Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The End of My Journey

It’s my last night in Sydney and the end of my Australian/New Zealand adventure. What to do on the final night? I decide to head to bar 360˚ on top the Sydney Tower. Jason and a couple from the wine tour highly recommended it. I wanted to go to the top of the City Tower in Auckland on my last night, but it was so rainy and cloudy there would have been no views. It’s a perfect night for some great views of Sydney.

Once I arrive, I am informed there is a $20 minimum spend at the bar. No problem. After reviewing the limited appetizer menu I decide, why not splurge? I order a glass of Veuve.

I’m sitting at a table in front of an all glass wall. As the bar turns slowly around, I am treated to the most amazing views of the city. Suddenly, I’m very sad to be leaving. I wish I had just one more day. I know there is still so much more to see. This is definitely a place I’d come back to.

Every trip I take, I learn something new about myself. As I sit here sipping my champagne, admiring the views, I reflect on what I’ve learned on this latest journey.

- I really have mellowed out. Things just don’t faze me like they used to. This trip has not always gone smoothly, but when the unexpected happened, not once did I get upset or let it ruin my trip. I just viewed the unexpected as chance to see/do/experience something new. Not once was I disappointed.

- Taking almost 3 years off from working full-time was really good for me. It truly has given me a new perspective on my life. While my career is still important to me, I am not defined by it. I can do a great job at work and still enjoy all life has to offer. There is so much more to life than work and it is not that difficult to find balance. You just have to make balance a priority.

- The Traveling Hillbilly is lucky to live in such a beautiful place. I’ve gained a true appreciation for California. When we live in a place for a while, we tend to overlook things and get bogged down in the day to day frustrations like traffic, high cost of living, etc. Despite some of the challenges of living in Los Angeles, the city has a lot to offer and should not be taken for granted. I need to go back to Los Angeles and see the city through the eyes of a tourist.

While this particular adventure has come to an end, the Traveling Hillbilly’s journey continues on. I have to go back to work soon. While, I’m sad to have my holiday come to an end, I don’t dread going back to work. I know in my heart that my next big adventure is just around the corner. I can’t wait to see what life has in store for me.

I thank you all for following this latest adventure. The only thing better than a great journey, is being able to share it with others. I truly have enjoyed sharing it with you and hope you share some of your adventures with me very soon!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Final Day, not Night, in Sydney

Unfortunately my holiday is coming to an end. What to do on this last day in Sydney? Well first let me say, THE SUN IS SHINING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I could not have asked for a better last day. I slept in, got some breakfast and then headed to Hyde Park. It was an area of the city I had not yet seen. Surprisingly, there was a Scottish Heritage Festival going on in the park. I got to hear some bag pipes and great Scottish music. Maybe these are the guys that were in the hotel last night walking around in kilts.

After walking through the park, I headed across the street to the Australian Museum. Lo and behold, they also have a dinosaur exhibit, as well as an exhibit on “Surviving Australia.” Similar to the museum in Auckland, it was very interactive. It makes a trip to the museum much more fun! After the museum, I walked to the Botanical Gardens. The gardens are HUGE and so beautiful. I know there is no way I saw all there was to see. I looked up at one point and was surprised to see a ton of bats hanging from the tree above. The further I walked, the more I bats I saw. They were everywhere, hanging from almost every tree. It was totally cool but also kind of creepy. Every now and again, one would spread its wings and take off and then grab hold of a branch on another tree and wrap itself back up in its wings. Amazing. I have to admit, I kept waiting for Batman to jump out!

I was getting hungry and so started to look for an exit out of the gardens and suddenly stumbled upon a river walk. I don’t know how I had not noticed this before, but there is a walk all along the river that takes you right to the Opera House. I followed the path back to Circular Quay (pronounced key) to look for a place to eat. Given it was lunch time, everything was packed. Since it was such a beautiful day, I decided to postpone lunch for a bit and took a ferry over to Darling Harbour. Even though it’s only about a 20 minute walk, I had yet to take a cruise through the harbour and figured today was a great day to do it. What a great way to see the city and for less than $5 US dollars a great bargain.

