Diggersite – Bob The Builder comes to Life! 

Like many three year olds, mine adores Bob and his machines, especially that yellow digger called Scoop.  We sprinted here after we came across Diggersite when a friend shared a link. They have no website (at time of post) but they have a Facebook page. 
   Diggersite is located at 1020 East Coast Park #01-04, between a Burger King and a Prawning place. He could hardly contain his excitement when he saw the diggers, and wanted to jump in one right away!   

There are a total of six diggers in three stations, two outdoors and one indoors. They are working small scale replicas of actual diggers.   We started at this the station where you try to swing the digger arm and knock down the bottles – or at least that’s what I thought! It hardly mattered, he was just excited to sit in one and rotate left to right (I will be uploading a video clip in my IG @tjinlee if you want to see this)!     His face when the ride stops. 

It costs $7 for a 5 minute ride. For a kid his age, it’s pretty similar to sitting in one of those $2 mall joy rides in a shopping center… But 100 times cooler! We bought 3 credits for $18 (then had to add $7 for his fourth ride)!
   We venture out into the excavation site where there were three diggers set around a sand pit filled with bricks and buckets.  

He was not so enthused when we were told it was advisable for me to ride with him, as he was too little to really operate the digger.  

 (I’m not in my builder attire as we came straight here after a day of back-to-back work meetings for mama – my attempt at work-life balance, and highlight of my day.)

We attempt to operate our digger and were able to rotate the machine, lower and raise the digger arm and scoop and pick up and dump sand. It revealed to my son that his mother is not terribly coordinated nor good at remembering  which lever swiveled which way to go up, down, tilt or rotate…  

Meantime, in the digger opposite us, a far more coordinated father-son duo were busy and efficiently scooping sand into the little buckets in the sand (show offs)!

After 5 minutes of riding with me, I decided to let him have his own ride. He enjoyed just sitting in it and pushing all the levers around, looking like a real pro! 

  

  There are bricks scattered in the sand so you can also attempt to pick those up with your scoop. 

After two rides on the excavator diggers, we head indoors to try the claw digger, which is like a giant version of the amusement park claw machine. 

I coerced him into wearing the construction hat (there’s also a vest but he’s not that cooperative), which you can loan without charge when playing with the diggers. 

   
    
  It’s really hard to operate these indoor diggers if you’re three years old – or maybe my son just inherited his mother’s lack of coordination skills. As before he just really enjoyed sitting in the digger and pulling all the levers, so it was great fun nonetheless! 

   

His face (again!) when it stops.

The biggest tip I can give you is to come on a weekday. I read that they are really crowded on weekends, and it can be a very long wait for an excited toddler who can’t wait to jump in a digger, to have 3-4 other kids queued up before his turn.

Diggersite opens from 10am to 10pm, and there are floodlights at night ensure the place is bright as day, without the scorching heat and sun. 

We had an awesome end to the day with OJ at Burger King, followed by the discovery of these four seater family bikes in the rental place next door where toddlers can sit up front with their own steering wheel…But that’s another story.  

 

Sensory Play Exploration – With Tickle Your Senses

Which kid doesn’t like playing with dough and making their own gooey slime! Sharing an awesome experience that we had with Tickle Your Senses when I discovered them at a pop-up event at Trehaus a couple weeks ago. 

These Sensory Play enthusiasts create workshops (and can even run activity stations at kids parties and events)  and sell cool, thoughtfully conceived toolkits that include water play beads and their own hand-made dough (which smells divine like essential oils, unlike commercial play dough).  He starts out by watching the fun, before getting his own bowl to make his own lovely slime!

   With the help of the sensory play specialists and founders of Tickle Your Senses, Felicia and Chiao Chyi, they pour in the ingredients that make up the slime and Tyler has a fun time stirring and mixing it all up!  

You can choose the color of your own slime, and we opt for the bright turquoise. 
Add the color into the paste and mix it all up…  

 Stir and stir until it develops a gooey consistency… Voila! Blue slime!     It’s a fun activity that kids can enjoy individually, with adult help, or in a group. 
  These two cousins enjoy making goo together (I think I should send them for cooking classes soon!)  

  You know what’s really awesome about the goo, it can even blow up into a balloon!  

Alas! I didn’t get any pics because Tyler hasn’t quite got the hang of blowing a balloon yet, but I saw some of the older kids doing it! Huffing and puffing… 
  Apart from goo, kids can also play with the dough, and buy the home play sets which come with rollers, cutters and stencils. 

Look at the cute packaging- this set below comes with body parts so you can make your own Mr Potato type characters.  They also make great gifts ($22.90 for the play dough tool kits, variety of themes to choose from including Farm animals, Alphabets etc).  

 He also really loves the Water Beads set ($18.90) that we bought. We didn’t play with them in the session at Trehaus, but we brought those water toolkits home for hours of endless water play that’s not too messy!   

Finally, I must share with you the Storytime Workshops that these awesome folks organize. Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site is one of Tyler’s favorite story books.  

 I can already imagine the fun he’s going to have – getting to make slime, play with construction vehicles that he loves in the muck, see, hear and feel his favorite story! 

    
 Check out their website now (above images from Tickle Your Senses) or find them on IG @tickleyoursenses for details on the 12 or 19 March sessions. I’ve already booked Tyler into the 19 March session as he had so much fun… And best of all, it’s also a DROP OFF workshop (for kids aged 3 to 6), so I’m going to chill with coffee at Jewel Cafe downstairs while my little monkey enjoys 90 minutes of Storytime and sensory play… Aaaaah, I’m looking forward to it already!

Lastly, if you enjoyed this post, follow @trehauscowork on Instagram and Facebook to find more quality family-friendly  activity coming soon to Trehaus Kids!

  

My Tot Friendly Travel : Melbourne (Part 2: Hotels, Dining & Highlights)

I’ve covered our top family-friendly Melbourne activities in my previous post, in this one I will share our favorite eats, where we stayed, and tips for getting about.

 Starting with where we stayed, I believe that the hotel can be about 50% of the entire experience – from its location, which enhances or affects all the logistics, to the general enjoyment based on comfort and interaction with the city. So yes, hotels are extremely important to me, and the first thing I look at when I travel.

