I could have been a victim of the Paris terror attacks

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Four hours before the France v German friendly that took place at the Stade de France on Friday the 13th of November, we were considering not attending the match at all.

We had bought three tickets to the match, but we didn’t realise at the time that they weren’t seated together. The match also started at 9pm, and with Miss P having been abnormally grumpy that day, we thought it was just too much effort.

In the end, we decided to go with Miss P strapped to my front in the baby carrier. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric, with almost a full house of excited and enthusiastic French fans madly waving their tri-colour flags. We even managed to find three seats together and thought we’d just keep them warm until the ticket holder came along to boot us out.

We were seated next to a rowdy bunch of drunken French fans, which offered us a very entertaining insight into the rarely seen French bogan. They were merrily passing around a bottle of alcoholic mystery in an unlabelled Coke bottle, and yelling words of encouragement to their countrymen on the field.

French bogans

Shortly into the first half of the match, we heard a loud explosion that came from outside the stadium. We looked at each other and our friend tried to reassure us, “I think it was just a bunger!” I replied, “It sounded a bit loud to be a bunger”. The bogans even shouted, “Yeah! They’re the real fans!!” But as we looked around the stadium, no-one else seemed concerned as they continued cheering loudly for the Blues.

Not long after, we heard another loud explosion. I could see people high up in the back row, only a quarter of the way around the stadium from us, peering over the fence to see what was going on outside. There was clearly some sort of drama going on, but we didn’t think anything more than there being some very loud fire crackers or perhaps a nearby gas explosion.

Half time rolled around and a lady with her kids came up to us and said that we were sitting in her seats. Being well after 10pm by now and not having three seats together, we decided to call it quits and go home. As we lingered on the terrace with the countless smokers, the large metal gates slid shut right in front of us. We asked the security guard where the closest exit was and he informed us that no-one was being allowed to leave.

Soon after, the second half started and crowd were fixated on the game. We heard a third explosion outside the stadium in front of us and we could see police lights, armed men, and medics gathering. While the game was playing, our friend was searching on her phone for any news items that could shed some light on what was happening nearby. It was only then that we were shocked to read about the shootings at the concert hall and the restaurant. There was only a minor mention of an explosion near the stadium.

We weren’t panicking yet, but we were slightly concerned at the lockdown and with the the end of the game looming closer, the thought of a stampede for the exits was at the front of our minds. We tried to place ourselves in a little alcove so that if there was a rush then we would be protected.

As the final siren came closer, there were a few more worried faces gathering at the exits, mostly young families who were probably in the same situation as us, and those just wanting to beat the rush home. Thankfully, about 10 minutes before the end of the match they began to open the gates and we were able to leave.

There was tension in the air as we walked to the train station. Heavily armed police and tactical response teams were everywhere, bearing large semi-automatic weapons and tear gas launchers. We even saw one young man with multiple guns pointed at him, urging him to put his hands up and lay down on the ground. We all put our hands up in the air just so that there could be no mistake to the authorities that we were ‘the good guys’.

One week later, we have been heartbroken and deeply sad at the 129 senseless deaths and 300 people injured that night. But we also feel a sense of relief that the suicide bombers outside the stadium were detected and stopped before they killed and injured potentially hundreds more. We wonder what we would have done if an explosion had happened in the stadium. Would we have stampeded toward the exit? Or would we have done the more rational thing and stayed in our seats?

We wonder whether the suicide bombers would have detonated their vests near us, and we would be just another name on the list of victims.

Learning to snowboard…and crash…indoors

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I’ve been a longtime ski enthusiast, but I’ve often fantasised about the idea of being able to crossover to snowboarding. I’ve tried my hand at it a couple of times, but I haven’t committed to serious time to improve my boarding. The thought of spending precious snow and ski time battling with beginner lessons and spending half my time on my arse seriously turned me off.

However, after the amazing powder days on my Japan trip recently, I thought that having the ability to pick up the board on the deep powder days and then choosing the skis when I just want to carve some serious turns.

Coinciding with the excitement of the Sochi Olympics, a new indoor ski slope has opened in Sydney. In2ski features three Maxxtracks slopes, which are basically like giant treadmills, and can be set at different gradients to simulate different levels of difficulty.

Maxxtracks indoor skiing

The centre claims that one hour of practice on the indoor slope is equivalent to eight hours on the mountain. I’m not sure whether this is true, but you do certainly waste a fair bit of an on-mountain lesson on lifts and waiting around for the slower students.

