Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Big Lobster, Big Olive and Big Wine Bottle

Setting off on a roadtrip these days has begun to require the inclusion of an Aussie Big Thing, and crossing a border, to count as a proper trip. Our roadtrip to Radelaide crossed from Victoria to South Australia, and managed not one, but three Big Things!

The first was the Big Lobster in Kingston SE, which we aimed to see in our rough thinking about this trip to the cricket.

He's pretty ugly, and getting aged, weather-beaten and tired, Larry the Lobster is just sitting out on the highway outside of town, soaking in the sun, rain and wind. The tired little cafe and store behind him look like there have been there in the elements just as much as he has, and foiled our plans of getting a lifesize lobster as a keepsake/pisstake.

We found the Big Olive almost by chance, when discussing the other Big Things in the area as we travelled towards Tailem Bend.

The Big Olive is actually two, and amazingly made by the same artist who is responsible for Larry the Lobster! The stop here is more than worth the small detour we made, for tastings of olive oil, awesome olive tapenade and dukkah, and wine.

As we left the store to return to the car our saleswoman pointed out that the green olive is positioned perfectly so that at the right distance you can get a photo with you holding up that smaller olive. Perfect for those cheesy touristy photos!

The Big Wine Bottle, or Church Block for the more wine educated, is at Wirra Wirra Winery in McLaren Vale.

We stopped in here after lunch as our last break before reaching Adelaide, and the end of our roadtrip. Wine tasting was on offer, by a very cute barman, for the non-driving Sheilas.

The Wine Bottle is made of corks! All meshed together with wire, and stands in the carpark of the this picturesque winery in the hills of this South Australian wine region.

Roadtrip to Radelaide: Warrnambool to Adelaide

Waking in Warrnambool, we four Sheilas soon hit the road again to continue our roadtrip to Radelaide. We had breakfast before driving out of town west, in the sunny and hot, perfect sunny day.

We checked out the pretty colonial buildings of Port Fairy, before reaching Portland. Here we took a mini-stop, and explored the Cape Nelson Lighthouse on the waters edge.

Back onto Highway 1, we drove inland a little as we headed to and crossed over the border to South Australian. Mt Gambier was upon us before we really knew it, and lunchtime coincided perfectly.

A pub lunch at The 'G, and a couple of beers for the non-driving Sheilas, we also stopped off to see the Blue Lake. Telling the Sheilas about the colour changing lake, I don't think they really believed me until they saw the absolutely brilliant blue water below us in the extinct volcanic crater.

This lake is the town's water, and changes to this blue in November and gradually fades across Summer back to a grey-brown by around March. For this sunny, hot day for us it was gorgeous.

Further down the road, we reached the coast of SA, and Kingston SE. Here we acquired an onsite cabin at the caravan park, and walked down to the beach to dip our toes in the ocean.

The sunset here was amazing, and our blender party for the night was pretty great too! Luckily Jess had carted it across the country for the roadtrip!

Our last day of our roadtrip had us wind through to McLaren Vale for lunch and a winery stop, before reaching our destination of Adelaide. Taking the time to get across, and having a chance for the 4 of us to have some fun along the way in some new places was such a great idea!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Roadtrip to Radelaide: Ballarat to Warrnambool

A roadtrip to get to the cricket test in Adelaide was so much fun last year, we decided that we would complete the country crossing by arriving from Melbourne this time. Well, Ballarat actually, as Belinda, Jess and Dillo arrived by train ready for a night out as Night Zero.

Drinks at the Miner's Cottage before we went to the Lake View for dinner, more drinks, and to show off the sun setting across Lake Wendouree. The 'Rat put on a bit of a show for the out-of-towners, before we headed back into town to JD's for dodgy cover music, and then trusty Karova Lounge for dancing. A much larger night that was intended, Laura found some slightly weary roadtrippers the following morning when she joined us in Ballarat.

We finally picked up the hire car, and hit the road, leaving Dillo in Ballarat. Taking the Sheilas back out to the outskirts of Ballarat so that they could check off the Big Miner, we were alerted to a flat tyre as we started heading out in the right direction. Not a good start!

