Road trip continues to Esperance, on the South Coast, WA

The last time we spoke, a couple of weeks ago, it was to run you through our Melbourne trip. Where might you wonder is the rest of the Xmas Western Australia road trip? Well, rewinding back to December, and Xmas, part of it is here.

Now that we don’t have to talk about malfunctioning Fitbits, and quibble about how many ghost steps the aforementioned Fitbit was creating, we can focus once again on the beautiful part of the world that is WA. For the record, my Fitbit was accurate. Just saying.

Rising early, with the morning sun, and battling very persistent flies, that seem determined to either fly directly into your mouth, eyes, or ears, we took the short bush walk to Wave Rock. We could hardly drive 4 hours, through the middle of nowhere, no disrespect to the many small “towns” we passed on the way through, and not get at least one picture of Wave Rock.

The long, dusty road to Esperance

Picture taken, we left the hustle and bustle of Hyden, and it’s 400 hundred population (it may have increased by a couple by now), and hit the dry, dusty, open road once more. Hyden is about half way to Esperance, our next destination, and the second 4 hours of the journey mirrored the first. If I only glanced very quickly at the names of the towns, they could have even all been the same, save for a couple of different consonants.

Last nights roadkill, freshly oozing scarlet blood on the side of the highway. Signs reminding you of the Fire Danger level. Nothing much else to break up the monotony. Thank god for music playlists, and my excellent signing voice, to while away some of the time. Munglinup Roadhouse told me it was now only 1 hour to Esperance.

Enjoying one of the many beautiful beaches of the south coast

Whilst Esperance undoubtedly has some amazing beaches, the town leaves a little to be desired. Not one of the picture postcard places we were yet to experience. The town had the look and feel of somewhere that had fallen on hard times. A little shabby around the edges. We also nicknamed it the “town of myths”. Why? Well, the pictures below give you an idea. Researching our stay in Esperance we had a list that included, “visit the Pink Lake”, and also, “see kangaroos on the beach at Lucky Bay”. Maybe we just weren’t lucky. These are the “tourist brochure vs reality” images. Guess which is which…

Pink Lake takes it’s name from the beta carotene, as found in carrots. The carrots must not have been working on the days we visited. Still, the lake is on the Great Ocean Drive, leading to 10 Mile Lagoon, and Twilight Beach. Oh my!

Each of the beaches we visited took my breath away. The amount of times the only word I had was “wow”. Just wow. Nothing else. I immediately knew I had found the best beaches in Australia. In my opinion. I don’t anybody trolling me on the virtues of the respective beaches in the many beautiful parts of Australia. We can all have our own opinion people, and this is mine.

On another scorcher of a day, who could resist?

A great aspect of road tripping is the serendipitous nature of it. The things you come across, that you weren’t looking for. Such as the Lucky Bay brewery. Spotting the roadside sign, we followed the road and found a tiny little micro brewery, brewing, and serving up some great ales. The amount of microbreweries in Australia, as I imagine in other parts of the world, have exploded in recent years. And beer drinking is much the better for it.

With hindsight, it was a master stroke buying a very large tinnie of ice cold Sandy Hook pale ale, poured, and canned right in front of me as I waited. You see, we were very happy to make use of the BBQ at the Pink Lake Tourist Park, but less happy with our choice of burgers from Woollies. Once cooked, it looked like, and had the consistency of a breeze block. Note to self, don’t buy the cheapest burgers in the whole supermarket tomorrow night.

Our last full day in Esperance saw us having a drive out to Cape Le Grande National Park. Incongruously this had us driving past “Stonehenge”. A full size replica, in a field, in the middle of nowhere. One of those moments when all you can do is scratch your head, take a photo, and move on.

One of the many “wow” moments in Esperance

After being woken by our neighbours on the camp site at 5am, they no doubt had a very long drive ahead of them, we were on the road ourselves by 7.30am, after coffee, breakfast, and ablutions.

Starting the day with my priorities right

Saturday December 23rd, and we had a 4 and half hour drive to our next stop, Albany. Cue, more long, dusty, roadkill filled roads. And dodgy singing.

See you in a few hours…

The Melbourne Open and the Yarra Valley

Having been two years since our last visit to Melbourne, we thought it long overdue that we visit again.  And what better time to go, apart perhaps than for the Formula 1 grand prix in March, but at the end of January for the Australian Open, which is exactly what we did last time.  It has to be said our previous semi final lasted longer than this one proved to be, but more on that later.

Leaving a day later than our previous visit, this time flying on Australia Day (January 26th), coinciding with my first anniversary of being an Australian citizen, we set our alarms and made sure there were no hiccups as we negotiated first the big yellow bus, then train, to Sydney Domestic airport for our 7.55am flight.  Flying with JetStar, the antipodean equivalent of Ryanair, you are never quite sure what to expect.  On this occasion our short flight, under 2 hours, was on time and very painless.  However, unlike last time when we flew into Tullamarine, today’s flight on the big orange airline had us landing at Avalon, some 60kms from Melbourne CBD.