The best thing about the indoor slope is that it is in Sydney! No more driving for six hours each way, paying through the nose for petrol, accommodation, lift passes and crap food just to improve your skills. It’s a really cost effective way of improving your technique without the massive time commitment of a weekend.

The format of a group lesson is to be on the slope for 10 minutes, then off for 10 minutes while the other half of the group is on, and alternating until the end of the lesson. Each 10 minute interval is tough though, since it’s pretty much non-stop. Falling over on the slope, which happens often when you’re learning, is a bit of a shock the first time, and not as nice as falling into soft snow. My battle scars at the end of the day included bruised knees, a tender bum, a sore neck, and slight carpet burn on one elbow. At the end of my hour lesson, I had gone from feeling my way going straight on a flat board, to learning turns and going side to side while holding onto the bar. Not a bad progression in an hour, I thought!

My intention now is to get to a decent level snowboarding on the indoor slope, where I can confidently link turns together. I’m also keen to fine-tune my skiing skills too, and hopefully get rid of some terribly bad habits before hitting the slopes for real next time!

Here’s a taster of my experience – look how lovely my turns are until I hit the ground!

Note: I paid for my own lesson and this post was in no way endorsed or sponsored by In2ski.
Photo courtesy of In2ski

Sculpture by the sea

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Every year, thousands of people flock to the coastal walk between Bondi and Tamarama beaches to check out the art installations as part of Sculpture by the Sea. The path that hugs the coastline between these two beaches is spectacular, overlooking the deep blue ocean, golden sands, and steep cliffs, and it is always popular with walkers and joggers.

The day we chose to visit this year was baking hot. After a big breakfast at a Bronte beach cafe, we strolled north to Tamarama where we were greeted by this massive installation on the sands.  Very striking and spectacular from above!

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We had a look at some of the other sculpture installations on the beach, and dipped our toes into the refreshingly cold water.

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I particularly liked this one above, with pieces of trash masquerading as jellyfish. As a diver and beach goer, the amount of human-produced garbage that ends up in our waters is staggering, and it can have a devastating effect on wildlife.

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Due to the heat and the jostling crowds, we lost all motivation to continue onto the full length of the walk. From outings in previous years, this event is definitely a highlight, marrying art and the beautiful Sydney seascape, which is a perfect introduction to art for an ignoramus like myself!

Even bikers wear pink

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The annual Pink Ribbon ride came around again recently, and it was another fun day out on the motorbike with hundreds of fellow riders.

The whole day is all about raising awareness and funds for breast cancer research, and it’s amazing to see the turnout for an event like this. Even more fantastic is some of the hard work and effort some people put in to deck their bikes out in pink. It’s not so surprising to see tough-looking, hairy men in leather jackets with their facial hair dyed a shade of hot pink.

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pink ribbon bikes

It was quite a windy day, which did result in being blown around a bit on my little VTR 250. I guess I can chalk this up to increasing my riding experience, even though it really was not pleasant most of the time.

pink ribbon riders

pink ribbon bears

It’s really nice to be part of a community like this doing something good to help find a cure for breast cancer. Even better is to see men joining in with such enthusiasm!

Fireworks over Sydney harbour

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Earlier this month, Sydney Harbour hosted naval boats from all around the world as part of the Royal Australian Navy’s International Fleet Review. The event was held to commemorate the centenary of the Navy’s first arrival into Sydney Harbour, and thousands of people flocked to vantage points all around the harbour to see the boats sailing in through the heads.

On one of the final nights, a spectacular fireworks show was staged, with several barges in the harbour setting off simultaneous displays of colourful sparks. I am biased of course, but I truly believe that there is no better backdrop for fireworks than Sydney Harbour.

sydney at night

It was my first time trying to photograph fireworks, and after doing a little bit of research, I knew that I needed a sturdy tripod and an exposure of around 1 to 2 seconds. Another article mentioned focusing manually, since the automatic focus would find it very difficult to find a focus point.

The result was a lot of duds, some of which were over-exposed at first before I pulled back the shutter speed. Others were poorly timed with the setting off of the fireworks, so I didn’t capture the full explosions. Many weren’t quite as sharp as I’d like. It’s rather difficult trying to manually focus through a tiny little view finder!

These were some of the better ones.sydney fireworks sydney fireworks

After around half an hour of fireworks display, the air was thick with smoke, but it beautifully reflected the colours in the air.sydney fireworks smoke

Sydney puts on a good show, doesn’t it?