Stopping to add air, and hoping for the best, we drove down south on my memory-map, and eventually passed the Camperdown Clock Tower, after a lunch stop at Lismore. Down here, we turned towards the coast, and found the turn off for Simpson.

Now, Dillo had made a bit of noise about us first stopping for the first night of the roadtrip at his parent's farm, but as plans shaped up he went cold on the idea, and then dropped out of this leg, and thus our visit, altogether. Not to be deterred we found the turn off his home town, and then popped into the main store to ask for directions to the family farm. All a little too easy, we were directed and then let in for tea and biscuits, and then a tour, by his mum and dad! Ha!

Back on the road eventually, we followed the directions provided by Dillo's mum as she waved us off....and we totally missed the Twelve Apostles! Oops! Another missed-train-in-China type story for us to laugh about!

We took in the rugged shipwreck coastline, stopping at each of the (more well signposted!!) tourist places, including the Loch Ard Gorge. Totally enchanted by this place as a kid and the story of the survivors who sought refuge here in 1878, it was pretty cool to revisit and take it in again. So pretty, and yet such a rough stretch of land.

As the sun stared to sink lower we checked out the now broken London Bridge before we reached Port Campbell and started to think about finding a place to stay the night.

Finding that the speedway was on at Warrnambool this night, our lackadaisical go-with-the-flow non-planning suddenly looked a little shaky as we started having issues finding a place to stay. Stopping at one of the dodgiest looking places possible, we secured a room at the Turn In Motel for the night at last! Comparing it to Norman Bates' motel, we made a trip to grab dinner and drinking supplies for the night, and settled in to watch the tennis.

Norman, aka Bill Hunter as we named him, was surprised and delighted at having 4 Sheilas stay, after he had declared his motel a speedway patron-free place. He was very friendly, and regardless of it's rustic 60s look and details, it was a perfect stop for our desire to seek out stops out of the ordinary!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Seventh Blogiversary

I have been blogging for seven years now. 7! Wow. This post is my 770th, which is a long way from my first posts as I set off to the UK for my "Working Holiday".

Having this blog has allowed me to record and share many of my travel experiences, stories and photos, and has enabled me to have a living breathing record of these times. Plus it has allowed me to track all the great things I do at home, and also lets me write in a non-clinical fashion, after being bogged in injury-talk and reports at work.

I have actually just written, and had published, 2 articles over on the travel blog called Travel With A Mate. The first timed in for the beginning of the Australian Open, talking about Seeking Grand Slam Tennis Internationally, and then my tale of diagnosis and warning about my DVT, called Deep Vein Thrombosis: Scary and (mostly) Preventable.

I have now also created a Facebook page for the blog, so you can be aware of new posts when they are published from that feed.

My last couple of NaBloPoMo months has pulled in some traffic, which has been delightful, to know this little page is being read. Watching some posts of late become some of my most read has been really rewarding. Hopefully I can keep this type of readership up, with some travel plans in the next 12 months shaping up.

Thanks for reading for the last seven years!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Australian Open '12: Day 2

Backing up for a second day at the Australian Open, for a full 11 hours of tennis on Tuesday, we returned to Melbourne Park to do it all again! Wow! Love that we get this chance, with the Slam event right here in Melbourne.

Starting again out on Margaret Court, Melissa, Mum and I joined Belinda, and Jessica and Marea to watch Spaniard Ferrer take an easy 2 set lead of his first round match. Ensuring we were sun smart in the baking heat, we soon escaped again, to get into the shade of Rod Laver Arena.

Defending Champ Novak Djokovic was next up, and completed a seemingly effortless and clinical 3 set match.

Our luck with the draw and our Centre Court tickets continued, with Aussie Sam Stosur scheduled as the last match for the day inside. We settled in with such great expectations, given the last time we saw her and her success in that Slam.

But Romanian Sorana Cirstea was just too good, with Sam barely putting up a challenge. So disappointing for the US Open winner from last year, and our highest ranked Aussie on the circuit. At the after match interview, Sorana said she knew that she was disliked at the moment by the crowd for putting out our Sam, but given her performance, and charming comments, she won us over right there! Ha!