When I asked around, 9 out of 10 people who live in, or traveled regularly to, Melbourne heartily recommended the Crown Hotels (Metropole and Tower). It can be pricey, but is a very central and convenient place to stay. The other recommendation that came online for a family booking was the Stamford Plaza Melbourne. Both had great reviews on Tripadvisor.

We spent four nights in the Crown Towers (we stayed in and highly recommend the Suite, we booked on http://www.hotels.com and got the Suite for about AUD620 per night in peak season, the same price as my friend paid for a Deluxe room on another website for the same trip, the suite was twice the size and twice as nice!).

We also stayed three nights in Stamford Plaza, as we liked the location in Little Collins Street, literally a stone’s throw from all the hip eateries and main shopping belt. We recommend Crown Towers but found the Stamford Plaza unimpressive – rooms were dark and a little old, our room sliding door actually came off its hinge and there were insufficient windows so the place was dark. The rooms were also really small, too small to fit a cot or spare bed comfortably. We were more than happy to move over to Crown Towers after three days.

He settles in like a boss.    That view though!

 Don’t forget to bring your swimmers! There’s this gorgeous huge indoor heated pool, kept at about 30 degrees and with beautiful skylights so the place is filled with natural light but the water stays warm all year round.  Finally, enjoying a soak in the bath tub- his favorite pastime in hotels!

If you were looking for an alternative location though, the hotel we would recommend would be the Grand Hyatt Melbourne, along Collins Street. It had an unbeatable location right on the main shopping and dining stretch, and a nice buzzy cafe in front.

The first thing we did after we checked in was to make a visit to the Eureka Skydeck on Level 88. It’s the highest vantage point open to the public, and offers awe-inspiring 360 degree bird’s eye views of the city.


 The Eureka Skydeck is only steps away from the bustling and buzzy South Bank, and also where the Crown casinos are located. The best way to experience this beautiful waterfront part of the city is on foot (and stroller).

Hello seagull…   He got sleepy and grumpy halfway through (likely the 3 hour time difference which had him sleepy by 6pm) , thanks goodness we brought the stroller!
  Moving on to our Top 5 dining experiences (with toddler in tow):

1) Hardware Societe
So there’s this iconic little French breakfast-brunch place nestled in the middle of town on 120 Hardware Street, walking distance from Little Collins Street where we were staying. You can’t make reservations, I gather they’re pretty full most of the time. They have a limited number high chairs, we scored only one – but as many places in Melbourne don’t have high chairs at all, this wasn’t unexpected.

With a name like “Hardware Societe” I had expected a modern, industrial setup, a little of that factory-chic type eatery – but nope, it’s kind of a low-key, laid back rustic cafe with butterfly wallpaper and little marble tables. It’s not a big place at all, about 40 seats indoors and another 20 outdoors.
 The coffee here is freshly made, and so served one latte/ cappuccino at a time. Not posh, but served fresh and piping hot. Good stuff!  We ordered an iced chocolate for Bubu thinking we would get like, a milo with ice cubes in it… And this is what arrived!    OMG. Chocolate milk on a bed of fudge sauce laden with vanilla ice cream! Clearly not what I (as the parent of a two year old) envisioned for breakfast when I asked for an iced chocolate! Notwithstanding my iced chocolate expectations, he loved it of course! #supersugarhigh

     
Breakfast here was really really good! Traditional fare, nothing exceptionally new or creative, but just really fresh, hearty and well-done. We had the Baked Eggs and Chorizo, Lobster Eggs Benedict and Contintental Breakfast – none of the orders disappointed. Easy to see why this place is packed out. Worth the little wait!

2) Pure South Dining

We visited this restaurant located on Southgate at the South Bank waterfront (well there’s no real view of the water, maybe I mean on the main walkway) while staying in Crown Towers. It came highly recommended by a local, as his absolute favorite restaurant in the whole city, so we gave it a try.

Cuisine is best described as Modern Australian with a focus on fresh Australian and Tasmanian produce. I’m not much of a food reviewer so I’ll let the photos do most of the talking …Scallops

Fresh fish of the day


Seared tuna

Lamb loin  Beef steak

All in all, we really enjoyed dining at Pure South. They don’t have high chairs like many other Melbourne dining establishments, but food and service were faultless, and the other diners were welcoming of our occasionally fussy toddler, and didn’t glare at us once, instead giving him occasional nods and smiles.

3) Cumulus Inc

Located on Flinders Lane, this is another highly-recommended restaurant in Melbourne that doesn’t take reservations. We tried our luck on a Sunday evening, arriving at 6:30pm and found the place fairly empty. The restaurant has a great vibe with high ceilings and a bustling open kitchen where you can watch the chefs at work.

Again, they didn’t have high chairs but they were able to give us seating in the corner banquette area so the kids could sit on the sofa, and that worked out just fine.   The restaurant did get more crowded later in the evening, but not to the point where there was a long wait or line for anyone.

 We ordered sharing plates – Parma ham, Ox tongue, Sweet & Sour cauliflower and Tuna Tartare. All really good, we had seconds of the cauliflower, and the Tuna Tartare atop pea mash and goat curd which came highly recommended was indeed very tasty!

 

    Beef for the main course, and I can’t remember what dessert we had, but we demolished everything!  Heartily enjoyed and would recommend Cumulus Inc.

4)  Cutler & Co

Upscale restaurant in an old metalworks factory with an open kitchen, posh decor and a pricey menu, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Located in the arty and bohemian Fitzroy area, described as a “foodie Mecca” online, top 10 in Australia (#10 in Melbourne on Tripadvisor) – and one of my favorite experiences of the trip.

  Again, no high chairs but as you can see, the little ones settle quite comfortably into the banquettes (and when wedged between two adults, are quite well contained-phew!)   We ordered lots of plates to share – everything was really fresh, and exquisitely presented. My favorites were the pastrami on toast and the duck leg – Mmmmmmm!

    
  

5) Hammer & Tong 412

We can’t wrap up a Melbourne food journal without at least one more brunch/ brekkie place, which is what seems to be a signature of the  Melbs dining scene.

Hammer & Tong is an unpretentious little cafe (I would guess it seats about 50 in total) with an amazingly innovative menu and options that will have you wishing you could order for 5-6 people, as there are so many tempting dishes that you will want to try!

