WANDERLUST 108: Melbourne 2015

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Back in 2006, I completed my first and what I assumed would be my last triathlon. I don’t like swimming, running or cycling, so it clearly wasn’t something I did of my own free will; it was something I had to do in order to graduate from university and complete my Bachelor of Exercise Science. While I am a competent swimmer and bike rider, I don’t enjoy either of them, particularly not in a competitive setting like a triathlon. I also have a tendency to struggle with heat exhaustion; my triathlon was held on a 36°C Melbourne summer day. I had met my now husband a few years earlier, towards the start of our time at uni together (we studied the same degree), and will be forever thankful to him for getting me through that. He grew up in the water and is a better than good swimmer, so he helped me through the half-kilometer ocean swim leg. I was fine on my own for the 20km bike ride (I didn’t enjoy it, but it was at least pretty easy for me). By the time I got to the 5km run, I was spent. The heat was ridiculous, and I was in a world of pain. Dad was the only family or friend either of us had there to cheer us on and meet us at the finish line; he later told me that he met husband at the finish line and husband’s first question was “have you seen Jess?” Nope, not finished yet, answered Dad. Husband back-tracked a few kilometres to find me in a hallucinatory state, poking his chest and asking if he was real, and walked the few kilometres back with me to the finish line. That was when Dad decided he was a keeper and part of the family.

Anyway, despite how proud I am of myself for finally finishing, it was a shitty experience and one I never intend on repeating. So you can imagine my husband’s face when I told him I’d entered myself into a triathlon this weekend. Not just any triathlon though; the Wanderlust 108. The “kind” and “mindful” triathlon.

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Wanderlust is a global lifestyle group that focuses on keeping both the mind and body fit and healthy, and they’re running a triathlon unlike any other in cities all around the world.  What they’re all about, as they write on their website is…

Wanderlust’s core mission is to create community around mindful living.

Mindful living is a conscious, value-based approach to leading a sane & healthy life. At Wanderlust, we focus on a few simple principles:

Practice Yoga

Practicing yoga helps clear the mind, tone the body, and heal the spirit. Wanderlust is committed to creating inspiring places to practice with a broad array of the world’s most accomplished teachers.

Eat Well

We are what we eat, and at Wanderlust — and in our personal lives — we support local farms and purchase organic, sustainably grown products whenever possible.

Be Green

It is our solemn responsibility to be good stewards of the earth. Wanderlust is committed to sustainable practices, including waste reduction, recycling, composting, the utilization of renewable energy sources and carbon offsetting. Sustainability is a moving target, and we also pledge to improve year after year.

Practice Purpose

Wanderlust is a purpose driven company, and we build partnerships with like-minded companies who value social good as well as the bottom line. Some of our greatest power lies in what we do, what we purchase and who we associate with.

Create Awareness

Many of the great challenges facing us today, from environmental damage to food shortages to disease to political upheaval, can be improved or solved through mass action. But mass action requires awareness, so wherever possible, we will use the Wanderlust platform to highlight — and with luck, resolve — the most important issues of our time.

Showcase Art

Wanderlust is a place where creative expression is both valued and open. We treasure our community of artists and are honored to provide a canvas for their work.

You can find out more on their website, but basically, the event looks something like this:

  • 5km-running course
  • 90-minute yoga class
  • live music
  • inspiring lecture by One Giant Mind’s Jonni Pollard
  • lawn activities such as acroyoga
  • delicious locally sourced organic food

They run these events all around the world, and I was pretty excited to find out they were hosting one in Melbourne! I found out about it exactly four weeks before it was scheduled; I entered myself online, immediately downloaded the Couch To 5K running app to my phone and instructed husband to drag me along to the gym with him when he went three mornings each week, so I could complete the program on the treadmills there. Let me emphasis what a big deal this is; I have always hated/completely sucked at running. I’ve never been good at it, I’ve never enjoyed it, I’ve never understood the “fun” concept of a “fun run.” But at this stage, I was just beginning to take my depression/anxiety/disordered eating recovery seriously and thought this was the perfect opportunity for a fresh start, and a great way to train my body to achieve something other than losing weight. So I did. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 5.30am and every Sunday around 7.30am for the four weeks leading up to it, I got up, put on my workout gear, and hit the gym. I kept up my own yoga practice, a few sessions per week, leading up to it too.

