I have trouble deciding whether Canadians or Aussies are the more polite. The people of both Canada and Australia reflexively apologize, beg your forgiveness and excuse themselves for belching across the street from you. They are just so wickedly nice and pleasant that it’s hard to ignore the possibility that some mood-altering pharmaceutical is being pumped into the drinking water. I actually saw a guy stub his toe on a curb and beg its pardon. Clearly I could never fit in. Jessica is that nice but I most definitely am not.
Our second trip to Australia was an ambitious one. Three days in Sydney, four in Melbourne, then on to the Adelaide area for the last six days of the journey. But the highlight of the visit for me would be tours of the McLaren Vale and Barossa Valley, two of the great wine producing areas in the world. For Jessica, the draw was a yoga retreat in Adelaide.
It happened that we were in Sydney for Australia Day, the day celebrating the first landing of the English at Sydney Harbour. We began that day with a hike. This is not my day-starting activity of choice but the walk along the water from Bondi Beach to Coogee was touted as a “must do” tourist thing so we made the six kilometer trudge. I must admit that the scenery was just a bit on the spectacular side as we strolled past beautiful beaches, violent waves crashing against sharpened rocks, casual lawn bowling and picnicking, and the harbor always on our left. We even marveled at the Waverly Cemetery perched above the cliffs overlooking the water. What a way to go!
We took an Uber back to the main harbor area to watch the festivities. The iconic Sydney Opera House stood guard over the entry to the docks and as a testament to the bizarre things that can go on in the minds of architects. Until we actually got “up close and personal” with the monumental structure, we never realized that the roofs are actually made up of tiles fitted in scale-like patterns. Of course, the question of what the roof of the Sydney Opera House looked like on close inspection had never occupied much of my mental resources. Against the backdrop of Sydney Harbour, thousands of too-nice celebrants drank beer, threw more shrimp on the barbie, and dedicatedly ignored the fact that a significant part of the indigenous population of Australia refers to the day as “Invasion Day.” Actually, we never did see any shrimp being cooked, but I’m sure that someone was doing it after asking the shrimp if it minded the heat, of course. And, to make things even more interesting, celebrants of the Chinese New Year joined in the festivities.
We found Melbourne to be a place of superior walkability. It is flat, has many pedestrian-only areas, is replete with quality street art and presents wine bars every forty meters or so. What more could one ask? Well, if you are of the museum inclination, the city boasts several including the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia’s oldest and most frequently visited museum. The city also has an eclectic food scene which was being enthusiastically enjoyed by the throngs in town for the Australian Tennis Open and, when we returned to the city from a thirteen-hour “Great Ocean Road” tour featuring unending views of stark, brutal land- and seascapes (Don’t get me started!) we found a Peruvian restaurant called Pastuso that made our mouths very happy. At another Melbourne hot spot called Punch Lane we were greeted by a sign with an Abraham Lincoln quote that read, “Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” Pretty cool! But if you’d prefer some “do it yourself” victuals, try shopping for the ingredients at the Queen Victoria Market where you can pick up some fresh wallaby or some prime cuts of kangaroo along with vegetables and fruits of all kinds.
In both Sydney and Melbourne, we did the obligatory museums and conclude that the art scene is in early stages of development, quite understandable considering that Australia was established barely 200 years ago and was originally populated by criminals from England. The adolescence of the country and an aggressive urban renewal of Sydney also contributes to a disappointing dearth of original architecture. There are some gems, however. The Queen Victoria Building in Sydney is more of an experience than a building. The restoration has been meticulously done and the tenanting of high-end retailers was thoughtful and considerate. And, The Rocks area near the harbor affords the history buffs with a look at what the early Sydney looked like before the old was replaced with the new. In Melbourne, the Flinders Street train station is a landmark worthy of the moniker.
Okay, so I did the hike, looked dutifully at the sights that I was duty-bound to look at and drank Fosters beer. Now it was time for the good part. On to wine country.
Jessica and I went to a wine tasting at the Capital Grille in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the US back in a year that started with 2007. The presenter was a guy from Australia called Sparky who had the disconcerting habit of only shaking hands with his left even though his right hand seemed to work perfectly well. I was enlightened when he mentioned that Mollydooker, which happened to be the name of the winery he and his wife founded, was Aussie slang for lefthander. But we learned a great deal more that evening including the fact that we loved the wines that Mollydooker produced and dreamed that, one day, we could take Sparky up on his offer to have us “come to lunch with Mum” and see for ourselves how these exquisite wines were made. That dream has now come true. Except for the “lunch with Mum” part.
Steve was our driver during our stay in wine country and when he pulled up at the entrance to Mollydooker’s cellar door (That’s Australian for “tasting room.”), we were greeted by a sign saying, “Welcome, Scott & Jessica.” Now, that’s special. Above that sign was another identifying the day’s featured wine as “Girl on the Go,” ironic since Jessica’s photoblog is called “A Girl on the Go With Her Camera.” Only the wine itself can make this better, I thought. I was wrong. When we entered the building, very plain considering the whimsy that adorns the labels on the Mollydooker wines, we were introduced by the receptionist to Luke who, she said, would be taking us on our tour of the winery and the vineyards. It turned out that Luke with his long, unkempt blond hair and surfer’s body was not just any Mollydooker tour guide. He was, in fact, the son of Sparky and Sarah Marquis, the founders of Mollydooker and he took us around the property, spending three hours, explaining to us how the world-renowned wines bearing the Mollydooker label are made, from vine to table. One particular wine from there is called, “Blue Eyed Boy.”
“Yes, that’s me,” Luke confessed when Jessica asked him if that was a photo of him as a child on the label. “But we all know that it’s what’s inside the bottle that counts,” he quickly added. But, really, we learned that it’s the passion and the commitment of the winemaker that determines what is in the bottle and, if Luke Marquis is any indicator, Mollydooker wines will proudly wear their labels for at least another generation.
We visited a number of other wineries before we headed back to Adelaide for the finale of our trip. Along the way, we tasted wines from Wines by Geoff Hardy, Penfold’s, Two Hands, D’Arenberg and others. Then it was time to leave wine country and get to the city in time for Jessica to participate in a three-day yoga retreat at Adelaide Yoga Flow being taught by Les Leventhal, an inspiring teacher she had first met in Bali. The weather for most of our time in Adelaide was cool and wet, just the opposite of what we had been told to expect in the South Australia mid-summer. While I hunkered down in our AirBnB apartment, Jessica contorted herself for three hours each day. Fortunately, we had stocked up on the various wines we had tasted and, since we could not take it back to Kuala Lumpur in our carry-ons, we were forced to drink it during the hours that we were not otherwise occupied. Someone had to do it.
As always, for more photos from our travels, go to Jessica’s photoblog at www.jessicacoup.com.This entry was posted in Australia, Continents, Food & Wine, Travel Tips