Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Barossa Valley, South Australia

13/01/2013

A wine weekend escape is fabulous – and intensely hot in the summer! Recently when my fella and I travelled to the Barossa Valley in South Australia,  my romantic idea of cycling through the vineyards faded quickly after our one (and only) trip down the road from our hotel! Suddenly biking and drinking in temperatures reaching around 40 degrees (Celsius – so roughly 100 – 110 degrees Fahrenheit) didn’t seem wise much less romantic. An air conditioned vehicle became our chariot. Apart from the scorching sun, the area is stunning – which is hopefully evidenced by some of the photos below. Everyone we encountered was friendly, helpful and seemed passionate about what they do. I loved hearing about each winery’s history, the stories and its people. One of my favourite tidbits came out of Yalumba, who honour an individual who has made a significant contribution by acknowledging them on the label of each release of their renowned Cabernet Sauvigon / Shiraz blend, The Signature. That wouldn’t be a bad little mantelpiece.

The beautiful backdrop and pleasant people enhanced the experience but it was mainly about discovering divine wine and food. Some of our favourite spots included Villa Tinto, Langmeil, Charles Melton and Artisans of the Barossa (collective of seven small wineries under one roof). For dinner, I highly recommend 1918 for the atmosphere, lovely service and fresh food, prepared with care and thoughtfulness. Lunch at Maggie Beer is a treat – look out for the turtles in the pond out back. If you need to have a short break from wine, Barossa Valley Brewing makes for a decent retreat.

Another amazing Australian experience – here’s a short highlight reel:

Vineyard

IMG_20121222_153838

Everything in the Barossa seems to be made with love.

Yalumba

Beautiful setting at Yalumba

View from Novotel

View from private balcony at Novotel

Cellar door at Charles Melton

View from Charles Melton cellar door

Turtles at Maggie Beer

Lunch with the turtles at Maggie Beer

 

Sculpture By The Sea

27/10/2012

Imprisoned caterpillars, a skeleton walking a balance beam and giants made of staples. Sounds like characters from a fantasy novel but these are actually some of the things you will find at the annual spring exhibition, Sculpture By The Sea, another favourite event for Sydneysiders. I am continually impressed by the focus of cultural events in Sydney, one trait that makes this city such a special place. SBTS is a treat for photographers and while I went along equipped with my little point and shoot, the exhibition presents plenty of opportunities for even the most amateur photographer (ahem.. me) to play around with. Cameras aside though, the purpose is to get outside, take in the fresh ocean breeze and enjoy art.


Lorikeet invasion

08/07/2012

Remember the classic Hitchcock film The Birds? I felt like I was in a much more pleasant and not so deadly version of that the other day. I was working at home when I glanced outside to see one beautiful rainbow lorikeet perched on the balcony railing. Generally, I’m not a big fan of the bird family but the colours on a rainbow lorikeet are remarkable. When I quietly stepped onto the balcony to snap a photo of the little fella (or lady) I noticed this particular bird wasn’t very shy. Suddenly, I found my balcony invaded with rainbow lorikeets, most of which seemed to love the camera. In addition to their playful personalities, I was also struck by the contrast of their vibrant feathers against the grey, stormy skies in the background. A little while later when the rain had stopped and the clouds began to disappear, so did the lorikeets into the concrete jungle.

Rainbow lorikeet

First there was one.

Pair of rainbow lorikeets

And then there was two.

Group of lorikeets

Suddenly an invasion of rainbow lorikeets.

Pair of lorikeets (love birds)

Huddling for warmth

Lorikeets looking mischevious

This pair looks like they’re up to no good.

Another pair of lorikeets

The one on the left is showing off his Blue Steel look.

A lake, a cave and a world away

01/07/2012

The beauty of the Blue Mountains never gets old, even after several visits. Seeking a peaceful weekend escape that wasn’t too hard on the budget and close enough to Sydney, Matt and I booked a secluded studio that overlooked Lake Lyell, near Rydal (past the main hubs of Katoomba and Leura). We arrived in the evening – perfect timing for spotting nocturnal wildlife, which we were fortunate enough to pick out a wombat who stood still long enough for us to take a picture. Alas, I did not get the night setting on my camera on before the little fella wandered off into the darkness. Not a rare sighting perhaps but exciting nonetheless as neither of us had seen one in the wild – especially significant for Matt who was born and raised in Australia. Showing up in the dark also meant being able to take in one of my favourite parts of travelling to the countryside – the promise of an unpolluted sky that’s packed with stars. I am easily transfixed by the sight.

