Thursday, December 31, 2009

The End Of A Journey, The Start Of A New Year

Adelaide may have been the end of the road for our journey on the Indian Pacific, but it was not the end of the line for  Liz and my time together here in Australia. We would have a week long break as she visited Kangaroo Island and Melbourne, but we would be re-joining in Sydney to ring in the New Year.
Liz's tour included accommodations at the Park Hyatt Hotel located right next to the Harbour Bridge and directly across from the Opera House.  She was able to get us guest passes into the hotel (imagine that), so there was no question where we would be as we rang in a new year.
There are actually two firework shows NYE in Sydney.  The first is at 9:00 and showcases the Opera house and the second at midnight showcasing the iconic Harbour Bridge.
With a balcony view of the Opera House, a complimentary bottle of bubbly from the hotel, and some yummy nibblies the evening passed quickly.  It was fun to watch the crowds gather along Circular Quay.  Of course to get a first hand experience of what was going on and to feel the pulse of the crowd, we did take a mini-walkabout the area.

We had just returned to our choice spot on the balcony, and opened a new bottle of champers when the first show began.  What started with a light show on several boats in the harbour turned into bursting display of lights above one of the world's most renowned buildings.  We decided to head down to the hotel's private pier for a closer look.  In our excitement I managed to run out of the room without my camera so unfortunately I have no photos of the fireworks over the Sydney Opera House.

More nibblies, champers, and lots of laughter made time pass quickly and soon we were preparing for the next show.  Since Liz's balcony faced away from the bridge we decided to head down to the street.  It was actually a bit of a focal disadvantage to be directly below the bridge, but still it was an experience I'll never forget.

Once we accompanied Liz back to her room there was but one think to do.  We hit the pavement with the millions of other people and slowly made our way back to our own accomodations in Kings Crossing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


The aboriginal people of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula (the Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri) use dream stories to illustrate the creation of land formations.
The following is a Kaurana dreaming story that describes the formation of the Pages Islands which can be seen from the Tapananppa Lookout in Deep Creek Conservation Park.

Ngurunderi was traveling along the coastline in search of his two wives, who had run away from him.
The two women hurriedly walked down Tunkalilla Beach to Tjirbuk.  From there they could see Kangaroo Island, the spirit lad.  At that time Kangaroo Island was almost connected to the mainland and it was possible to walk across.  Picking up all their belongings, consisting of nets (for fish) and mats (to carry food in) they began to walk across.
In the meantime, Ngurunderi hurried up to Tjirbuk, and could see them going across.  When they had reached the center, Nurunderi called out in a voice of thunder, saying: "Pink'ul'un'urn'pra nukurn" (fall waters-you).  Immediately the waters (sea) began to come in from the west, wave upon wave, driving the two women from their course.
So rough, so strong were the tempestuous waves, that the women tried to turn their faces towards the mainand.  At last, sighting against waves no more, they were carried into the open sea, taking their net baskets with them.  But again, as the water grew calmer, they tried to swim to Tunkalilla Beach, but could not and were at last drowned.  They were, however, metamorphosed into Metaong--The Pages or the Two Sisters, opossite Tunkalilla Beach.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Crossing The Nullarbor

The rocking motion on the Indian Pacific was a bit like the crashing waves of the sea,  a perpetual motion that calmed me.  I'll admit that at times the tracks were especially rough and we were bounced around a bit, but for most of the time were able to kick back and enjoy our journey.

One of the biggest draws of the Indian Pacific is that it crosses the Nullarbor Plain.  Named for its lack of trees--null=no, arbor=trees--it takes 9 hours to cross the vast, flat, arid, sandstone plain.  This section of the Australian continent may be treeless and remain relatively uninhabited, but  the dry red land is covered with small hardy shrubs that are drought tolerant.  In the early hours of dawn or at dusk you may pass a kangaroo or two.  If you are as lucky as I was you may even see a caravan of camels.
As you cruise down the longest stretch of  straight rail tracks in the world--300 miles without a curve--it is nearly impossible to detect movement due to the lack of changing scenery.   I imagine that many would say that the trip across the Nullarbor Plain is plain, but as I looked out from my vantage point high above the ground I could not help but marvel at what lay in front of me.  I wondered how something so desolate could be so alluring.  Mother Nature sparkled, and her shimmering dance of the distant oasis called to me.  At night the iridescent beauty of the land was replaced by millions of stars twinkling in the sky, a sky that seemed familiar yet foreign with it clearly defined Milky Way and its unfamiliar constellations.

