Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Four Christmases

she said:

Dec. 24 - A Very German Flying Fox Christmas

After an almost empty hostel the week we got back to Katoomba, an influx of backpackers who couldn't afford the astronomical Sydney Christmas hostel prices made the 24th a very busy day. In the spirit of the holidays we organized a dinner and spent the day grocery shopping, chopping things, mixing things, bar-b-que-ing things, and eventually eating and cleaning things. All I wanted for Christmas was a basic understanding of the language being spoken by 40 out of 50 guests: German.

Dec. 25 - A melancholy Christmas

After the excitement of the day before I was looking forward to a very low-key mini Christmas dinner with just our foursome of current hostel regulars/afternoon card group: us, the Dutchman with all the music already clothed in Christmas sweater, and adopted English daughter of the Flying Fox hostel. The overflow of Christmas hostel guests made disappearing or getting enough kitchen space to make things like stuffing a full on effort. We ended up tired and a little over wrought, but at least we had the outside hut mostly to ourselves thanks to some Christmas rain.

Dec. 26 - Other people's Christmas

Being in a time-zone that's a day ahead of most of our family and friends, this was the day we got most of our holiday greetings. It was a good day for catching up with family, catching up on sleep, and catching some time away from the hostel for a couple hours.

he said:

Dec. 27 - A very Merry Katoomba Christmas

Really an oven in a private kitchen is all it takes to feel like a normal human being again. We were fortunate enough to have friends currently staying in an apartment in Katoomba which afforded us these not-so-long-ago standard services and an invite to a belated Potluck Christmas dinner.  The spread was massive, including but not limited to: a properly glazed ham, roasted vegetables, cheese and bread platter, coconut chicken sausages, and chocolate mousse.  I tell ya, my weekly shower count does not accurately reflect my appreciation for finely prepared foods.

she said:

Please let everyone's Chrismas(es) have been full of food and joy. Thank You to everyone in Katoomba (and at home) who made our holidays so wonderful. Hello New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ocean's Twelve

he said:

Time to visit some friends!

While in Port Douglas we had the great fortune of meeting, working, and living with some really great Aussies, who just so happened to be finishing their stint in far north Queensland and returning home to the town of Cobden, near to the wondrous lookouts of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia.

They'd continually told us that home was a small town but I really didn't know what to expect.  In the end, the town doesn't really matter because we were there to spend time with a family that had already shown us an amazing amount of hospitality. 

she said:

Some days we were lucky enough to visit some of the sights touted by guidebooks and travelers alike as the most amazing in Australia. Other days we were lucky enough to just be in a real home with a great family.

The Grotto.

London Bridge. Apparently when the middle fell out there were people out on the end. They had to be air lifted off.

The Bay of Martyrs, and last but not least the 12 Apostles, by far the most crowded of the lookouts we stopped at.

The The Otway Fly Treetop Walk.

he said:

And then there were other days spent out on a lake leisurely drinking beers in pursuit of the most incredible trout I've ever laid eyes on.  On our first trip out with the tin boat it was hooked and there was a massive struggle to pull it in the boat.  I had the net in the water and I was trying to scoop it up when all the sudden it freaks out, darts under the boat and snaps the line.  Gone, just like that our emotions had sunk, water was flat, and the curses were flying.  I couldn't believe the size of it and I couldn't believe failed to get it in the net.  I can only imagine how my fishing partner felt he was the one who actually hooked it.  We made a few trips out after that but out excitement was never matched.  In the end it's probably better because had we put it in the boat it would have probably sunk on the way back to shore.  Then where would we be?

she said:

Now, back to backpacking, with plans for the next country underway (Bali, Indonesia Please!). A great big THANK YOU to our friends in Cobden for taking us in, showing us around, and making us feel at home. Hello holidays!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

the Santa Clause

he said:

While in Adelaide I had an interesting conversation with a Scots(wo)man. She said something with which I could entirely agree. The conversation was regarding Perth, where the lass I was talking to had lived and worked for a large portion of her time in Oz. Without prompting from me she hesitantly admitted what I have been thinking for a little while, Australia's cities aren't all that different from each other, which is why we've been debating if the voyage across the continent to see a relatively small area is worth the cost and time.

