Monday, December 29, 2008

Melbourne - Day Four

Today is reserved for Philip Island. My brother reckons we have enough time, so we drove to the Docklands precint first. Lots of spaces but not enough shops. Lunch at the food court, then off to the Shrine of Remembrance. By 2:30pm, we were on our way to the Philip Island Nature Park. More traffic on the road. Got to Philip Island around 5pm already. We were told that the penguin parade starts around 7:30pm, so we went to see The Nobbies first. Supposed to have lots of seals lounging about on the Seal Rocks, but we didn't see any. We did get to see the Nobbies Blowhole at the end of the boardwalk though. The wind is blowing hard, there are strong waves smashing into the rocks, which made the blowhole all the more spectacular.

By 6pm, we were parked at the Philip Island Nature Park. It was a very good parking spot, too. Right at the first exit. Then we noticed that our car is very low on fuel. I know there's a petrol station a few kilometers down the road. Instead of waiting till the end of the penguin parade, might as well top up now. We were gone for only about half an hour. By the time we came back, all the parking lots were full, and we had to park in an open grassy lot with hundreds of other cars. Worse, we got to the stands late. Fortunately, a group moved away, and gave us their seats.

Took a while for the little penguins to come wading in. Those guys were really small and hard to spot amidst the rocks and the pigeons standing around. As more and more penguins filed in, even my parents were able to see them. On our way back to the Visitor Centre, you can see the little penguins wandering about, calling out, and looking for their little holes. Worth the long wait, the cold winds, and the entrance fee.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Melbourne - Day Three

For today, the plan is to visit the Twelve Apostles via the Great Ocean Road. Made a quick detour to the Queen Victoria Market for some Sunday shopping. Mom bought a crystal flower for her altar, while I bought an egg-shaped jewelry case for GF. Had some snacks, then started our drive to Port Campbell. Traffic is quite bad. Seems like everyone else on the road is taking the Great Ocean Road. Stopped by a town called Anglesea for lunch.

By 3pm, we're still on Great Ocean Road, and nowhere near the Twelve Apostles. Took a short detour to check out the Spit Point Lighthouse. After some quick picture-taking, we're back on the road. Got to Port Campbell National Park around 4pm. Half an hour later, we're done with the Apostles. The place is super windy and freezing cold. In our haste to get back to the city, we got caught speeding by a hidden police car. No wonder very few people is using that long narrow stretch of road. Got back to our hotel around midnight already. No one is in the mood for dinner, so we just bought some takeaway chicken wraps from Hungry Jacks.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Melbourne - Day Two

Today's agenda is simply to explore the city. Had a quick breakfast at our serviced apartment, then off we go. First stop is the Carlton Gardens. Took some photographs of the magnificent Royal Exhibition Building. It was completed in 1880 in time for the Melbourne International Exhibition. It also holds the distinction of being the first building in Australia to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Nearby is the Melbourne Musuem. Entry to the museum is free for seniors. Next stop is the Victorian Parliament House for more picture taking. Nearby are St. Peter's Anglican Church with a statue of Christ on a cross at a street corner and St. Patrick's Cathedral where photography is not allowed. This I found out too late. We then walked down to Russell Street, and had lunch at a Chinese restaurant.

We made our way along Flinders to St. Paul's Cathedral, where we waited for the Melbourne City Tourist Shuttle. Lots of other people had the same idea. Half an hour later, the hop-on hop-off bus took us to the Docklands shopping centres with the Southern Star Observation Wheel, Melbourne Museum and Carlton Gardens, Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne Aquarium, the Shrine of Remembrance, Royal Botanic Garden, Chinatown, etc. We got off at the Arts Centre, and spent some time at the National Gallery of Victoria. Very similar in atmosphere to the Art Gallery of NSW. We walked along the Yarra River promenade, and had snacks at the Southbridge. Stayed around Crown Casino a bit to watch their hourly(?) Christmas show in the lobby.

