I’m back!

My Christmas break from blogging stretched out a little and somewhere along the way January went by without any posts. This is completely due to my own laziness and so I’ll quickly move onto the topic at hand and speak of this blog gap no more.

A couple of Saturdays back, I was feeling all exercise inspired after having just started up rowing again (after a small break of about 17 years – looks like stretching out breaks is a bit of a habit!) This, combined with my Christmas list of things to do, inspired me to go for a run and get some training in for the “Run the full Bays Run” item on my to-do list. It turns out a sunny day and a Kasabian soundtrack are a dangerous combination and somehow I ended up running 12km rather than the 8km or so that I’d planned. I should point out that this 12km is not the Olympia-n effort referred to in the title – I’m getting to that (slowly).

The end result of so such exercise on a sunny day was that I turned up back at home exhausted and in dire need of a food and sugar hit. After covering off the food in a random Petersham cafe, I suggested to Adrian that the best sugar hit had to be a milkshake and the best place to get a milkshake nearby had to be the Olympia Milk Bar, even if it was just for the novelty value of saying we’d been there (and survived!)

The mysterious Olympia

The mysterious Olympia

I’d first spotted the Olympia Milk Bar on a bus trip home from town (it turns out my bus trips along Parramatta Road provide plenty of inspiration for places to visit). Not being a local, I knew nothing about it and mainly noticed it for the first time due to the fact that it clearly called itself a “Milk Bar”. I’d always referred to corner store / kwik-e-mart type places as milk bars and it seemed that outside of Melbourne everyone else (including Adrian) thought I was a bit loopy for this. Seeing the Olympia sign made me feel a little vindicated, and a little like I’d fit in really well at an old folks home with my old school slang.

 A "Milk Bar" - photographic evidence!

A “Milk Bar” – photographic evidence!

Anyway, apart from the name, I also quite liked the authentic retro-ness (rather than trendy retro) of the place and the slightly tattered run-down look – it made me want to give it a hug or whatever the building equivalent would be. Then I noticed that it actually had the door open and tables inside, however as there weren’t any lights on or people either behind the counter or at the tables, it all looked very mysterious. This air of mystery piqued my curiosity and, while travelling on the bus each day, I’d occasionally pick up snippets of conversation mentioning the Olympia in hushed tones. My curiosity eventually got the better of me and it was off to visit good old Google.

The Google search quickly turned up all kinds of urban legends about this place and the elderly Greek man that owns and runs it. One of the more likely tales is that the current owner promised his late brother never to change the look or menu of the milk bar that they once ran together. Some of the crazier stories give the owner not so flattering nicknames such as Dr Death or Dracula and there are plenty of comments from people too scared to go inside or from those that made it inside but then said or did the wrong thing and got ordered off the premises (images of the Soup Nazi promptly came into my head). However, those that managed to not get kicked out did rave about the milkshakes.

After reading these stories, all I wanted to do was find an excuse to go and so with a sugar hit needed and an excuse found, Adrian and I finally went inside. The lights were turned off, as seems to be standard, and behind the long wooden counter that curves around the back and side of the shop are shelves full of chocolate boxes – most of which are empty. I didn’t notice the owner tucked up in the back corner, but he wandered over, took our chocolate milkshake order, rang up the $3 each one cost on the oldest, heaviest cash register I’ve ever seen and then wandered back to his corner to sit and read.

We headed to one of the formica tables to drink our old school milkshakes (milk and syrup only) and soak in the rest of the place – the assorted old posters, chocolate boxes, neon signs and art deco floors and ceiling. Everything was a bit rundown and dusty, but somehow that just made it more interesting, although a little bittersweet. We took just the one photo inside, as the owner is known for not being too keen on publicity.

Milkshakes and empty chocolate boxes

Milkshakes and empty chocolate boxes

However, while writing this I did find a great photo from the ABC Radio National website that shows-off the art deco flooring, gives a hint of what inside would look liked with the lights on and a slight polish up (they have a few other cool shots here):

A shot from the only person officially allowed to take photos inside - Mark Byrnes.

A shot from the only person officially allowed to take photos inside – Mark Byrnes

After surviving our visit, I think both Adrian and I have a little soft spot for this place and the facebook fanpage suggests a few others do too. So it’s definitely a time-warp worth checking out while it’s still there. Oh and the milkshakes were pretty good too!

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Christmas time and list making go pretty well together – Santa is certainly a fan of them. Given that, I’ve decided it’s time for a Sydnerdia list!