The following day was dreary but even under the blanket of grey, the scenery was refreshing. However, when it’s raining in the Blue Mountains it can be a bit tough to enjoy outdoor activities, which is one of the draws of visiting the area. One popular indoor attraction around those parts are the Jenolan Caves, which I never made a point of visiting simply because I didn’t think it would be very interesting. The rainy Saturday finally made me ‘cave’ in (terrible pun which was definitely intended) and I’m glad I did. Much to my surprise the caves were quite beautiful and fascinating. The mere history of the caves is enough to wrap your head around. In one of the photos below (third from bottom) is the Angel’s Wing and while the picture might not do this wonder much justice, consider that the wing grew at a rate of 1cm in 100 years. At least this is what the tour guide claimed. It’s not an exact science or formula but does illustrate that it took this formation a really, really long time to grow. A bit mind-boggling actually.

As the rain limited our excursion options, the rest of the weekend was filled with indulging in food, wine, beer and a cosy studio warmed by a log fire. Not entirely a bad way to spend a chilly winter weekend in the Blue Mountains. Before we knew it, the weekend was coming to a close and we were already on the road back to Sydney. A short escape but thanks to a lake, a cave, and a wombat, we felt like we were a world away. Here are some of my favourite shots, which kind of make me wish I could be transported right back.

Lake Lyelle - view from studio

Alpacas strolling by

(Above) Our neighbours out for a stroll

Lake Lyell
Temple of Baal - Jenolan Caves
Angel's Wing in Temple of Baal

Temple of Baal - Jenolan Caves

Jenolan Caves

Know One Teach One in Hanoi

02/11/2011

The last two weeks in Vietnam have been filled with marvelous sights and stories which I will share when I return to Sydney and am back at my own computer when I can include photos to enhance the stories. However, right now I am compelled to mention a restaurant we visited for lunch today called KOTO (Know One Teach One). This isn’t an ordinary restaurant though. KOTO is a non-profit restaurant and training center in Hanoi (They have also just opened one in Ho Chi Minh City also) who use a holistic approach in helping disadvantaged and street youth in Vietnam through hospitality training and combining this with English language training and life skills to provide the participants with a deeper experience by teaching them how to make key life decisions and become self-sufficient individuals.

Every six months KOTO takes 25 off the streets or out of their impoverished situations to enter into their hospitality training program which starts off with health checks and vaccinations then over the 24 month training period are provided with accommodation, monthly allowance, uniforms, ongoing medical support as well as life skills training (so it’s not just teaching young people how to cook and work in a restaurant – much more than that).

KOTO was started in 2000 by Australian expat, Jimmy Pham, who first started the program with a small sandwich shop but as we saw today has grown into a much larger project, which is inspiring to see.

I appreciate any youth orientated program that looks beyond straight employment skills, like cooking or serving tables in this case. Providing a much more holistic experience by combining English language classes, financial planning and other life skills will not only make the young individuals more employable but more well-rounded meaning a brighter future for them and generations to come, if they one day have children and can continue the cycle of education.

Most of the young people who enter the program are at high risk of getting involved in drugs, crime, prostitution and exploitation. Having this opportunity allows them to go down a different path by raising their confidence and providing the tools and resources required in creating a sustainable future, which is key in any successful business model. We all know the saying ‘Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish..’ And well, you know the rest.

Aside from the excellent mission of KOTO, I really enjoyed my plate of Halong Bay crab ravioli and a special Mint Julep created especially by the trainees – creativity is also encouraged! We were touched by the young people we saw at the front of the house (and back!) who were smiling and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Check out more information, facts and also about stories from some of the graduates of the program at www.koto.com.au. And of course, check out the restaurant if you find yourself in Hanoi! Delicious food, drinks and lovely service for a great cause!

Hunter Valley weekend

09/10/2011

Last weekend I headed up to Hunter Valley, wine country with a few of my close girlfriends for a few days of good food, wine and catching up. Despite the grey weather and buckets of rain we all had a wonderful trip (even though the last day ended with me getting a stomach bug…)

Our accommodation was at the lovely little Adamae B&B which was so thoughtfully laid out and just perfect for our girlie weekend away. The owners even left us with a bottle of Margan’s Chardonnay (a winery we would visit the next day) to kick off the trip right. We were invited to eat any fruit or use any herbs on the property unfortunately we weren’t in the right season to partake in fresh fruit though Clara’s eyes did spy fresh rosemary which we used for our roast dinner. on Saturday night – can’t beat freshness sourced from your own yard. All in all, a win for accommodation and got us started right.

