Five things I love about living in Melbourne

In honour of Australia Day, here’s my top five favourite things about living in Melbourne:

city1. The weather
Even after 11 years here, as a Brit I never fail to get excited when I see the sun. It took me two years to restrain my natural instinct to dash outside whenever the sun was shining. And another two to stop walking on the sunny side of the street in 35C heat. I know the locals complain about four seasons in one day, but I love the changeability as it means it will never be too hot for too long.

footy2. The footy
I am not a sports nut but there is something strangely engaging about footy; the level of athleticism displayed, the feudalism of the teams, the passionate committed fans, I love it all. The sound of the opening siren at the MCG never fails to thrill.

 

laneway3. The lane ways
Compared to is brasher Sydney, Melbourne has a hidden charm and this is no better illustrated than by its lane ways. Bars, boutiques, bistros, can all be found in the lane ways. And some of Melbourne’s most beautiful buildings.

 

pop up bar4. The bars and restaurants
If there is a dish you are craving, you can find it here in Melbourne. Afghani, Vietnamese, French, Cuban; and you can eat it in pretty much any style of eatery – pop-up, diner, BYO, fine dining…

 

garden5. The parks
Melbourne has some beautiful green spaces where you can while away the hours: Treasury, Fitzroy, Parliament, Botanic, Carlton. Many host events including free summer concerts and open air plays.

Predictable list? Yes. Similar to other cities? Probably. But Melbourne really is a fabulous place to be! Even if I am biased.

 

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Melting, melting … top tips for any newly arrived northern europeans on surviving this heat wave

Melbourne heat wave

Northern europeans (and English people who don’t see themselves as European), hear me. You may think you know what it’s like to experience hot weather … but you would be wrong. Until you have lived through consecutive multiple 40C + days, you will not have a true understanding of the horror that awaits you! So with the benefit of my years of living here in Melbourne, I give you my top tips to surviving this week’s heat wave.

Preparations:

  • Fill all the ice cube trays you own.
  • Put bottles of water and face cloths in the freezer.
  • Stock up on food, preferably things that don’t need to be heated up such as salad items, yoghurt, etc. And a box of icy poles (or super dupers as Aussies call them) would not go astray either.
  • TOP TIP – grapes are great frozen, and very refreshing. Bung a bunch in the freezer.
  • Close all the blinds and curtains in your house and make sure all windows are shut tight.
  • Buy a freestanding oscillating fan, if you don’t already own one (or more).

During the heat wave:

  • DO NOT OPEN WINDOWS “to let the cool air/breeze in.” There is none, this is an English fallacy.  All it will do is make your house even hotter.
  • Do not open the curtains/blinds, unless its nighttime. They need to stay closed until the heatwave is over.
  • Soak a towel or tea towel in cold water and drape over the fan (making sure it won’t get trapped in the blades).
  • Fill a tub with cold water and put ice cubes in there (remembering to top up your ice cube trays afterwards, you don’t want to run out of ice!) and stick your feet in there. Or have a cold bath if you have a bathtub (lucky you).
  • There is no such thing as too many cold showers. And definitely have one before you go to bed.
  • Spray your bedsheets with water using a trigger spray bottle and have a cold shower before you go to bed (and if you are wearing some sort of night cover like a t-shirt, soak that in water too).
  • Sleep in the ‘coolest’ or rather, ‘least hot’, room in the house. This is not the time to get all precious about where you sleep.
  • Don’t create any additional heat in the house that you don’t have to. That means no hairdryers, ovens, stovetops, irons, etc.
  • Do not leave the house unless you have to. It is always hotter outside and don’t underestimate how difficult it is to get about in this weather.

Of course, if you have air con, you are laughing.  Unless it isn’t in your bedroom, in which case you will be dragging your mattress into the room that does have the air con and camping out there so ha ha back.

Out and about:

Obviously you will only be leaving the house if you are (a) mad or (b) don’t have air con and live in a concrete box; otherwise you will be hunkered down as per my advice above.