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So, how was the day itself? Pretty amazing! Despite the event running a little late to start, it was a fun day! I surprised myself with how well I did on the run and couldn’t have been happier when I crossed the finish line 🙂 The 90 minute yoga class was good fun with great tunes from Aroha, led by the incredibly motivating “flying nomad” Simon Park – seeing 1500 people practising their downward facing dog in the park on the beach overlooking the sea is one hell of an experience!

I also got a lot out of listening to Swisse ambassador, the gorgeous Bianca Chatfield, captain of the Melbourne Vixens netball squad, superstar athlete, founder of The Ignition Project and all around lovely lady 🙂 Hearing her speak about not only the importance of working hard, but the importance of resting and taking time out to look after yourself, too, was EXACTLY what I needed to hear.

A big thank you to the team at the Lulu Lemon hub as well – how they kept up on the bag check front (the best ever complimentary service that could have possibly been on offer), as well as selling their gear, I will never know. But they did, and they made everyone’s lives a lot easier because of it! Oh, and the food was hella good, too – I hit up the team at Mastic twice – firstly for the black rice risogalo after the run and before the yoga (black rice and coconut milk/yoghurt pudding deliciousness, topped with toasted coconut and pomegranate), and then went back for one of the phenomenal quinoa falafel souvas after the yoga class, by which point I was famished!

Hellenic Republic Kew on Urbanspoon

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Wanderlust108 Melbourne was an awesome experience, and I think something that most of us would benefit from; taking the time to slow down and make time for ourselves, to both challenge ourselves physically and mentally, as well as nurture ourselves, and to be around other people wanting the same things, is a truly uplifting and inspiring experience, and I’m super thankful for the opportunity to have been part of it all! Was anyone else there on the weekend, or done any of the others in other cities around the world??

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Eat here: Leyalina, Melbourne (Egyptian)

Leyalina
191 Lygon St, Carlton, Melbourne
https://www.facebook.com/leyalina.melbourne

It’s hard to believe it was just two years ago we were in Egypt; it almost feels like a dream, now. I’d been wanting to visit Egypt my whole life, but was a little hesitant about the food. I wasn’t too familiar with Egyptian food, and wasn’t sure I’d really like it. What if it was too spicy? Too strange? Ingredients I didn’t understand or like? But we don’t travel to be comfortable, so instead of taking the easy way out and ordering burgers and chips everywhere, I threw myself headfirst into it and ordered falafel and grilled meat of every variety, dips and flat breads, and whatever else people wanted to recommend. And I loved it, all of it! Even the stuff I didn’t recognise, like most of the stuff in the photo below that we ate in the Nubian village we visited – I know there was molasses and some sort of sugar paste something-or-other… I didn’t care, it was all so good!

But strangely enough, back in Melbourne (one of the world’s greatest cultural mixing pots), there really aren’t many/any options for good Egyptian restaurants, so it’s been a little difficult for me to sate my appetite and relive the good memories from that trip. Until now: enter Leyalina. This Egyptian eatery opened on Lygon Street only 7 weeks ago, and is already earning itself quite a reputation. Visiting on Saturday night, we couldn’t help notice that the two story restaurant was packed out for pretty much the entire duration of our visit, a solid two hours. A pretty impressive feat for a 7 week old restaurant.

The lovely Marco greeted us and continued to check on us throughout the night, making sure our food was coming out to us in a timely fashion (which it did, despite how busy they were) and that we were happy with everything, which we very much were. I’ll come back to that later, though. First, the food.

