surfin’ safari


Whoever woulda thunk that someone like me would be able to hang loose, bro? Not I, said the fly, with my little eye, I would NEVER have thunk I’d be able to casually stand on a board, in actual water, and actually ride a wave to the shore.

Last weekend a group of friends (who I shall refer to as ‘the crew’) and I spent the weekend in a dinky, yet rad, holiday house on Phillip Island, eating pizza, drinking alcohol, and playing Chuck Klosterman’s Hypertheticals. Let us not discuss that ‘the crew’ would all put their own love of the sun ahead of their ability to save another from a random bear attack – seven days later, this is still a sore point.

On Saturday morning we headed to Smith’s Beach, where we met our intrepid leader, Adam, who would be showing us the surf ropes. I instantly made a MASSIVE dick of myself when I requested that everyone in ‘the crew’ – including Adam – call me Brody.

“Why Brody?” Adam enquired.
“Ummm, only after the most significant surfer in the history of early 90s cinema. Ever heard of Point Break?” I smugly replied, only in words far less smug, eloquent, or facetious.
“Urrrm, you mean Bodhi?”

Obviously I meant Bodhi. From the most fabulous surf movie ever made that I have seen. I smacked my forehead in shame…

Anyhoo, on with the lesson. After my Patrick Swayze faux pas, we squeezed ourselves into some tres attractive wetsuits and were partnered with our boards (mine was a 9 footer we’ll call ‘Boardie’). And then, we were off to the beach. ‘The crew’ had now grown to accommodate an 11 year old boy called Deagn, so you can imagine how adept we – a bunch of 30ishes – felt. He was an excellent surfer, who later liked to yell “SMAAAAASH” whenever it appeared one of us might fall from our boards.

Once on the sandy shores of Smiths Beach, we did some cool stuff like:
– Lay on our tummy’s on the sand
– Pushed our chests out and up in a weird sunrise-y yoga-type move, while lying on our tummy’s on the sand
– Fake paddling (on our tummy’s) on the sand
All while a bunch of 6-8 year olds were already riding waves in the ocean.

I’ll be honest. I was not at all into the idea of a surfing weekend. While we were on ‘le world tour’ Rich and I had expressed an interest in learning to surf when we were in Costa Rica, and as soon as I saw the rough waves and ‘real’ surfers, I totally lost my nerve and started to see all the scary things in it; I’ll look like a derb; I’ll crack my head on the board; I’ll get eaten by a shark. When a friend suggested this weekend, I said no and firmly crossed my arms.

But then, I thought about it. Much like the weekend I recently spent horse riding, if I don’t like it, I can always get off and walk (except that I wasn’t actually allowed to get off and walk – instead, I was relegated to the back of the group to ride with two experienced riders who were 9 years old, and, subsequently, I will never get on another horse as long as I live). If I don’t like surfing, I can just sit on the beach and do the meat pie run.

So I gotsta tell ya, it felt pretty momentous getting out into the water and actually standing on a surfboard. And actually staying upright and actually SURFING that flipping wave all the way to the shore (which I’ve never seen a real surfer do, but hell, I felt like a pro). Yes, I was in waist-deep water. Yes, Adam the instructor was pushing the back of my board and telling me when to paddle and when to stand up. But still, I did it.

After 2 hours in the water, getting up, getting dumped, getting thrown around, getting SMAAAAAAAAASHed, our time was up. Waterlogged and bedraggled, we carted our boards back to the shop, stripped out of our uber-flattering wetsuits we had grown to love (and got back into our ‘Melbourne’ civvies), and celebrated our upright achievements with potato cakes and ginger beers at the general store.

While I don’t think it’s super likely I’ll ever ‘just rent a board and ride some waves with the dudes’, I’m pretty chuffed it’s something I did. Just. Did. Too often we get caught up in what we can do and what we think we can’t. I read a quote the other day that said something like: “You can or you can’t. Either way, you’re right”. So when adventures like this present themselves, go with it. You’ll surprise yourself.

You might even do a little gasp when you realise what a point break is.


“That would be a waste of tiiiiiiiiiiime!” says Anthony Kiedis.  To which I reply, No, Surfer Kiedis, it would not.

do you ever?

One of the most defining moments of my friendship with my bestie was a few years ago. We were out – walking and talking and sipping coffee and smelling flowers (we actually were…) – and I said to her:

“Do you ever get clicky head? Like you might have a metal plate in your skull and every so often your brain becomes a bit loose and clicks against the side of aforementioned metal plate?”