We waited 10 minutes for a table (decent), and 45 minutes for the food (not okay! The waitstaff apologized to us twice for the exceptionally long wait – but with a baby and a hungry toddler, it was just too long a wait for food). So I would suggest either not going on a Saturday morning, or not going with hungry kids – we ended up feeding Bubu gummy bears to keep his hunger at bay and he ate about 26 then wasn’t hungry any more!)

   The Soft Shell Crab burger and Ox Cheek Eggs Benedict are two of the signature dishes here. Both very very good. 

The ramen is another signature dish.

Signing off with another gratuitous Jakey photo…  And our entire itinerary below which may come in handy when planning!


Melbourne itinerary
Day 1

  • Arrive and check in
  • Chill out – Eureka Sky Deck

Day 2

  • 930am arrive collingwood farm
  • 10am Collingwood Farm – Cow Milking, The Farm Cafe is supposed to be good
  • 12pm Lunch at Abbotsford Convent
  • 2pm Diamond Valley Railway (11-5pm) 570 Main Road, Elkham Victoria – 30 min from Melbourne only open Sunday
  • Montsalvat Artists Colony (close 5pm)
  • 630pm Cumulus Inc Dinner – 45 Flinders Lane (no bookings taken)

Day 3

  • 9am drive to Belgrave (1 hour)
  • 10am Arrive, sort out ticketing, take photos, buy snacks and drinks
  • 11.10am Puffing Billy departure to Lakeside- 1 hour train ride) 1 hour Lakeside- Lunch
  • 230pm return train (1 hour return) Arrive back at Belgrave station around 330pm. Drive back to Melbourne 1 hour. Arrive back at hotel 330-4pm
  • 5pm Snack / Asian tapas at Chin Chin
  • 8pm Dinner – SuperNormal

Day 4

  • 9am Melbourne Zoo – Werribee Open Range Zoo – New toddler adventure trail program (only open Tuesday and Friday) – must call to book the safari. Book also Magic Moments with Koala (have to call) $12 per adult, 10 min up close with fave animal of your choice
  • Dinner – Pure South Dining

Day 5

  • 9am Breakfast – Hardware Societe
  • 10am Melbourne Museum (10-5pm open) – Real dinosaur bones
  • 1pm Botanic Gardens Lunch – Jardin Tan (botanic gardens observatory building – child friendly) and Children’s Garden
  • 7pm Dinner – The Meat & Wine Co

Day 6

Yarra River Day Out

  • 10am Healesville Sanctuary – Koala Bear experience with Magic Moments booking
  • 12pm Lunch and wine tastings – Coombe Farm on Melba Estate
  • Yarra Glen Adventure Playground
  • Yarra River Chocolaterie and Ice creameries – free tastings

Day 7

Brunswick street in Fitzroy- Bohemian place for street culture, art and gelato

  • 12pm Lunch at Cutler & Co Explore Fitzroy neighborhood
  • 3pm Visit to Myers and David Jones toy department
  • 7-11pm Luna Park

Day 8

  • 930am Breakfast at Hammer & Tong
  • 1pm Shopping and Lunch at Chapel Street
  • Check out and fly home

P.S. Almost forgot to share my tip for dealing with a very long line at customs when you first arrive (we arrived along with two other flights and had an Express pass but people told us near the front of the line that they had been waiting two hours!) . You can either get an Express Pass from your airlines at disembarkation (given to business class passengers and travelers with infants, they don’t automatically offer it to you if you have little ones but the customs officer told me you could ask for one from your airline). He also gave me a tip, that they bring to the front of the line those people who have children “in distress” – so if your baby is crying or fussing, they let them join the Express line. Hmm, beats waiting in line for two hours with fussy little ones!

IMG_3279

Last tip: This pram! The Mountain Buggy Nano folds up small enough to bring on the plane, and still rugged enough to go on farm trails and garden paths with ease. Best travel pram ever!

My Tot-Friendly Travel: Melbourne (Top Things to Do)

What impressed me most about Melbourne is how incredibly family-friendly the city is, in terms of activities and their general attitude to kids.

My Australian friends tell me that Melbourne is more laid-back than Sydney, and so is more welcoming of children in places like nice restaurants.  

Our biggest take out after a few days there is that days are short (even though the sun sets past 8pm in the summer most activities wrap by 5pm), so start early and end early.

This can be a little challenging if you’re traveling from South East Asia where Melbourne is 3 or more hours ahead, so my suggestion is not to plan anything the first morning (Bubu had to be roused at 9am for the itinerary when he usually wakes up at 7am) and ease into the schedule over the next couple of days, but definitely aim to start early like 9am and you can have an early dinner (which is also more convenient as it’s less crowded) and put the little ones to bed by 8pm, so they can be fresh as daisies for the next day! 

This is our review of some of the top family experiences in the city, what Bubu enjoyed the most, and in my next post, I will share our dining and hotel reccomendations, the full itinerary and more family travel tips (like what to do if there’s a two hour wait at Customs when you get off the plane).

I planned the itinerary so there are usually at least two back-to-back activities on the itinerary, all catered for shorter transport time, and pairing things that are nearby for convenience.

We got around by driving and with GPS, it’s actually really easily to navigate around Melbourne. Car rental was very affordable, less than $500 for the whole 8 days (but adding on the two car seats almost doubled the rental price).  
Okay, let’s go!

1) Collingwood Children’s Farm  & Abbotsford Convent (Weekend Market) 

What’s awesome about Collingwood Farm is that it’s only 10 minutes from downtown Melbourne, which is great. What’s not so great is the rather underwhelming collection of animals – some chicken, a few goats and a milk cow – were the main farmyard stars that we encountered.     

  The recommended highlight online is the 10am cow-milking session where kids get to have a hands-on experience milking a real cow! You can also have a fresh farm breakfast and explore the farm where they have chickens, goats, cows and a cool (don’t pet him, he’s violent) cat.  

SO! Bubu hated the cow-milking. He fussed about sitting outdoors in the sun, freaked out that there were flies everywhere (why does no one ever mention in all the travel articles online that Melbourne is fly-infested in the summertime!) 

Clearly, not all kids are cut out for farm life.  

 Not happy.  

   Yes, he’s recoiled in horror –  “NO WANT COW!!!”