We got started with the house made hummus ($9.50) and lemonade with mint ($6.00). The lemonade was a little overpriced, but the hummus was fantastic! Super smooth and perfectly balanced, with the sprinkle of paprika and parsley, and drizzle of olive oil – no overpowering garlic or tahini or anything like that. Great way to start a meal.

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Next up was the mixed grill plate ($27.00) – three skewers, one each of chicken, lamb shish kebab and lamb kofta on a spiced rice with raisins. The rice was delicious, again balanced just right, nothing too overpowering or too subtle. The skewers were amazing – the chicken and lamb were both really tender meat, and the kofta was perfectly seasoned. There was also a small side salad on the plate, which made it a pretty good main meal for one.

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The falafel. Very, very good. Deep fried little balls of goodness, smothered in sesame seeds and partnered with some spicy picked vegetables and a little cup of baba ghanoush, if I’m not mistaken. They were a little different to the ones I remember eating in Egypt; a lot smoother and less chunky, and we both really enjoyed them.

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The next dish we had was the foul mendammas, something I really wanted to try in Egypt but never had the opportunity to. It’s a traditional dish of cooked and mashed fava beans with vegetable oil and cumin, and occasionally garlic, lemon juice, onion, parsley – different areas will have different variations, like pastas in Italy and bun cha in Vietnam. I loved this one, so did husband; it’s amazing how much flavour you can get into a dish this simple when you know what you’re doing with it! It was thick, rich, so full of flavour, real comfort food. Huge tick for this one!

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And, because no great meal is complete without dessert, Marco kindly recommended the Om Ali tagine – nuts, sultanas and pastry layers baked tagine-style with milk. It came out looking less than appetising. It was destroyed in a matter of minutes. Don’t be deceived by looks, this is the darling of the dessert menu for good reason! The crunchy little hazelnuts and juicy raisins were strangely perfect with the milk-softened pastry. I’m glad I got this instead of my usual baklava order; it’s something I’d have never ordered unprompted or expected to like. This is why you need to trust the guys working behind the scenes in restaurants! Thanks Marco!

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Leyalina on Urbanspoon

Eat here: Mankoushe, Melbourne (Middle Eastern)

Mankoushe
323 Lygon St, Brunswick, Melbourne

https://mankoushebrunswick.wordpress.com/

Husband and I were having a chat on our way to Mankoushe for lunch on Sunday; we’d just left Brunswick St, Fitzroy, where we’d had a Sunday morning tea & coffee stop, drove by Nicholson St in Fitzroy North so I could drop by my favourite tattoo studio, Third Eye, to discuss a new piece I’m working on, and then onto Lygon St in Brunswick East for lunch at the Middle Eastern eatery. We were talking about how, even though I love being on the road and visiting new cities, I was stoked to be back in Melbourne and particularly my favourite stomping ground, the Fitzroy area.

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Let’s not sugar coat it or call it something it’s not – it is deep hipster terrain. It always has been, since way back before hipsters were actually cool. It got us thinking about how most city CBDs feel much the same, all over the world, but it’s the inner city hipster suburbs where you get a real feel for a place. That said, it’s hard to know exactly where to look, and they can be almost impossible to navigate if you’re not a local; for example, if you had someone visiting Melbourne and mentioned that Brunswick St is an awesome street to hang out on, great food and shopping, awesome bars and cafes, but if they ended up on the Brunswick St end north of Alexandra Parade, they’d be seriously questioning your sanity and coolness factor. The Brunswick end of Lygon St is much the same – unless you know what you’re looking for, it can seem a bit unconventinoal and daunting for a lot of people

ANYWAY, these areas are the ones I love being around, and I was stoked to find that we were close to Mankoushe after the tattoo stop; I’d been wanting to try it for ages! It’s a gorgeous little family run restaurant, with a bakery attached; the restaurant menu is a little fancier, a bit more elaborate, whereas the bakery is pretty simple, providing all of the classics – think haloumi pies, falafel and wood-fired pizzas topped with all sorts of mince meat, spices, herbs and nuts. We ordered a haloumi pie ($5.50), above, which was fantastic; a thinner and slightly crispier dough than that at Cedar’s Bakery, and I’m actually not sure which I preferred!