From the big orange plane, onto the big red Skybus (I’m sensing a colour theme), and for $42 each for a round trip, we were transported the 45 minutes in to town.  Transferring to a cab by Southern Cross Station, I was glad the ride was short, as we had Walter Mitty driving us.  Not only did he provide free advice on how much I had been ripped off by the Skybus, but also regaled us with tales of him being very senior in the Israeli military, how he was the most senior person, and therefore in charge, of the planes he flies on, and also that he was a life saving paramedic.  I tried telling him I was an agent of Mossad, but this cut no ice with Walter.

View from the apartment

Our accommodation, in South Melbourne, was a fantastic apartment booked via Airbnb.  Twelve floors up, a few wines were drunk on the balcony that had sweeping city views.  The Eureka building dominates the city skyline in the CBD, and across to the right, the magnificent Melbourne Cricket Ground dominates.  If I had to gripe about one thing, it would be advertising a coffee “pod” machine, as a prominent selling point on your Airbnb listing, then only providing 2 pods. 2 pods! For 4 people, for 2 nights.  Are we on rations?  If any landlord, in any city knew how important coffee is, surely a landlord from Melbourne would know more than most.

We were lucky that the weather improved from the cold, grey skies that greeted us on arrival. In fact, there was a bit of a heatwave whilst we were there, and judging by colour of some people’s skin, present company included, more sunscreen would have been a good idea.

Unlike Sydney, Melbourne really knows how to put on a sporting event.  The Open is so well organised, you could easily spend a full day just soaking up the atmosphere, and enjoying the entertainment outside the actual stadiums. With hindsight, maybe we should have done that.  From the off it was obvious that it was going to be a routine win for Federer.  From entering the big blue, very blue, court, there is that colour theme again, the speed with which he dispatched the first set was pure Roger.  What we, or the rest of the Rod Laver arena, didn’t expect was the match to be over before all the sets were played. When Chung pulled up, and retired, there were audible gasps all around the stadium.  Gasps were replaced by expletives by one of our party. Understandably upset, the booing wasn’t appreciated by the lady in the row in front.  Oops.

We resolved to make up for the disappointment by getting suitably inebriated on the wine tour of the Yarra Valley the day after.  If you fancy doing something similar I would highly recommend Chill Out Wine Tours.  Starting the day with a typical Melbourne breakfast, well, one of us did, at Bowery to Williamsburg, we then met the bus at 9.25am, by the side of St Paul’s cathedral, opposite Federation Square in the city.  A quick roll call and we were soon on our way for the short 1 hour trip to the valley.  As always with these trips, the driver does a great job in getting everybody talking.  At the start of a wine tasting day, most people are very quiet.  They either haven’t woken up yet, the caffeine hasn’t kicked in, or are displaying natural shy tendencies. I fall firmly into the second camp.  Or maybe the third!  No such issue on the way home, when everybody was best friends forever, and were getting invited to a pool party!  Yes, you had a very “interesting” job, of designing door handles.  In fact, you were probably the first designer of door handles that I had met.  But do I want to sit in your hot tub with you, in your bathers?  That’s another question.

Our first stop on the trip was at Domaine Chandon, which turns out to be a sister vineyard of Moët (yes, it is pronounced with a hard t, with name being of Dutch origin, and not French), one of several around the world.  Part of the global holding company LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy).  The famous Moët is not made here.  As you know champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region of France.  What they do produce at Domaine Chandon is some very good sparkling wines.  The vineyard, as you would expect, is somewhat of a commercial behemoth, so it was refreshing to move onto Soumah wines.

Named as a derivative of South of the Maroondah highway, this is a boutique winery, one of those that seem to produce a full range of excellent wines.  The question that always makes me smile when wine tasting is “so, what wines do you like?”  My answer is the same every time.  All of them.  Which is 97% true. Soumah was one of those special wineries where I enjoyed every wine on the testing menu.  White, red, and dessert wines.  All excellent.  It is these type of tastings that I blame for me having more wine at home than I have books. Yeah, I know, hard to believe right?

After an excellent lunch at Soumah, a pasta dish that is possibly in my top 5 ever, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy, we moved on to Di Bertoli for another great tasting.  The day was finished at Yering Farm, probably my least favorite wines of the day.  It is not often I meet a wine list that I wouldn’t buy from.  I did that day.  A very pleasant tasting, with a very knowledgeable lovely old mature lady, but the wines did not match my palate.  As rare as that it, it happens.

Skipping the pool party, we had our final night in Melbourne, starting with drinks at Pony Fish Island.  A great little bar, in the Yarra River, that was first discovered by us on Instagram.  Don’t all the best bar / brunch / dinner recommendations come from your Insta feed?  Drinking as the sun set, we weren’t in the mood to explore much further afield, so we had a very good dinner at Teatro, on the river, eating, drinking, and chatting about the great weekend we had.