We were actually able to touch ground on the Nullarbor in the "town" of Cook, where the train stops to change drivers and to fill up on water.  Train passengers are allowed an hour to take a quick walkabout to see and photograph the skeletal remains of what was once a thriving railway settlement.  As I strolled by a pool that has long ceased to hold water, a hospital that hasn't had seen a patient in years, and the falling down school house, I couldn't help but feel for the current 4 inhabitants of the barebones outpost.

My interest in the Nullarbor had been piqued before my trip on the Indian Pacific when I read "A Frenchman's Walk Across the Nullarbor: Henri Gilbert's Diary, Perth to Brisbane, 1897-1899. "  And though our experience was different--I sat in a climate controlled luxury tin can, while he braved the elements on foot carrying a 38 kilogram backpack-- Gilbert's story had in no way prepared me for the vastness that I experienced.  I have never in my life felt so insignificant.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tiny Bubbles In My Red Wine...

When I was back in the States in November I was a bit surprised to find a bottle of Shingleback Sparkling Shiraz on one of the shelves of Fred Meyer Grocery Store.  I was surprised for two reasons.  First that Fred Meyer carried a family owned hand-crafted wine from a small vineyard in Southern Australia, and second because they carried a Sparkling Red.  I am no stranger to Red Bubbles, and have been drinking them for over a year.  In my experience this type of Sparkling Wine, and I am not referring to that Cold Duck from the 1970's, is unique to Australia (though I have read it is made in other parts of the world).  However, I do believe that it fairly unknown in the USA.  In fact when a friend of mine recently returned home after a visit to OZ and tried to find a bottle in a local liquor store she was told that no such thing existed.
Sparkling Reds are made in the same way as Sparkling Whites, but the big difference is that the skin is left in the fermenting juice.  In addition to affecting the color this process also leads to a more tannic wine that has to be sweetened later.
Another difference is that for Sparkling Whites the grape must be picked before those  used in making regular wine.  However, the grapes used to make Sparkling Red can remain on the vine until the regular wine grapes are picked.  The leaving of the grapes on the vine produces a richer flavor, and also produces a wine that is higher in alcohol content.
Sparkling Reds may not be for everyone, but if you enjoy a robust, full flavored wine with a special tingle you may want to look for a nice bottle of Red Bubbly.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A First Class Experience

Life on the Indian Pacific was far from roughing it. About 30 minutes prior to departure we were shown to our cabins--which were typical in size of those that I had seen in Europe. The only difference was that I had the cabin to myself, and there was an en-suite bathroom. I was shown how to use the fold out commode and sink. I paid special attention because, even though it seemed straight forward, if you didn't flush and tilt correctly you could cause a blockage. I was also told that when at my evening meal my bed would be turned down and in the morning during breakfast my bed would be made up--now this was the life. The only thing left was choosing an early or late seating assignment for meals. Liz and I had agreed that we would go for the later option. First of all, she was coming from Spain and couldn't imagine dining before 7 p.m. Then there was the issue that we couldn't be bothered getting up too early in the morning. So with all the important details taken care of, I was able to settle into what would be my home for the next 48 hours.

As we pulled out of the station I was relieved to find that my cabin was facing forward. I could hear Liz in the corridor, and I knew she hadn't been so lucky. A drama was brewing. Fortunately, her Tour Guide was gracious enough to change cabins with her. It actually worked out for the best because now rather than being at opposite sides of the train car, we were next door to each other.
It wasn't long before it was announced that the red group was to report for lunch, and that at 2:00 the blue group--which included us--would report for an ice-breaker in the lounge. Uggh, these types of things normally drive me crazy and I was relieved that I had Liz to help me survive. Not only did she already know the people on the train with her tour group, but she is a social butterfly. In fact, as the announcement was being made I could hear her out in the hallway chatting it up with everyone that came by.
Over the next 2 day's Liz's social skills proved to be handy, as we became "consentidas" to the service staff. Not that service wasn't impeccable for all, it was just that we got a few extra "toques." Liz's gregarious character allowed us to meet some interesting people on board including: an American who had just sold his computer company and was out and about exploring the world, two adventurous British Gentlemen, a British Expat and his French Partner who enjoyed fine wines, and an Australian Couple celebrating 25 year of marriage.