A gap in our schedule here, we all met up with Katrina, Mark and Caitlin at the Jacob's Creek bar, for some chilled time in air-conditioned comfort with some white wine. Keeping on eye on the matches around us, and the time for the scheduled band, we soon split up and I worked my way back into Margaret Court Arena, with persistence and patience. Always very important and necessary tools at the tennis!

Here, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga was in the process of losing the second set, in a surprise situation for the 6th seed, against Uzbekistan Istomi.

As the sun set behind the city, with the MCG and Rod Laver looking impressive in the twilight, and the birds and bugs joined the packed crowd out in the elements, Jo worked his way back to claim the match. Reaching almost 3 hours of match time, the French star collected the 3rd set with ease, and then worked hard for the 4th.

Fist pumps and a commando roll, Jo put on an impressive and energetic show, and even managed to dance around and stir the crowd up in thanks at the end of this epic and entertaining match.

What a great, and epic, two days of tennis! These first 2 days of the tournament are always amazing because you have the full spread of the Draw playing on all courts, and so there are awesome games on everywhere, all the time. Got to love the Open!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Australian Open '12: Day 1

A hot day at Melbourne Park was the opening of the Australian Open this year, with a full day of tennis, sun and heat, beer and music.

We all congregated at Margaret Court for the first game, coming from all different directions of Melbourne and Ballarat for our first day of the Open. Taking our seats, with our backs to the morning sun, we watched Aussie Casey Dellacqua complete a classy win for her first round.

Melbourne put on the perfect day, without a cloud in the sky, and the city glistening in the background. Melissa, Mum, Belinda and I plotted out our plan for the day, and at the end of this first game sought shelter from the heat and sun, and took our seats inside Rod Laver Arena for the next match.

A big match up, Australia's Bernard Tomic took on a usual favourite of ours, Spanish Verdasco. Tomic was nowhere in this match for the first 2 sets, as Fernando blitzed in his bright fluro outfit.

Our young countryman started to claw back in the third set, and then took the fourth also, a little easier as he started to hit his shots, and step up to the task. Almost 4 hours in duration, Tomic pulled off what seemed impossible at the beginning, to emerge the winner and move into the next round. He also won over the crowd with his humble and polished post-match interview, as he becomes our most exciting current tennis player.

This match completed Belinda's international Grand Slam of seeing an Aussie play on Centre Court in all 4 tournaments....very jealous!

Back outside, and coming to terms with the time, we grabbed some beer and waited the patient wait to grab seats in Show Court 2 to see most of the second set of Marcos Baghdatis.

The Cypriot struggled in this set, taking it to a tiebreak, but snatching it in the end. Watching the time, we saw this out to the change, and then made our escape to get to the other side of the park and the Heineken Bar for the musical act of the night.

Being slightly disorientated given the shift of the Bar this year, we grabbed a spot to see Tim Freedman and the Half Idle, with a few more beers. The stage was set up with Tim looking into the sun, the lead singer from The Whitlams played a set bulked with tracks from the band, with just a sprinkling of his recent solo tracks.

Half Idle indeed, these 2 lads being Tim's band for the night didn't seem to know The Whitlams' songs and their parts, and he was certainly missing the female additions of his solo release tour. Nevertheless, Tim was chatty with a fairly non-involved crowd, as we were joined by Cass and Flash for a few more drinks.

Around 6 hours of live tennis under our belts for the day, we called it a night, and walked back over to the MCG and the car, with the light fading completely over the Melbourne night sky.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Waving The Flag

Since combining travel and my love of cricket, I have travelled with Waving The Flag for my last two overseas tours, and highly recommend it for the service, the personal touch, the gathering of like minded travellers and sports fans, and also for the wonder of Luke ‘Sparrow’ Gillian.

I first heard of ‘Sparrow’ when I was in Sri Lanka for the cricket in 2004, but met him in South Africa in 2006 where a mate and I joined his tour for the tests. Here we met the group of people with Waving The Flag, of all ages and backgrounds with one passion – to see the Aussies play cricket somewhere around the world. And many of this group have become lasting friends for me, such is the family of Flaggers that Luke’s tour creates – with many a catch up beer to be had back on home soil for the home tests. I have joined him in the West Indies in 2008, and again in Sri Lanka in 2011, and due to return to the tour again for the next two international tours (at the very least!).

