Archive for September 2019

Fish and Wine, Not Together

September 30, 2019

Since I have a great fondness for both fish markets and wineries, when I came across a tour opportunity that promised both, I had to jump on it. On our way to the Hunter Valley wine region, Chef Jimmy took us to the Sydney Fish Market to get some fish for our lunch later in the day. Pelicans greeted us, getting our visit off to an auspicious start.

All of these are what we didn’t get.

We did get some of these Sydney rock oysters, which are perfectly briny and firm, and just the right size for slurping.

We also got salmon, and these bay bugs, which, like their cousins the crawfish, I find to be more or less tasteless, but picturesque.

Jimmy had picked all 14 of us up before 7:00 a.m., so breakfast was in order. He took us to a peaceful park where he prepared breakfast for us, then had us each use the fish he’d purchased to roll our own sushi, to be put on ice until lunchtime.

These activities were supervised by a bush turkey, which Jimmy told us doesn’t taste good and so has nothing to fear from people,

and a kookaburra, for a truly Australian experience. We then settled in for a two hour drive to the Hunter Valley. At two of the three wineries we visited I dutifully tasted and spat, as if I were still in school, because the wines didn’t tempt me to swallow. I tend to have a cool-climate palate, and these were decidedly hot-climate wines.

However, at the lovely Mount View Estate winery, where they make their highly awarded wines with 100% estate fruit from 40 year old vines, it was a different story.

It’s early spring there, and they’re well into bud break and will soon have flowers. I had to take some of their reserve Shiraz onto the ship with me, since it was one of the best I’ve tasted. I’m not a Shiraz expert, but it was beguilingly well crafted, without the overblown jammy fruit I associate with the Shiraz we normally get imported to the U.S. It was a real pleasure to visit there and try their wines, and if you ever get the chance to visit, take it.

And take Chef Jimmy’s Gourmet Getaways tour, while you’re at it. He cooked his butt off for us all day long, making dishes on the spot to pair with many of the wines we tasted, and all of his food was really nice. My favorite? A kangaroo slider. Plus he does the driving, and is a good tour guide into the bargain. And he made sure that we saw live kangaroos, plenty of them, lounging in the shade, although they were at a distance that my little camera couldn’t manage to see as anything but grey blobby blurs.

All too soon it was time to head back to Sydney, board the Maasdam, and sail away.

Sailing out of Sydney at night is stunning, and we were headed for Eden. What could be better?

Lovely New South Wales

September 29, 2019

Hi ho, it’s off to tour we go! First up, the Blue Mountains. Well, they’re called that, but they’re more like hills, just like the Blue Mountains around Walla Walla. Perhaps there’s something in the name that tends toward mild exaggeration. Not having done my research I had been picturing something rugged, but instead they were pretty in a very tame way. Mostly tame anyway, as we shall see.

I’m endlessly fascinated by aboriginal cultures, so our first stop was at the Waradah Australian Centre in Katoomba, home to a small art gallery and offering a live performance about Australian history. Also, possibly my favorite photo bomb ever.

Unfortunately, much of the history of what happened to the aboriginal peoples after European settlers arrived is quite dark, and although the performance glossed over that, the gallery did not. Called the Stolen Generations, approximately 100,000 aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their parents between about 1905 and 1970. Although the government has since apologized, no reparations have been made, and by most accounts aboriginal culture has never recovered.

Waradah also offers a guide to common symbols used in aboriginal art,

as well as some colorful examples.

Leaving Katoomba my eye was caught by the quirkily-named Hydro Majestic Pavilion and I prevailed upon Jason, my guide, to make a stop. Normally there would have been seven of us in Jason’s van and a set itinerary, but the other six cancelled out at the last minute, and Jason manfully and mercifully decided to go out with just me, and to do what I liked. And what I like is things that are delightfully quirky.

Although, as you can see, Jason is pretty quirky all on his own.

The Hydro Majestic opened in 1891

and in addition to being beautiful can boast of having gotten electricity four days before Sydney itself.