What does that have to do with Adelaide? Well, having left on a train and gone directly from Melbourne to Adelaide I felt as if we had simply relocated to a different borough. We very much appreciated the contrasts though. For starters, we had a clean and friendly hostel and we could eat out affordably. These are the only things I need to make me happy.

Chinatown food court was the best bang vs. buck place to eat in all of Australia. I got an order of curry fried rice that you could ride a toboggan down and would need a chair lift to get back to the top.

she said:

Like Melbourne, Adelaide hosts some great museums with free entry, a lot of coffee stops, and good eats. In addition it boasts an amazing farmers market open 5 days a week, we ate a lot of fresh fare very cheaply. For entertainment we were lucky enough to be there the week of the Santa Fun Run, an Australia-wide charity event where thousands walked or ran in full Santa suit.

It's fun to run!

Flying Fox. Please let the weather stay nice, thanks My Place for being infinitely better then that Melbourne place, and hello Cobden.

he said:

Long Travels Tip: For myself and future travelers I highly recommend breaking up your adventures.  Try a spot of wilderness followed by a metropolitan area and know your comfort zones for when you need to restore sanity.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bottle Shock

she said:

Back in the city for a week in Melbourne. The city offered much, the hostel options left a lot to be desired. In order to escape our disaster of a hostel for a day we parted with some money and headed out to the Yarra Valley for a Wine Tour with Chill Out Travel.

he said:

Step aside, scumbags! This blog is full of pretentious stuff and I am going to fully educate you on the process of blending in at a wine tour.

Don't look like me. Don't talk like me. Don't bring me.

If you are a guy and someone is talking to you hold one elbow in your hand while your other hand is held up to your face, rest the side of your pointer finger on your chin or lips. If you are a girl walk around all day with a small clutch purse held daintily with both hands in your lap.

Now you are prepared to make it to your first tasting without raising too much suspicion, but what do you do at the moment of truth, when someone offers you wine?
  1. Start with Sparkling, proceed to Whites, then Reds, finish with Desserts.
  2. Always hold the glass by the stem, unless you are an unsophisticated idiot. If you fail to do this you will muck up your glass from the outside and then the contents will somehow be reduced to swill for pigs.
  3. Before tasting, you should tilt your glass at a forty-five degree angle and observe the color.  If I have to explain why this important to you then your pea brain will never be able to comprehend the significance. If you can differentiate between White and Red that's a good start.
  4. Verify the "legs".  The legs are small streams that run down the side of the glass after you tilt or swirl.  If you don't have the appropriate amount of legs then you don't have enough alcohol.  I'm not permitted to tell you the right amount because my wino inductee card hasn't been notarized yet and I don't want to get into any legal trouble.
  5. Swirl.  This will help release the aromas and if you try to waft before swirling everyone will know you should be parking their car.
  6. Sip. Bring the glass to your mouth and allow a thin air and wine mixture to mingle with the various parts of your tongue and cheeks.  Each of these areas have different taste receptors which will help you to fully experience all the flavors they say are in the wine even though some or none of those additional ingredients are actually in there.
  7. Get drunk and try to remember all the aforementioned steps but actually just look like a wobbly red-faced buffoon.
  8. Pass out on the bus with your mouth open and make copious wheezing sounds.
Congratulations! You've done it, weren't the parts that you can remember fun?

she said: 

The parts we remember...

First Stop: Domaine Chandon - The Fancy Place (same owner company as Louis Vuitton)

The big name in "Sparkling Wines" (can't call it Champagne because of location). Took a tour of the facilities and learned about barrels, the bottling process, and how the bubbles reflect the quality of a wine - big bubbles that stick to the outside of the glass indicates the cheap stuff, while small consistent bubbles that rise from the center of the glass make one class act.