  Post-cow trauma bribery with orange juice and a very yummy chocolate milkshake.   

I’ve still included Collingwood farm as I can see why some kids could probably enjoy this, but the real highlight wasn’t the farm – which was still worth a visit, the little cafe is recommended over the actual farm (great coffee and fresh breakfast), but Abbortsford Convent – a short walk next door is where he really enjoyed himself!

On weekends, there’s a craft and fashion market (I love the Retrobub stall with super cute handmade onesies, hoodies and Ts), live jazz music,and everyone just sprawled out on the grass and chillaxing in the sun

 Bubu really had fun just sitting in the grass (being surrounded by my friend’s three pretty daughters didn’t hurt)! 

      

    
So cute, right? We left with that grey fox onesie from Retrobub!      

Brunch was excellent, we had burgers, ribs, chocolate cake, lemon tart and really good breakfast pastries. Our friends who lived in Melbourne brought us here, and I would definitely recommend it too.It is worth making the trip to visit both Collingwood and Abbotsford  as they are just side by side, and only 10-15 minutes drive out from the city. If we lived in Melbourne we would probably make regular visits to Abbotsford for its great family-friendly environment and weekend market set in a lovely cluster of buildings, formerly a convent, I would presume.

2) Diamond Valley Miniature Railway & Montsalvat Artist Colony (Eltham)  

Which little boy doesn’t love Thomas the Train? We decided to make his train fantasies come to life by taking him to Diamond Valley Railway. This cool miniature railway only opens on Sundays – check out their schedule on their website, and is run by a team of passionate volunteers.   Located in Eltham, about 30 minutes from central Melbourne, you ride on mini trains on a track that takes about 12 minutes to complete. At only $3 per ride (and a reasonable 15-20 minute queue each time), Bubu loved it so much we had to ride twice! 

 He’s captivated by the tiny trains!     
  

“Nooooo daddy … I don’t want to leave!” 

After two rounds on the trains, we headed to Montsalvat, an artist’s colony in Eltham located just 5 minutes from Diamond Valley Railway.  Open seven days a week, this charming European style colony created in the 1940s had more ducks, geese (and even peacocks) than Collingwood, and Bubu enjoyed it much more than the farm! 

    
    
To my disappointment, we arrived at 4.45pm and found the place closing for the day (hence my tip to start the day earlier as many places and attractions wrap up at 5pm). There was still fun to be had – tailing the peacocks and geese, and exploring the picturesque grounds (a favorite for wedding shoots) even though we weren’t able to have any wine or coffee as the restaurant on the premises was closing.  

Baby Jake in his farm-inspired OOTD.   
Our verdict for Eltham: The Diamond Valley Railway is a delight for little ones. Kids older than six might find it a little boring, but it was perfect for toddlers. The train even goes through two dark tunnels for a little thrill!  Montsalvat is worth the stopover if you’re already in Eltham, you’ll get beautiful photos for your holiday album.

3) Puffing Billy Railway (Belgrave) 

  This was hands-down mommy’s favorite day out! The Puffing Billy steam train station is located in Belgrave, about an hour’s drive out of Melbourne city, and has close to hourly departures to Lakeside (about one hour away) and Gembrook (about 90 minutes each way). Online reviews shared that Gembrook was probably a more bustling place to visit, but given that you’re traveling with little ones, Lakeside is probably a more ideal stopover, as the journey by train is the main highlight of the day out, and not so much the destination.  

With a super friendly crew (and an amiable Station Master who is used to being asked if he’s the Fat Controller) , the kids were welcomed for photo opps and the train engineers even gave Bubu a chance to climb into the train driver’s cabin, he really enjoyed his day out!

  This is how you’re supposed to ride the Puffing Billy- with your legs hanging off the the side of the train!  
  The train passed farms and forests – a pretty journey in great weather! I’m told it’s not as pleasant in winter time so I would probably save this for warmer weather.   
 There’s not a whole lot to do at Lakeside – no lovely little cafes, more just a stopover canteen selling sandwiches and some hot food, but you can pick up iced coffee and ice creams (lifesaver), or pack your own picnic for outdoor dining.  

There is a small lake with some paddle boats, and a kids playground which Bubu really enjoyed. The stopover is about an hour long, so we were mostly killing time until we could get back on the train. This little city slicker actually asked me for coins when he saw this ride haha!

     

 Someone’s happy to be back on the train!   

 Ting ting ting at the street crossings Bidding farewell to the trains!

What an awesome day out – It may not be as exciting for older kids, but what a special treat it was for a two year old, it was like his Thomas the Train fantasies come true!  Tip: Bring along your own Thomas toys- they sell them at the station for a premium, and we were coerced into buying one for our over-excited toddler.

4) Werribee Open Range Zoo  

There are three zoos in Melbourne, you probably could do just one or two. We chose Werribee because they had a newly launched Toddler Trail program that took place with advance bookings on Tuesdays and Friday’s only (you can call in to book), and besides the safari pictures looked like awesome fun! 

   

 We started the tour at the zoo by feeding worms to some squeaky meerkats. 

We then boarded an open-sided safari bus for a private tour of the open range zoo. 
 At first he hated it! There were the usual flies, strong wind, and flying sand and he refused to wear his sunglasses so got sand in his eyes and was very upset (Tip: bring little sunglasses to protect your toddler’s eyes from the flying sand) 
     

  He perked up after taking a “momfie” with some giraffes.  The giraffes were really curious and got super close to the safari car.

   
Our friend and his daughter have a close encounter with a curious giraffe.
  He did warm up by the end, although he was very happy to finally get off the safari car, and made a beeline for…..   
 … A mechanical car. 

The highlight of our visit to Werrobee was the mechanical car (!!), and the Ranger Kids Play Area. There was a helicopter there (which he got so excited about he fell down its steps twice) along with dress-up costumes, large stuffed animals to play with and a turtle enclosure.  

  Ranger Bubu and Scout Nicole on the lookout for animals to rescue! We didn’t stay very long to explore the zoo as the blistering sun, dry heat and summer flies made it rather unpleasant for the toddlers. The safari drive and the Ranger Kids play areas were the definite highlights. You can complete this zoo in a half day or less, planning another activity into the day’s itinerary if you wish. 