  • Seek out free/cheap places that have air con: Your car; cinemas; shopping malls; work (!); bowling alleys, libraries, museums.
  • Try not to be outside between 12pm and 6pm, this is the hottest part of the day.
  • Wear a hat, loose clothing and carry at least one 500ml water bottle, preferably two.
  • Walk SLOWLY and in the shade (dur) and if you don’t feel stupid, use an umbrella to keep the heat off your head.

That’s it really. All common sense stuff but I didn’t do half of it my first summer here so I thought it was worth sharing!

Oh and my ‘glass half full’ take on Melbourne heat waves… Every heat wave (eventually) leads to a cool change. Which are brilliant! The thermostat can drop up to 18C in 30 minutes. Bliss!

Voucher vulture: Or how to get the most out of your 2013-14 Entertainment Book

meal-image

It’s now coming up to half way through the 12-month cycle for the current Australian & New Zealand Entertainment Books. How many vouchers have you used so far? Have you even registered your gold card yet, let alone put it in your wallet? The Entertainment Book is a fabulous saving for those who like eating out and/or for those who want to stretch that dollar a little further. I think I can honestly say that I am an expert on navigating the book and therefore maximizing its value to me; my 2013-14 Greater Melbourne Entertainment Book is the fifth I have purchased and used.

I am assuming you are reading this because you know what the Entertainment Book is but just in case you have stumbled across my ramblings by mistake…the book contains hundreds of ‘up to 50% off’ and ‘2-for-1’ offers for many local restaurants, cafes, arts, attractions, hotels, travel services and online shopping. The books are sold by community groups, schools and other organisations as a means of raising funds for their causes. The vouchers/offers are valid from purchase until 1 June of the following year e.g. my current book vouchers will expire on 1 June 2014. There are 14 books available within Australia, and five in New Zealand, all based in and around the major cities.

So how to maximize dollars saved? No matter how you intend to use it, the first thing you must do is to grab a highlighter pen, go to the index at the front of each of the five voucher sections and highlight places you already frequent/want to visit. You must also register the gold card that accompanies your Entertainment Book; this gives you access to the members’ area and to the bonus dining offers, additional discounts for cinema tickets and holiday destinations, etc. Once registered, you will also receive a monthly email that lists the available bonus offers as well as the occasional special offer on specific services or destinations. And for social media tragics such as myself, you can also follow the Entertainment Book on Facebook and/or Twitter and be notified of additional bonus offers and changes to venues that way. Proviso, the restaurant vouchers do tend to be relatively city- and inner city-centric although the take away deals and services are obviously more flexible.

How much more time you spend on ‘prepping’ depends on you. If you always book ahead so know where you are going or if you drive everywhere, then all you need to do now is the put the book in the car/next to the front door (and remember you have it!). If you tend to take public transport or walk to lots of places then you are going to need to make the book  a bit more portable as it’s very bulky (and heavy)! I would suggest using the highlighted indices to find the vouchers you want, rip them out and put them in little envelopes, sorted suburb by suburb so you can simply grab the envelope(s) of the suburb(s) you are going to that day or quickly find the voucher to that local restaurant as you walk out the door.

The gold card that accompanies the book deserves a section all to itself. Offering discounts to ‘fine and contemporary dining’, using it just twice will mean the book has already paid for itself. Any usage on top of that is pure ‘profit’. The easiest way to maximize return on this section is to either go through and fold down the corner of the pages of restaurants you want to visit or make a note separately; then you can simply flick through or consult your list when you want some fine dining (I use Evernote on my iPhone). A word of warning, some restaurant staff rub off the wrong number, refuse to accept it, don’t understand the offer, forget to take it off the bill or all of the above. Just be nice and stick to your guns; all restaurants listed in the book have signed up with the Entertainment Book so they have to honour the discount (unless new owners of existing registered business, etc.). If you don’t have the book with you, you can always call up the website on your phone or use the app (see details below) to show the deal to the staff.

There is also a free Entertainment Book app, which you can use when out and about; however, the search function is pretty simplistic and of course, if it recommends a place that requires a voucher and you don’t have the voucher with you then it is no help at all and quite frankly frustrating! It is good for using the the gold card (which should be in your wallet at all times!) but you can’t search by ‘gold card’, just ‘fine dining’ (which will pick up most of them) or ‘near me’ and then you can laboriously go through each option. Also, the app doesn’t appear to have its info updated so it won’t show if a business has shut down since 1 June that year or if it has changed address.