Adamae B&B

Our lovely little home for the weekend

On Saturday morning, after a debate about whether we should get the bikes out and cycle 20 km to the Smelly Cheese Shop, good sense prevailed and we hopped in the car to get our cheese fix. As we drove to the shop we noted all of the hills and were confident we had made the right decision to use the car for this leg of the trip. The Smelly Cheese Shop is part of a larger complex which also contains some larger wineries, one of which we stepped into and immediately exited based on the crowd and music akin to that of a nightclub. Not exactly the relaxing, wine tasting experience we were after. But we did get lots of cheese to have as our dessert later that night (picture of that layout to come) Mmm…. cheese…

Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop

A few of the cheeses at Smelly Cheese Shop

Once equipped with sufficient cheese levels for the weekend, we hopped on our bikes and headed around to some of the local wineries in Broke. First stop was Stomp, a boutique winery ran by a couple – one a food technician, the other a chemical engineer of some description – the dream team I call it. Whatever they are, they produce some great wines. We were all won over by the Sparkling Verdelho which does not have a cork or screw top but rather a bottle top which is a bit interesting. This winery also acquired another label called Pssst & Broke. Can’t say I was blown away by that label’s wines but I do so love the name.

While at Stomp, we really started to get a real feel of community on this side of the Hunter, especially with these smaller, boutique wineries. The four of us were the only ones there and we were told that this is generally how it goes. One small group comes in, tastes then as they’re leaving, another small group comes in – makes for a steady day and allows the winemakers to really explain their craft, which I’m not sure we would have received that same treatment at the larger fore mentioned winery (ahem Tempus Two). We said farewell to our new friend at Stomp, who recommended we next ride to her neighbour’s, Whispering Brook. Ah, the community support continues.

Girls at Stomp

Ladies at first stop, Stomp Wine

Whispering Brook, about a 10 minute bike ride away from Stomp, was a nice little ride to get our blood pumping and take in the gorgeous scenery of the Hunter. Luckily at this point we had not been caught in the rain but as you see in these photos, the clouds were turning slightly threatening. Did this stop us? Nah. We’re here for the wine!

Hunter Valley
Girls on bikes
As the clouds grew darker and darker, eventually more of a black colour we though we should start to head back in the general direction of Adamae but not without a pit stop at Margan. Though a bit more corporate and large than the previous two wineries we figured why not stop in. Even though we had arrived 10 minutes to closing time, the staff still allowed us an opportunity to try a couple of whites and reds. I felt like the rush didn’t really give us a good chance to taste the wines, rather just suck them down, make our buy and get out. Margan had chooks though. So that was kind of cool.

Bike at Margan
Bikes resting at Margan

Ladies at Margan

Quick snap at Margan before they boot us out

Chickens at Margan

The Margan garden and chooks

After our whirlwind first day of Broke wine touring we headed back to Adamae for a dinner of swordfish, rice and asparagus which I did not take a picture of because I was much to busy eating and washing it down with a delicious Chardonnay  we had obtained that day. However, our dessert round complete with a glass of Stomp’s Sparkling Verdelho did call for a photo because it was delicious and kind of a work of art.

Dessert round

Round two ...

So.. Sunday was interesting. We all woke up to the pitter patter of rain hitting the windows. I stepped outside and acknowledged the puddle of rainwater collecting on the front step. Hm, I thought. Are we really doing this? There really wasn’t a debate or question. We all had rain jackets, the will to taste wine and create some memories. And understood that pneumonia was a distinct possibility. Nevertheless, we got out the map and pin pointed our destination: Krinklewood. About 7km each way, which doesn’t sound like much but when you’re facing the kind of rain that isn’t just sprinkling but rather coming down in sideways sheets… that distance is great. Fortunately I have a snowboard jacket which I received at Christmas but never got to use due to flight cancellations screwing up a trip to Lake Tahoe… not that I’m bitter. But now, the jacket would come in handy! I stripped the jacket apart wearing the lighter bit and using the outside shell of the jacket to cover my backpack. Genius!

