Thursday, February 4, 2010

School Holidays in Australia

After my last post, I thought it might be a good idea to write a little about school holidays in Australia.

The school year begins on either the last week of January or the first week of February. The school year consists of four terms, each of which is between eight and eleven weeks long. There is a two-week holiday between each term. Term four ends in mid-December at the start of the summer holiday, which is about six weeks long.

The exact dates of the terms vary slightly from state to state in Australia. The timing of the first two-week holiday usually coincides with Easter, so it may begin in either March or April. The winter holiday is usually in early July and there is a spring holiday in October. Bear in mind that the seasons are reversed in Australia, so April is in the autumn, July is in the middle of winter, October is in Spring and December is the height of summer! I still find it quite strange after living here for more than two years!

Unlike in the UK, there are no half-term holidays, so the children attend school for between eight and eleven weeks without a break. I've found that this can be quite exhausting for the children (and for the teachers and parents, too!), especially if the term is a long one!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

January Shutdown?

First of all, I hope that you all had a very merry Christmas and will have a wonderful new year!

It seems as if the Christmas/New Year holiday is lingering into January in the small town where I live. I've been surprised to find that many of the small businesses are closed for the first, second, and even the third week of January, in some cases. It's also very quiet around town. I think many people go away for a few weeks at this time of year. Some go to the coast to escape the heat, which is a good idea!

We've stayed at home, however, and the good thing is that we've found plenty to do in the school holidays without spending much money. I guess the fact that so many shops are closed is a good thing, as it reduces the temptation to spend money. I usually find it much harder to save money during the school holidays, as I seem to end up spending money on amusements for the children, but this time it hasn't been too difficult.

Instead of shopping, we have:

  • been to the park. I have never lived in a town where there are so many parks! It's great for the kids!! There are at least six parks within easy walking distance of our house. I rotate our visits to each park, so that the children don't get bored with any one park! At two of the parks, there is outdoor fitness equipment, so that the adults can have a workout too!
  • gone for walks. There is a beautiful walking trail around the edge of town. I've been for short walks with the children during the day and for longer walks with my husband and the children at the weekend. On a few occasions, we've taken a picnic and stopped and eaten on the way.
  • visited friends and had friends over. It's great for the children as they can all play together in the garden and the adults get to have some adult conversation without being interrupted too much!!
  • gone to the library. We have a great local library with a wonderful children's section. They also have a summer reading programme for school-age children, who receive a reward each time they have read 3 books. Once they have read 10 books, they go into a draw for more prizes. This has given my daughter a great incentive to borrow books and read them by herself! I've also seen her reading improve over the holidays, which is great too!
  • gone to an indoor play area. This one was a bit more expensive but worth it! It was a very hot day, so the children wouldn't have been able to play outside. The indoor play area was air-conditioned, so the children were able to have a fun time for a few hours. There was also a nice cafe where we had lunch.
  • gone to the cinema. Again, this cost a bit of money, but it was nice to do as a treat. Once again, it was a hot day, so the air conditioning in the cinema was a welcome relief from the heat!
  • gone to the McDonald's play area. We don't eat much at McDonald's but sometimes it's great just to go there and buy drinks and ice creams and let the children play for a while in the play area, which they love. A McCafe has recently opened and I enjoy grabbing a coffee from there while the children play...and sometimes I even get chance to read the newspaper!!
So, as you can see, there are many cost-effective things to do during the school holidays, even if you live in a small town which is partly closed down in January!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Christmas in a Hot Climate

Today, this blog is taking part in the third World Blog Surf Day, a virtual world tour of expat blogs on the theme of holidays and celebrations. World Blog Surf Day has been organised by Czech Off the Beaten Track as a wonderful way of traveling the world at no cost and seeing it through the eyes of the expats who live in each country.

Thanks also go to Karen of Empty Nest Expat for her work on Twitter promoting World Blog Surf Day. She will be “tweeting” about each blog participating in the virtual world tour. Karen is an American expat blogger last seen in Prague. The Wall Street Journal said, "Her blog makes a fun read for anyone looking for reassurance that change can be a wonderful thing--and also for anyone interested in visiting the Czech Republic."

If this is your first visit to a World Blog Surf Day site, continue on the journey by clicking the link at the bottom of this blog post. And now for my contribution to the third World Blog Surf Day….

What is my favourite holiday or celebration in Australia and why? That is the question posed for the third World Blog Surf Day and one that I found quite difficult to answer, as there are so many holidays and celebrations that I enjoy here. However, I decided that I would write about Christmas with a difference - Christmas in a hot climate...

