Friday, September 16, 2016

Sweet as

While it hasn't felt much like Spring this week, there are lots of exciting events happening over the next few weeks and months.  I've been busy organising my own Bold Thinking Series event at La Trobe University, 'Has Facebook killed the news?' looking at the blurry business of information, entertainment and clickbait journalism, which will be a very interesting conversation featuring Journalism and Communications lecturers Hugh Martin and Mark Civitella along with the Gruen Transfer's Jane Caro at the State Library on 22 September.  I'm also pleased to say that the numbers are already pretty high for this event and we hope to sell out in the next week.  The lectures are free so please register and come along if you're interested!
Image via www.livingstone.org.au
The Rosanna Spring Fair at Rosanna Village is on tomorrow from 10 am - 3 pm and I hope the weather holds out - there'll be rides, entertainment, face painting, pony rides and a petting zoo.  The Ivanhoe Makers Market is also on and is undercover - I went to the Christmas market late last year on a scorching hot day so was also glad to be indoors at The Livingstone Community Centre in Ivanhoe.
Other markets on this weekend include the Eltham Community Craft & Produce Market, the hippy St Andrews Community Market and the Wild About Melbourne pop up market at the Thornbury Bowls Club.
Image via Google+
I talked about local cafes the other day and have heard some great feedback from happy locals about Crate Specialty Coffee in Heidelberg Heights - I must visit one day soon and have also been meaning to drop into Sweet by Nature in West Heidelberg as I've eaten a number of their cakes...I'll be happy when I'm feeling better as I think I need to return to exercise!  A special shout out to my trainer Nikki Ellis and the gang at Cinch PT in Macleod, who I've missed seeing since returning from overseas - I'll be back next term with a vengeance.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Nothing Has Changed

When Mr Rosanna and I were out on the road the other day, we drove past Decco Ivanhoe on Lower Heidelberg Road and while I have mixed feelings about higher density living, I think they've done a really great job with this particular residential complex and I noticed that the new cafe space underneath Docasa has been leased although has had mixed reviews.  I took Mr R not that long ago to Second Home Eltham which was still pumping and busy on a Monday afternoon - the food is excellent and the service professional and attentive.  There are a lot of suburban cafes that could take a leaf out of their book on how it's done.  It's also great to hear that Miss Marie will soon be opening up another outpost - The A Team Kitchen in Watsonia, which is another suburb that's due for a good cafe.
Decco Ivanhoe image via Melbourne Prestige Projects
Locally, Pinpoint - the Banyule Contemporary Art Fair opens at Hatch Contemporary Arts Space in Ivanhoe on Tuesday night at 6 pm featuring works by Rushdi ANWAR, Anne BENNETT, John BILLAN, Anna FARAGO, Brady FREEMAN, Iriana KANELLOPOULOU, Helen MACQUEEN, Jodi WILEY and Anthony WILLIAMS.  It's always a great show if you are able to make it.
Image via Hatch Contemporary Arts Space Facebook page
The Melbourne Fringe Festival also opens next Thursday and you can catch 'An Alternative Route' by Darebin Arts Speakeasy at the Northcote Town Hall as part of the festival.  I also love that the MSO are holding a number of David Bowie Tribute concerts to the late Starman featuring musicians such as Tim Rogers, Steve Kilbey and Adalita as part of the Melbourne Festival, which opens on 6 October.
Photo credit: Robert Catto image via www.mso.com.au

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Wellness

I must admit, I've had better weeks health-wise.  I had a full medical over a week ago after succumbing to yet another respiratory illness and my Collins Street doctor has joined the dots and thinks it's been hay fever-related.  Needless to say I'm now on pretty strong medication but may have to go and see an allergist.  If you do suffer from hay fever, it can be more than just an annoyance and I know a number of people who've had full de-sensitisation treatment via regular injections over a period of years as it's made their lives so miserable.  I hope you may be luckier than me!
Image via current-studentsblogs.latrobe.edu.au
I had been hoping to participate in the Olivia Newton John Wellness Walk and Research Run being held tomorrow at my workplace -  La Trobe University - but may have to wait until next time.  Mr Rosanna and I were out on the road yesterday at Bunnings Northland as we're gearing up for more painting and decorating at our place amongst other things now that it's Spring.
Image via Kooinda Brewery
We dropped in to Kooinda Brewery in the back streets of industrial West Heidelberg where he bought some local beer.  We also drove past the Children's Book Sale at the Scholastic Warehouse on Northern Road but didn't get a chance to drop in, I've already started stocking up on books for Christmas presents.
Image via Work-Shop Melbourne
We spent last Sunday celebrating Father's Day with my in-laws and both my parents and in-laws are increasingly difficult to buy for given they've pretty much got all the things they've ever wanted or needed.  These days, we tend to buy them practical things, which they can use or experience and I was reading about a couple of interesting places in the inner north including Cut Throat Knives in North Coburg where you can have kitchen knives hand made as well as Work-Shop Melbourne in Fitzroy which run 'fun and affordable short courses in arts, crafts and life skills' - their words not mine!  There's also Dejour Jeans in Brunswick where you can get customised jeans for around $60 - I've never been but been meaning to go given I tend to always have to get my jeans altered if I buy mainstream brands.
Image via Cut Throat Knives
Enjoy the weekend!  Despite my hay fever, I'm still glad it's Spring.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Palm Trees and Pollution