From there, we caught a tram to bring us back to Parliament House, where we parked our car in the morning. Drove to St. Kilda Beach for a look-see. By the time we finished touring the nearby Luna Park, we didn't want to see the beach anymore. The wind picked up, and it started getting very very cold. So back to the car we went and back to the hotel where we had pizzas and chicken wings delivered for dinner.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Melbourne - Day One

First day on our road trip to Melbourne is pretty uneventful. We left Sydney around 7:15am. My brother and I were driving, and we took turns at the wheel every two hours. First stop is at Gosford, where the Big Merino is. Breakfast at McDonald's. Next stop is at Goubourn. Lunch at Hungry Jack's and a full tank of petrol for the car. We had a short stop at this town called Holwich. The sign says "Holbrook Submarine Town", so I had to stop and look for the submarine. The town is quite small, and the submarine is parked right beside the main road. I don't think we're anywhere near the coast. No idea how the submarine ended up here. Would've liked to check out the sub, but it's pretty hot out in the open, and everyone's in a hurry to reach Melbourne, so we drove on.

Got to Melbourne around 5:30pm. First thing I noticed are the many flyovers and exits and the toll charges that go along with them. Checked in at Quest on Dorcas (right beside Royal Botanic Gardens), then drove straight to the CBD. The good thing about Melbourne is that the place is always alive and kicking. Many of the shops were already closed, but there's still lots of people about. Dinner is at the Yoyogi Japanese Cafe. Strangely enough, the owner and all the staff are Chinese. Today being Boxing Day, we went to David Jones (and Myer) for some late-night window-shopping.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Walk

It's Christmas, and nothing much is happening. All the malls and shops are closed, so I'm pretty sure it's quiet in the city. WHQ and I drove to the city to take the Christmas Walk. Started off at Martin Place to take pictures of the giant Christmas tree. Further on, there's a large stainless steel menorah near Macquarie Street. The menorah is a seven-branched candelabrum, which is normally associated with the Jewish faith.

Walking through Hyde Park, we saw another Christmas Tree. At the nearby David Jones, we spent some time looking at their Christmas-themed window displays, then went back home.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

No-Fly Zone at Illawarra Fly

After a long time of talking about it, today is the day we try out the Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk. I suggested to WHQ that we take the Grand Pacific Drive as it's along the way. First stop is the Ottford Lookout. The day is a bit overcast, but from here we still have clear sweeping views of the ocean and the mountainside. Further down the road, we stopped by Bald Hill Stanwell Park to check out the hanggliding action. RY was seriously tempted to do some tandem hanggliding, but later decided against it. Said it was too cold.

At the Sea Cliff Bridge, we were thinking whether we should try walking across for the experience. Good thing we didn't. There's really not much to see. The $50m bridge is 1.6kms long, and walking across and back is no easy talk. Driving on to Wollongong, we stopped by Nan Tien Temple for some picture-taking. Lunch consisted of hamburgers that the ladies prepared.

By 3pm, we got to Knights Hill. As luck would have it, the whole place is drizzling. But it's not the rain that is the problem, we could've easily gotten a poncho. The whole area is blanketed by dense fog! From inside the information centre, visibility is only a few tens of meters. The weather didn't improve after our coffee and hot chocolate, so we decided to come back another day.

After a short rest in the afternoon, GF joined the family for a Christmas Eve dinner at HK Restaurant.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Barbeque at Concord, Canapes at Burwood

WHQ's hosting a Christmas barbecue at her place. As usual, everyone arrived late. Start time is supposed to be 11am, so we started cooking the sausages around 10:30am. By 11am, there's only four of us eating the sausages and chicken macaroni. By 12 noon, people started arriving in earnest. Finished around 2pm.

I figured we can have a quiet afternoon, then go home early. Not to be so. Turns out WHQ's sister is attending a company party, and signed us all up. Actually, I was not invited, but one of WHQ's brother didn't want to go, so I had to take his place. Good thing it's just at Vee Vees in Burwood, so not too far. We had some drinks, lots of canapes, and party games till late night.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Ring

Buying an engagment ring is a real tricky business. Especially if you know next to nothing about rings and diamonds. More so if you don't know how much one typically costs. I asked my colleague. He tells me it's normally two o three months' worth of salary. I'm assuming he's referring to the guy's salary. That's a LOT! Not saying that I make huge bundles of money, but it's still a lot, even if we just use WHQ's salary as the basis.