The Australian couple actually were traveling in Platinum Service. This temporary service was a step up from Gold with a normal bed and a non-fold out commode. Between an invitation from our new friends, and special exception from the staff Liz and I were able to visit the Platinum Car, a privilege that was granted to no other Gold Class travelers.
Now there was one fear of my Indian Pacific Journey that I knew Liz could not solve. I had read several reviews that claimed that rough train lines, paired with continual stopping and going, made sleep impossible. Now if you ever have sat next to me on a long distance, overnight plane ride you may be laughing. After all, on my recent return flight from Oregon to Australia I curled up into a ball and slept a full 8 hours. The guy next to me said he had never seen anything like it. But still, I was nervous about not being able to sleep comfortably on the train., especially since I tend to be a bit grouchy when I haven't had a good night's sleep. However, instead of finding the rough tracks bothersome I spent two evenings being gently lulled to sleep as I looked out the Indian Pacific window at the immense star studded sky.

The Indian Pacific takes pride in being one of the great train journeys in the world, and for me it proved to be a first class experience.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Australian Essentials

This week's themes is 12.

Since my arrival in Australia I have learned that there are 12 things that I must have in my bag whenever I leave the house for an extended outing.

1. Star Map--The night sky in the Southern Hemisphere is different from the one I know, and I love to know what I am looking at.
2. Frocs (faux crocs)--When the red dirt turns to mud, it is ruthless.
3. Sunscreen--The sun Down Under is merciless.
4. Fly Net--When the wind blows from the north it brings hundreds of flies that love to t crawl up your nose or to be your next meal.
5. Light Weight Long Sleeve Shirt--Its not just your face that needs protection from the sun.
6. Water--I never leave home without it.
7. Brollie--Umbrella for us Yanks.  Comes in useful for the fast moving rainstorms of the rainy season, or to offer additional protection from the sun.
8. Sunnies--With the intense UVA/UVB rays you have to protect your eyes.
9. 12 Volt Water Heater (for cars)--Often you can go for miles on end without a place to stop for a cuppa joe.
10. Wide Brim Hat--Additional sun protection.  Always a must.
11. Binos--To get an up close look at all of Australia's wonderful Flora and Fauna.
12. Anti-Monkey Butt--Helps ward off blisters and heat rash--especially useful on those hot days and long hikes.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Partridge And A Pear Tree

Well, I guess I got the title to this entry wrong it should have been titled "A Kookaburra Next To An Old Gum Tree", but I am still trying to get into the holiday season!

When I was a young child I used to listen to a record every night that consisted of popular children's poems and songs.  The record included the Kookaburra song.  Maybe you are familiar with the song and the lyrics are the following:

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Merry, merry king of the bush is he
Laugh, Kookaburra! Laugh, Kookaburra!
Gay your life must be

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Eating all the gum drops he can see
Stop, Kookaburra! Stop, Kookaburra!
Leave some there for me

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Counting all the monkeys he can see
Stop, Kookaburra! Stop, Kookaburra!
That's not a monkey that's me

Kookaburra sits on a rusty nail
Gets a boo-boo in his tail
Cry, Kookaburra! Cry, kookaburra!
Oh how life can be

I always thought that a Kookaburra was an imaginary animal, and was surprised to learn many years later that they do exist.  Since moving to Oz I have had several opportunities to view the bird both in the wild and in captivity.
I have also had the pleasure of listening to their laugh--which starts as a low chuckle and progresses to an  ear piercing cackle.  The first time I head one I swore it was a Howler Monkey.  I prepared myself to soon have bananas hurled at us like in Costa Rica.  Mark wanted to know what a Monkey would be doing in a Eucalyptus Forest and the only explanation I could offer was that it had escaped from the zoo.  After what seemed like hours of scanning the trees we finally spotted the noise maker.
I know that their call is to establish territory, but whenever I hear it I can't help but feel like the animal is making fun of this Yank.  Especially since the boisterous laughter always happens at the most in-opportune times like when the hiking trail cuts across a golf course or when I got a case of severe heat rash with 3 hours on the trail left in front of us.

The Laughing Kookaburra is native to eucalyptus forests of Eastern Australia.   It is the largest member of the Kingfisher Family, and can weigh up to one pound.  The Kookaburra is carnivorous and uses its hard beak, that can grow up to 4 inches, to catch its prey.  Its stout body is cream colored, and its wings and back are brown with blue spots on the shoulders.  Its eyes are accentuated by a dark brown stripe, and a lighter one runs across the top of its head.  Its tail is reddish in color with black bars.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Out Of The Office

