Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Thornbury Picture House - from motor service station to cinema

Year 2020 is unprecedented, unexpected, and downright crazy. Just early of the year, I was holding my baby in arms watching a film in a jam-packed cinema, enjoying a little rare mummy’s moment of blockbuster film while sipping a bottle of refreshing ice-cold cider at this cinema of the north. The next moment, we were “locked-down” with multiple restrictions imposed on where we were permitted to go and for how long. Businesses suffered, restaurants closed-down, cinemas bemoaned. Thornbury Picture House’s “Cry Baby Sessions” was one of my favourite weekly “to-do” self-care rituals before the Covid struck. It used to run on every Wednesday. Slightly before the start of the session at 11 am, you would see mummas and grannies walking in, pushing/strapping/carrying/ cradling their tiny bubs. We exchanged knowing glances, nods and smiles. Already, a small community was formed without the need of a word.
Thornbury Picture House is one of a kind. It is artistically furnished, an indie cinema belongs to the north part of inner Melbourne, setting itself apart from the rivalling large and major establishments with its quirky fixtures, attentive services and the inimitable touches of extra care. The building is difficult to be missed. Conspicuously located at the corner of the main commercial area of High Street, its white-washed walls and the catchy signs of “Motor Service Station” immediately capture the attention of curious passers-by. The cinema is stylishly converted, with a large sheltered outdoor area (previously a driveway), completes with vintage furnishings and remnants (including one antique petrol bowser), reminding us of its former status as one of Melbourne very first drive-in petrol stations in the 1910s. The selection of movies is an interesting mix of latest releases. I can still vividly remember my “Knives-Out” experience, where an Agatha-Christie-style of interrogation and crime-solving process presented before a theatre full of thriller-loving mummas and their occasional crying babes. The “Little Women” attracted a massive room of patrons eager to see the retelling of a good old classic that captivated hearts of millions for more than a-hundred years.
What makes Cry Baby Session so special is the unspoken understanding between parents who desire a break from routines of nappy-changing and milk-feeding, the “no worries” smile whenever a baby burst out screaming for no apparent reason, or that kicks and tantrums that blended into the background of each movies. No one gave any angry or annoyed stare to one another, no unpleasant exchanges, not an unkind word was uttered. We understand. The ticket is a great bargain of $12. On a day where it was not that busy, my coffee was served up in proper cafe-styled porcelain cup and saucer, together with a personal service where the drink was brought all the way into the cinema room. If you prefer something more “punchy”, there is also local craft beer, fancy cocktails and gin & tonic on the menu. There is also a great selection of foods, including classic cinema snacks such as popcorns and choc topped ice-cream!
Prams are allowed access into the theatre. The sound volume was soft enough for my Little Missy to continue her sleep without a stir, but loud enough for mummas to enjoy the film. Lights were slightly dim for a “true” cinematic experience, but bright enough for an “emergency” nappies-change (no interruption of any thrilling scene!). Change table is available in the toilet outside the cinema room, but I wish they were a few more provided as there was quite a queue right after the movie. I love the pram-friendly ramp, the Art Nouveau interior, the old-glamorous Hollywood touch, and the personable service of a small-sized, independently-run cinema. This is a quiet gem for anyone who prefers a non-mainstream cinema experience.
Us Victorians have been through a tough time (but probably not as tough as many others around the world, for that, I am grateful), but I am glad that light is at the end of tunnel. I’m hopeful that this difficult moment will soon be conquered and full freedom will be returned, hopefully globally. I am happy to see that the Cry-Baby Session is back again at the Thornbury Picture House, and this time, it would run on each Friday at 11 am.
Hot tips: Location: 802 High St, Thornbury VIC 3071 (in between Dundas St and The Thornbury Theatre. The cinema is walkable from the Thornbury train station or Stop 41 of the 86 Tram. Easy pram access. Pram is allowed into the cinema room
WEBSITE

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Dino Lab at Melbourne Zoo - Ready for some ROAR!