Clever backpack shield

You can hardly tell I have a backpack on!

Now on a normal, sunny day Krinklewood would have been the perfect picnic spot (which we had sandwiches packed just in case!). Even in the rain, this was probably one of the most beautiful vineyards we visited. It is a shame that we weren’t able to be there when the sun was out. More delicious wines and more strange stares from the people who were in the cellar. Psh – where’s their sense of adventure? Right before we left, the lady told us that a couple of people who were tasting just before us came in and said “You won’t believe we just saw some crazy people on bikes out there.” And as if on cue, we come barrelling in soaked to the bone but still smiling! So maybe we are a little crazy? At least we have a story to share.

Departing from Krinklewood we arrived back at home base in much quicker time than it took to get to Krinklewood. We decided that as long as we were already drenched we may as well forge ahead. Three or four kilometers later we were at Mount Broke, an old cattle shed essentially. As we arrived, shivering, one of the staff came out and said “Really? Did you just come here on bikes?” Yes we replied, as if that was a ridiculous question. Very kindly he offered us all a warm beverage while the last group of tasters finished up. At this point we thought this would be as good of time as any to enjoy our “picnic” so unwrapped our sandwiches, sipped on coffee and looked out at this:

Mount Broke on a rainy day

Mount Broke view

And bless the girls for still trying to put on a happy face
.Girls still trying to smile despite rain
Once inside with the heater everyone was much happier!

Girls inside and happy at Mount Broke

Heater... wine... makes for much happier ladies.

Again, we were treated with much more education as the guy took us out to the vineyard and actually showed us the vines, explained the growth process and the kind of grapes grown. This kind of experience is not something you would expect at larger vineyards I suspect. We all agreed that though the wines here weren’t out of this world, they were still delicious and given the efforts of the staff, we couldn’t leave without a few bottles (well, actually we just bought them and someobdy came around to drop them off for us – which actually all of the wineries did for us. Ah, small town). For me it was also a matter of supporting the smaller operations. I grew up on a small farm and know first hand the hard work that gets put in when you don’t have the large number of employees. It’s also about passion. With all of the places we stopped at (maybe with the exception of Margan) the passion in their craft of winemaking was something they wanted to share with all visitors. Not just get you in, taste a few wines, get you to buy and get out – no – as I said earlier, there is a really great feeling of community and support for one another in this part of the Hunter. I can’t vouch for other parts because I have not visited them but I can say that I was really impressed by the warmth and service we received at each of the vineyards.

As we bid farewell to Mount Broke, we made our way back to Adamae because at this point, we were still drenched and just wanted a hot shower, heater and a nice glass of wine to wrap up our rainy Sunday ride. Once back we re-assessed our purchases of the weekend and holy cats we did well (This does not include purchases made on the way home on Monday).

Wine purchased

Some are for gifts?

A great weekend indeed. Through rain, shine and hail we made our way, tasted some remarkable wines, and even learned a thing or two! All in all a success.

Travel hiatus over!

04/09/2011

I have not visited a new country since 2008 and being someone who loves to explore, travel and has dreamt of seeing all sorts of pockets of the world, this has been a long three years. Next month my partner, Matt, and I will head to Vietnam for two weeks of amazing sights and culture, I’m certain.

One part of this trip will be special as we’re going on a site visit with Room to Read, who I work for. Room to Read is a global organization that works with local governments and NGOs in Asia and Africa to establish literacy and girls’ education programs. I have been with Room to Read for a year and was involved as a Sydney chapter volunteer before that for about two years. There has always been a piece missing from the puzzle though and that was actually seeing some of the work Room to Read has done. I don’t have all of the details at this time but know the site visit will involve a bit of travel out to a rural part of Vietnam. Because of the time it takes, we’re staying overnight nearby the project which in itself will be a unique and valuable experience. I’ve been told over and over by others who have been fortunate enough to see Room to Read’s work that it is remarkable to see how the work we do day in and day out, translates to real solutions in the communities we work in.

Room to Read school in Vietnam

Students in a Room to Read school in Vietnam

After we have had our Room to Read experience, it looks like we’ll embark north, towards Hanoi which will serve as a hub for hopefully some adventures in Sapa and Halong Bay. Nothing is set in stone but much of the fun in planning a trip is to explore the possibilities but leave room for spontaneity!