We also got a falafel wrap each ($8.50), below, which were a lot bigger and more filling than we expected! The photo below shows only half a wrap of the perfectly soft wrap coddling the best falafel I’ve had in Melbourne. It was chunky and so full of flavour, with the most magnificent crispy crust, with just enough tomato, lettuce and pickles to compliment the falafel without detracting from it. I really loved the tahini they used instead of the hummus that often accompanies these types of sandwiches/wraps – it was the perfect fit.

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Don’t expect the fancy table settings or friendlier service you’re gonna get at the restaurant when you take your seat at the bakery, but take it for what it is, instead; unpretentious, honest food, simple and full of flavour, at an exceptionally good price considering the serving size and quality. They are also open tomorrow until 9pm, so think about changing up your dinner plans and heading out to hipster country – it’s more than worth it!

Mankoushe on Urbanspoon

Eat & stay here: Pharaohs Hotel, Cairo, Egypt

Pharaohs Hotel, 12 Lotfi Hassouna St. Dokki. Giza Egypt
www.pharaohshotel.com

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This was the view from a window in our hotel the morning after we arrived in Egypt. We’d had a very, very long journey to get there, and were woken unexpectedly at the call to prayer in the early hours of the morning. We were exhausted on that first day. Anyway, it wasn’t until the following afternoon that we started to really appreciate our temporary home, our hotel in Cairo. It was fantastic. At first glance, it may not have appeared so; it was just another building amongst the many, many others in the tightly packed city. As you can see, the view isn’t spectacular. But the rooms were clean and comfortable.There were travellers from all countries and walks of life staying there. And, surprisingly, the hotel restaurant was probably the best I’ve ever been to.

Hotels the world over are notorious for housing sub-standard “restaurants” and travellers often avoid them at all costs. After a day of walking the city streets of Cairo with our guide, I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. Despite the warm weather, I was wearing long pants and a long sleeved top, socks and shoes, and left my long hair out to cover my shoulders and shield my face. Every single one of my tattoos was covered up, and I made certain to stay as close as possible to my husband without physically touching him. I believe that when travelling through parts of the world that have a very different culture to the one you are accumstomed to, it is only right to respect their customs. Despite my best, well-meant intentions, I was essentially a zoo animal let out of her cage for the day. A western woman with no veil, auburn red hair, freckles, and very pale skin, walking around with two men. I was stared at; men actually physically stopped in their tracks, halted mid-step to elbow the buddy walking next to them, to stop and stare at me. Even the women and children stopped to watch me walk past. It was beyond bizarre; it was also very confronting. But back to the point of this post.

After an almost full day of that, I was exhausted. We needed dinner, but there was no way I was going back out onto the streets of Cairo at night, without a local to look after us, and so soon after the riots. We decided to eat at the dreaded hotel restaurant.

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We picked out a few dishes from the menu, assuming that for the low prices they’d be small portions. That was our first mistake. We got a LOT of food. The falafels were hands down the best I have EVER had, anywhere – I can still remember how crispy and tasty they were! The pile of rice that came with the skewers was enormous, and the tabbouleh was amazing. So was everything, to be honest! Husband also remembers with particular affection the waiter, a lovely gentleman (and I do mean gentleman) who attended to our every whim, waiting far enough away to give us privacy while we dined, but close enough to come running as soon as he saw us run out of beer, water, bread, napkins. We were fortunate enough to be able to eat there a few more times before our time in Egypt was over, and I truly can’t speak highly enough of this place. If you ever visit Cairo, even if you can’t stay in this hotel, do yourself a favour and at least go to have a meal there! It’s one I’ll certainly never forget, and for all the right reasons 🙂