We were a little blue, to be leaving on the red bus, to catch the orange airplane. A red wine on the plane, and a commitment to return capped off a great weekend.

Roadtripping Western Australia – Part 1 – Perth to Wave Rock

You are probably more familiar with literature on road trips that detail journeys across the USA.  
Who hasn’t heard of the iconic Route 66?  It wouldn’t be iconic if nobody had heard of it.  
And if like me you enjoy Beat literature, you will no doubt have followed Jack Kerouac’s
Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty as they travel west, along Route 66, to California.  
The same route the Joads took in Steinbeck’s timeless classic, Grapes of Wrath.  
Don’t get me wrong, the States, and particularly up the coast from California, on Route 101,
has some amazing roads to travel on.  
But, if you ask me, not that you did, I think the country just made for road tripping is Australia.  Great distances between places.  Vast tracts of nothingness in between, bar the obligatory roadhouse, for refuelling both your vehicle, and your passengers, with decidedly dodgy meat pies.  And towns that you will struggle to pronounce, such as Jerdacuttup, Munglinup, and Coomalbidgup.  All these towns house at least one obscure museum.  What is it with small Australian towns and their museums?


Hyden (or specifically Wave Rock), which turned out to be our first overnight stop in Bessie,
had the “Memories of Yesteryear” museum, where you could step back in time and “see an
Austin car, a bottle collection, and so much more”.  My italics.   At only $4 entrance fee, try
and stop me!!  Once I had done that I could spend all of 5 minutes visiting the “Lace Place”,
and marvel at the “magnificent world renowned lace collection”.  World renowned people.  
No italics needed. The fact it is world renowned may explain why it was more expensive
than the “Yesteryear” museum, at $5 to get in.


It wasn’t just Hyden.  Every small town we drove through had at least one museum advertised.  
If we didn’t have somewhere to be maybe we would have stopped.  At least once.  Just maybe.



So it was, this December saw us doing our second Aussie road trip, after driving the East coast a
couple of years ago.  In the same size campervan, Bessie, we were this year going to drive through
South West Australia.  This was after we first had a few great days enjoying Perth, which as it always
does, looked after me very well.  It is a great, compact city, that seems to grow more on me each time
I visit.  The food and drink options were the best I can remember, and apart from an erroneous
visit to Durty Nellie’s Irish bar, for which I blame a fellow expat from Halifax, we got to
experience some of them.  


The highlights included an excellent Indian curry at Sauma in Northbridge, an amazing old school
cheese toastie, at Toastface Grillah, and at Petition on Barrack Street in the CBD, probably the
best bacon, egg, and black pudding butty I have ever had.  In the evening Petition becomes a very
good bar, where we managed to escape the unseasonably cold, wet weather, and sampled a few of
the hoppy ales on offer with some friends from Sydney.  Guys, we need a catch up back home, if
only to return the cardigan 🙂


Perth CBD and the Swan river as seen from Kings Park
Kings Park remains a beautiful oasis just on the edge of the city.  Swan River seems to get more beautiful each time I visit.  And Elizabeth Quay just keeps expanding, which is fine with me, as long as they continue to fill the space with outlets like Gusto Gelato.  Am I back in Italy?  Beautiful.  And for novelty value, for my English friends, I can’t leave Perth without mentioning that we had a great afternoon, catching up with family, and new friends, at the Lucky Shag.  It is a shame that by the end of the year it will be completely overshadowed, literally, by the completion of the development next door of the Hilton DoubleTree.


Lowlights of the city break?  Well, none really, but watching England “play” in the Ashes, the last
one at the WACA, was debatable enjoyment.  The least said about this summer’s ignominious
Ashes series the better.

But, faster than we would have liked, I was saying goodbye to Michael Atherton, who was also staying at the Alex Hotel, as the city side of our trip drew to a close, and it was time for us to hit the open road in Bessie.

Unlike the previous few days, Tuesday dawned with weather that immediately put a smile on my face. After two days of heavy rain and winds, the sun had come out to play. Taking an Uber ride with our driver Sujan, out past the airport, we started the day at Apollo motorhome hire where the smile soon disappeared. We had a long frustrating wait. Not even the sunshine could keep the smile on my face.

We waited so long I thought I would just need to drive a lap of the building when I finally got the keys, and drop them straight off back at the office, as it felt my 2 weeks were already up. Watching plane after plane come in to land next door at the airport I was full of the frustration of the stranded traveller. Bags packed, yet going nowhere.

