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.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Descent

she said:

After a few days of trail hiking in the mountains we decided to part with a bit of our money and try something new. We jumped on a tour bus that took us about an hour out of Katoomba to an area known as the Jenolan Caves. The morning was pretty tame, a walk around Blue Lake and a self-guided tour of the Devil's Coach House and Nettle Cave.

The aptly named Blue Lake and surrounding area.

A walk through the Devil's Coach House/Nettle Cave.

The locals.

Then, after a lunch with the birds, was an afternoon of what they call the "Plughole Tour."

Described as an "ever popular Plughole Adventure... packed with an abseil and a series of climbs, squeezes and crawls," the tour is what it sounds like: plugging cave holes with your body!

Repelling/abseiling down to the caves, and something interesting found inside them.

Plugging holes.

he said:

Cave Crawling 30 meters underground is no big deal, so long as you place every iota of trust in your guide and completely dismiss any possible thoughts of catastrophe.

Slightly before the half way point I had a realization, "I am dangerously unprepared."  We were given no formal map, we left no trail markers, and I made no effort to remember landmarks.  We all had only one headlamp and no spare batteries.  Lastly, we had no communication device. The only preparation was a quick glance at a not-to-scale map they publish on tee shirts.  After those considerations I thought, "Fortunately I paid good money to be herded like sheep through these caves, otherwise I might have cause to be worried. Please let them be prepared."  Thankfully, even though I didn't have any of the necessary backup equipment our guides were completely prepared with numerous provisions and a pretty substantial first aide kit.

Just as I decide to dismiss all those thoughts the tour stopped and we turned off our lights for a few minutes to discuss how difficult it would have been for the first explorers of the cave.  We also did some exercises that demonstrate how your brain will play tricks on you when it is completely dark.  I do not always appreciate my brain.

Aside from all the unpreparedness, it was a lot like scuba diving but with gravity and without creatures everywhere.  Oh yeah, let's not forget the obvious, there was also no way to escape.

she said:

Aside from all the unpreparedness, it was a lot  like scuba diving but without a breathing contraption, and without (sometimes scary) creatures everywhere. And you can always go back the way you came if you were paying attention.

he said:

For anyone who is considering cave exploration.  I recommend you either have intense mental fortitude or you are a complete idiot.

she said:

I recommend: Hello Caves!