So here is my randomly ordered list of stuff I want to do while hanging out in Sydney. This is a work in progress and there is plenty of room for suggestions – suggest away if there’s something you think just has to be added…

Eat Malay at the Orange Grove Hotel in Lilyfield (thanks Sam!)
Climb the Harbour Bridge (taking the engineery structure exploring option)
See the Lego Colosseum
Have a cocktail in a jar at Grasshopper down Temperance Lane
Run the full Bays Run
Visit Fort Dennison
Camp on Cockatoo Island
Explore Shark Island
Picnic on Rodd Island
Play bocce in Piazza Federazioni, Haberfield
Swim in the Dawn Fraser Baths
Swim in the MacCallum Pool in Cremorne Point Reserve
See a movie at the State Theatre
See a band at the Enmore
See an opera at the Opera House
Check out the Sydney Fish Markets
Eat Portuguese chicken in Petersham
Go to the zoo
Lawn bowl at Camperdown Bowling Green
BBQ at the Royal Cricketer’s Arms in Prospect
Walk the Sydney Sculpture Walk
Go to the SCG
Visit Wendy’s Secret Garden in Lavender Bay
Visit the White Rabbit Gallery
Check out the Paddington Reservoir
Go to Luna Park
Have scrambled eggs at Bill’s in Surry Hills
Get a tasty treat at the Bourke Street Bakery (thanks Tam!)
Explore the Blue Mountains
Kayak in Castle Cove

I’m a bit late on my posting this week and unfortunately not much to report. Less than a month in and I’m already slacking off – very bad I know!

To make up for the slackness, I will mention that I managed to visit a pretty cool little toy / games / science shop. I kept spotting it on my running route through Annandale and the name was enough to get my interest – Terrific Scientific. I do tend to get a bit excited over toy shops, particularly little local ones (I blame 3 years of working in a Toyworld store to fund social activities through uni) and so I managed to use Christmas shopping as an excuse to drag Adrian along.

Luckily the shop lived up to the name and had plenty of terrific stuff (including build your own robot kits, board games and all kinds of nerdy knick-knacks, as well as all the kiddie stuff). I have no photos to show off of this little shop, but it is very picture worthy so there may well be a revisit for a future post. There is a website though – while it doesn’t quite match the retro visual vibe of the shop, it does give give some idea of all the treasures to be found.

All this talk of shops so close to Christmas has also set off my list-making tendency, so get set for a for the next post to be list inspired!

After all the good thoughts of exercise, last weekend once again had a food focus. This time the Annandale Hotel was calling with its tasty tasty promise of Pub Cha.

Pub Cha

I had been seeing the Pub Cha sign out the front of the Annandale Hotel on every bus trip into town and so, while visiting the Australian Stencil Art Prize a few weeks ago, Adrian and I stopped off for some sustenance to keep us going for the trek home.  On this first visit the beer garden was booked out for a function and so taking inspiration from this, the beer garden was booked again – this time for us!

The beer garden, or more realistically the beer courtyard, is a bit cool, a bit grungy and a pretty good spot to just chill out. The only problem with our grand plan of using the beer garden as a post-Movember catch up for the various mo-growers and supporters we know was that the weather decided to misbehave. It turns out 80km/hr winds and a courtyard don’t mix so well.

The weather problem was quickly solved by shifting us into the back bar and it was here that we got even more of the Annandale Hotel experience. Not being a Sydney-sider, the Annandale Hotel is a bit unknown to me but it definitely has the whole music / live venue pub down pat. For some reason a dark pub with bare wooden floors, a lingering smell of stale beer and the sounds of a band setting up in the next room makes me feel at home and so hanging out in the back bar meant I was pretty happy with the day.

And then the beers and food arrived to make the day even better!

3_FoodandBeerThere were towers of tasty yum cha goodness – complete with little icy-pole stick labels and of course beer.

3_MoneyBags 3_BBQChicken

I think the BBQ chicken and money bags won me over. The money bags in particular were full of coconut chunks and were delicious.

3_BigGunDumpling

I also liked the big gun dumplings, but I may have been swayed slightly by the name (just slightly though!)

3_GreensWe did also order greens, although I suspect this was entirely accidental as Adrian used his standard selection technique (the item 2 above whatever I pick, unless I pick one of the first 2 items, then it is 3 below).

There were plenty of other treats and our tables quickly filled up with plates and bamboo steamers. The staff were also very lovely and let us take over the TV/music system to watch our pick of their music DVDs (Rolling Stones won out – the Shelley poetry reading and pirate shirt fashion may have helped that one).