And she said to me:


We chatted merrily about our clicky heads, wondering what could cause it, wondering who else experienced clicky head, or if it was a secret click we shared…

Over the years, we have had countless other exchanges of ‘Do you ever…’ – mostly communicated to the other via text or email, or whispered in hushed tones, or preceded by “Don’t judge me, but do you ever….”.

Here is a compilation of ‘Do you ever…’s I put together not long ago. If I’m feeling a bit weird or sad (or on the verge of a hypochondriac moment), I look at this list and nearly always give myself a tummy ache from laughing so much:

– do you ever feel like you might vomit when you’re hole-punching paper?

– yesterday i ate a dry biscuit and got a hella case of CLICKY JAW??? do you ever???

– do you ever… always look at the clock at the same time? i seem to be in this weird trend of looking at the clock EVERY TIME it’s 11.11. doesn’t matter if it’s am or pm, i ALWAYS seem to catch it at that exact moment.

– do you ever… start unbuttoning your pants BEFORE you get to the bathroom when you’re at home? I do. And I just had to stop myself from doing it at work.

– do you ever… when you’re getting your brows waxed and you’re lying on the weird beauty salon bed with your eyes closed, feel like your body is spinning in a big circle? a bit like when you’re drunk? and the more you spin, the more you feel like you’re going to roll off the table, but because you’ve got wax centimetres away from your eyes, you can’t open them to steady yourself? i had that tonight. it was awful. it made me feel carsick.

– do you ever… get clicky pants? like there’s a click of fabric in your jeans that clicks every time you walk, no matter how high you hoik them up, or pull them down, or adjust or readjust them? my black jeans have a click in them that i can’t find…

– do you ever… think you might have chronic fatigue??

– do you ever… get a weird twitch in your back? a bit like an eye twitch, but in your side? i had one earlier, when i was leaning back in my chair…

– do you ever…. get so lost in thought that you poo your pants? this DIDN’T happen, but let me set the scene:

this morning i was on the tram and was thinking about an email axchange i had with a friend last week and was suddenly carried away into thoughts of dinner on victoria street and catching up and dogs with their tongues hanging out and gangs of sheep and SUDDENLY my nostrils were filled with the WORST egg-fart poo stink and i looked around and EVERYONE on the tram was covering their noses and i was suddenly struck with the thought: did i just poo my pants? am I responsible for this stench because i was so lost in thought that i lost control of my basic functions??? 

fortunately, this thought only lasted a split second and i realised that it WASN’T me and i promptly got off the tram and away from the stink.

but do you ever….. on smelling a stink, wonder if MAYBE it might be you?

– do you ever…. feel like you’re maybe a little bit psychic? like when you think ‘i wonder if there are any messages on my phone’ and you look at it and then it rings?

– do you ever feel like you should be wearing a seatbelt when you’re riding your bike??

– do you ever…. get halfway to work on your bike and feel something on your face and instantly think ‘OMG, there’s a huntsman in my helmet and now it’s ON MY FACE!!!’ and almost veer off the road but then realise it was just a piece of hair?

– do you ever…. get vibrating elbow???? i just had my elbow on the desk and thought that i got a message on my phone but realised it just my elbow doing weird things!!!

– do you ever…. wake up in the middle of the night, with your right arm completely numb, limp and unresponsive to an order from your brain to move, that you freak out, have a panic attack that some major/permanent malfunction has happened in your sleep, and that you’ll need to get it amputated?

This happened to me last night. It was utterly terrifying. It took several minutes of rubbing/banging my arm to get it to wake up. I was then too afraid to go back to sleep.

– do you ever… have days when you are ACTUALLY dyslexic? today i am having major issues writing ‘$5K’.

– do you ever… get a weird stabbing headache in your temple?

– do you ever… get hot stomach?

– do you ever…. at the top of a staircase, get struck with the fear that your legs have forgotten how to walk down stairs??? and you suddenly think ‘i’m going to tumble all the way to the bottom!!!’ but then you start walking and it’s fine?

– do you ever…. get a sore ear when you eat spicy food?

– do you ever…. find yourself leaning sideways in your chair? i was just writing something down and realised i was on a 135degree angle.

– do you ever…… get a GIANT weird pimple on your neck????? HOW DO THEY GET THERE??????????????????????? i have one the size of mount kilaminjaro….