5) Yarra Valley Day Trip

There’s a lot to do in beautiful Yarra Valley, including hot air balloon rides, river cruises, wine yard visits and so much more. But we decided to only do a day trip, and this is what we covered. 

We started with a visit to the Healsville Animal Sanctuary, on a mission to get up close with a Koala Bear!  To do this you can pre-book a Magic Moment with the zoo, and for $12, you can have an up-close experience with this cuddly marsupial! You’re not allowed to touch or carry them, but hey – I had my hands full anyway!  

 You can also get up close to dingos and wombats and other Australian wildlife, but my little city slicker wasn’t enjoying the heat (and flies) and clamored to go back to the van, so it was a really short visit for us. Next we headed out to Coombe Farm at the Melba Estate for lunch. There are many gorgeous vineyards and wineries that you can visit in this area – like De Bortoli and the Chandon Estate, we decided on a friend’s recommendation to try Coombe at Melba Estate.  It was a beautiful setting, excellent food and the kids enjoyed having lots of space to run and explore.

   

  Wine-tasting at the Bar, followers by yummy lunch. 
 Post-lunch, we drop in at the Yarra Glen Adventure Playground for half an hour of play and exploration… Which was great fun for the kids – big and small! 

    
  
Dads having fun!   
After the activity break, we head to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery, one or the area’s top attractions, to stuff ourselves again!  
Lots of beautiful open space and greenery to run around in!   

 Chocolate tastings! Bubu is in chocolate heaven!
   
  Happiness!  

 And that about sums up our day at Yarra Valley! We could definitely have spent a day or two here – maybe next time. 

 6) Melbourne Museum & Royal Botanic Gardens

Last up, two of the city’s top attractions. We didn’t get to cover them properly because our toddler decided he hated dinosaur bones, and the flies drove us out of the Royal Botanic Gardens…  

        He refused to look at them. The irony of his Dino T shirt and his Dino blanket aren’t lost on me.

  

  

He did eventually warm up to the Kids Play area, located in a corner of the museum and dedicated to under fives, this was a great area for Bubu with books, nooks and lots of tactile self-play. 

  

   Baby Jake can’t run away.    The Melbourne Museum is housed in a stunning modern building, it could totally be a great experience  for many kids! 

Next, we took a 5 minute drive to get to the Royal Botanic Gardens where we had lunch at Jardin Tan (which I think just means “Garden Tan”) a Vietnamese cafe – probably owned by some guy with last name Tan- set in a glass conservatory inside the garden.  


  

 I’ve heard that the Vietnamese food in Melbourne is very very good, but the fare at Jardin Tan was underwhelming, and just way too salty. The fried chicken was inedible, the best dish was the rice paper roll.  Mediocre food notwithstanding, the cafe was still a decent place to have lunch if you want something with a pretty ambience, and very nearby to the Children’s Garden.

Post-lunch, I tried to coax the little man into coming down from his pram and exploring the children’s garden – no luck, the heat and flies made him grumpy. Knowing now about the fly situation, I would have bought a fly net for the pram with me, even if it made me look like a silly tourist (because my friends who live there said the locals aren’t bothered by the flies and I would risk looking uncool if I had a fly cover) – screw looking cool, give me the fly cover any day!

So that’s a wrap for my pick of Melbourne attractions for toddlers! 

I’ll get round to working on my next post on Melbourne which talks about some dining options, fringe activities and more kid-friendly travel tips. Up next! 

Leaving you with a gratuitous image of my sweet baby Jake xxx

 

My Tot-Friendly Travel: Bali, Indonesia (Part 2)

Now, let’s talk about what to do and where to go with your twos and belows in tow.  

Bali is full of tiny cafes and hipster eateries which while so cool when you’re a couple, are a nightmare for groups larger than six and many don’t have high chairs. 

Seminyak is now so tourist-infested, it feels like the new Kuta, so while we headed back there for a few of our stalwart favorites, we also ventured into new territory, basing ourselves in Canggu (see my earlier post on accommodation).

To our delight, there’s actually quite a lot of family friendly activities in Canggu. There’s are water slides at The Canggu Beach Club, pony rides at the Bali Equestrian Centre (which we didn’t have time to do, but found online), and beaches that aren’t as crowded as the ones in Seminyak and Kuta. 

Here is my photo journal from what we did do:   

   
On the first day, we caught the sunset at La Laguna, which is a beachfront bar and dining venue in Canggu. It’s a sprawling compound with areas for dining, lounging for drinks on bean bags or sitting at the bar. 

There’s some kind of farm there – I wouldn’t call it a petting zoo because it looked rather haphazard, with a bunch of (rather wild-looking) animals – turkeys, geese, ducks and one nervous brown rabbit that we spotted living among some discarded furniture. Bubu was rather fearless and tried to run after the ferocious-looking geese, which were taller than him, and I actually thought we might get attacked!  

   There’s a pretty lake of some kind in front of the beach.   The beach and sunset aren’t to be compared with the stunners you’ll see at sundown on Seminyak beach, but it’s pretty enough, and a lot less crowded.     

Snacks, sandwiches, juices, smoothies and cocktails – the food was decent. Service was appalling, hard to get any kind of attention probably because the place is quite spread out. Overall, La Laguna is rustic and charming enough, and worth a visit. The highlight for Bubu were all the ducks swimming and waddling around, and he had a blast running up and down the wooden deck leading to the beach  – great for families because there’s so much space!   

 

On day two, we started out early and checked out Milk & Madu for breakfast in the Canggu neighbourhood. There are actually loads of cool little cafes that we drove past that we would love to have checked out in the same area. I took down their names when we drove by: Coffee & Oven, Quince and Cinta Cafe (all along Jalan Rawa).  Spending only three days there, we didn’t get to try them all, so this is Milk & Madu: 

Dining takes place in an airy little pavilion which seats about 30-40, with outdoor tables that’s seat another 20 or so. There’s a good selection of salads and pastries at the counter, fresh jams and produce in jars for sale, and breakfast fare aplenty on the menu. 
We had the French toast, eggs and chorizo and the classic big breakfast – all good! They have high chairs, but only one or two – definitely not enough, as the place is very popular with families.  There were maybe two high chairs and we had to vie with other hawk-eyed parents all trying to score one!  