Overall the Annandale looks set to get a few more visits. It even passed a pretty tough pub test – there was enough food, beer and relaxed vibe for an arm wrestle challenge to occur! Some overseas pub friends would be proud.

3_ArmWrestling

While trying to think of a new thing to try out on the weekend all I could think of was some Sunday Sweets (I suspect I might have been looking at CakeWrecks a little too much!) Deciding to go with this thought, I managed to convince Adrian to head off down the road to our nearby Adriano Zumbo patisserie

For anyone that hasn’t seen MasterChef (or any MasterChef ads) – this means cakes. Lots of cakes. Lots of fancy cakes. Lots of fancy cakes that also happen to be pretty tasty…

Those ones above include lemon meringues, with the meringue shaped into flowers, and the vanilla V8 cake (8 layers of various vanilla goodness). There were also mini croquembouches, “what a great pear of…” cakes (a posh looking pair of profiteroles involving pears, almonds and touches of green) and the cake we went for – the Happy Birthday…

According to the little description card this cake is a flourless chocolate biscuit, chocolate sabayon mousse, ultimate chocolate brownie, caramel mou, milk chocolate chantilly and cocoa nib nougatine with a white chocolate and passionfruit glaze. I’m not entirely sure what sabayon mousse, mou or cocoa nib nougatine are exactly, but they are definitely delicious! The top half of the cake was all silky smoothness with a pasionfruit tang, then there was chocolate mousse, followed by a biscuit crunch at the bottom with some hazelnuts thrown in for good measure and a chocolate base to finish it all off. Deliciousness!

 Demolished

Being a reasonably warm day we headed to the nearest park to demolish our Sunday sugar rush. Gladstone Park was the park of choice – nothing spectacular but the entrance was pretty. Plus cake trumped scenery.

2_GladstonePark

We may have also gotten some extra treats to keep us going in case the cake sugar rush wore off – Zumbarons!

2_Zumbarons

Since Adrian got to pick the cake, I got to pick the zumbarons. So salted butter popcorn, lamington, carrot cake, golden Jack Daniels honey, malted milkshake and blackened vanilla it was. Rainbow-tastic!

2_Rainbow

These proved to be just as tasty as the cake, although there was a bit more of a hierarchy with these ones (the vanilla, honey and popcorn ones won it for me, although the gold sparkliness of the honey one might have contributed to its ranking).

2_Shiny

The lamington one wasn’t bad either.

2_Lamingtonaron

In fact, even with the taste hierarchy we managed to push through – there weren’t a lot of left overs…

2_DoneAfter all this Sunday sweetness I think this weekend’s adventure might need to involved some exercise!

A heap of sunshine and some much missed Aussie warmth made it the perfect weekend to do some local exploring.  So, after the tip off from a friend, the first stop on our adventures was Camperdown to check out the arty entries into the Australian Stencil Art Prize.

Getting the tip off certainly helped as the exhibit for the finalists was held in the Chrissie Cotter Gallery – a little building down a Camperdown side street, tucked in between the bowlo and the tennis courts. It did have a bit of an unassuming deco charm though.

Once we got inside there was stencil art a-plenty, with a huge variety of styles and some pretty unusual materials. There was street arty-iness, old style pin up ladies (the one with the feather headdress in the bottom left below had enticed me along originally), almost photo-like pictures, abstract images and a lot of animals!

There was plenty to see and some pictures had little extras like all the 1970’s Aussie slang stuck on to one picture using an old label maker (in the middle), a picture that had was built up with images on multiple layers of perspex, a stencil done onto a skateboard and one that was done using red wine on carpet!

We wandered through trying to pick a favourite – Adrian was steering towards the flouro coloured hand grenade, while I was steering towards the blue-green swirl beside it.

However being an exhibition for a prize there has to be a winner and I think the picture below was well deserving of the prize. It’s hard to convey in a photo but is is made up of the stencils themselves cut into strips and layered on different planes. The thing is, if you look at it front on all you see is a kids face but as you move the strips show up the image of the family behind – all optical illusion-y. Definitely worth checking out in person.

On the way out I also decided to add the bowling green next to the gallery on to the places-to-visit list. Also, as we were wandering on to the next stop we passed a girl painting away at the other end of this wall – it turns out that the prize finalists have since come along and covered this green wall in art. This could mean a re-visit this weekend!