Anyway, last Friday, I and WHQ (and her chaperone/adviser) hit the jewelry shops in Chinatown. Not familiar with the 4C's of diamonds, all we can say is "Show us your engagement rings" and "Which ones are on sale", and making selections based on just the carat and the price. By the time we checked out the 3rd or 4th shop, we're already talking about colour gradings, VS, VVS, SI1, etc. Even then, the pricing of the rings doesn't really make sense because some diamonds can have good specifications, yet are still reasonably priced. Some rings don't look as nice, but are more expensive. I guess it's really a combination of the carat, clarity, colour, cut, and design. Instead of giving WHQ a price range, I just told her to choose what design she fancies because ultimately she'll be the one wearing it. Fortunately, she has small fingers, so a big diamond is out of the question. Out of the blue, I remember my colleague's advice: "Let's hope she is wise and frugal!" After making a shortlist of two rings from two shops, we decided to give it a cooling-off period.

So we're back today to make the purchase. We checked out the rings again to make a final comparison, and decided to go with Ricco Ricco Jewelry. The diamond itself is not big, but it's set high and held in place by 6 claws (Tiffany-style). The ring tapers a bit leading to the diamond, making it look bigger. Small fingers help, too. The diamond itself is colour E, SI1. Really great value for money, since it's on sale. Even got another $150 discount as we paid in cash.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

From Engagement to Married Life in One Day

Went to Hurstville with GF to watch Married Life. I knew something was wrong the moment we stepped in the cinema. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw GQ tell a couple of ladies "Here they are." and run off. So we took our seats and watched the pre-movie trailers and commercials. Suddenly the lights dimmed, the drum roll came on, and on the screen came the Powerpoint presentation I created:

It just so happened that the movie of the day was Married Life. So GF sort of assumed that this is just one of the teasers. I popped the question, and she didn't even mind me. Hmm, not the kind of reaction I expected. I sort of assumed that she got the message, and was just acting coy, so I asked her again. And again. Everyone else in the cinema seemed to know what's going on, and the place started to buzz with anticipation. GF finally realized that the video was intended for her. After the initial shock, she managed to say yes, which I promptly relayed to the expectant crowd, to their delight.

Married Life is probably not the kind of movie to watch on engagement day. In the movie, Harry cheats on his long-time wife Pat, and leads a double life with the younger Kay. He feels so happy and content he introduces Kay to his best buddy Richard. Now Richard is a playboy and he instantly takes a liking to Kay. He discovers Pat having an affair with another guy, yet he advises her to remain with Harry so he can have Kay for himself. Meanwhile, Harry decides to poison Pat to get her out of the way. At the last minute, he finds Kay together with Richard. He rushes back home to stop Pat from taking her medication, which he had replaced with poison. From then on, everything goes back to "normal". After the movie, GQ publicly congratulated us, and handed us some flowers and a DVD copy of the presentation. Very nice gesture.

The story is a bit sobering, bleak and sad, but not enough to dampen WHQ's spirits. By the time we finished our coffee/hot chocolate and pastries, she has already SMS'ed all of her friends and informed her parents who are overseas at the time, before I have a chance to change my mind. This is what is known as "the point of no return".

Saturday, December 06, 2008

1st Year Anniversary

Spent most of the day checking out houses at West Ryde. With the current global economic crisis (GEC), property prices are falling and interest rates are dropping, which make it a good time to buy property. People are also looking to take advantage of the first home owner's grant, which the government has doubled to $14,000. Anyway, GF called me up and said she had put down deposit for a Campsie unit. She went to see the unit today. The real estate agent told her that another party is very interested, so if she likes the unit, she needs to pay a deposit to secure it. So that's what she did. That's my girl - no beating around the bush. :-)

Later, we went down to the city for mass at St. Patrick's Church (Grosvenor Street) and dinner at Blue Fish (Harbourside). Happy anniversary, dear.