When we finally hit the road we decided a cheeky wine might help our moods, so we took the very short drive north to the Swan Valley wine region, where we stopped for lunch, and a tasting at Ugly Duckling winery.  Despite having had several trips to Perth over the years, and wine tasting being one of my favourite things in the world,  I had never made it to the Swan Valley.  This despite it being so very close to the city.  The long wait to pick up Bessie in the morning did mean that we needed to start heading south relatively soon, but we did sneak in one more winery, the fabulous Sandalford. We proceeded to have a quick tasting, make a purchase, and then were off.  Next stop Wave Rock.
Yup, that is Wave Rock
“Why on earth are you going to Wave Rock?” people asked.  Well, let’s be clear, Wave Rock is not, and never has been, on our bucket list.  But, we did need somewhere to sleep, and break up the journey to Esperance.  And Hyden was conveniently about half way.  And it had a very big rock as a tourist attraction.  How could we not stop?  Situated some 336kms (208 miles) from Swan Valley, the little town of Hyden, population 400, home to both Wave Rock and a roadhouse selling the aforementioned dodgy pies, would do for the night.  Regarding the pie, I lost count of the lumps of gristle I had to separate from the meagre chunks (pieces?) of meat.  Arriving in Wave Rock past 7.30pm is not advisable if you are hungry.  I was.  The shop, yes, only one, had closed for the evening.  With the roadhouse being the only thing open, my dinner options were said pie, a dry muffin, or a bag of crisps.  Strewth.  


Another reason to break up your journey south is to stop yourself dying from boredom en route.  
The landscape is like being in a gallery for hours, staring at the same picture.
A picture made up of every shade of beige and green, only punctuated by the vivid red dirt, and
numerous roadkill, which were also colourful in their own way, lining both sides of the asphalt.
The only thing to keep you awake is the concentration required every time a road train comes
thundering past on the opposite side of the road, almost sucking you into their path.  The road trains
are the enormous lorries, dragging three, or four trailers in their wake.  Trust me, you don’t want to
mess with them.  As you motor on, hoovering up the kilometres, the small towns pass you in the
blink of any eye. Corrigin.  Kondinin.  Small towns of small populations. But one thing in common.


Oh look, another bloody museum.


Signing off 2017

Most of you will know that I like to make lists.  And that I like to set myself goals for what I consider to be personal growth.  Personal growth will mean many things, to many people.  To me it simply means, did I learn something new, go somewhere different, or do something that I haven’t done before.  If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then, I have achieved some personal growth.  Even if the item is just to go to a restaurant I have always wanted to try, I like the sense of personal achievement when I get there.
No, I know that I don’t need an actual list to achieve this.  But for me, having a list allows me to keep focussed on what it was that I said to myself that I wanted to achieve at the start of each year.  It is my way of keeping myself accountable to, well, myself.  And, I just like the satisfaction I get from crossing it off my list.
Some of the items are recurring, and have been for many years.  The one item that is not actually on the list, but never leaves me, is the one where I tell myself this is the last year that I work in a corporate environment.  Over the years I have become the “accidental project manager”.  Without consciously choosing a career path, I have fallen into what I do now.  I think I do it well, but that doesn’t mean it fills my soul with joy.  Which has left the frustrated writer and traveller deep within me having to comply with the norms of working for large corporations.  How, and when I will ever escape isn’t known to me.  Yet.  Until that time, I will continue setting myself goals to make sure I am filling the rest of my life, and my soul, with things that make me happy.
Here is what I wrote at the start of 2017:
  • Do a yoga class – result:  I didn’t get to do yoga, but did start doing reformer pilates, something I hadn’t even heard of at the start of the year.  Reformer pilates classes last for 1 hour, and isolate parts of your body in slow, controlled exercises.  Who knew it could be so effective?  So much so that I have already pre-purchased classes for the month of January.
  • See lots of Italy – result:  I did see lots of Italy.  I wrote this knowing we would be going on holiday to Italy, and we took 3 weeks to travel the length and breadth of that beautiful country.  Along the way I brushed up on my rudimentary Italian, and tried quite a few Aperol Spritzs.  Whilst in Rome we were lucky enough to be able to eat at Aroma restaurant, which overlooks the Colosseum.  We had the perfect table, champagne (I am still scratching my head over the price), and fabulous food.
  • Do a surf lesson – result:  I didn’t get around to this so it will be carried over to 2018.  What we did do was more stand up paddle boarding.  Even if most of mine was kneel down paddle boarding.  On a beautiful stretch of the coastline, in Rockingham, Western Australia, we hired a couple of boards and had a great hour paddling around.
  • Drive from Perth to Broome – result:  Due to realising that driving north would result in us slowly cooking like xmas turkeys in the campervan, we changed our route and went south from Perth, which was a lot cooler in the evenings.  Along the way we discovered what I would confidently say are the best beaches in Australia.  I also found the best fish and chips in Australia, but that will be part of another blog.
  • Visit Margaret River in Western Australia – result:  We did. This was included simply on the basis that we love tasting wine and visiting new wine regions.  Margaret River has a great reputation for it’s wine.  I can confirm that the wines are excellent.  And I tasted (drank) a lot so feel confident in my assertion.  Whilst in that part of the world we even got to another new wine region, the Swan Valley, just 30 minutes north of Perth.  I won’t tell you how much wine we bought as a result of all our wine tasting, but needless to say we have had to sell all our furniture to fit it in the apartment.
  • Learn basic Italian – result:  I did, for the holiday.  And through the 3 weeks there, managed to pick up even more.
  • One thing that wasn’t on my list, as I didn’t plan it myself, was a hot air balloon ride.  Something I have wanted to do for many years, since watching my Dad go off in one for his 60th birthday.  A recent Saturday morning saw us meeting up with Balloon Aloft in Mudgee, at 3.45am, for a sun rise flight, followed by a champagne breakfast.  All I can say is a big thank you, you know who you are.
I signed off the year another year older, and happy in the knowledge that I had managed to achieve most of what I set out to achieve, apart from the job.  That remains a work in progress.
Now onto the list for 2018.  What would be on yours?