Leaving Langkawi from the calm of The Westin Lounge at the airport was a good experience - the departure lounge there is pretty crowded and chaotic.  It took a while for us to check in and move through security to the quiet of the lounge past the rabble.
Monorail in front of The Sheraton
It was an even shorter flight with Air Asia to Kuala Lumpur (KL) and this time I found myself sitting next to a Saudi Arabian couple, the female partner in full niqab.  They held hands all flight so I think they were on honeymoon, which was very cute.  We also spoke to each other about where we were from and our thoughts on Langkawi and Malaysia, which they had also really enjoyed.  It is hard with Muslim dress to completely make out someone's personality but I could feel, and sense, the warmth and curiosity of this lovely Arabic lady who also waved hello at my children and asked me about them.
Inside the Sheraton
Once again, our driver from The Sheraton picked us up and drove the one hour trip from the airport to the city passing through four tollways on a highway that reminded us of Los Angeles.  Two nights at the Sheraton was part of the Luxury Escapes package deal although we opted for a third night to give us extra time to experience KL.  The first few thing you notice as you head towards the city is the proliferation of palm trees growing on either side of you as well as the smoke haze that covers the entire city.
I didn't fully appreciate that Malaysia has been primarily founded on oil and gas with banks and insurance companies everywhere in the city, and its most famous Petronas Twin Towers building named after a petroleum company.  The city is dragging itself into the 21st century with building going on all around the place.  I'm not a fan of palm oil nor burning of rainforest in Sumatra but understand that developing countries have to make their money somehow - I just hope that they can do it in a more sustainable way.
KL cityscape from our hotel window
We arrived at the Sheraton, which has the same sophistication and feel that most CBD-based hotels have no matter where you are in the world - we were also very happy to be there and the view of Kuala Lumpur's cityscape at night was quite spectacular.  I often think we should do more of this in our own home cities (and I have stayed a number of times at the Sofitel in Melbourne) to see the eyes of our city through that of a tourist.
KL Tower at night
I have to say that while it was still hot and polluted, KL has a very different feel to Singapore and Mr Rosanna and I both enjoyed it more as a place.  Whether we were more relaxed on the back of our resort holiday in Langkawi or simply more in the groove after so many days in Asia, we enjoyed all that KL had to offer.
We grabbed pizza at one of the in-house restaurants, Villa Danieli, the first night and checked out the gym, day spa and outdoor pool, complete with Moroccan-style shisha lounge.  We also got to experience the complimentary food and service at the private Sheraton Club Lounge on the 38th floor as part of the deal, which Mr R in particular loved.  It's held from 5 - 8 pm every night with free cocktails and hors d-oeuvres on offer, although given the time slot, I'm sure many people just treated it as dinner.  It was all very civilised, again with great views of the city including the Kuala Lumpur Tower which offers the highest viewpoint for the general public.
Shisha lounge by the pool
I didn't hear it the first morning we were there but the following morning and at night-time, both Mr R and I heard the Muslim call to prayer which is beamed live from the closest mosque throughout the city and is quite haunting.  I found it a beautiful thing to listen to as much as I didn't understand the words or meaning and again, it added to the whole cultural experience of Malaysia as a place.
Mr R and me at the Sheraton Club Lounge
We spent our last few days in KL shopping - Quill City shopping centre is across the road from the hotel which had an H&M store and a cinema we took the boys to one afternoon.  We also made our way to pre-eminent mall Pavilion in the east of the city where most of the shopping malls are located.  KL fashion week also happened to be on so there were lots of beautiful people there to watch or participate in the runway parades as well as shoppers in general.  These mega malls are something else and while I'll never be a huge fan of them, people need something and somewhere to escape to from the heat and there could be worse places to go.
Pavilion Shopping Centre entrance
I did buy a lovely dress on sale from a shop called Bauhaus and Mr R also stocked up on clothes for his wardrobe.  We managed to leave Pavilion and head to the art deco Central Market in the west near the KL cultural precinct including the Botanic Gardens and Islamic Arts Museum.
KL Fashion Week runway at Pavilion
Our boys surprisingly loved the Central Market with all its handicrafts, kitsch and artisan products.  If you go remember to take cash as the queues for ATMs are long.  You'll also need to pay for toilet paper and entry to the toilets!  I bought a hand made woven rattan table runner and bag as well as two batik sarongs from Sarawak at the market for myself and as gifts.  Mr R and I also liked the more modern, mid-century look of one of the Selangor Pewter water jugs but in the end we decided to leave it behind.