Vivid Sydney’s festival of lights

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After a few years regrettably missing Vivid Sydney, this time I made a concerted effort to check out this year’s transformation of Sydney’s iconic buildings into canvases for lights and art.  [Working out in the suburbs, rather than the city, means that this sort of stuff requires a special effort!]

With nice balmy evenings and a festival vibe not far off new years eve, it was good fun wandering around and checking out some of the light/art installations dotted around Circular Quay and the Rocks.  Many of them required audience interaction, and the lights would dance to human movement.

vivid sydney harbour bridgeVivid Sydney Opera Housevivid sydney opera houseThe event was truly a photographer’s paradise, and I joined many others with their big tripods jostling for a good position to capture the spectacular light displays.

vivid sydneyvivid sydney customs house vivid sydney customs houseSometimes I forget how wonderful it is to live in this artistic city.  Sydney knows how to rock a festival!

Onesie funsie

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Last weekend, I rallied my mates together for a pub crawl around my suburb of Balmain, but with a twist.

We dressed up in colourful onesies (alright, it was an excuse to again wear the onesies from our Canada ski trip!), visiting nine of the best local drinking establishments.  We drew a fair bit of attention from the Balmain locals, with quite a number of passing cars giving us a friendly beep as they drove past.

onesiesonesie pub crawlpolka dot onesieanimal onesiespolka dot onesie wedge moOf course, wearing a onesie and consuming many beverages is not an ideal combination, so toilet stops were a bit awkward, especially for us ladies.  It wasn’t particularly graceful or appealing having a pile of fleece around your ankles when you really needed to go.

One of the highlights of the onesie crawl was my friend Steve’s reciting of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart speech at the Sir William Wallace hotel, while standing on a bar stool.

braveheart william wallace onesiebalmain onesie pub crawlbalmain onesie pub crawlcow onesie

The night ended rather messily at the London Hotel, probably much earlier than a typical Saturday night, at around 9pm.  However, considering that we started the day at midday, then it was a long enough session for this 30-something!!onesiesonesies

The need for speed – my first Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix

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I’ve been keenly following Formula 1 over the last two seasons.  I would never describe myself as a revhead or anything, but I found myself watching my first race on television late one night with a lot more interest than I ever thought possible for a car race.

On the weekend, I flew down to Melbourne for my first race – the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix.  Saturday’s qualifying was a wet one, with constant delays while race control waited and waited for the rain to clear.  In the end, only the first session of qualifying went ahead with the next two sessions postponed to the morning of race day.  We ended up spending most of the day stuck inside the bar to escape the rain!

Sunday saw much better weather, with some light drizzle and a big downpour constantly threatening.  We walked the main straight in the morning, and watched some of the teams practise their pit stops.

main straight walk australian f1 grand prix boy dressed as lewis hamilton raikkonen garage australian f1 grand prix

 

Before the race, we tried to stalk some of the drivers.  This is the back of Sebastian Vettel’s head!

back of sebastian vettel

 

There was some fun around the place to keep you occupied outside of the race, including lots of classic cars and being entertained by the Roulettes.

vintage fire engine goggomobile the roulettes australian f1 grand prix fa-18 super hornet australian f1 grand prixdelorean

 

We had fantastic seats in the grandstand along the main straight, pretty much right on the start/finish line.  We saw all the cars and the crew on the grid just before the race, and saw the podium presentation following Kimi Raikkonen’s win.

starting grid australian f1 grand prix mark webber australian f1 grand prix australian f1 grand prix podium australian f1 grand prix podium australian f1 grand prix podium australian f1 grand prix podium

 

The appalling weather aside, it was a super fun weekend with an exciting race, a great vibe, and lots of fun events and things to see.  We’re thinking of going to another race in the Formula 1 calendar later in the year. Montreal anyone?

Why the thought of motherhood scares me

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I previously wrote this post for my other blog Laugh Lots, Travel Often

Laugh Lots, Travel Often

It may seem crazy when we humans are biologically programmed to reproduce, but the idea of having children scares me. All those sleepless nights and sore boobs are definitely unappealing, as well as losing your figure, having your boobs droop down past to your belly, and the financial cost. Sometimes I think that the only real upside of motherhood is those 9 months when you can “eat for two” (although this is well offset by the ban on soft cheese, blue cheese, sushi, alcohol, rare steak, pâté and deli meats, raw shellfish, coffee, and the list goes on).

I know that I’m not alone here when it comes to denying our biological urges. A Pew Research Center study in the US from 2007 showed only 41% of couples thought that children were very important to a successful marriage, which was down from 65% in 1990.

Certainly there are many lifestyle…

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