For a fairly independent traveller, Luke’s tours allow you to do your own thing, in equal measure with being part of the group, and enjoying the vast local knowledge that he has picked up along his many years of touring. Part of the tour, along with tickets to the cricket, is a pre-test dinner and a plan for a local drinks destination after the end of the day’s play.

Joining the tour on your own is also not an issue, as you are fully welcomed and quickly become part of the fold. As a chick who likes cricket, you’d be surprised how many other girls this relaxed tour attracts, with usually an equal ratio. This is impressive, and a testament to Luke’s tours, given the numbers who return tour after tour.

In Sri Lanka last year the sight of Luke at the Arrivals gate in Colombo after a day of travel to get there was such a joy and comfort. He had arranged our transfer, meeting us personally to ensure the group of Flaggers joining the tour that night would travel to 3 hours down to Galle without any hassle. He had even ensured there were cold beers and the local rum awaiting us in the van for the trip down! Luke’s attention to detail, and anticipation of what his travelling group will need is spot on!

I recommend Waving The Flag to anyone who has the desire to see the Australian team play in any of the cricket nations, as a trip of a lifetime that Luke personally ensures exceeds expectations.

*This has been written to be added to the long list of testimonials to Luke and his tours, on the Waving The Flag site, but I was keen to have it included here too.

Luke is taking bookings for the West Indies tour for March and April, up until 31st January....get planning and booking! It's going to be amazing!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Royal Windsor Lamp

One of the lamps on the walls of Windsor Castle, on a day visit from London, back in 2005! It seems my fascination for lamps and light fixtures is long engrained!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Melancholia and Ides of March

Last Saturday I spend the day in the cinema at Nova in Carlton, soaking in some pre-Oscar period movies. I also managed to see one of the MIFF movies I missed back in July, which was my favourite of my movie double day.

Melancholia is visually stunning, and a movie that gives you a glimpse and a feel for depression (Part 1) and anxiety (Part 2). Most of it is filmed by hand-held cameras, giving you a giddy feeling, and a headache at the end. A full biopsychosocial experience! It takes a lot of a film to make you feel the emotions of it's characters fully, but this pulls you in, and leaves you in a total psychological funk! Powerful cinema!

Kirsten Dunst is brilliant, and portrays a person moving through life with the weight of depression beautifully. Part 1 is her wedding, and one of the most lavish and gorgeous weddings...but her depression just won't play ball with everyone wanting her to be happy. It just doesn't work like that!

In Part 2, Kiefer Sullivan shines, as his wife, and Kirsten's character's sister, moves through the anxiety of pending doom - an approaching planet on track to maybe hit Earth. The visuals of this planet are amazing, and totally drawing...but the panic and anxiety of sister Claire is infectious. So well done.

The draw of this very visually pulling planet is contrast by the fear of Claire, and then when husband John makes his admission and acts upon his fear, the film is gripping. Kirsten's depressed Justine is seemingly unaffected, as depression burdens.

A great film. And as someone who works in mental health, such a strong and emotive portrayal.

My second movie was one of the George Clooney films that are currently on our screens - the political Ides of March, with Ryan Gosling. With the campaigning happening in the US right now, this movie highlighted to me that I have no clue about American politics!

A young main staffer on a presidential candidate's team moving into the primaries. The twists and turns of dirty politics, and of trying to uphold ethics in a world of saving face, political strategy, and dark secrets.

Clooney as Director allows his candidate character to preach some inspired stances and political platforms, which were to my liking! Love Clooney!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Kiva Loan for Xmas

I haven't sent Xmas cards for years and years, but still receive a handful every year from the diligent and very organised few who have, or seek out, my current address. Each year I feel guilty about not returning the favour, but this year, albeit into January now, I have decided to do something in return.

Some months back I opened a Kiva account, where microfinance loans are donated through the site, and recipients pay these back on a planned program, through an in-country partner of the site. Microfinance is something that I have really believed in since studying it within my Masters in International and Community Development.