 (Score! We got a high chair!) 

Other than that, I do recommend this as a family-friendly place – great for a casual, no-fuss family meal.


  

After a hearty breakfast, we headed to Deus Ex Machina, Temple of Enthusiasm (which means “God in the Machine”- very far from  our initial guess that it meant two ex mechanics haha!)  

This custom motorcycle shop also offers surfboards, apparel and boardshorts for sale – apparently there’s serious street cred in their threads, so the cool kids in my office tell me – and there’s a courtyard behind where little ones can roam. There’s also a cafe here, but we were advised by a Canggu regular that’s it’s underwhelming fare, the advice was to check out Deus but not to eat there!   
  They make their own custom motorcycles and surfboards here, and if you wander into the courtyard behind the shop, you can see the craftsmen at work on the bikes and boards. Pretty cool, eh?   

After an activity-packed morning, we head back to our Canggu home-base (Villa Simona Oasis) for a couple hours of relaxation, where my friends were all still getting massages, and the littles all hopped into the pool!  


For lunch, we decided to make the 20 minute drive to Seminyak where we visit one of our favorite lunch hangouts, Sardine. This spot never gets old, I like to visit before dark as you’ll miss out on seeing the gorgeous scenery when night falls.  

They are well-known for their scenery and their seafood. Both equally top-notch!     




Again, this lovely eatery had no high chair, but Bubu was passed out anyway, so we just propped him up with cushions, and let him doze!  Jakey had his car seat (good move to bring car seat BTW, so you can put baby down once he’s sleeping. We brought his baby carrier as well but it’s kind of hard to relax and eat with baby in a sling -especially in warm, tropical weather where you’ll just both get really hot and sticky!) 

  

 Grumpy Bubu just woke from his nap…And hey, more ducks and geese – but Bubu was too drowsy to chase them, so it was Mummy that herded these into a corner for a photo! He finally perks up enough to enjoy the scenery at Sardine – so gorgeous!   

Next, we pop over to Potatohead to catch the sunset, where our contacts at Villa Simona helped us score two of the coveted beach beds at this super popula spot. The entrance of Potatohead looks like a coliseum made up of hundreds of rustic  wooden slats and shutters, and is always jaw-dropping for first-time visitors.   Truth be told, Potatohead is much more of a party spot than a family hangout. You won’t see a lot of families and under-twelves here, it has more of a cocktail party vibe, but we always like it because it has an amazing view of the most spectacular imaginable sunset, and a pool with a shallow wading area for babies. It can get very crowded here, but all is good if you can score a beach bed.   Jake is oblivious to the party atmosphere and quite happy chilling on his beach bed. Bubu and the boys enjoy fish and chips (one or the lads seems to think the table is tastier than the food) with the best spot on the beach to catch the incredible sunset.    IMG_7968-0

We wrap up our evening in Seminyak with dinner at Il Lido, which is located at the old Cafe Warisan. Lovely garden setting in a restaurant that seats about 80-100 diners, great service, faultless Italian food, and it was very empty when we dined there on a Saturday night which made it great for our big group with lots of kids (and they had many many high chairs- no fighting here!)  

Next morning, for breakfast, we asked Made, our villa driver, to take us somewhere cool in the Canggu neighbourhood (surprise us!) and he brought us to Old Man at Echo Beach.     

 Only good vibes here!  We loved this laid-back beachfront diner. Echo Beach is a black sand beach populated with locals, tattooed surfers and carefree bohemians who look like they’ve made Bali their home. It’s not very touristy, which was part of its charm for me. There was plenty of space for Bubu to run around and explore, breakfast was satisfying- we had the corn fritters, green eggs and ham and the classic breakfast. Discovering this little hideaway, with its colorful umbrellas and cheerful boho vibes in Canggu was one of the highlights of our trip.           

Craving some local fare for lunch, we decided to venture back to nearby Seminyak, scoring a table at Merah Putih.  

 Such a photogenic space, filled with gorgeous natural sunlight and high ‘vaulted’ ceilings, a  where traditional Balinese meets modern design. 

     
    
  Gorgeous setting and incredibly tasty local fare (even the nasi goreng topped with egg and keropok looks posh here), well worth paying the premium to dine in this glamorous, elegant air-conditioned hall with soaring ceilings. We will be back for sure! 

Post-lunch, the mommies escape for a couple hours to the Rob Peetoom Hair Spa for pampering… While we send the daddies and kinda back to the villa for pool-time and massages. Aaah… This is Bali life!

We wrap the night up with a final dinner at Meja Kawi, located on the second floor of Ku De Ta. This modern restaurant has a degustation menu featuring molecular gastronomy with Indonesian influences, and is relatively good value for this genre of cuisine.   

  

The final morning of our departure, we wake up early to brunch at Bungalow Cafe. It’s a hippie, boho cafe filled with books, home decor products and quaint curios. It was much smaller and darker than I expected, having first found this place based on glowing reviews online.  

    
  Across the street, is the Bungalow Living store, which was filled with gorgeous stuff for the home, I love the affordably-priced cushions, woven baskets and quirky knick-knacks all in gloriously pretty fabrics.  
 With that, it’s a wrap! We head straight to the airport from Bungalow Cafe. 

Bali has a spanking new airport, much better than the old one. Here’s an airport tip – there’s a viewing gallery next to the Haagen Dazs where you can actually see the planes speeding down the runway and lifting off. Bubu was delighted with this – I made videos for him on my iPhone, and he still comes to me every morning asking to watch those airplane videos!  