Aside: I would love to see a day when we don’t have to buy the book anymore but can buy the app (with revenue still going to the charities of course). Imagine how much easier it would be to just show the voucher on your phone to the staff, they would discount your bill and then it would show as used on your phone. And the search function could be massively improved while they’re at it.

Don’t forget at the very back of the book are pages and pages of online savings for hotel bookings, car rentals, flower deliveries, magazine subscriptions, etc. This final section also offers savings on groceries if you purchse the discounted $100 gift cards and then use on your weekly shop at Woolworths or Coles.

And last, but certainly not least, if you have a friend who also has an Entertainment Book then you can double up on your vouchers/gold card savings when dining out (unless, rarely, the restaurant has specified this is not possible). This system is too complex to explain here, as it all depends on the value and type of the offer, but it is clearly explained on page 3 of the book. You can also swap unused vouchers with them, if you live in different areas and intend to use different vouchers to them.

SO there you go, my embarrassingly nerdy and tight-arse recommendations for getting the most out of your Entertainment Book. If I have inspired you, that’s great they are still available. And for those who have read this and scoff I would just like to say that it’s only the beginning of November and I have already saved over $295 (deducting the cost of the book). Of course, this really only demonstrates how much my husband and I eat out…

Top Ten Tips

  1. Use the index!
  2. Register the book/card to access the bonus offers.
  3. Keep the book in the car/easily accessible.
  4. Keep the gold card in your wallet at all times.
  5. Download the app for searching on the go.
  6. Don’t forget the online shopping discounts at the back of the book.
  7. Swap unused vouchers with friends who live in a different area to you.
  8. Keep the take away vouchers in your wallet, particularly coffee and fast food.
  9. Be aware of the small print – most venues don’t honour vouchers on public holidays/Valentine’s Day/Mother’s Day.

Bonus tip: Jot down the amount each time in the index & cross out voucher detail (this will help you keep track of money saved and therefore if it is worth investing in again).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are my own and are in no way endorsed or sponsored by Entertainment Publications of Australia Pty Ltd.

We are not alone

coworking, hub, Melbourne, social media

No, I am not talking about extraterrestrials or going all touch-feely on you. I am talking about coworking, currently trending in a city near you. For me, that’s Melbourne, and if there is one thing that Melbourne does well it is to pick up on a new trend and run with it.

Coworking hubs are changing the way people work; they offer individuals access to coworking spaces, learning opportunities and professional communities. A coworking community provides collaboration, inspiration and stimulation to its members. And they are on the increase everywhere.

I am writing this sitting among MacBook-toting hipsters and tablet-wielding suits at Hub Melbourne’s coworking laneway day, an initiative that brings together a disparate bunch of freelancers, contractors, solopreneurs (and those who like working in ‘different’ spaces) in an awesomely decked out laneway in the CBD (did I mention that they had beanbags? Free Wi-Fi? And most importantly, patio heaters?!). Looking around me, I am surprised by the level of serious activity. I have to admit I did think that most people would see this as an opportunity for a ‘jolly’, but no, I am being deafened by the sound of keyboard tap-tapping and intense conversations.

I spoke to some of my new coworkers to find out why they are here; for some they just wanted to get out of the house for the day – it’s lonely being a freelancer, especially those who don’t require face-to-face client meetings. For others, it’s the opportunity to make new contacts or learn something new (pop-up talks are happening throughout the day) that attracted them. For the rest (like me), the opportunity to work somewhere different for the day was the inspiration. Let’s face facts, it’s not every day the average office worker gets to hang out on beanbags and deckchairs, surrounded by astro turf and balloons and given complimentary mint tea.  All the while being productive!

I am definitely a convert and will be looking at creating some coworking opportunities of my own so watch this space!

If you want to know more about coworking go to Hub Melbourne’s website or check out Deskmag’s fab Pinterest coworking board.