– do you ever…. think to yourself “ouch, what’s that weird biting pain on my chest??? there must be a SPIDER biting me on the boob!!!!” and then look in your bra and discover it’s the searing pain of a big crumb from a tim tam?

– do you ever… get shooting pains in your shins???

– but do you ever get vibrating ovaries?????

– do you ever… Notice that a small fly has drowned in your drink but it’s too far down the glass for you to fish it out (and you don’t have a spoon or straw handy) so you just keep drinking? I did today. Yuck. Please don’t judge me.

– do you ever… …. press yourself just under your collar bone and nearly throw up? i think i have a weird muscle causing havoc there.

Me: do you ever…. get a throbbing rib cage?

BFF: Maybe you have a bird in there which snuck in while you were sleeping?

Me: that’s possible…. my ears keep clicking as well. maybe 2 bugs crawled into my ear and they’re high fiving each other.

– do you ever… experience an excessive amount of ear popping on hot days?

Some of these ailments/occurrences are shared, and others – well – we’re on our own…

Do YOU have a weird ‘Do you ever…’? Spill it!

BFFs 4 LIFE! In da snow...

Aarrrggghhhh!!!! Do you ever wear a snow hat??

up up and away

Twas a cool, dark morning one year ago, almost to the day. The morning of one of the most exciting and exhilarating adventures I have ever ever experienced. The morning that I rose at 4.30am, wearing my neckerchief and leather flying cap, and cycled maniacally through the dark Fitzroy streets, avoiding end-of-the-night revellers – drunk and stumbling onto the road, pashing wildly in alley ways, looking for cabs, looking for fights, looking for souvlakis – in the pre-dawn light.

I met Wa, my bestie, on a street corner near Gertrude Street (similarly attired in cap and scarf) and from there, we cycled through the slowly lightening morn to a hotel in East Melbourne.

No, it was not for a sordid 4 star hotel BFF tryst. It was not so we could arrive first at a neckerchief and leather flying cap convention. It was the morning we were taking a birds-eye-view of Melbourne in a hot air balloon.

We arrived at the hotel, and entered a foyer filled with people wearing polar-fleece and baseball caps and tracksuit tops, their necks weighed down by large SLR cameras. Balloon pilots were scattered about the place, with balloon-branded jumpers and clipboards and “If you fall out of the balloon we do not accept responsibility” forms for us to sign. Wa and I were herded into a minivan with six other eager adventurers (none had gone to quite the same effort as we had in the dress stakes) and we were off. Well, off to an oval in Prahran, soon to TAKE off in our gas-filled bag and basket.

When we got to the oval and our basket was lifted from the back of the van and the balloon laid out and the burner unit fired up, our pilot gave us a quick spiel on safety and landings and helped us all into the wicker basket. He attached a flashing beacon to a helium-filled party balloon and set it loose into the dawn sky, to see which way the wind was blowing (reassuring – I did NOT want to end up soaring across Port Phillip Bay) and to get a vague chart of our flight path.

Weirdly, it wasn’t until I was in the basket, with my elbows resting on its wickery side, that the following important points occurred to me: a) we were going to be up very very high, b) we were going to be up very very high IN A BASKET, c) we were going to have a large propane burner mere centimetres above our heads, and d) hellooooo, fear of heights, anyone???

I pondered these facts (with mild anxiety) as I gazed out across the park, distractedly taking photos of the other balloons slowly lifting off the ground, taking photos of Wa, taking photos of the trees, taking photos of the treetops – hang on – what was this? We’ve already taken off? We’re already above the trees, and the streetlights and the tram tracks and the hospital and – oh me, oh me – we’re floating high above the park now, actually too high to leap from the basket to the safety of terra firma and green grass. There’s no turning back now.

Lift off, we have lift off

Over the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the Tennis Centre, and the Fitzroy Gardens, the Freemasons Hospital, and over Gertrude Street, over the street corner I’d met Wa on a few hours earlier. Over my workplace. Over Brunswick Street. Over friends’ houses. Over MY house! I actually leaned over the side (not too far, mind you) and called out to Gus as we floated above my backyard, in the hope he’d run out and woof at the hiss of the burner, but no such luck.

Anyone for tennis?

O Melbourne, you luvverly city...

In the ayer!!!

Over familiar streets and shops, and then… into unchartered territory. Past the familiarity of my local hood and over Brunswick, and Coburg. Over a park with a lake full of ducks. Over backyards with crazy woofing dogs, running madly in circles. Over joggers. Over men in their dressing gowns, peering up at us from their driveways as they collect their Saturday paper. Over the drive-in, its huge empty screen looming large. Over factories, roofs passing underneath so low I thought we’d come to a stop on a square of asbestos-ridden tile. Over a park and an oval and, actually, no, we’re coming down. Our pilot tells us to brace, and we all lean against the side of the basket, as we were shown earlier that morning.