Christmas is coming, maybe you have heard – post #1

Christmas seems to start earlier every year.

I’m sure it does.  There is going to come a time when we don’t even bother taking down our trees
and decorations.  It is inevitable.  We will be subjected to Michael Buble, The Pogues and Mariah Carey
all year round whilst shopping.  

It could be worse. We could live in Manila where the decorations,
and the tree, go up with the advent of the “ber” months.

That my friends, if you don’t have a calendar to hand to consult, is September.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  You have the power to make a difference.  
Make it better for your children’s children.  Make a stand now.  Switch Noddy Holder for Buble.
And the tree? 12 days before, 12 days after, with the reintroduction of an orange and a piece of
coal for presents.
It’s how it used to be.  In my day.  It is how it can be again.  We have to hope.

With the earlier start to Christmas, it feels like we are waiting forever for it to arrive.  
It’s like waiting for, well, Christmas I suppose.  

I for one don’t mind the wait.  At least it holds up the inexorable slide into, and sooner than I’d like
to think, out of middle age.  I am in the very enviable position of sharing my birthday with a very
illustrious crowd.

Jesus, Humphrey Bogart, Annie Lennox, Jimmy Buffett, and Quentin Crisp, amongst others.  I could
also claim Isaac Newton, but his birthday changed to January with the start of the Gregorian calendar.

And no.  Don’t feel sorry for me.  About the date, not the Quentin Crisp thing.   Envy me.  I get double
of what you get on December 25th.  
Admittedly, this only amounted to 2 pieces of coal as a child, but now, with the advent of the
materialistic, capitalist society we live in, I can demand real, actual presents.  
With the amount of discarded wrapping, and bottle bags (actually, I hold on to these and use them for
gifting to other people), the bin men must think a very large family resides in my apartment.

Other pluses include never having to work on your birthday.  

Being able to start the day with a glass of champagne without loved ones urgently “what’s app”ing
me the link to the local chapter of Alcoholic’s Anonymous.  

And probably most highly prized, I have the best excuse ever to avoid the “family Xmas” as I can
always claim I just want to enjoy my birthday with my (non related) loved one.

If any family members are reading this, I would never, repeat NEVER do this.

Still feel sorry for me?

We laughed, we cried, we hugged

However long you are away from family and friends, by the time you have had the first sip of your coffee (French press, not instant.  Mum is a fast learner), or a couple of swigs of that first real pint of Timothy Taylor’s (do any other ex-pats miss real British ale?), it is as though you only saw them yesterday.  Is that the same with everybody?

In fairness, I had only been gone just shy of 2 years, but it is the longest I had been gone from the UK since landing in Australia back in August 2012.  I had somehow found myself going back each year, a pattern that stopped last year when it was decided a “proper” holiday was needed.  

Let me explain that.  Not that going to the UK isn’t a holiday.  But it is not the most relaxing holiday.  To fit everybody in, and give yourself chance to see everybody, the time spent needs managing with military precision.  Which is achieved to great effect by my now fabled spreadsheets.  I may be a project manager by trade, and this comes in handy when scheduling my days overseas.  Needless to say, each trip has been more successful as result.  In my opinion.

So after a hiatus last year, spent on the west coast of USA and Canada, it was time to visit England again.  Time to dust off the spreadsheet, and get planning. I have some catching up to do. Little nephews and nieces grow up fast, I’m finding.

Landing at Manchester, under blue skies, on a mild June lunchtime, we were only a short 40 minute drive over the Pennines, into Yorkshire.  No matter how many times I do it I always feel a glow of pride when passing the border with Lancashire, and see the white rose of Yorkshire marking entry to one of the most beautiful places on earth.  I have a passport now that proclaims I am Australian.  But first and foremost, I am, and always will be, a Yorkshireman.

According to the spreadsheet, we had 13 nights in England, to see and do everything we had missed out on the preceding 2 years.  The clock was ticking.  No time for jet lag on the first day, as the top priority was to get a good Indian curry, something that is inordinately difficult in Sydney.  Yes, we have curry houses, but can they do a good curry?  The jury is still out.  And on the same night, there was a football World Cup qualifier on.  England versus the auld enemy, Scotland.  Football at a normal time.  Imagine that!  Until you have spent 4 seasons bleary eyed from watching football at all hours from midnight, through to 4am, you won’t really appreciate how this feels.