Every year Mark's company closes for the week between Christmas and New Years. This surprised us when we first found out, especially since he does not work for a small establishment and there are close to 300 employees. However, we soon discovered that it is common practice here in Australia for most companies, offices, and businesses.
At first we were a bit bothered by the fact that Mark would be forced to take vacation time. We like to use our vacation to travel (just incase you hadn't noticed) and usually avoid traveling in high season. I can't think of anything worse than traveling when the ankle-biters are loose. I much prefer hitting the road when the lil' ones are safely locked away at school. 
I have to admit that I have come to admire the general closure. Kind of like how I grew to love Sunday store closures in Spain--nothing like a day without consumerism. I think  the forced closure of work places forces some quality time amongst families and loved ones. Of course that isn't necessarily true for  single couples without children, or divorced parents who don't happen to have their children for the week they are forced to take off. However, instead of spending time with family family these people can take some time to focus on themselves. It is a time when people can completely disengage from their work place--no worries about phone calls, emergencies arising, or things that need to get done--as the whole shebang is just closed.
This year we are heading to the outback. We have rented a 4-wd in hopes of getting off the beaten path and away from the crowds. No work worries for Mark, we just have to keep our fingers crossed that the weather cooperates and that it doesn't get too hot.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dear Santa Anything But....

Early in December the wives began to talk.  The holiday season would soon be upon us, which meant the arrival of gifts from the various consultants that our husbands had worked with throughout the year.  Being my first Christmas season as a contractor’s wife, I asked the veterans what types of gifts to expect.  I thought they were pulling my leg as they informed me that the most common gift was a Jamon Serrano.  For those that do not know, a Jamón Serrano is an entire leg of ham that has been cured in salt and hung out to air dry. Even though it may be considered a delicacy in the gourmet world, I could not imagine two people eating an entire leg of ham, and there was no way that I would devote precious counter space in my kitchen to a black hoofed pig leg.
It is not that I am opposed to the eating of meat cured in this way.  In fact I have been known to pig out on a good plate of jamón, however I need to stress the word plate.  My opposition is to the presentation of a whole ham leg.  Perhaps this comes from years of shopping in massive grocery stores where consumers are presented with meat that is neatly wrapped in sanitary white packages.  Such presentation allows one to easily forget the origin of what one is buying.  Now, when faced with an entire pig leg, it is nearly impossible not to visualize the living animal that once ambled on that leg.
As the holiday season quickly approached I could not shake my ham leg fear.  Every-time the downstairs doorbell rang I reluctantly answered, and sighed in relief to find the meter reader, butane delivery man, or someone looking for our neighbor.
I thought that I was ham free when Christmas passed, but my husband reminded me that the holiday season in Spain was not officially over until the arrival of the Kings on January 6th.
Even though I was content to have the extended holiday season come and go without any sign of a delivery service, my husband did not share my enthusiasm.  He is a fan of Jamón Serrano, something I am not, and he was looking forward to having a whole leg to himself.  I tried to appease him by offering to buy small amounts of jamón from the butcher, but he wanted his own leg.
In mid-January I received an ecstatic phone call from Mark’s office.  He had just received a phone call from a frustrated deliveryman who had visited our home at least a half a dozen times during the past month.  I couldn’t help but wonder why no note had been left.  I was instructed not to leave the house because the deliveryman was on his way.  To my disappointment within an hour I was hauling a narrow cardboard box that could only contain a pig leg, up two flights of stairs.
As I sat on the couch looking at the box, I could not help but wonder what impact, if any, riding around in the back of a delivery truck for several weeks would have on the quality of cured meat.  I was also faced with the dilemma of how to deal with the leg.  The serving of Jamón Serrano is an art rather than just a process.
After much contemplation I decided to ask Mari-Carmen, the women I studied flamenco with, what I should do.  Of course I started the conversation off on the wrong foot by stating how I felt that it was silly to give two people an entire ham leg as a gift.  She responded with “Hmph.  A jamón for two is not excessive.  You should be eating a jamón a month.  You must eat jamón daily to be healthy!”  I did not dare share my own personal opinions on the benefits of jamón, but instead agreed that a jamon indeed was a wonderful gift but asked how I was to go about cutting it.  In her eyes this was not such a difficult situation, I just needed to go to the local dollar store and buy the special jamón holder and knife.  I decided that this was not the solution to my problem, so I asked her if it would be possible to take the leg to a butcher and have him cut it for me.  I was more than willing to pay a fee for this service.  This lead to my second lecture of the day, “Hmph, you can not do such thing.  That would only insult the butcher because you did not buy the jamón from him.”  Rather than argue that since I had no choice in where it was bought, being that it was a gift, I just dropped the subject--I was not prepared for lecture number three.