'Burban Streets

At the movies...

Wa + Wem = Besties 4 Evaahhhhhhh

And after three heavy bumps, we were on the oval and clambering out of the basket onto the dewy grass.

A trip in a hot air balloon is not nearly as terrifying as I had thought. In fact, it’s the opposite of terrifying. The silence, the gentle drift, the occasional roar of the burner – it’s calming and peaceful and slow. The world as it is seems to be all about how quickly you can get from A to B, and how instantly we seem to ‘need’ (and receive) information, and how everything needs to be mapped out and planned. Not knowing where you’re going to end up is exciting, and fun, and kinda highlights that we should focus more on where we’re at now – on looking around and learning and drifting and laughing – and less on our final destination. Don’t you think?

sloth sloth me do

This is possibly the greatest thing I have ever seen in my whole life.

I love her ‘scale of emotion’ ratio she chats about with Ellen; I have that too. I often have to stop watching YouTube clips that are too cute because I start crying. Which is OK when I’m at home – alone – but not OK when I’m at work or on the couch with the girls. Not that I’m looking at clips of animals while I’m working or anything.

I’ve never really thought that much of Kristen Bell and/or Dax Shepard, but seeing this makes me want to invite them over for dinner. And not just because I’d want them to bring a sloth. But because they seem like all-round nice peeps.

But secretly I’d be hoping they brought a sloth.

wembolina’s melbourne list

Bucket list. I don’t really like that term. It makes me feel a bit sad. One of my all-time, absolute favourite magazines has a section in the front, where they interview chefs and foodie-type peeps and they ask them what they’d want their last meal to be. People salivate over this stuff (literally!), but it always kinda makes me feel a little bummed out. I don’t wanna think about my last meal. Or ‘things to do before I die’. I just wanna eat and have adventures and be happy and when my time’s up, I hope it’s quick and that there isn’t a giant pavlova I have to get through before I give life the ol’ heave-ho.

That’s not the most appealing opening paragraph, is it? No… But since ‘that’ movie came out a few years ago, bucket lists seem to be popping up all over the place. Time Out recently had a ‘101 Things To Do Before You Die’ feature in their magazine, which made me think “Hmm… Having adventured about the world over the past few months, there are so many fun things to do in this fair city…. Maybe I should make my OWN ‘Things to do’ list (without the morbidity factor) that might inspire activity and adventure for Wembolina readers?”.

So here goes. This is a list of things I’m super keen to do, and things I’ve done that I would whole-heartedly recommend to ANYONE – visitors and locals alike!:

Kayaking at Studley Park Boathouse

Hire a kayak for one – or make a date of it with yo beau – and paddle up the river towards Fairfield. Once you get past the ‘Sunday Driver’ row-boaters, you’ll find yourself virtually alone in the bush (which is weird, given you’re about 5 kms out of the city) – just trees and birds and the occasional ‘pro’ kayaker. On hot days you might see (gulp) a snake slithering across the surface of the water. YUCK! I don’t think they can leap into your boat though, so you should be safe (should be). If you go far enough, you’ll find yoself surrounded by sleeping fruitbats, which is eerie and creepy and kinda like something out of a horror flick… And it stinks a bit too. But it’s totally worth it.

You can also kayak through Docklands at twilight, which I’ve never done, but am SUPER keen to!

Horseback Winery Tour in Red Hill

I did this a few years ago with a bunch of peeps I didn’t really know, and now we’re all totally besties, so I HIGHLY recommend this. You head to the stables in the morning, get paired with your horse, don some tres fetching Drizabone jackets and a helmet, and then you’re off! Most of the trail is along dirt roads through farmland, but you do a few canters and the like through vineyards and paddocks, which is pretty spesh. We hit up three wineries, got a little sozzled, and finished the day with lunch at the Red Hill Brewery. Woot!

Peninsula Hot Springs

We went to the Hot Springs after our horse-riding booze-fest, and it was pretty nice, but VERY busy. There were a few moments where I felt like I was in a bowl of Human Soup, rather than having a ‘relaxing unwind’ in a thermal pool. No matter. If you went on a weeknight or in winter, I reckon it’d be quite a bit more sublime. Would deffo recommend cooking yourself in the sauna and then jumping into the icy plunge-pool – totes invigorating!!