Christmas in the southern hemisphere is very bizarre. December 25th is at the height of summer but the traditional symbols of a northern hemisphere Christmas are all around. Carols are sung; houses are decorated with snowmen, reindeer and sleighs; tall Christmas trees are filled with warm red decorations; and traditional Christmas cards depict winter scenes. This is all very well when it is freezing outside, but when it's 30 degrees C and you're sweltering in the heat, it seems very strange!

The tradition of Father Christmas (or Santa Claus) is alive and well! You will see him at many fairs and shopping centres in the run-up to Christmas. He always looks cheerful in his traditional outfit despite a very red face!

Even with the trappings of Christmas all around you, it's very hard to get into a Christmas mood when it's hot outside. It doesn't seem right somehow.

Another strange thing is the Christmas dinner. Many of the foods that are eaten in the northern hemisphere are also eaten here at Christmas, such as roast dinners, Christmas pudding and Christmas cake. It's nice that the traditions are kept alive but the weather here isn't really suited to staying indoors and eating a heavy meal.

Many Australians I have spoken to have said that they also find Christmas here to be very strange...and fellow expats find it stranger still. The Snowy Mountains of New South Wales are the only area of Australia in which you can experience a colder Christmas! Also known as the Australian Alps, the Snowy Mountains are the highest mountains in Australia and have an Alpine climate all year round. A fellow British expat mentioned to me that she had spent a lovely Christmas in the Snowy Mountains, eating a traditional Christmas dinner and relaxing in front of an open fire!

But, is it a good idea to deliberately escape the hot weather and seek cold weather in order to celebrate Christmas? Should we rather adapt our celebrations to the climate?

My husband and I first came to Australia on holiday in the 1990s (this was more than 10 years before we moved here). Our Christmas day was spent walking through a wildlife park with kangaroos hopping around and koala bears snoozing in the hot sunshine. We ate in a Chinese restaurant that evening, as it was the only place open on Christmas Day! Although it didn't seem like Christmas, it was a novelty to celebrate it differently.

On the first year that we lived here, we went to the beach on Christmas Day and were surprised to see that not very many people were there. Many of those that did venture to the beach were foreigners, like us. Australians tend to spend Christmas at home with their families, so it was easy to see why there weren't so many people out on Christmas Day.

Last year, as we became more settled here, we also spent Christmas Day at home. We ate lamb with three different salads for our Christmas dinner. It was much easier to digest on a warm day.

I'm not sure what we'll do for Christmas this year. We have thought of going to the Snowy Mountains and having a 'traditional' celebration, or we may decide to stay at home and enjoy the beautiful weather. At least we have the option of being able to celebrate in a more traditional way or of adapting our customs to a different climate.

Now onto a place where it is warm the whole year round. The next stop on the virtual world tour is the beautiful Indonesian island of Bali and the Bali Expat blog. Click on this link to read about holidays and celebrations in Bali.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An Outdoor Gym

While going for a walk last Sunday, we thought we saw a children's play area from a distance. Upon closer inspection, we discovered that it was an outdoor gym! I had never seen anything like it anywhere else in the world! Surrounded by shady trees, you could have an open-air workout on a step machine, rowing machine, shoulder press, cross trainer and several other fitness machines that you would normally find in a gym!

We tried out each of the machines. It was so nice to do some exercise outside in the fresh air, surrounded by nature. My favourite machine was the cross trainer - I felt as if I was gliding on air!

There is a children's play area nearby, too, so that the kids can play while you have a workout! It was a great place - we'll definitely be back!

You can see pictures of the outdoor gym equipment we used on the Forpark Australia website. I suppose that they are installed in other parks in Australia too. It is truly an excellent idea!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Sunday Afternoon in Yarragon

Yarragon, a village nestled amongst the rich green rolling hills of the Gippsland region of Victoria, is an ideal place to spend a relaxing Sunday afternoon.

Our first stop was Gippsland Food & Wine, where we sampled some locally produced cheeses, including a creamy Brie-like creamy cheese, a blue cheese, a fairly strong Cheddar cheese, and a red cheese, which looked like the English Red Leicester cheese but had a stronger taste. You can also taste several wines that are produced in local vineyards, but since we had empty stomachs, we thought that we’d do this on another day!

We decided to have lunch in the adjacent tea room. I chose the Farmer’s Platter which includes a selection of local cooked meats (ham and salami) and cheeses, served with a large multi-grain bread roll and a salad. It was delicious!