Next we visited the tiny, mostly-a-ghost town of Hartley,

where blacksmith Ron Fitzpatrick makes intricate mirrors, jewelry,

and sculptures at his Talisman Gallery. And then, walking back to the car,

we almost tripped over this brown snake. That’s its name, brown snake. Nothing in that name suggests that it’s Australia’s deadliest snake, but it is. Which is saying a lot, in a country known for deadly snakes and other murderous creatures. Not to mention that it was close to six feet long, and passed right in front of us. I’ll freely admit, after that encounter, which nearly scared the crap out of me, I refused to use an outdoor toilet for the rest of the day, and peered suspiciously into every corner.

For a change of pace, here’s a picture that has no business even being published. Here, under the blazing mid-day Australian sun, is where my little camera failed me. It’s bright there, so bright, too bright. But I was so charmed by the fact that these sheep had their own installation of Tibetan prayer flags that I’m sharing it with you anyway, at the risk of my already-questionable reputation as a photographer.

Jason made me a very green lunch, in a picnic shelter whose premises I inspected thoroughly before entering, then he drove me to the ferry where I would journey down a bit of the Parramatta River back to Sydney.

I nearly missed the boat, because I was entranced by these guys rehearsing Chinese opera on the dock. The guy in the green jacket was the real deal, with a gorgeous baritone and total command of the music. All in all, it was quite a day, between the quirks, snakes both real and imagined, and the flourishing musical finish. Next up, wine touring in the Hunter Valley.

There Was No Sunday

September 29, 2019

If you have to fly for 23 hours or so, missing an entire day in the process, I can’t recommend more strongly that you do it on Air New Zealand, in their wonderful Premium Economy class. They take great care of you and make what would otherwise be quite an ordeal into a pleasant experience. And at the end of all that flying: Sydney.

Although leaving on Saturday and arriving on Monday would normally have a discombobulating effect on me, I actually felt pretty peppy, and got myself out on the water as soon as I dropped my luggage at the hotel. And speaking of hotels, if you want profuse and abject apologies from various managers and multiple comped meals and drinks, in place of just normal correct service the first time around, then you’ll likely be happy at the Four Seasons.

Once out in the harbor I saw where the Royal Australian Navy parks their ships, right in the middle of town,

a sight no less improbable than this view of Point Piper, where houses sell for up to $100,000,000. One hundred million Australian dollars that is, which, after all, is only about 67 million U.S. dollars. In all regards Sydney is quite an expensive city.

This lovely house was much more to my taste, although there’s no guaranteeing that the price is any lower.

The harbor is ringed by exquisite sandstone formations,

and interesting housing that mirrors its colorful layers.

It’s a multi-use waterway, and boats come to a halt to let these rowers cross, quite unlike the Washington State ferries that emit ear-splitting blasts to scare other boats out of their path.

In fact, rowers seem to pretty much own the place.

The city looks splendid from the water, including this tower under construction which will be Sydney’s newest casino. The few iconic and well known views aside, Sydney is truly enormous and sprawling, with a population of five million, and more traffic than I’ve seen in a long time.

We arrive back at Circular Quay at the height of rush hour, and Sydney’s cute commuter ferries are busily plying the harbor.

As the day draws to a close I set off in search of dinner, always my least favorite part of travelling alone, and then to bed. It’s been days since I had a good sleep, and I have two 12-hour trips planned for the next couple of days. I’ve never seen the Blue Mountains or Hunter Valley, both popular tourist attractions, and they’re what’s up next, right after some good food not eaten at 40,000 feet, and at least 10 hours of sleep in a bed that’s not moving.

Tasman Sea Devils

September 27, 2019

I am so done with the Tasman Sea, referred to down under as “the Ditch.” The last time I was on it I described it as the roughest water I’d ever experienced. This time, it’s even rougher.

Last night we sailed out of Eden, Australia, headed for the fantastically beautiful Milford Sound, with the Captain’s warnings about 15-foot swells and the importance of holding the handrails ringing in our ears. I dutifully swallowed a meclazine tablet and got into bed, preparing to go nowhere but to sleep, and resigned to a long night and approximately 1200 nautical miles of reconsidering the wisdom of this trip.

