, carols, roast turkey, etc! There was even false snow on the roof!

Where's my cracker?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Trail Running in Australia

There's that green Denbigh Harriers vest going over the start line at the Plenty Gorge 17.6K Trail Race just outside Melbourne in Australia. Lots of up and down going across the gorge (and the river) at least four times. I sneaked a 1st V60 in 1.44.27, 90th overall out of nearly 500. Vicky started the short event but nobly sacrificed her race in order to help a lady who'd smashed her ankle at a fairly inaccessible part of the course (out in the bush in other words!) It was an early morning start and consequently pretty nippy as you'll see from the fact that I wore a t-shirt and a vest. Very well organised apart from the almost total lack of marshals, but it was a very well marked course. The downside of this was that I had to follow the marked course and not go off piste and take advantage of any fell running skills like taking short cuts or galloping down scree slopes. (I was the only one with a bumbag!)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Water Down the Plughole

Yes the bathwater definitely goes down the plughole in an anti-clockwise direction down here.

The other thing we've noticed is that the revolving doors go clockwise - I'm sure they go anti-clockwise back in the UK - don't they?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Big Trees

Botanic gardens in Australia are quite fascinating because of the weird and wonderful vegetation that is to be found down under. I'm always impressed with the trees particularly the giant figs and eucalyptus trees, the latter are the main reason that bush fires take hold so rapidly and extensively. Their leaves are full of highly volatile oils and beneath the trees bark and leaf litter won't compost due to these oils building up a reserve of kindling that provides fuel for bush fires. In fact eucalypts or gum trees as they are also known, are susceptible to fire but depend on fire in order to kickstart their seeds into life. Melbourne Botanic Gardens have many fine specimens of gum trees some hundreds of feet tall. Another type of tree that can grow pretty big in Oz is the fig tree, some of the largest being the Moreton Bay Fig which can not only reach 200 feet tall but spreads over a wide area - we've seen some in Australia that you could hide an elephant in. I managed to hide in this comparatively small one!
Peek a Boo

However one of the most impressive finds for me wasn't Australian at all! There are huge numbers of mature English Elms in Melbourne. Virtually wiped out in the UK due to Dutch Elm Disease they have been isolated from the dread virus over here and there are parkfuls and avenues everywhere - a bit gaunt in the winter as they've no leaves on at the moment but you can still appreciate the size of them from this photo.

So you can see that we are taking our responsibilities very seriously in our quest to explore the flora and fauna of the Antipodes - we've even seen a kangaroo which we'll tell you about in our next blog!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Barmy parma!

Mrs Parma's - quite a bizarre restaurant, we heard that the beer was good and in fact they have a great range of microbrewery beer on draught. We found this comfortable up market-looking place at the top end of Chinatown, it was very busy and we were lucky to find a table but the strange thing was the menu! We had chanced upon a prime source of 'parmas' or parmigianas this being a peculiar Australian/Italian dish which looks a bit like a pizza, however the base is not pizza dough but a big flattened battered piece of chicken served with a range of toppings including mozzarella, tomato, chorizo, etc plus the Aussie special, a parma floater with mushy peas and gravy! So we tucked into a pair of parmas and tasty beer but found no room for the amazing house dessert - deep fried Mars bars with ice cream. For those of you who think I'm making this up here's the website

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Down under - made it to OZ!

Manchester to Dubai to Singapore to Melbourne – this is what long haul is all about. Still we watched about seven movies between us including Catching Fire (Hunger Games), Snowpiercer (a Korean-made, fairly violent, post apocalyptic sci-fi redeemed by a brilliant cameo from Tilda Swinton) and my favourite, a Pixar movie called Up! On arrival in Oz we checked in on Friday and Saturday morning ran in the Parkrun in the park opposite our hotel. They start early over here with the off being at 8 am, this was a single lap flat dirt track round this lake and I was surprised to get round over half a minute quicker than at Rhyl 2 weeks ago – so much for the theory that you run quicker against folk that you know. I was 18th in 20.27 (1st V60) and Vicky was 202nd in 35.31.
  And for the twitchers among you....there's a real mix of birdies over here. This photo was taken by the lake and shows an indigenous Purple Swamphen in the foreground with a bunch of coots. Introduced from Europe, coots are en masse everywhere round the lake and are clearly very happy here - seems to be a distinct absence of whatever eats them back at home. The lake is also home to about 150 black swans (like what we saw in Devon a few weeks ago) and all over the place there are magpies and magpie larks , myna birds and parrots galore.