And that folks was day 1.  Done.  Just like that.  Only 12 nights left.  And now do you see the need for a spreadsheet?  You see my predicament?  Not only do we have lots to do, every day, and every evening, but we have to navigate it after traversing multiple time zones.  My eyes tell me it is 10pm.  My head tells me it is sometime after 6am.  On the FOLLOWING day.  Good luck getting any sleep.

And this is how it is, going overseas (do some people say “abroad”?) from Australia to Europe.  But those 12 nights, they will soon be 11.  Then 10.  And so on.  Time to crack on and see what is next in the spreadsheet.

Last time I was in the UK, back in 2015, I was treat to the BBQ of all BBQs.  I mentioned it in a blog at the time.  The belly busting portions of food, and a quiche that would win first prize in any quiche contest.  If such a thing existed.  So, when promised a BBQ this time around, albeit with a different chef, I jumped at the chance.  I drooled at the thought of everything that would be going on the BBQ.  Cooking off the snags, and replacing them on the large, sizzling, hot grill with steaks.  Throwing on some corn, and making room for some chicken.  And then…

I had heard it was a small BBQ.  I didn’t realise it was a BBQ for a hobbit.  One hobbit.  One very small hobbit, even by hobbit standards.  Good lord, “this could be a very long night”, I thought.  I definitely had not had my expectations set.  I think plying me with extremely large Aperol Spritzes was a deflection tactic.  I have never seen a magnum of prosecco disappear so fast.  

And yet, we had a bloody fantastic evening.  In no small part to the food that miraculously appeared from the kitchen, and wasn’t reliant on the behemoth that was our BBQ.  We had a veritable Spanish feast, eating drinking, laughing into the small hours.  This is why we travel 24 hours across the world.  Priceless moments.

Did someone say tapas?
Talking of priceless moments, I also found myself doing something, twice, that I wasn’t sure would ever be on one of my spreadsheets. The school run.  Yes, you read that right.  Uncle Fran did the school run.  It was insisted upon.  No mummy, you can stay at home.  Just me and uncle Fran today.  So there I was, slightly dusty after another fantastic family catch up, slightly cold having to go out in the morning drizzle without a coat (I was on holiday!  Who packs a coat for their holidays?), and saying hello to Mr Varley, the lollipop man.  Wonders never cease.

There have been a number of traditions created through my visits home, and my waistline fought valiantly to get through them all whilst back. The obligatory breakfast at Wetherspoons, which I somehow managed to do on three occasions, fish and chips (if I had to have a last supper, this would be it), the aforementioned curry, mouth watering sausage butties to start the day (pork please, if I see another chicken sausage!), and at least one “all hands” family meal. We ticked that one off on day 2, with seventeen of us having a raucous lunch, and a not insignificant amount of drinks. Thank you sis for all your hard work in organising, and managing to keep it from mum so I could surprise her on the day. Cue tears. I think maybe even mum cried too.

La familia
Blink, and the time was nearly up. We had visited Yorkshire, explored all the nightlife that West Vale has to offer, walked in the Dales, played golf at Lytham-St-Annes (and forgot my “safety first” mantra by neglecting to apply sunscreen), BBQd in Poulton Le Flyde, had fish and chips at Harry Ramsden’s in Blackpool, lunched in gorgeous West Sussex, swam at the historic Spread Eagle hotel (and then had one of their famous “full english” breakfasts), strolled the pier, and The Lanes, before having dinner in Brighton, and lots in between. The weather had been kind to us, which it always seems to be. Maybe we bring a slice of Sydney back with us each time.

Thankfully I now had a couple of days relaxing in the beautiful city of Palma, on the (almost) annual boy’s trip. These occasions are renowned for slowing down, enjoying the culture of a place, taking in a few museums, a little tipple in the evening, then early nights. This trip would be no different. After that, I would fly to Milan, meet my better half, and 3 weeks exploring Italy would commence.

It is times like this I tell myself how lucky and blessed we are.

Ciao, until next time.

When it comes to travel, it’s the business

Whilst not quite having the romance of train travel, getting to the UK any way other that jet propulsion would be quite an undertaking.  As much as I love riding the rails, the distance between Sydney and Manchester might be too much even for me.
So, an airplane it is, and all the associated rigmarole this brings.  Checking in online.  Getting to the airport hours before you are due to fly.  The pain that is airport security.  Not that I think we should reduce this security, not for a moment, but, you have to admit, it is a bloody painful process.