And in fact the night seemed to get rockier as the hours passed. I awoke for the umpteenth time as something hit the floor with a resounding thwack. In the morning I discovered that the ship’s clock had flown off the wall and shattered its glass face on the carpeted floor. I also discovered why the night had gotten progressively more miserable.

A fellow passenger had become gravely ill about 120 nautical miles out of Eden. Because the weather was so bad the Captain was not able to arrange for a helicopter medevac, and so he had turned the ship around, facing back into the weather, and headed back to Eden in order to get the passenger to a hospital.

That put us 240 nautical miles behind schedule, which means that we will not be able to sail into Milford Sound, obviously one of the much-anticipated highlights of the cruise.

So now we are blasting full steam ahead back over that same water, and walking around the ship is an exercise in faith and balance that exceeds my current capacity. I’m more or less resigned to staying in my cabin and catching you up on my time in and around Sydney.

I certainly don’t begrudge that poor passenger what we all hope was a ride back to health and safety, but it’s a definite disappointment for the rest of us. And I think I’ll avoid the Tasman Sea in the future, since apparently the Tasmanian sea devils didn’t get the memo about the fleet being blessed, and probably never will.

From here on out I’m ditching the Ditch.

How Long Have I Been Sleeping?

September 16, 2019

Jackson Browne Fans will recognize that as the evocative first line of his epic song “Late for the Sky.” And that line is followed closely by “How long have I been drifting alone through the night?”

Together they pretty much sum up my past two months, during which I moved, alone, back to the island, and lived, alone, in a self-induced fog of contemplation. Beautiful contemplation, but solitary.

I’m living on my own in the house where I watched Shel die, without even a cat for comfort, and that’s proven to be a lot harder then I’d anticipated. The island has changed a lot in the intervening five years, and so have I. I’m doing a one-woman proof of the old maxim that you can’t go back, only I have. At least for now.

I’ve spent an unfathomable amount of time with my new spirit animal, this harbor seal, who lives just in front of my house, all alone. I look him in the eye as often as possible as if to say “you have a friend, right here,” but perhaps he is indifferent to my attentions, although he does gaze back at me. I look for him often, and always feel better when I see him. That’s how alone I am.

This heron is another solitary soul, an occasional companion, but his voice is a shocking, grackling squawk, reminding me that I used to sing pretty well, and could again. If I had the heart.

Although I don’t want to emulate his singing, I do plan to follow his example in another dimension. Soon, I’ll fly away. I’m a person who’d rather be on land or at sea, but soon I’ll be in the air for some 19 hours, on my way down to the bottom side of the earth, if maps are to be believed. Australia, New Zealand, and amazingly enough, my second visit to New Caledonia are in the offing.

I’ll be leaving the Northwest’s rainy, thundery almost-autumn, and arrive in the southern hemisphere’s early spring. Going back to Sydney feels familiar, I can visualize where I walked, drenched with rain, in search of an elusive opal. This time I’ll be able to visit the Hunter Valley and the Blue Mountains, and I’m hoping not to be too jet-lagged to give them my full attention.

New Zealand will be all new to me, a place I’ve always wanted to go, with so many wineries I long to visit. And no, Tolkien lovers, no Hobbit-related photos are forthcoming, just wineries and whales and Maori sites. All of which sounds like heaven to me.

And then back to New Caledonia, a place that wasn’t even on my radar a year ago, and now this will be my second visit.

Last time I didn’t join people in this beautiful water because: Sharks? Sea snakes? People seeing me half naked? But this time: Screw that! Pack a snorkel, mask, and fins! If people don’t like how I look half-naked they can look at something else! Like: Keep your eyes out for sharks and sea snakes and stinging jellyfish and off of me!

So for the next month I’ll be back on and off a cruise ship, trying to be my best and happiest self wherever I go. Still alone, but more myself than ever. And of course I’ll post it all here. It helps to know you’ll be with me in spirit.