 Melbourne is a fine city - weather is a bit mixed at this time of year and we had to put our jumpers on but then it is winter here. It's full of skyscrapers and older heritage buildings in the city but it's also by the seaside -  we walked to St Kilda beachfront on our first morning and strolled along the pier to St Kilda's Kiosk which was rebuilt after a recent drastic fire. Breakfast in our hotel is rather pricey so we've decided to take a tour of the various local cafe's sampling a different one each morning - we'll let you know which one scores top marks but the beachfront cafe at St Kilda's certainly hit the spot.

And here are pics of the two magpie type birds that inhabit the park over the road - the one with the big beak is an Australian Magpie and it attacks runners and cyclists during the breeding season - hence the need to wear a helmet with spikey antennae or a hat with big eyes painted on - it works! The smaller bird is not the Willy Wagtail which I remember seeing in Brisbane a year ago - no it's the Magpie Lark, quite a harmless little bird.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Uitslagenlijst Veluwezoomtrail

Uitslagenlijst Veluwezoomtrail - A trail race in the Netherlands which we found quite a challenge!We'd gone over to see Vicky's Aunt Lidi in Rosenburg and following a nice couple of hours with her we were able to spend some time in Den Haag with our good friend Willem, an overseas member of Clwydian Range Runners. Willem has been up to see us in Denbighshire and he and his wife Kathy had us round to their traditional Dutch apartment for a lunchtime feast clearly designed to slow us down for the following days event.


Not a flat race by any means despite being in Holland and here's the course profile to show the ups and downs. We managed to get a late entry for the short race (15k on Vicky's Garmin) and I finished 16th in 72.34, Vicky was 258th in 125.40. At the start of the race there were hundreds of lean fit looking runners in fairly flashy running gear, not many of the faded club vests and tatty shorts to be found on our mountains at home. A few folk were wearing Inov8 shoes which gave me an excuse to start conversations with the locals - there didn't seem to be any other foreign runners - as this was in the eastern forests of the Netherlands maybe this wasn't a surprise. The start seemed steady enough through a long section of undulating forest which was very pretty, and then we headed up to a section of moorland on a combination of trails and steps, I overtook plenty on the downs and kept my place on the ups so gradually worked my way through the field. And then, quite high up, we were directed over a long section of sandy dunes, so this was what the Marathon des Sables is all about, I expected the Dutch dune runners to start streaming past but maybe recent beach running in Prestatyn has paid off as I kept up OK. And then, disaster.......I followed a group of runners down a narrow forest path to meet another group of runners coming towards us looking very annoyed, we'd all gone wrong and had to backtrack. Despite all the shenanigans I managed to finish strongly overtaking a fair number in the last couple of k's - my Boost bar did the trick again giving me a surge of energy just at the right time. Willem  completed the medium distance race (27K) and some of his clubmates did the long race (52K) - maybe another time?

We finished the weekend in Utrecht, a fine old city with a magnificently Gothic cathedral. St Martin's of course!

                          Looking for good ale we found a fine little pub called the Florin
This was formerly the Florin and Firkin one of the Dutch outposts of the chain of pioneering Firkin brewpubs from the 1980's for those of you who remember such delights as Dogbolter. There's a complete list of Firkin pubs on wikipedia.

An ever better pub with a long list of beers on tap was Cafe Belgie which really hit the spot from a rehydration pint of view!