Working your way through lines that snake around those mobile barriers.  All the while, some little kid is lifting up the spring loaded barrier and unclipping it, throwing the queuing system into disarray.
Once you have negotiated this, you then have the screening.  Ensuring you have no liquids in your bag.  Scratching your head and wondering of this is one of the airports that make you remove your iPad from your carry on, remove your shoes, belt, or even your watch.  You then go through the scanner yourself, only to beep and suddenly remember the erroneous 10 cent coins rattling around deep in your pocket.
Survive all this, and you still have to negotiate the retail hell that has become all but the tiniest airports.  You are deposited into the duty free stores, which are harder to navigate than IKEA on a Sunday morning.  With thirteen after shave samples, on those little cardboard strips, in your pocket, all you want is a cold beer.  Where has the pub gone?  It has been given a facelift, a very modern name, and is now a gastro-wine-artisanal-microbrew-resto-eating establishment.
By the time you eventually get your beer, you have to down it rapidly, as the announcements start that your gate is open, and plane ready for boarding.  So you skull your beer, and run to the other side of the airport, where your gate is located, only to find that your plane isn’t in fact boarding.  Yet every passenger has decided to start queuing in anticipation, even though everybody has a seat booking, and a boarding card that proves it, and will all get on the plane.  Eventually.
You know you are going nowhere fast.  You would have had time for a few more ice cold pints, a burger with hand cut chips, and a bag of pork scratchings.  Now you are going to have to settle for a dry bread roll, and a little aluminium tray with a scrawny chicken sausage and a cheese omelette with a splash of brown water in a plastic cup, masquerading as coffee, whilst having yourself elbowed from both sides, and trying to drown out the screaming child in row 44.  Oh the joys.
Unless.  You accept the airlines very generous email offer to upgrade to business class.  And so this is what we did.  I have never before been offered a reduced rate upgrade. Having had the opportunity to experience the delights of business class previously, with Singapore Airlines, I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity. No sir.  
Whilst the above describes the Sydney to Doha flight (15 plus hours), what followed, for the Doha to Manchester flight (approx 8 hours) could not have been more different. Champagne upon boarding.  An a la carte menu.  From which food is served on demand.  On a crisp white table cloth.  With wines expertly matched.  And a seat that fully reclines into a flat bed for your post lunch nap, with a real pillow, and thin duvet.  Not that I did much sleeping. I was far too excited to sleep.
As I finished off the last of the cheese board, I totally forgot that I had flown around the world, over the last 24 hours, as we slowly descended into Manchester.  Going home, in economy, just won’t be the same.  All suggestions of best way to snag an upgrade are most welcome.

Confess, who keeps a diary?

Writing a diary is as old as history itself.  Sitting down, at the end of a busy day, and journalling your inner thoughts is nothing new.  And in our crazy world, journalling offers a brief respite, where you can close out the world, and just be mindful of events that have happened.  How you feel about them.  The emotions they evoke.  Reminding yourself what you are grateful for.  What you appreciate.  Mindfulness has suddenly become fashionable, and yet is has been one of the central tenets of Buddhism for centuries.
From the greatest diarist of all time, Samuel Pepys, whose diary was written in the 17th century, to Anne Frank, and onto the fictional Bridget Jones and Adrian Mole, the trusty journal has been a haven for getting your thoughts, feelings, emotions down on paper.  And we are fascinated with reading other people’s diaries.  To the extent that we many were duped into believing that the diaries purchased for €4.7 million, purporting to be the diaries of Hitler, were genuine.  Of course, these sixty volumes, written between 1981 and 1983 turned out to be the elaborate hoax of Konrad Kujau.
I am guessing that many of you have at some point or another written in a diary.  Many of you may still do.  Some of you will have written one when you were younger, only to be discouraged when an older sibling searched out your most private possession, and read all about your school crush, who you wanted to dance with at the school disco, and how much you hated said sibling.  A brief flirtation with journalling that ended years ago.
I have been fascinated with journalling, and writing from a young age.  Writing by pen and paper, moving on to an old typewriter, and then digitally, as the world changed, to virtual keyboards.  In the last year the balance has swung back a little towards actual writing with the introduction of the Apple pencil that now allows me to write by hand on a digital screen.  With many apps mimicking the look of paper this is as close I will get to “real” writing that is not on actual paper.
And yet.  There is just something about real pens (who can resist the history and allure of a Mont Blanc?), and real notepads.  Harking back to an era where Hemingway would go nowhere without his trusty Moleskine notepad.  And Bruce Chatwin said it was worse to lose one of his notepads than his passport.  There is a magic evoked that can not be matched digitally.
So I have been experimenting with new journalling mediums.  Putting aside the pen for now, and trying out other options that are available online.  Many in the form of apps.  The one I have been using for about a month now is a daily journal app called “Day One” which captures all kinds of metadata related to all your posts, such as your location when you wrote the post, what the weather was like, and even what music you may have been listening.  With the ability to add pics too it is a great way of journalling my day and capturing anything that I’d like to look back on and remember.  
What do you prefer?  Writing in a real diary, or notepad.  Or have you moved to digital, and started reaping the benefits that brings such as tagging, allowing you to immediately find any entry, from any month, or any year.  And allowing you to include photos, be they daily selfies, or memories from holidays.  Do you use a stylus, and try and retain some sense of tradition, or have you moved fully to virtual keyboards.  I would be very interested to hear from all of you who write a diary, or journal, and how you maintain it.
For me the jury is still out as to which I prefer, the traditional, or the modern way.  I will keep experimenting.