The type/colour of the rose at the front of a row indicates the grape you'll find there.

Barrels of bubbly at Domaine Chandon.

Just a taste: The Brut Rose, and the Sparkling Pinot Shiraz.

Stop 2: Train Trak - The Homey Vineyard

A boutique vineyard that only produces about 6000 barrels a year, but doesn't lack variety, and boasts the delicious Zonzo restaurant where we stopped for lunch after our wine tasting.

Train Trak, so named because of the old rail running through it. Tastings in the barn (complete with barn cat), followed by lunch in the dairy converted to restaurant: Zonzo's.

Antipasto and pizza... yum yum yum.

Stop 3: Yering Station - The Place with soo Much Wine

Full from lunch we figured we'd be ok for another round of tastings, but we weren't expecting the two page list of wines and generous tasting pours offered at Yering. I remember I liked some of those, now what were they called again...

It's all a haze.

Last Stop: De Bortoli - The Cheesey one.

We just couldn't keep up with the winos, we were much more focused on the cheese offered by the De Bortoli Cheese shop. A perfect way to end the day.

Cheese please: One soft, one hard, and one blue to go well with crackers.

he said:
In all seriousness, the wine tour was awesome.  Despite all my mocking there really was no better-than-thou attitude at any point of the day.  Our guide made everything amazingly enjoyable, pointing out the whole reason to be here is to have fun and she even made some jabs at the typical wine drinker image. Thanks guys!

Finally, I just wanted to say that even though there is no justification I felt a bit of accomplishment when I was able to identify some of the flavors in wine other than grape.

she said:

A few other Melbourne highlights: Ranjani Shettar at the NGV, wandering around the Queen Victoria and Fitzroy Gardens, watching Penguins at the St. Kilda Pier, and a night out at Dracula's Cabaret dinner theater. Hello vampires!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mind the Gap

she said:

Our original three days just wasn't enough to take in everything we wanted to in the Blue Mountains so we extended our stay to do some more hikes and WWOOF (work for accommodation) at a hostel we love too much to leave just yet.

One of our extra hikes took us out past the town of Blackheath (two train stops from Katoomba) to a place without trail markers but recommended by many: Hanging Rock. (Found out later it's also the place pictured on the cover of Lonely Planet Australia.)

The first hour of the hike doesn't seem like much, a fire road through trees that doesn't offer much in terms of terrain changes. Then you reach a sign telling you to watch out for cliffs and it's another 100 steps to the end of the world.

The trail from Blackheath.

The world ends here.

And in case standing on the edge of the world isn't enough of a rush, you have the option of jumping "the gap" over to Hanging Rock. The leap of about 3 feet from one piece of solid ground to another doesn't sound like much, but the possibility of a misplaced foot and the 300 (or more) feet you might fall was too much for me. I stayed to my side thinking "Please don't let this be the day someone misses."

he said:

I've never been so afraid in my whole life. Looking down you will get vertigo from the sheer magnitude of these cliff faces.  I kept thinking to myself you could die five times before you even hit the treetops and then you still have to fall the whole length of a tree.  That is how far down these cliffs go.  S t r a i g h t   D o w n .

We had gone to hanging rock before but I didn't have the guts to go to the edge because all you have is a strip that is about a meter wide.  On our second trip out there I gathered the gumption to stand up on it, after the wind stopped and after I dismissed "a healthy appreciation for life".  Even thinking back on it I get an adrenaline rush.  On the edge you're surrounded by death on three sides.  Clearly, I chose correctly on the way back.  It wasn't hard to find the right way though, all I had to do was follow her screams, "OK, YOU'RE DONE, I GOT THE PICTURE!!"

Thank you Flying Fox for offering so much insight to the Blue Mountains. Hello, Melbourne.