Microfinance is the practice of loaning people in developing nations a small financial loan to get a business idea started, or to expand their current business to assist with growth. It started in Bangladesh, as the Grameen Bank, with amazing success rates for women increasing their craft market wares.

In October I contributed to 2 loans. One for a man in Mongolia, who requested a loan to buy a truck to expand his transport business. The other was to a woman in Cambodia who had asked for some help with pig feed to expand her pig farm, to generate income for her family. The repayments on the loans on Kiva can then be rolled over to new loans, in a continual donation to individuals who are working at helping themselves. The ultimate self determination process in supporting poverty relief worldwide.

So in the place of Xmas cards this year, I have given a loan to Martha in Nicaragua to help expand her retail store, with stock purchases. So thank you Jenny, Belinda, Renee, Liz and Cathal, and Nicole. May Martha expand her business, and support her family, giving her an ongoing source of income and sustainability.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Fleet Foxes

On Friday night I met Nicole out the front of Luna Park, for dinner, and then a gig that is easily going to feature in my gigs of the year (6 days into 2012!!), and would rival any Top gig lists. That's how good it was!

We wandered onto Acland Street for dinner, and grabbed a table at Amigos, who promised to have us fed in time for the opening act. The sangria was good, and the Mexican fare was fine for a quick bite.

Nicole and I took our stall seats at the Palais Theatre, and took in Grand Salvo. The theater slowly filled up as Paddy Mann played his folk tunes.

As the room filled, and then went dark, the six band members of Fleet Foxes arrived on stage to rapturous applause and electric crowd anticipation.

Opening, and then slotting Mykonos in as the second track of the night, the sound was epic. It filled the room, and seemed to engulf us completely. The crowd was silent, taking it all in. The soaring harmonies, the instrumental detail, to the point of band members changing instruments mid-song for the desired effect.

The band was chatty in sections, joking about the venue not being the Opera House where they had played the previous shows of this tour. With Your Protector, White Winter Hymnal, English House and The Shrine/An Argument, the set spanned the EP, self titled album, plus last year's release, with many songs being played in back to back pairs without a break.

Back-lit for much of the set, with the graphics behind them the main visual feature, the band were in shadow for most of the almost 2 hour set. This effect allowed the music to be the primary focus. And totally blew everyone in the venue away. The end of the main set elicited a standing ovation.

The encore return gave us another four songs for the night, ending with Blue Ridge Mountains and the amazing, questioning Helplessness Blues.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Sydney Test '12

The SCG hosted it's 100th test this week, and what a test it was! An amazing innings, and captain's display, by Michael Clarke. Great batting by both Ponting and Hussey. Bowling brilliance by Pattinson and Hilfenhaus. And the anticipation, and as yet non-complete, of Tendulkar trying to reach his 100th International 100.

Being in Sydney for NYE, and having dropped down to 4 days a week at work, I managed to squeeze in Day 1 of the match. I sat with Little Banksy, who grabbed tickets for us both in the front row of the sun drenched Messenger Stand.

With the Indians winning the toss, we settled in the brief morning shade with the Sachin anticipation. A pretty exciting and eventual first session had the Aussie's on top...and us ducking downstairs in search of shade for the middle session.

Taking up standing spots in front of the bar, and chatting to those around us, we watched as the Aussie bowlers pulled the Indians apart, and the Aussies came in to bat. Leaving the ground at the end of the day with Ponting and Clarke building their 1st innings'.

Walking out of the ground we happened upon Belinda and Belinda, and Wizden, ready to hit the pub to mark B's birthday. We walked the short distance from the group to The Local Taphouse, for rooftop drinks with the Waving The Flag group in town for the test. Always good!

Flying back to Victoria that night, and driving very late back to Ballarat, and managing to put in an appearance at work, all my attention was on the cricket for the next 3 days. I ducked home for "lunch" on Day 2 to catch Ricky reaches his century, which was a lovely moment as he scrambled across on his belly for a risky single. And then I dunked home again to watch Clarkey reach 300...and then declare 29 runs later.