There are some gigantic, ferocious, scary-looking dinosaurs “roaming” around the Melbourne Zoo at the moment, and the last I heard, they’re “not leaving anytime soon”. The Dino Lab at Melbourne Zoo is one exciting adventure for the kids. Yes, seeing real animals in action is cool and amazing, but watching extinct dinosaurs “come to life” in close distance? That’s surreal.
Located opposite of where you would usually find the lemurs, each person is given a (disinfected) lanyard with a swipe card before we begin our expedition to hunt for the lost creatures. Now how long a neck can a diplodocus goes? And how badass can those triangular iconic plates look at the back of our media-favourite stegosaurus? The T-Rex is as usual, attention grabbing, showing-off its large and wide jaw, all ready to chomp down some bony and meaty meals of its next victim. We love those animatronic huge monsters moving in slow-motion, the occasional roar, that “what’s-you-looking-at” deathly stares. All the dinosaurs are realistically modelled but “kids-friendly” enough to generate giggles and amazement.
The special swipe cards provide access to knowledge: there are information stations scattered around the Dino precinct, spewing interesting fun facts about the majestic beasts, while linking them to the importance of preserving our present-day endangered species. There were also dinosaurs eggs and baby dinosaurs basking at leisure in their own little sanctuary amidst the greens. Game to be a junior palaeontologist? Walk over to the Dino Dig (aka sandpit) area, and discover the ginormous skeletons and fossils concealed beneath the great white sand. On the day of my visit, no kids were seen hanging around the excavation area, because you see, the Aussie scorching and super hot summer is not for the faint-hearted! There were also incubation station with a mind-boggling breeding program undergoing, and an “inactive” Dino Field Research Station that could not go on full-swing owing to the current pandemic situation.
On the way out of the enclosed dinosaur habitat, we left behind our lanyards but brought away some awe-inspiring photographs and information about the lost world. We could see a new round of disinfection being done on the scanning cards and lanyards as part of the covid-prevention measures. Dino Lab experience is included and is part of the attractions of a Melbourne Zoo’s entry. There are apparently some simultaneous dinosaurs exhibitions going-on in its sister zoos in Werribee and Healesville at the moment.
For Covid-19 access and pre-booking, please visit the Melbourne Zoo website.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Kryal Castle- The One And Only Aussie's Castle

Here comes Lady Eleanor, wielding her forceful lance full of vigour and power, charging against the Lord of another wild land. The crowd roared and cheered, stomping their feet to the tempo of the galloping horses across the tournament arena, whilst witnessing the thrilling actions of knights in shiny armours glittered beneath the glaring sunlight. At the other end of the town, a wizard silently stirred and mumbled; Spells uttered, puffing green smoke rose, a secret potion is conjured.
Familiar as these might sound, these are not scenes from the sensational, long-gone series of Game of Thrones. Our family went to Kryal Castle during the recent summer break with our two kiddos to experience the excitement of jousting knights and medieval princesses. The experience is surreal, hilarious, fun-filled and we can’t wait for another visit back to this amazing and probably, often under-valued holiday spot. Based on our conversations with local and foreign friends, not many have heard of this one and only "castle" in Australia; but those who had, remember it fondly as a childhood dreamland. The entrance was a classic castle facade with cobblestoned steps leading to the elevated doorway, where a drawbridge spanned over a moat and overlooked two red and blue Kryal banners and flags. The mood of medieval dream started from here.
Next up was the dark and a little-scary dragon’s labyrinth, where guests went through narrow passages in search of the mystical white majestic beast, formidably guarding the castle’s treasure trove. Our younger kids preferred the more child-friendly option of Dragon’s Eggs Garden, where we found cute little green baby dragons popped out from their little hatched eggshells, greeting the young ones with adorable grins. We tried our luck to pull the sword out from the “legendary” stone (alas there wasn’t anyone we met so far who was meant to be the destined King). Our baby girl got extremely excited listening to the cockadoo calls of the roosters from the animal nursery. Further up, it was the Knights Tower and Throne Room where we sheepishly posed like true king and queen sitting on the bright red seats of golden rims. The huge round table reminded me of those warring-plans devised by the Lannister and all the clan’s hidden, unspeakable scandals.
A series of summer program lined up throughout the day, ensuring all guests were truly entertained within the castle compound. A funny Rapunzel tale was retold in front of the replica of David’s statue. The acting was first-class comedy. Kids and adults laughed and gasped and screamed watching the damsel in tower outsmarted an evil witch and a vain prince. The kids then gathered around at the Wizard Workroom to learn some lessons of “potion-making” from a hilarious bearded wizard, who cooked-up a mixture using goblin’s wee, Phoenix ashes, and I’m not too sure what else.
A Queenly Croquet Match took place beside the Bravehearts Playground where Alice, the Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit did their best to please the outrageous Queen of Heart in her silly game with flamingo sticks. Knights and warhorses competed in challenge that tested out the skills of sword, lance and spear; this was followed by another funny “boo-ing” episode against the notoriously sly sheriff in a live play involving the world-famous Robin Hood. Next up was a “dragon” show, and the performances line-up ended with a 7pm highlight of the day - the Royal Joust.
We watched all the performances as our boy didn’t want to miss a single one. In between the “breaks”, we watched a few junior knights trained-up their skills of knighthood with sword and shield. There were also axe-throwing for the older kids, and archery-art training with real bow and arrow for the adults. We admired a good old church organ in the quiet chapel, bought some icy poles at the Tooth Fairy Lolly shop, purchased two $2 each balloon swords from the village traders, did a mini family's maze race, watched a blacksmith in-action, and tried out some authentic wood-fired pizzas from the Ale House (with reasonable prices).
There was also a Torture Dungeon and Museum that we purposely missed as I’m not a fan of anything involving infliction of pain (I wish the “torture” part was being presented as a more serious historical subject minus the "entertaining" photograph poses. From online review, the dungeon is creepy and is suitable for age 13 and above). We also didn’t do the Royal Photographs, but we had a sneak peek of some of the photograph samples in display which seem kind of cool. Overall, this is a great trip and we know we will return again. Kryal Castle is highly recommended for adults and kids of all ages as there is always something special and dear-to-the-heart for each medieval castle lover. We are hoping for an overnight stay in the castle-inspired room next round, although the accommodation booking does run out pretty quickly notoriously.
Website: https://www.kryalcastle.com.au/ Location: 121 Forbes Rd, Leigh Creek VIC 3352 (8km east of Ballarat, and around 1 hour 15 minutes drive from Melbourne City)