Warburton Rail Trail

O snap, this is ANOTHER adventure I had with my new gang of besties (we are actually a real gang – I’ll tell you about it some other time!) and a fun weekend away if you are sans car. Ride your bike to Flinders Street Station (or some other station), get on a train to Lilydale (a charming ‘burb that has neither lilies nor dales), and cycle your way along 38kms of old railway line to Warburton. There are a few cafes and pitstops to make along the way, and it’s a relatively easy ride (until you hit the mofo hill on the way back – but if I can do it, anyone can!!). We spent the night at a house in Warburton and moseyed back to Melbourne the next day, but not before filling up on scones and coffee at The Patchwork Teahouse.

Having a little rest on our way to Warburton

Penguin Parade, Phillip Island

Do you know that I have lived in Melbourne my whole entire life and I’ve never even been to Phillip Island, let alone seen the penguins strut their stuff along the sand in front of 8000 snap-happy tourists? This must happen. Because penguins are in my top 5 favourite animals of all time.

(Thanks to Chris Cohen for his genius penguin translation; please note that these guys are NOT fairy penguins, you won’t see them doing this on Phillip Island)

Women of Letters

Why have I never been to this? I love sassy ladies, I love writing, and I love letters! Held once a month at the luvverly Thornbury Theatre, WoL celebrates the lost art of letter writing with some of Melbourne’s finest creative lady-folk – writers, musos, politicians, et al. I’M PUTTING THE NEXT ONE IN MY DIARY!!! I’M DEFFO GONNA GO!!! Plus, at the end of the afternoon, you get to drink wine and pen a letter of your own.

No Lights No Lycra

A good friend of mine went to her first No Lights No Lycra thinking it was a yoga class, and wondered why every one was dancing up a storm to bangin’ 80s tracks when she walked in. Warm ups? Not very zen. Not very relaxing. But once she got into the swing of it – following the ‘dance like no one’s watching’ mantra, because NO ONE IS because THE LIGHTS ARE OUT – she cut loose, Kevin Bacon-style, and has been going to the weekly classes ever since. I love dancing, and I love 80s n 90s tunes, so this is definitely an evening I could embrace!

Volunteering at the Collingwood Children’s Farm

In my quest to brush up – nay, perfect – my gardening skillz, this is a great way to learn about dirt and compost and what to plant and when. AND! You’re surrounded by behbeh cows and goats and guinea pigs, so it’s a pretty sweet venture. The last time I was at the Children’s Farm, I saw a cat with no ears bite a small child. But that kid was pulling its tail, so I think it’s warranted.

Learn to crochet

Well helloooo, I just did this TODAY!!! Learning the art of the granny square has been on my list of things to do for about 4 years. Fingers crossed I’ll be well on my way to completing a ye olde woollen rug in no time! There are a ton of places you can wield a needle around town, but I did it at Thread Den. Morris and Sons also looks like a pretty great place to partake in a few lessons, and they have wool and needles to die for. 

Look at what I did!!!

Be an extra on Offspring (or be discovered and offered a leading role – I’m not fussed)

Since my all-time favourite Melbourne-filmed TV show RUSH was sadly AXED last year, I have had to focus my Australian drama sights on another show. Offspring. Which is quite a bit better than Rush, really. Less guns and car chases and loud music, but not enough Sgt Joshua *swoony sadface*… Offspring is filmed in my neck of the woods and I always seem to be stumbling across shoots (I promise not in a stalky way – it’s just that I walk my dog a lot, and your two main shooting locations are across the road from my work – HONEST!!!), so it makes sense that one day I should be asked to ‘sit at the bar with a friend, laughing into your white wine spritzers’ or ‘stroll with conviction down Smith Street, with your eco-friendly shopping bag tucked tightly under your arm’ or ‘cycle gaily down George Street, but MAKE SURE YOU’RE WEARING A HELMET!!!’. But seriously, this is a great show. Well done, writers. Well done, cast and crew.

Picnic lunch at Heide Museum

Make some salad and sammies, jump in the car, and head to the Heide Museum in Bulleen. On a nice day, you can sit on the grass amongst the sculptures, soaking up the serenity (and art) as you munch on yo lunch. On not-so-nice days, book a table at Cafe Vue, have a little tipple, then stroll through the museum admiring the luvverly artworks… A nice activity to do with your folks, if you’re after something parent-friendly.