What has been happening through Autumn?

So many things seem to have happened since we last spoke that it is hard to think where to begin.  If i was a better write than I am I would write in a nonlinear fashion, dropping crumbs all over, then bringing them all together at the end.  Like a literary masterpiece.  However, you don’t have Hemingway.  You have me.

In the spirit of seeing as much as we can, within Australia, a couple of weeks ago we took an early mark from work, and headed downtown, to our usual car hire place, and from there headed off to Kangaroo Valley.  Somewhere new.  For a couple of nights.

In Friday afternoon traffic, Kangaroo Valley is almost 3 hours south of Sydney, in an area called Shoalhaven.  We have been down this part of the world previously, having once spent a great weekend in Jervis Bay with friends.  Kangaroo Valley is a little further inland, through the picture postcard village of Berry.  And if you know of Berry, you know of the “Famous Donut Van” in Berry.  Needless to say, we got ourselves acquainted.

Talking of “famous” food outlets, Kangaroo Valley has it’s own.  Not wanting to be outdone, there is the “World Famous Pie” shop, something I was not going to miss.  And my oh my.  The pie was outstanding.  Best I have ever had.  Period.  If it wasn’t for the pre-holiday health kick I am about to embark on, I would have brought enough home to fill up the freezer.

Despite the name of our home for the weekend, ironically, we saw very few kangaroos.  Not as many as we see when we visit our favourite spot in the countryside, Mudgee.  I had been teased with the prospect of seeing wombats in the wild, but despite trying to make myself invisible, and wait for them to come out in the evening, the reclusive little blighters never showed their cute, fat little faces.

Our accommodation was a perfect little cottage, called “The Hammock”, with an open fire that we got roaring in the evening.  The temperature drops a lot when the sun goes down, and when I saw the open fireplace I was in my element.  I am not sure what it is about fire, but getting it started becomes an obsession.  Then keeping it going becomes hypnotic.  Hearing the fire crackle, feeling the heat, watching the flames, with the alcoholic effects of a few large, full bodied, glasses of red wine (bought from the local winery, some 20 minutes from the cottage) it was a heavenly evening.

We were soon back in the real world, back in the city life, so why not make the most of it. As we had been away so recently, we decided to remain closer to home for the Easter break, and instead booked one of our famous city “staycations”.  We seem to be getting around most of the hotels in Sydney, and Easter saw us staying at the Old Clare Hotel, in Chippendale.  On the site of the old Carlton and United brewery.  For UK readers, it is where your Fosters lager used to come from.  The area has gone, and is going, through massive regeneration, and is fasting becoming one of the places to be in Sydney.

The hotel is on Kensington St which has become a restaurant hot spot, which also incorporates “Spice Alley”, a fascinating blend of old and new, housing numerous excellent Asian eateries.  Definitely worth a visit, if not an overnight stay, if you are in the neighbourhood.

And with all the eating and drinking that has been occurring, virtually non stop since Christmas, there has been the inevitable addition of a few pounds around the waistline.  If you love food and fine wine as much as I do, who said bon vivant?, you will know that it is not a one way street.  You have to put the effort in to keep from blowing up like the Michelin man.

I continue with my gym work, and weekly 5 a side run out, but have added something else to my repertoire.  Dynamic Pilates.  Yup, you heard right, I have started doing pilates.  The kind where you lay on what looks like a torture bed.  Or something you may have read about in 50 Shades of Grey.  All springs and straps.  With less pleasure.  I’m assuming about the pleasure, of course, having had no experience of anything you may have read in any of EL James’s “best sellers”.

It is amazing how fast an hour passes when doing pilates, focussing the mind, breathing in tune to the exercises, compared to time spent on the treadmill in the gym.  I’m not afraid to say I loathe running.  Unless it is on a football pitch.  Running, for runnings sake is not what i was created for.  And the time I spend knocking out a few kms on the treadmill seems to drag in comparison.

That said, needs must. So, for the next few weeks, my aim is to shift my “winter coat”, in time for my European summer.  Alcohol canned (which means abstention, not drinking tinnies) for a month.  Exercise upped for the month.  And no treats in between (after I have eaten all my Easter chocolate).

Wish me luck friends.

P.S. voting in Australia is compulsory for all citizens, which now includes me of course. So this month also saw me casting my first ever vote here in Australia, in the local by election. This Yorkshire lad is already making his contribution.

P.P.S. In the last couple of weeks, the government has announced sweeping changes to how you achieve citizenship. Seems I got in just in time!