Discovering the world, one bite at a time!

Escaping The Rat Race In “The ‘Rat”

Six months of dreaming, scheming and planning has culminated in my first trip for the year. A sequel to my trip from a similar time a year ago – this one with the working title “Central Europe 2.0 With Suitable Clothing”. Like most sequels it will be basically be an unimaginative rehash of the previous one so you have been warned. Armed with a passport and a suitcase of sweat-inducing man made fibres I will leave the perfect Toowoomba weather and brave a second European winter for the next three weeks.

Before leaving the country I make a detour to Ballarat, the regional with its rich history from the 1850’s and 60s due to the gold rush. The Toowoomba airport and a airport shuttle from Melbourne airport to Ballarat did the trick.

The reason for the detour was for a pair of shoes – the lengths big footed people go for footwear. Last year I got a pair from Melbourne craftsmen Wootten (for the uninitiated you can read about my chance meeting with sporting royalty here). The first pair are that comfy I am going in for a second crack, however I need to be present to ensure they fit like a glove, or well made shoe before the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed.

Walked into the store expecting to see my near complete boots and was a taken aback when these were all I could see.

Even the pliable nature of leather has its limits in this case. Thankfully mine were out the back and they were much larger.

Wootten has expanded from it’s Melbourne base to the historical Gun Cotton factory in Ballarat. Word of a customer from interstate and the local rag, The Courier, were chomping at the bit to trumpet a new local business representing Ballarat and selling their wares to the world. My role in this involved some “action” shots of me trying on my boots whilst Jess the cordwainer pushed and prodded and marking up adjustments, ensuring they will be like a second skin. There was an accompanying interview with probing questions, “why Ballarat?” and “why don’t your socks match?” After all the attention, questions and paparazzi I was starting to know how the Kardashians feel.

Who knows they may go with the more interesting photos of the manufacturing process and my interview may end up on the cutting room floor. The main thing is that Jess and Krys, the two nicest people you could ever meet, get some richly deserved recognition. And in case you are wondering from last year, John Bertrand couldn’t be happier with his shoes, as am I.

Arrived in Ballarat the day before the media scrum and got straight down to uncovering the treasures of the city much like townsfolk did over 150 years ago. Krys put the local Tourist Information Centre to work who cobbled together a list of suggestions to see, chew and drink. Breakfast was an airline omelette

some five hours before and sitting on a bus can conjure hunger. First stop on the Ballarat pilgrimage was Saigon Vietnamese Noodle House.

One beef pho soup and a Vietnamese iced coffee please good sir? The pho was one of the tastiest I have ever slurped down – their fresh chilli (which I added all of them) was surprisingly hot, in an Anne Hathaway in Bride Wars kind of way. To smother the flames in my mouth, the iced coffee to the rescue. Eyeball spinning shots of coffee mixed with condensed milk on ice – what’s not to like? I needed to go for a walk to get my heart rate down so I headed down the street to the Art Gallery as I was told it was “Regional Australia’s greatest gallery”. Bold claims.

The curator certainly had been busy. An array of classic works, and while I am not an afficiendo of the creative arts, it was interesting even for me at the most primary level. Heaps of Norman Lindsay’s works – I only know him because he was the subject of the movies Sirens, famous for Elle McPherson nuding up. My favourite was some works involving cardboard. You can try your hand at this at home. Just go at a toilet roll with a Stanley knife and a Sharpie and try not to severe a major artery. You don’t want to be talked about with those super creative types that “died for their art”.

If visiting, I would highly recommend spending a couple of hours getting lost in the impressive collection. The only problem I had was the lighting, everytime I tried to get close to the smaller pieces I was a human solar eclipse.

Decided to saunter up and see the lake in the middle of town. Growing up in Gatton any body of water is compared against Gatton’s famed body of water, Lake Apex. As fate would have it, the clouds rolled in as soon as I arrived and I had to hightail it to shelter. At least the walk stretched the hammies, a precursor to me punishing the cobblestones. Sadly Lake Wendouree makes Lake Apex look like a half full bathtub.

Jess and Krys (the footwear gods if you have only been looking at the pictures) invited me to dinner and we put a dent In some pizzas at The Forge, Ballarat’s interpretation on Italy’s finest exports.

Being the uber friendly people they are we shared three pizzas (prawn something, pulled pork and “The Huntsmen”, a pork and fennel number. After such a heavy dinner you need to walk it off and what better way to do so than straight to the gelato emporium.

Any night when you can talk about the merits of crunchy peanut butter and share a quality meal with quality people is time well spent. During the fun I did manage to drip some of my dessert on my boots – if they were the ones that Jess made I would expect a swift kick to the genitals but fortunately they were my “snow bashers”, crisis averted.

For some idiosyncratic reason there are a number of places that do not open on Tuesday in Ballarat. This meant that the a number of attractions were no go zones but thankfully it left me time for two breakfasts before the footwear appointment (don’t judge, the second was in lieu of lunch). The first was FIKA, a cafe across the road that seems like it had been uprooted from Melbourne and replanted opposite my hotel.

It bought with it delicious coffee but it would help if their light fittings let out some form of light. It’s not as if the patrons were ugly and they were doing us all a public service. It was that dark that I felt that I was eating my jam and cream cheese bagel from the inside of a whale.

Around the corner was Webster’s Market & Cafe. Apparently it is a pet friendly cafe, I deducted this when the labrador went after a poodle-cross-thing who in turn tried to chase a sparrow who had somehow managed to find his way indoors and was having the time of his life with an endless supply of discarded toast.

Noah’s Ark or Ballarat breakfast? I did my bit in the dogfight against sparrow obesity by eating all my eggs on toast leaving that little chubby bird not even a sniff of gluten. Discount the animals getting eaten on the menu and you can sleep easy knowing no animals were hurt.

The simple eggs on toast always is welcomed, so too any place that has a complimentary sparkling water fountain.

Ballarat, thanks for the hospitality, I will indeed revisit but not on a Tuesday. It’s a city going places. I too have places to go and that place is Melbourne airport.



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This blog started life as a series of emails with poor quality photography to family and friends whilst overseas to let them know I was still breathing.  It has since grown into it’s own little part of the internet.  A place where I ramble on about my love of travel and food.  Hopefully you find some enjoyment and inspiration out of it for future travel plans.  I have got a buzz from seeing it evolve into this flurry of pixels. 

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