Sign up for a Broga class

My ace pal Jennie started up Broga a few months ago, following a trip to Thailand where she got her Yoga license – yay! Geared towards the fellas – but ladies are most welcome (phewf, so I can sign up!) – Jennie works with small groups, and posts handy tutorials on her blog. I’ve done a bit of yoga and pilates over the years, but always feel like a bit of a brittle ol’ stick when I’m surrounded by elasticky pretzel ladies. The small class size – and Jennie’s hilar sense of humour – are mega appealing to me.

Foodie things

What would a Wembolina post be without some food references? As the world’s biggest lover of a good meal (not proven), here are a coupla places I’m DESPERATE, on-the-edge-of-my-seat to eat at, plus some others that are a bit special, or just a bit great:

Loam, Drysdale – they FORAGE for food, then they cook it!!
Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld – all I know about this place is that the food is flipping incredible. And they often post photos of echidnas on Twitter. Food + Australian wildlife = perfeck (as long as the wildlife ain’t on the plate. Which I’m sure it is on occasion, but I don’t need to partake to that extent).
The Estelle, Northcote – order the degustation (WITH dessert), get your friendly waiter to match wines, and sit back and relax. The food here is ridonkulous – in a deliciously splendid way – but it’s the presentation that’ll knock your socks off.
The Everleigh, Fitzroy – go here and order a martini. Just do it. If you wanted to dress up like a flapper, it would not be frowned upon. This would be a nice place to have a drink with Morgan Freeman.
Afternoon tea at The Windsor, Melbourne – When I finally get around to doing this, I’m going to dress up like Elizabeth Bennet and tut at Mister Darcy’s lateness. While I eat sandwiches and little cakes.

Dirty martinis....

And so ends my ‘Things to Do’ in Melbourne post. Are you a Melbourne-ite? What are YOUR top things to do in our leafy town? Or what are you bursting at the seams to do? Tell me, tell me, so I can add it to my list!

the best birthday ever

It was my birthday on Sunday. Our first full day in Slovenia. Happy birthday to meeeeeee!

I set my alarm early – not because I was filled with excitement at the prospect of turning 32, but because I didn’t want to miss out on breakfast (7.30am until 10) and we had an 8.30am bus to catch for a day of sightseeing.

There were a few hiccups.

Firstly – breakfast didn’t actually start until 8. In my eternal quest for eating as much as possible, I had imagined the 7.30am start time. I had just enough time to chow down a jammy croissant and a coffee (and pack a banana for the road). Rich took a more leisurely approach.

Secondly – we had trouble finding someone at the B&B we could check out with. It’s tricky to do a runner with 20kgs of luggage, and we’re honest peeps, but waiting around for someone was a little bit stressy…

And then… After we finally checked out, with about 4 minutes to spare after arriving at the bus stop, we realised we hadn’t packed our sightseeing vouchers.

As Liz Lemon might say: “What the what?”

Rich ran back to the B&B while I anxiously waited at the bus stop.

8.28am: No Rich. No bus.

8.30am: No bus (due now). No Rich. Probably a good thing.

8.31am: Rich is back!! With our vouchers!!! But no bus.

Minutes pass.

8.40am: No bus.

8.45am: No bus.

I said to Rich “We must be in the wrong spot. The bus must have left without us. The bus must have forgotten to get us. This is the worst birthday everrrrrrrr.”

Rich said to me “Calm down derbrain, it’ll be here soon.”

8.47am: No bus. I get a little welled up…

8.48am: A bus!!! Hooray!!!!

All anxiety and stress and angst vanishes like a swiftly eaten croissant, and we pile into the bus. Well, minivan. We are the last people to be collected, so we get to sit up front with the driver, Micah. Up front is the best place to be because you are less likely to get carsick, you get the full benefit of the airconditioning, and you get to ask lots of dumb questions about Slovenia (like “What should we eat while we’re here?” and “Where are the best cream cakes in Bled?”).

Micah was hilarious. He said “Have you heard of dark sausages?” and I said “Yes, I think so – what’s in them? Bits of guts and offal, yeah?” and he said “Best not to think about what’s in a dark sausage until AFTER you eat one.” We laughed.

Our first stop was Predjama, which is a crazy castle built into the side of a huge rocky mountain, and has a backyard (so to speak) of a bat-filled cave. It also boasts geranium planter boxes on all the windows and a torture chamber – quite lah-di-dah. An obese beagle wandered around with a bone in his jaws, adding to the illusion of ‘much death has occurred here….’