  
For ease of planning, I’ve added my 4 day itinerary and notes below, we didn’t get to do everything, of course – but I know we will be back before long! 
Day 1 

Arrive in Bali 

Stop by Be Chocolat to buy artisanal chocolate on way to Villa in Canggu

Lunch and Massage in Villa 

Check out Canggu Beach Club (water slides)  

530pm Sunset at La Laguna 

8 PM Dinner at Naughty Nuri’s, Smokehouse (best American style ribs) or La Finca Canggu dinner

Day 2

9am Breakfast at Milk and Madu

1030am Check out Deux ex Machina (motorcycle cafe and shop)

1pm Lunch – Warung Eropa 2 (best crispy duck in Bali) on Echo Beach or Sardine in Seminyak 

5pm Potatohead  – Swim, sunset drinks 

730pm – Dinner at Il Lido (Cafe Warisan) or restaurant Mamasan (Seminyak)

Day 3

9am – Brunch at Old Man, Echo Beach or Alila Seminyak or Starfish Bloo at W Hotel

11am – Kids and daddies head back to villa (Swim at villa or Water Slides at Canggu Beach Club) 

1pm – Lunch at Merah Putih 

330pm – Spa at Rob Peetoom Mummies – Seminyak shopping 

8pm Dinner at  Mejekawi, Kudeta level 2 

Day 4

9am – Breakfast and Shopping at Bungalow Cafe and Bungalow Living

Depart for Airport 

Universal Studios Singapore – Halloween Horror Nights 5 (2-31 October 2015)

First, let me start by saying I am a huge fan of theme parks, and it’s given me great joy to have a Universal Studios in our backyard in Singapore.  

What a treat to have been invited to last night’s media preview of their fifth edition of Halloween Horror Nights, one of the region’s most iconic haunted theme park experiences!  

 With three Singapore-themed haunted houses (The MRT, Hell House and Block 50) and USS’s first dark house (Tunnel People), there are also scare zones to walk through and chill zones to hang in if you’re prone to heart attack and want to take a breather, and many of the rides (like Battlestar Galactica and The Mummy) remain open. BTW, I love riding roller coasters at night, it’s a whole different experience! 

The most striking Scare Zone is themed The Invaders, where giant aliens wander amidst UFOs and tanks, and it appears mankind has lost the battle for survival.  

    John walks through the battle wasteland illuminated by sweeping laser beams.
  

Of the four haunted houses, my two favorite were Hell House and Block (SG)50.  I’ll let a few photos do the talking! 

 
  Hell House is filled with creepy “Paper People” and paper props, those paper effigies you burn during Hungry Ghost month. A lot of interesting details can be found in this haunted house, which gets pretty hot inside… As everything is meant to burn…  

 I didn’t get a lot of photos from Block 50 (or Siloso Gateway Blk 50), because it was so exciting and there were parts you we were sprayed with water, or we had to stoop low to crawl under menacing, swinging things… Only to encounter more scares on the ground!  So I put my phone away! I liked this best because it combined the Zombie nightmare experience (think Walking Dead breaks out in an HDB block) with elements of every day life that all Singaporeans would recognize – Taking you through familiar void decks (but covered with bloody hand prints and neighbors screaming from behind the grills next door), and through homes of all cultures that people will identify with. Best actress award goes to the emaciated screaming, bloody-covered Ibu zombie tied to a bed.   
    
 I’ll just end by saying this is definitely NOT for the kiddies. We left Bubu at home as I think he may have been permanently scarred by all that went on, I didn’t want to be an #assholeparent fo’ real! 

Halloween Horror Nights 5 (#HHN5) kicks off from 2 October til 31 October. You can get admission tickets for $58 (Usual Price $68) if you buy four or more online http://www.halloweenhorrornights.com.sg for more info. 

   

Blue House Toddler Atelier – A Space for Exploration and Discovery

With the heat and haze, we decided to do an indoor weekend, and checked into the newly-opened Blue House Infant & Toddler Atelier at UE Square. 

The 2000 sqft “Reggio Emilia inspired” space has beautiful high ceilings and was awash with natural sunlight. It’s not designed as a soft play space, but meant to have an environment similar to an interactive children’s museum. 

 I was dubious when first walking in, that this quiet-looking space could successfully engage my boisterous, hyper-energetic (bouncy-castle fanatic/ toy-maniac/ car-crazy) Bubu.  

The space was was filled with little nooks and self-play activity corners,  utilizing natural materials and ordinary little things (like a whole bunch of zippers on a table, and a wicker basket filled with all kinds of bristles and brushes). 

Once he got his socks on though, he was off and exploring! Here is our story in photos:  

The space is welcoming and homely. The umbrellas hanging overhead are a nice touch to add interest and color, using natural, everyday objects to harmonize with the theme of the space. 

There’s a structure on one side that looks like a spaceship, which Bubu refers to as “cable car” (not sure why)! 
This is the view from inside the “cable car”.  There’s a Lightbox Pod, a cushioned area by the window, and a play area with cushions on the floor next to a projector (which comes on intermittently, and is fun for shadow play).
Almost immediately, the lightbox pod catches his eye, it changes colors with different switches totally fascinates him. He soon discovers the objects provided for interaction with the lightbox pod and proceeds to arrange and stack them. 
 “Hey mum, this is cool!”  

Here’s another view of the space, it’s great that it is not crowded (even on a weekend afternoon which is when we visited), and not filled with screaming, sweaty, over-stimulated, adrenalin-crazed kids (which is what happens to Bubu when he’s been in a baby gym for about 45 minutes… He starts to look like one of those loony tunes characters with spirals in their eyes). 

The space also encourages interaction among parents, creating quite a warm, cosy community. 

A half hour later, he ventures over to rest and roll around in the cushioned play space next to the window. He befriends someone’s grandpa there, and they share cushions.   After a breather he’s up and about, “Hmm… What shall I play with next!”

Next up, he’s captivated by a wicker basket filled with brushes and bristles of all types – from paint brushes large and small to hair brushes and even a bristly shoe brush (at least that’s what I thought it was!)  He plays with the brushes against the curved surface of the “cable car”.  
Finally, he adopts the wicker basket and carries it all around. He also explores the projector wall, and plays with the random objects scattered around the space. 
Before we know it, we have been there for 90 minutes and it’s time to go!  He hasn’t even explored a quarter of the space, and we felt like we could have spent another two hours there. 

What’s amazing is he wasn’t sweaty and exhausted like when we leave most kiddy play gyms. We did have a hard time getting him to leave his favorite play area though – he flattened himself out on the lightbox and gave us his sad face. 
 We assured him we would be back to visit the “cable car” and with that it was a wrap!  

Bye Bye “cable car”!  

  

 Despite engaging him with quiet play and exploration, it still did its job, it tired out my toddler who conked out for his nap after… Bravo! Plus points, Blue House! 