All in all, a good last day. Now as I sit in the lounge sipping my evening champagne, I’m contemplating what to do for my last Night in Sydney…

Drinking and Driving Don't Mix

It was time for some wine tasting in the Hunter Valley. Knowing that drinking and driving don’t mix, I decided to book a tour for this day trip. Let someone else do the driving while I get to sit back, relax and drink some great (we’ll see) Australian wines. After 4 days of hiking, sitting on a tour bus was just what the Traveling Hillbilly needed. Plus it was raining again, so not a great day to walk around the city anyway! I went with a company called Vistours (vistours.com). I highly recommend them. They take small groups (no more than 15) and tailor the tour to the group. They primarily go to boutique wineries unless the group wants to go to some of the larger ones like Rosemont.

We had a great group, primarily a mix of Americans and British folks. We even had a couple from Los Angeles, well the Palisades, and their son who is currently living in Sydney and works in advertising. What a small world it is.

We start our day at a beautiful winery called Iron Gate that looks like it is right out of Tuscany. We go in a private tasting room get treated to some great wines and fabulous mud cake! We try seven different wines including 3 different Shiraz’s, one of which is a sweet Shiraz..

After getting our first tasting down, we head on to Audrey Wilkinson (the oldest winery in the area) for the most amazing views in all of Hunter Valley. On the way there, I ask our driver, Jason, if we were going to be tasting any sparkling wines on our tour since there seem to be a lot of sparkling wines on the menus here. He says he’ll see what he can do. When we arrive at Audrey Wilkinson, he mentions to Steve, the guy doing our tasting, that someone in the group has asked about sparkling wines. So not only do we get to taste the several wines on the tasting menu, but he brings out a sparkling Semillon wine for us to try. Then when we get to the reds, he also brings out a Sparkling Malbec for us to try. What a treat! The general consensus of the group was they liked the wines at the first place better but everyone seemed to like the sparkling wines. I wonder how much it will cost to ship a case of that Sparkling Malbec back to the states.

Now it was time to head to Lucy’s Run. Given this winery is actually named after the owner’s 11 year old dog, Lucy, I have to admit it was my favorite. We actually got to meet Lucy and her bud Sophie. After visiting two absolutely amazing and picturesque wineries, this tasting was in a tin roof shed. Not at all fancy. The owner, a former pilot for Cathay Pacific, bought the land and built this smaller winery when he retired. He and his wife run it. They only produce 800 cases a year (and only 5 different wines) so it’s very small, but they had some great wines. Plus they also make olive oil which was delicious.

As we are sitting there enjoying our wines, the rain comes pouring down. It was raining so hard and the wind was blowing so strong, I thought the roof might just come off the building. We were all amazed by the storm considering when we first arrived the sun had finally come out! The weather here is so unpredictable.

Despite the sudden storm, a great tasting. It was very personal and truly fun. Plus how can you not enjoy a sip of wine with a pupper laying at your feet? A real treat. The Traveling Hillbilly highly recommends putting this on your list if you’re ever in the area.

It was time to head to our final tasting of the day, Ernest Hill. This place definitely had the best names for wines. There was Chicken Shed Chardonnay and Wrecker’s Block Shiraz. The grapes for the former are grown next to a chicken shed and the latter by the junk yard. The guy who did our tasting was quite a character too.

All in all a great day. I got to try, 6-8 wines at every stop. All included whites, roses, reds and at least on dessert wine. Plus I got to try some things I’ve never had before like Verdelho and Semillon.

Things I learned on this tour:

- -Boutique Wineries – make less than 10,000 cases a year
- -It reinforced my belief that I truly don’t care for most dessert wines
- -Harvest time in Hunter Valley is in January which is early compared to the other wine regions in Australia (March).
- - There are over 100 wineries in the Hunter Valley, the majority of them are boutique wineries
- - They are not allowed to add anything, like sugar, to the wines in Australia.
- - The majority of Australian wines are moving toward the screw cap. While there are arguments both for and against using a screw cap, those using it all said the same thing; the Australian wineries tend to get the lower quality corks (better quality going to countries like France and Italy) which can have bacteria in them and wind up ruining the wine
- - The wines here all tasted a little lighter than a lot of the wines I usually drink. The ones we tasted were not as full-bodied as the wines I normally like
- - When buying Australian wines in the states, make sure it states the actual region such as Hunter Valley and not just a generic area like Southeast Australia, otherwise you are most likely getting on of the massed produced wines that often aren’t as good a quality
- - A great salad dressing recipe – olive oil, w/ a dash of lime or lemon and black pepper