We took the monorail and train around the city where you can buy single trip/destination tokens every time - it's not the most efficient way to travel - and again, it's pretty energy zapping with the heat.  Our boys were also exposed to the sights of beggars on the street and poverty, giving loose change to some of the old men they saw and understanding how lucky we are in the west, and in general.  I also found the different styles of dress worn by Malaysian locals fascinating - some of the people I saw on the street looked so majestic in their national costumes - again it added another layer to the overall experience that was KL.
Sheraton Hotel pool
We spent our last morning having a swim in the pool on level 5 before we headed out to shop and then returned to the hotel to rest and have dinner at the in-house Japanese restaurant Sasagawa, which was quiet and calming.  We were impressed by the Japanese we encountered while overseas and will definitely consider Tokyo 2020 for the next Olympics although I suspect our next major holiday will be a lot closer to home.
Art Deco clock opposite the Central Market
I really enjoyed both Singapore and Malaysia for different reasons but while I liked Singapore, I really loved Malaysia as a cultural experience and gained a greater insight to its people and place, while we were there.  Perhaps because I'm already a westernised Asian (or vice versa), Singapore didn't really feel all that different from being here in Melbourne.  While in Malaysia, we definitely felt like we were somewhere else in the world and I would be interested in visiting Penang (the Georgetown arts festival was on while we were there) and other places like Borneo if we were to return.
Masjid Jamek Mosque - the oldest mosque in KL
At the end of the day, we're all glad to be back in Rosanna here in Melbourne.  Holidays are great but there's no place like home.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Bikinis and Burqas

Well Niqabs not Burqas to be technically correct - niqabs allow you to see the eyes of the people who wear them as opposed to Burqas, but I will come to this a bit later.  We had a somewhat anxious 90 minute trip to Langkawi (which is actually a cluster of 99 islands) from Singapore given our eldest son doesn't like flying and we were in a smaller aircraft on a local Malindo Airways flight, where you feel every bump.  Luckily, we found ourselves touching down just as his anxiety reached its peak.  My favourite part when travelling anywhere is arriving and our driver from The Westin found us after we picked up our luggage from the carousel.

My first impression of Langkawi was that it reminded me of Vietnam in many ways.  It was a good hour from the airport to The Westin Langkawi Resort and Spa so we took the highway in our car and made a leisurely trip to the hotel.  It feels a bit like Far North Queensland in terms of climate but the dilapidated low rise buildings and roadside cafes with coloured plastic chairs definitely place you in a developing Asian country.

We got to the very exclusive feeling Westin resort through a guarded barrier gate that takes you past the relatively new conference centre and round into The Westin itself.  I have to say that The Westin had the wow factor right from the start from the amazing views from the level 3 lobby where you look out and see the main infinity pool that backs on to the Strait of Malacca (overlooking the Andaman sea), to being greeted by the Managing Director himself with refresher hand towels and cold drinks on arrival, to the seamless, professional service by front desk - it was all pretty outstanding.
We checked our luggage in and because our flight was slightly early, we were taken to an adjoining air conditioned lounge area across from the lobby to help ourselves to a light lunch in front of a movie until our rooms were ready.  Once again we found ourselves in an all in one garden room (where we did later upgrade to a separate suite from our children) on the fourth level but they are beautifully appointed and we were very happy to be there!

We spent our first night enjoying the complimentary happy hour drinks in the level 3 Breezes bar near the lobby, having dinner downstairs in the restaurant and watching the start of the house band perform before all going to bed.
In many ways, Langkawi (and Malaysia itself) was a revelation and definite cultural experience - something that had been missing in Singapore.  I say this because one of the most arresting sights that will stay with me for a while, was when the boys and I first left our hotel room to check out the hotel grounds and were waiting for the elevator doors to open, whereby the doors then opened and we were greeted by three Arabic women dressed head to toe in black niquabs along with two accompanying men - it was like something out of a movie.  We waited to catch the next elevator but it really did set the scene for Langkawi and the rest of Malaysia, which is a Muslim country.
I remember one of my neighbours, who went to Malaysia a couple of years ago, telling me she felt uncomfortable being at a resort surrounded by women in niqabs and later on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, but I have to say it didn't bother me at all and added to the decidedly exotic feel at both places.  Malaysia is about the same distance from Saudi Arabia (and the middle east) as we are from Australia to Malaysia and there were lots of people from the middle east holidaying and honeymooning at The Westin because of the food and culture.  I'd say 50% of the guests there were Arabic and the resort caters to them in many ways from Arabic menu and shisha pipe on offer in the Breezes lounge (and a fantastic weekly Arabic dinner downstairs in the restaurant which I loved amongst other international cuisines), to the many mocktails on offer in all bars to 'beef' (not pork) bacon in all the lunch and dinner menu items.  Like all the other guests at the resort, they were polite and friendly people who I enjoyed being around.