Verdict:  We paid $25 for two hours of play, it’s designed for kids ages 6 months to 3 years. A great place to spend a couple hours if you’re looking for somewhere air-conditioned to entertain your little one, and a highly-recommended alternative to baby and kids gyms (this is like an organic salad bar compared to the McDonalds that are those baby gyms!) You are actually also able to have conversation with other adults and relax a little as your kids aren’t tearing around like crazy banshees. Only drawback (and this is unfortunately huge for me!)… They have no cafe and don’t allow food and drink in the atelier. Which is great, yes- the space is kept grub-free and crumb-free… But waaah, NO COFFEE! Almost perfect – oh well! 

The Blue House Infant and Toddler Atelier is located at #01-35 Office Block, UE Square. (There isn’t much signage, so my best advice is to head to street level and walk on the outside, it’s along the same road as Liang Court next door.)

Welcome Little Man! Jake’s First Month Party

Life can get a little monotonous during the first month of confinement, so for my own enjoyment, I started planning Baby Jake’s first month celebration. Since so much thought and effort was put into the little event, I decided share my resources and kiddie party planning tips!

We started by finding a venue that I love, chose a theme (Welcome Little Man, with colour scheme of black and white with touches of baby blue) and I went about sourcing gifts and little details that would make the party special. Once again, I’m going to let the photos do the talking!

The Invitation:  I used an image from his Newborn shoot by The Studio Loft. I added in text using an iPhone app called Over, it took 5 minutes – easy peasy! 

The Venue:  The Luxe at 1 Keong Saik Road, this is an Australian-style cafe next to the Working Capitol, and is a beautiful, welcoming space graced with natural sunlight. I fell in love with it for Jake’s party the minute I saw it.

The Welcome Table:   I filled it with little items and gifts for the guests like Kids’ Fedoras and images of Baby Jake in photo frames. I rented the chalkboard signage from Dreams & Confetti at Dempsey.

The Details: Baby bottles for guests to fill with baby blue kisses (from Candylicious at VivoCity), mini cupcakes in the colour scheme provided by Luxe, and a party hashtags so we could see the pictures shared by our friends #hellobabyjake

 
Gift bags for all the guests – filled with a customized selection of gifts – Bow Ties for the men, Mustache knuckleduster rings for the women, Bunny night lights for the kids and cookies for everyone baked by Jake’s grandma.   I designed and ordered customized sticker labels online from Evermine, with his name on them for all the bags and items in the door gift.  The letter pressed Thank You notes below are by Carda

All set! Even Big Brother Bubu is dressed to the theme!

Guests arrive (here’s another tip, we staggered the timing to avoid over-crowding for the little VIP, 3pm for Family and 4pm for Friends), and as hoped – the little guests love their bunny rabbits! 

Baby Jake wakes up just for a while to grace his beautiful guests with a half-smile.       

The ladies having a little fun with the Baby Bottles of Kisses xxx

It’s easy to see why Bubu thinks it’s his party.  

Baby Jake’s Balmoral carriage by Silver Cross, and portraits that we made specially for the party.   

A close up on a little guest, and one of the Black and White balloon bouquets.

Goodbye everyone, and Thank You for joining us!

Event photography by John of Episode Photography http://www.episodephotography.sg

Open Farm Community – Family-friendly Spot in Dempsey

We discovered this place through a friend two weeks ago. Went on a weekend morning and it was lovely with a large shaded sandpit, outdoor seating (with cool blowers thankfully!) and a cafe that opened at 11am.  Plenty of space set amidst lush greenery and a natural farm setting where the cafe/ restaurant grows their own produce. There was also a little kids boutique Tinydipity that sold a selection of clothes, accessories, toys. 

Brunch was great! Serving up the usual breakfast suspects (Eggs Benny, pancakes, toast and sandwiches, lattes, cold-pressed juices etc), but all the ingredients used were fresh – we felt like we had discovered a place we wanted to bring our friends back to.  I’ll let the photos do the talking. 

Open Farm Commmunity is at 130E Minden Road, Dempsey Village 

   

   
Bubu finds a wooden digger. He loves it!  We had to pry it out of his hands when we left 😦


Lovely decor outdoors with spanking new lounge chairs and a funky ping pong table set amidst lush farm greenery #wowicantbelievethisissingapore

   

    
At the Brunch table (still clutching the wooden digger) 

 Beautiful sunlit restaurant space, with high ceilings surrounded by glass windows.
  

Scrambled eggs and sausage   
 
Eggs and toast 

  
Some of the fresh produce from the farm .    
Tinydipity (some cheeky kid rubbed out the Y) – cute little boutique selling fashion and knick knacks 

  We return to the sand pit with his own Digger (fortunately we did because we found the other wooden Digger broken in two and Bubu was really heartbroken that he couldn’t put it back together! 

 
Achievement unlocked! It’s his first time stepping willingly on to sand. The last few times we went on beach vacations, it was a real challenge getting him comfortable with the texture between his toes. He would cry and want to be picked up! 

Verdict: We love it and will be back next week! Note the indoor restaurant closes from 3-6pm and the outdoor cafe doesn’t serve food. They are brand new and still building a children’s playground which will come up next to the sandpit. It does get crowded, so do make a booking if you’re going on a weekend for brunch or lunch. 

Hello World!

Hi, this is my online journal created to share our story and adventures in parenting, travel and life with Bubu and his new baby brother.
There is often so much I want to share that I can’t fit into a square box on Instagram, so here we are – Outside the Box, and I hope you enjoy what we have to share!
In this first post, I share images of Jake’s first hours and days of life, and that precious, priceless moment when the brothers meet for the first time.

Love, Tjin, Bubu and Baby Jake xxx

Such tiny, precious little hands!

He’s curious!

Can I pet him?

Just hours old!
Jake arrived weighing in at 3.45kg at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

We booked The Studio Loft to document the first meeting of the two brothers. While it was tiring for me, on the same day as the birth which was in the morning, I’m definitely glad we did it, because the photos capture a truly priceless first moment. We also did prepare the “Baby Gift” – a gift for the older sibling from the new arrival, apparently this helps with goodwill! I’m not sure about the goodwill, but his gift of a new truck definitely kept Bubu occupied for the next three days!

Daddy, what’s that!
  

It’s your baby brother, Bubu!

Daddy getting to know the new guy

And three days later, we are ready to go home!