I listened to Day 4 as I was working from our Geelong office, to see out an impressive Aussie win, by an innings and 68 runs! Our cricket success has returned! And our new Captain has earnt his stripes this match!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Race Day at Warwick Farm

My second day of 2012 was spent at the races. After nursing a hangover from NYE, and catching up with Amy with Jenny for dinner in Surrey Hills - at Agave - and then brunch again at Sideways in Dulwich Hill, Jenny and I trekked out on the Sydney Metro to Warwick Farm. Quite a ways out of the city!

At the train station we met Belinda, Belinda and Little Banksy, and then grabbed the shuttle to the racecourse. Entering the Members Reserve and making our way upstairs, we commanded a spot with a view of the track, and grabbed some wine.

Actually aware of the race activity around us, and being played out on the track, with Jenny and Little Banksy having a flutter, we had a very chilled day hanging out and catching up.

This was a pretty easy day at the races, with clusters of people all dressed up and out for a big day, and others there with their families, or on their own, indulging in their love of the horse races.

No big winners in our group for the day, other than the bar and their wine stocktake!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Sydney Resolution

Plans for this NYE shaped up when Jenny and I spotted that Jamiroquai were playing in Sydney to see in the New Year. I met Belinda at the airport on Friday night, and we both flew to Sydney where Jenny and I then made our way to Casa Wilson, to stay for the weekend. (Thank you, Wilsons!)

After having brunch with Amy at the local Sideways Cafe, Jenny and I then met Belinda and we traveled into the city, and made our way to the ferry dock to take us across to Glebe Island. Here we met up with Wizden, which was a total surprise, before we landed on the make-shift music festival area with the view of the Sydney Harbour Bride. As promised! Sydney Resolution kicked off for us as Pseudo Echo were finishing their set with Funky Town.

With the sun beating down, we grabbed some drinks and then grabbed a spot in the shade in front of the VIP area while Guy Sebastian gave us his set of the day. Monisha came and found us at this point, which expanded our group for the evening.

Next on stage were the Pet Shop Boys. Surely a must see live band, they were so great! It was certainly a bit strange to have them play whilst it was still daylight, as their visuals were a feature of their set, and also considering their heavy dance vibe. This enduring electro-pop duo pulled out all the punches for the crowd, and were a highlight of the night.

Hugh dance tracks of Always On My Mind and Go West were full of energy, the latter with Soviet marching images beamed across the screens. It's A Sin was in there, with so many tracks impressing with the stage choreography. Ending with West End Girls in the second encore.

We grabbed something to eat after this set, as the sun was setting behind the ANZAC Bridge. Taking in the location, this little non-island tucked around the corner from the Harbour is such a great spot for a gig like this! It was glorious in the sunshine!

Whilst the footage of the crowd for the show up on the screens made it look like there was a large crowd, in reality the front section looked packed, but the general admission section was fairly sparse. Disappointing, given the lineup and location, but probably because of the late promotion of the event. Was great for us though, as it meant minimal line ups for the bar, and only an occasional line for the portaloos.

We made it back to the front of the VIP area for the 9pm family fireworks, moving to the left of the stage to get a great view of the fire sparks popping over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This location allowed for a full view of the fireworks across the city.

Back to standing in front of the stage area, we were ready for Jay K and Jamiroquai. Opening with the title track of the new album, Rock Dust Light Star, the band moved through tracks from their 7 album span. Alright, Canned Heat and Virtual Insanity were big numbers, as album tracks like High Times and Traveling Without Moving also featured. You Give Me Something, Little L, and Love Foolosophy each had us dancing...the handful of people around us who were really into it. Jay K was chatty and talked about being in Australia, being single and having his birthday the day before.

The Jamiroquai set was scheduled to midnight, and thus Jay K hosted a bit of a countdown....but being on the Harbour the crowd interest soon diverted to the biggest fireworks display to see in the new year, moving to either side of the stage to get a live view. Jay K's set just kind of ended, as the 12 minutes of colour and light happened across the city and bridge in front of us.

The final band for this massive night of live music was Culture Club, with Boy George being a totally memorising and engaging presence on stage. Playing a few songs, they also gave us It's A Miracle and Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, before the massive Karma Chameleon.

We joined the line for the ferry whilst the remainder of the set played, and ended, to top off a huge day and night of music, dancing, sunshine and fireworks, and a New Years Eve to remember. Happy New Year!
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