The castle, with geraniums and a backyard cave

Torture chamber : "Halp, I have rope burn!!"

"Now where did I put my bone?"

Next up was a visit to the Skocjan Caves; around 6kms of chambers and winding paths and huge canyons right under our feet. I was half looking forward to the 2 hours in the cave (I’d seen a LOT of pictures of happy hikers smiling under stalactites and putting their arms around stalagmites) but I was also half dreading it. You may already be aware of the fact that I am a bit of a sissy and the closer we got to the mouth of cave, the more I thought “I’m going to fall into the canyon; I’m going to get stuck in a narrow crevice; There’s going to be an earth quake and we’ll all be trapped like the Chilean miners and it would fall on me to sing Elvis Presley songs – and we’re going to trapped with all these screaming children and rude peeps who talk over the top of our guide.”

The thought of being trapped with the rude peeps was actually most terrifying.

In we went. Down a dark, twisting corridor, deep into the bowels of the earth. Constant temperature of 12 degrees. Everyone around us started putting on jumpers and Gortex vests. And they all had hiking boots on. And they all looked at us in dismay: no jumpers. Rich in thongs. Me in Keds. I’m sure I saw a few headshakes…

The first chamber had a steep, downward slope and was referred to as The Silent Chamber. I would have thought this would be the time when everyone stopped talking, and kids stopped screaming and crying and hitting their siblings. But the cavernous space and echoes it created made peeps wanna talk and scream and cry and hit even more. Just to hear the echo.

We learnt the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite and I started thinking about those monsters in The Descent. *shudder*

Down and down, deeper and deeper, we entered the second chamber, which was twice the size of the first, and even more astonishing. The ceiling was covered in shards of knife-like stones, and crazy clam-like rocks and formations covered the floor. I grappled with the notion that a space like this could be anywhere… That is IS anywhere. And everywhere. That below the surface of the earth, there’s this…

No panic attacks now. No palpitations or shortness of breath. Just sheer amazement.

More steps down and around and through and we found ourselves in the third chamber. If I was amazed and astounded before, no words can even describe the feeling I got in here. Huge. Absolutely. Positively. Totally flipping. Ginormous. With a river in it. And the river was 140 metres below us. And there was 100 metres of space above us. And we were, at this point, about a bajillion metres* below the earths surface.

Ah. May. Zing.

No Elvis required...

How could the day get any more spectacular than this?

Maybe not a natural wonder of the world or UNESCO heritage listed site, but our next stop was probably my favourite of the day…

Micah dropped us off at the top of a steep hill in the seaside village of Piran for lunch and a swim. Rich and I hot-footed it straight to the waterfront for lunch (remember I’d only consumed one tiny, jammy croissant and, given it’s my birthday, I have the perfect excuse for non-stop eating, right?).

We sat down at the first place we saw. Rich ordered two icy margeritas, and we discovered that this was a BAR, not a restaurant. No food here. Just beer and cocktails. Which, on your birthday, or any day when you’re on holiday, or any day when it’s above 30 degrees, kinda makes sense.

Halfway through my margerita, I made the most of the bars wireless internet and skyped my bestie back in Melbourne…. Bliss…..

While I was chatting up a storm with Wa, Rich moseyed inside and ordered… TWO MORE MARGERITAS!!! Flaps up, homies!!!

Feeling refreshed, rehydrated, albeit a little wobbly, we headed off in search of food. A seafood platter, to be precise.

In a town like Piran, it aint hard to find.

A short walk later, there we were. A waterfront restaurant, full of people, shady and cool. Noice.

Two giant beers, a seafood platter for two, a green leafy salad. My fella. Me. Twas absolutely perfect…

Birthday noms...

We agreed that lunch would actually be dinner today (we didn’t end up eating until about 3.30pm) and that we’d have a special birthday dessert once we got back to Ljubljana later that evening. Rich asked what my ideal birthday dessert would be, to which I replied “Tiramisu, I think. It seems like a good day for tiramisu”.

Rich replied “Tiramisu? Slovenia doesn’t seem like a very tiramusi-y kind of place…”

No less than 5 minutes later, a tiramisu, covered in heart-attack-inducing whipped cream, arrived at our table. With a candle in it.

Again. What the what????

Rich hadn’t left the table. The waiter hadn’t been over. Yet here was this creamy, ridiculous tiramisu with ‘Happy 32nd Birthday’ piped on the plate with chocolate sauce.