The resort was pretty multicultural in that the other guests were mainly from Singapore and Malaysia as well as Europe, UK and Australia.  Given I've only ever done the resort thing for 3 days while on honeymoon over 10 years ago, Mr Rosanna and I felt like we were on our second honeymoon, despite the kids!  The lush, tropical feel at the resort looking out onto the islands in the Strait also reminded me of being at Ha Long Bay in Vietnam where we spent one night on a Chinese junk, which felt like being on the set of a James Bond movie.  There's no way you can manufacture that kind of atmosphere or environment which felt other-worldly - like something out of a dream.  It's a view I never got tired of looking at.

The resort and outlying grounds are simply beautiful as well as the three different pools - besides the infinity pool, there's also a toddler pool for young children and the more organic rock pool, which my kids loved.  From our sun lounges, we would order food and drink to eat or saunter to the nearby outdoor cafe by the sea where we also had dinner one night.

Mr R and my boys also loved the international breakfast buffet until 11.30am every morning in the restaurant where you could choose from western, Asian, Indian, Arabic and European/continental dishes ranging from Chinese congee to pancakes and waffles, to dim sum and freshly baked croissants and pastries by the French chef to the fresh juices and bircher muesli in mason glasses.  You could also order customised omelettes and the whole restaurant area buzzed each morning and was beautifully decorated from the fresh floral displays to the native fruit in glass bowls.  It was definitely something else and I also appreciated the kindness and personalities of the different chefs and waiting staff who were so patient with my children and clearly delighted in being around them.
I also used to look at what some of the Arabic women in niqabs were wearing on their feet - often thongs or sneakers!  Some of them also carried beautiful handbags and jewellery and I think many were there as newly wed couples, which was lovely to see.
After doing so much sightseeing in Singapore I thought we might do some day trips from the hotel to the nearby shops or to the local cable car but given how relaxed we felt at The Westin, we stayed the entire 6 nights there at the resort chilling out and enjoying all it had to offer.  Both Mr R and I had treatments at the Heavenly day spa which was a walk past the self-contained villas.  You can use the private pool at the spa if you're booked in for a treatment.
We also used the gym a number of times and The Westin has a partnership with New Balance where you can hire gym gear and runners if you've not packed these, which is a great idea if you're wanting to stay fit while away from home.  Given the heat outside, it was great to go running on the treadmill and do some yoga in the gym while Mr R enjoyed the cycling, rowing and other gym equipment and weights.
It was all very idyllic from the swaying coconut trees to the hornbill birds and big butterflies flittering about the fruit trees to the two different types of monkeys I spied both times (but was wary of approaching) when leaving the Heavenly day spa on my way back to the main part of the resort.
We upgraded to an Ocean View room the last few nights that we were there for some privacy and space from our kids, and the only downer was that we weren't told the room was subject to noise from the house band.  After complaining to front desk, the volume was turned 50% down at 11pm but the band were allowed to continue to perform until midnight.  I have left a review and a warning on the hotel's Facebook page to be mindful about which room you are placed in and the fact that we were not informed prior to upgrading.

We didn't let it spoil an otherwise perfect tropical island paradise experience including hiring sea kayaks and spending time by the pool on our last day to a spectacular Brazilian BBQ dinner poolside complete with Malaysian performers on our last night.  Again, it looked like something out of a movie with white clothed tables and fire-lit torches lighting up the whole area.  It was simply magic and The Westin do the whole resort thing incredibly well.  I can only imagine how amazing the nearby brother hotel - the newly opened St Regis must be.

Would I go there again?  In a heart beat yes -  but I would just be more discerning about which room and noise issues next time.  The Managing Director did apologise for this in the form of free entry to The Westin Lounge at the airport on our way to our last days spent in Kuala Lumpur, which I will post about next.  The Luxury Escapes deal was also well worth it given we only paid for our room upgrade, drinks, some food and entertainment with our dollar being at least three times that of the Malaysian ringgit.  Langkawi Island really was an unforgettable experience and I'm so glad we went.