Saturday, 26 December 2020

City Library - Hush the "Local Secret"

The City library is our little “local secret”, that non-touristy space where a moment of serenity can be sought, a quietness amidst the all-too-familiar urban noise, and that essential place for any book lovers who can’t get enough excitement in holding a physical reading material.
When I first visited this little secretive gem many years ago quietly tucked away at Flinders Lane, the place felt dated, “hidden”, a facade so ordinary and unassuming that no other unsuspected person would look twice. The washrooms were old, the children area was uninteresting. It felt like that "forgotten" place where people visited due to habituality. It was a great contrast to its other inner Melbourne counterpart like the East Melbourne Library sister, who distinguished itself from the rest of its "common" siblings with its iconic architectural design and tons of brand new books.
But this was long gone. The City Library has since then undergone a few facelifts. The children books area is now a pop of mystical fairy tales and magical colours: we have Pinocchio floating in a big bubble, a mural sprinkled with images of the famous Hungry Caterpillar and grinning Cheshire Cat, Mermaid and a Frog Prince, fiery dragon and a silvery unicorn, Humpty-Dumpty and a cat with its fiddle. It is now a whimsical land where fables and tales overflow, picture books filled the shelves and Kids DVDs spun around on the revolving rack.
The washrooms look brighter, more spacious, and trendier. Sometimes, piano melodies flows through the two-storeys library space when any “accomplished” pianist (defined as grade 5 or above as examined by the Australian Music Examiners Board) performs their spontaneous renditions at the upright acoustic piano displayed at the exhibition area at the upper floor.
This is also the place where multi-language materials can be found: mandarin fictions, Japanese children books, Korean DVDs, Vietnamese newspapers, or Hindi magazines. This is the place where thirst of knowledge, reading pleasure, or research needs can be quenched and satisifed with its varied of subject matters, categories and types of materials. There are also plenty of computers, printing and photocopying facilities available, and judging by the number of people browsing and typing away before each monitor, the free wifi and PC use seem to be quite a popular service loved by the members. Recently, there are also these brown-paper packages of “mysterious books” nicely packed up in the library for anyone who game for a reading adventure. Each bag contains a selection of chosen genre: latest releases, pirate-related, Christmas-theme, baby and toddler books. I am loving the idea and always find joy picking up one of those bags!
I am glad that the library is now re-opened after a relatively long pandemic shut down. CLICK HERE to check out the latest restrictions imposed by the library as a response of Covid-19. Location: 253 Flinders Ln, Melbourne VIC 3000