Later in the afternoon, we treated ourselves to Gippsland Food and Wine's ice creams. The English toffee flavour is highly recommended. My daughter enjoyed a bubble gum ice cream, which was a bright green colour!

Chantry Faire is a rambling gift shop housed in the former Presbyterian Church. It is a treasure trove of all kinds of gifts, including Australian souvenirs, scented soaps and pretty jewelry.

We walked along the main street (Princes Highway) and came across a cute little courtyard, where we found one of my favourite types of shop – a fabric/needlework shop. It is called Candleberry Country and I felt like I was in New England in the USA when I was inside! My daughter and I browsed happily among the fabrics, patchwork squares, craft magazines, embroidery silks, hand-crafted quilts and many other items inside. You can see what I bought on my Crafts on a Budget blog.

We strolled on down the Princes Highway in the afternoon sunshine, which was a welcome change from the rain that we’d had for most of the week, and went in Tritec Art and Craft. We browsed around the scrap booking and card making materials, including a wide range of stickers. The shop also has a wide range of paints, canvas and other materials for artists.

A little further on was Bob’s Shed, an antiques store with a good selection of retro furniture from the 1950s and 1960s. At the door, there was a strange metal sculpture of a crouching man in an iron mask holding a gun. Inside, we thought that the dining table and chairs that looked as if they had once belonged in a 1950s diner would look good in our dining room!

On the way back to the station, on a strip of grass between the railway station and shops, we noticed a shining black steam engine that ran along the adjacent railway line until 1979. It is now being restored to its former glory.

This is a just a small taste of Yarragon, which has many other delightful shops, galleries and eateries to explore. Yarragon is within easy reach of Melbourne by either train or car. We enjoyed our visit to Yarragon and will definitely visit again.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Victoria - First Impressions

Having just moved from Sydney to a small town in the Gippsland region of Victoria, about an hour from Melbourne, I have been surprised by the differences between these two parts of Australia. It takes about an hour and a half to travel by plane from Sydney to Melbourne and, once you arrive, it is as if you are in another country. In some ways, that's not really a crazy idea, because Australia is a continent with a huge diversity of landscapes and climatic conditions, so it is almost as if you are going to a different country when you visit the neighbouring state.

I first visited Victoria about two weeks before we moved here. Before this, my experience of Australia had been confined to Sydney, parts of New South Wales surrounding Sydney, and a short trip to the capital, Canberra. We left Sydney basking in warm spring sunshine and landed in Melbourne in pouring rain! Although I haven't yet seen much of Melbourne, it seems to be a very different city from Sydney. It reminds me of an industrial city in northern Europe, complete with trams.

The area to the east of Melbourne, the Gippsland, reminds me a lot of England, with rolling hills and cows and horses grazing in green fields. As we were driving through the area, we remarked that we could have been in Wiltshire. By contrast, the countryside around Sydney is quite different from the English countryside - the whole landscape looks dry and the bushland is full of tall gum trees. Overall, it looks more 'Australian' or what I have always imagined an Australian landscape to be like.

Also, the weather in the middle of spring in Victoria appears to be similar to the weather in England. Since we moved here a few weeks ago, it has rained most days and, with the exception of a few warm days, it has been quite cool. By contrast, the weather in Sydney has been a lot warmer with temperatures of around 30 degrees C recently.

I was talking to a fellow Brit the other day. Like us, she too lived in Sydney before moving to Victoria, where she has lived for the past 20 years. She said that she preferred living in Victoria as it is more similar to England than Sydney. I wonder if I will also feel like this in the future. At the moment, it's too early to say. I miss the vibrancy of Sydney but I also like the peace, quiet and friendliness of a small town. I'm looking forward to exploring the area more and finding out how similar or different it is to England and Sydney!

Starting in the Middle of My Journey

It might seem strange that I'm starting this blog in the middle of my journey, but that's where I am today. Originally from the UK, my Australian adventure started about two years ago when my husband was offered a job in Sydney. Since then, it seems like we have climbed several mountains - moving across the world, dealing with visa issues, having a baby, and more recently, moving to another part of Australia.

I look upon our most recent move - from Sydney to a small town in the state of Victoria - as the second stage in our Australian adventure. I did not plan to move here and I was sad to leave Sydney, but I am grateful that we have the opportunity to experience life in a different part of Australia, a place that is quite different from Sydney.

In this blog, I intend to write about diverse subjects - my daily life, places I have visited, moving to Australia, obtaining Australian visas, interesting stories and facts about Australia and much more. If you are considering moving to Australia and have a specific question, please leave a comment and I will do my best to answer.