Amazing man, is Rich… He’d teed it all up when we arrived, and had taken a punt on the tiramisu angle. What a good egg…

After lunch, we had a quick swim in the Adriatic (holy cow, so heavenly), which may not have been the wisest choice given we were full of fish and dessert and beer, but we managed to stay afloat and it was kinda the most perfect way to end a pretty amazing day.

We met Micah in the town square, and made our way back to the city.

And that, my friends, was the best birthday ever. Adventures with my fella. A chat with my bestie across the seas. Amazing food and drink. And a surprise tiramisu.

*Not actually true. More like mebbe 300 metres…

the one where I made myself sick on pork knuckle…

For starters, what would even possess me to order pork knuckle? Especially at a German-themed beer barn in a cobble-stoned lane in Melbourne – mayhaps if I’d been in the motherland it would be a different story…

I digress. With three weeks left to go before TBT (The Big Trip), I am cramming in as much BFF-time as I can. This has resulted in a weekly date-night, where we go to a ‘nice restaurant’ or, as last night played out, a ‘novelty restaurant’ (two words that should NEVER go together, unless it’s Bobby McGees circa 1991) and eat til we’re sick and drink copious amounts of wine/beer/martinis.

So on a crisp Melbourne eve, we decided to try somewhere different. We were both in the mood for something hearty; something goulash-y; something winter-y – preferably with sauerkraut and sour cream and meat. That’s a weird combination, isn’t it? It’s true though – these were the pre-requisites to be met before we ventured into the chilly air. And it dawned on us, like the sun peeking over the Norwegian horizon on the 14th of February (that’s the first day they see sun in, like, 4 months or something – FACT!!*), WE SHOULD CHECK OUT THAT JAH-MARN PLACE NEAR DING DONG!!!!

Off we went, and BOY! were we delighted when we stepped inside those heavy wooden doors…. Men in lederhosen!! Buxom wenches carrying around massive steins of beer! A band!!! Tables and tables of merry office workers and Lonely Planet-reading tourists enjoying schnitzel and pickles and potato dumplings and spatzle (my favourite word). According to their website, they also have yodelling and slap-dancing which we, unfortunately, missed…

But on ordering, and the subsequent arrival of our dinner, our excitement quickly turned as sour as the kraut on our plates when we were served two whole pigs lashed with crackling and gravy and mustard and cabbage (my pork knuckle even had a KNIFE sticking out of it!!!). O yes, I agree it sounds like heaven to anyone of European descent (sweeping generalisation), but when faced with it, it was too too much.

Here is a picture of us trying to be excited by our meals, but are, in fact, terrified.

We soldiered on for as long as we could. Based on the sheer size of the knuckle and belleh, I think we did a pretty good job to eat as much as we did without dropping dead of heart failure. Quickly and silently, we nodded at each other, strategically placed our paper napkins atop the uneaten swine, paid our bill, and left.

Hauling our sorry, salty bones outta there, we lurched down Little Bourke Street, bemoaning our poor decision to go against out better judgement and dine in at a restaurant where the staff were forced to heave their bosoms and pose with two steins for drunken businessmen (how many Facebook photos are titled “Nice jugs, love!” after a trip here???). Oddly enough, we went straight to Myer, where I purchased a new suitcase and several pairs of underpants.

High on brine, we staggered into one of our favourite Melbourne restaurants and demanded:

  • a candle-lit table for two
  • two Montenegros;
  • and a chocolate pudding

The candlelight cast us in a flattering light… The Montenegro aided our digestion…. The chocolate pudding and home-made vanilla ice-cream replaced the taste of vinegar and pork in our mouths and took us to our happy place…. Bliss.

The moral of this story? There’s not one. I love trying new things. And between you and me, novelty restaurants are kinda hilarious, because it’s not like you go for the food, right? Except that we did. Dummies! But this Jah-marn beer house is like a Euro-equivalent of Dracula’s or Witches in Britches. And I’m glad we went there, because it was something a bit different and something VERY silly and something filling and coma-inducing, but fun. Those 25 minutes before our food came out were the most exciting 25 minutes I’ve had in a long time.

And really, when you’re with your bestie, EVERYTHING is good. It really is.


*this is actually not a fact. I think I saw something on Twitter about this a few days ago but now I can’t find it. But either way, it’s exciting when you see a sunrise after a whole winter of darkness. And it’s exciting having a lightbulb moment when it comes to dinner. So it’s all much of a muchness, right? Eep.