In early February the box containing our jamón remained in our living room.  I had refused to open it.  Not only did I find the idea of looking at a ham leg unpleasant, I knew the smell would be even more offensive.  Each evening I would remind Mark that it was his gift and stressed that he needed to do something with it.  At the end of the month, after spending a week in Germany, Mark decided that it was time for the jamón to leave our home, and he had figured out the perfect way for us to be rid of the leg while at the same time enjoy a savory treat.  Each week the Spanish Air-force had a luncheon.  Mark had decided that such an event was the perfect venue for the disposal of the jamón.
Friday morning Mark took the leg out of its box and headed off to our parking garage.  One of the major drawbacks of living in the center of town was the lack of parking.  We rented a parking spot in a garage that was a ten-minute walk from our apartment.  With the jamón slung over his shoulder, and a grin on his face, Mark made the trek to the car. His grin quickly turned to a frown when he put the key in the ignition and nothing happened.  After a week of sitting in the cold garage the battery was dead.  Mark called a co-worker to hitch a ride to work.  However, because contractors were not allowed to accept gifts from consultants, he had to leave the jamón in the trunk of the car rather than try to explain to his colleagues where it had come from.
Saturday morning Mark announced that the jamón would have to come “home”.  I refused to have anything to do with the jamón, so rather than accompanying Mark to pick up the leg from our cochera, I headed downstairs to the café in front of our apartment for a cup of coffee.  Half an hour latter Mark joined me, along with his prized gift.  When Enrique, the waiter, saw the leg he began to salivate and immediately asked if we knew how to properly cut a jamón, after all it was a skill that took many years of practice.  He was kind enough to tell us to let him know when we were ready to open our gift and he would be more than willing to come over and help us.  With a forced smile, I thanked him for his offer.
The jamón returned to our living room and remained there for several weeks.  However, as much as we ignored it, the leg was not forgotten.  One afternoon, as Mark walked home from work, an acquaintance approached him and told him how early one morning he had seen him walking with the jamón and how lucky he was to have such a fine piece of meat.  And of course there was Enrique who constantly asked if we were in need of his services.
We were preparing to leave to Italy for Mark’s cousin's wedding.  I suggested taking the leg of ham as a gift, but Mark didn’t feel that it would be appreciated.  He still felt that re-gifting it to the Spanish Air-force was the best solution since not only would he be able to participate in the consumption, but that the Spaniards would truly appreciate such a gift.  So for the second time Mark slung the jamón over his shoulder and began his journey to work.  This time the trip was successful, but unfortunately the Spanish Air-force had the day off and there was no luncheon.  The leg remained in the trunk of the car, where it was forgotten until after we returned from Italy.
It was now April, and our now famous leg had spent much of its cured life in the back of a delivery truck, in our living room, and in the trunk of our car.  Once again I offered a suggestion; I felt that perhaps we could barter the piece of meat for wild asparagus with the Gitano that hawked his goods at the roundabout on the way to Ronda.  Of course Mark did not find this acceptable.
By the middle of the month we were finally able to rid ourselves of what now felt like part of the family.  Unfortunately, it was not the happy ending that Mark had envisioned--the savoring of thin slices of the meat with a fine Rioja wine.  Instead, early one morning Mark had to dispose of the now moldy and soft leg in a dumpster.  Even though we were now jamon free, for several weeks I was worried that someone might have seen Mark in the act and that they would approach me to ask how in the world Mark could throw away such a fine treat.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Fat One

Australia my have "The race that stops a nation," but in Spain it is a lottery that brings the country to a halt.  Well maybe the whole country doesn't come to a stand still, after all the drawing takes over 3 hours compared to the minute long race in Melbourne, but on December 22 much of the country is glued to the television or radio for much of the day waiting for the results.
"El Gordo"--The Fat One-- is the biggest lottery in the world, with millions of euros in prizes.   Participation in the lottery doesn't come cheap with tickets costing 200 euros.  However, to help keep down the cost tickets are broken into 10 parts (decimos), which are sold for a more affordable 20 euros.  However, if you buy only part of a ticket it means that any winning will be split with someone else.  Therefore, often groups of people--friends, families, co-workers--buy tickets together so that the fortunes will be shared with loved ones or at least acquaintances.
El Gordo tickets go on sale during the summer and can be bought at an official National Lottery Office, online, or in bars.  People tend to buy early since only a certain number of tickets are available and once they are gone, they are gone.  It is common for people to want tickets from localities where previous winning tickets were sold, so if you travel between May and December you are often asked by friends to pick up tickets from  cities the cities you visit.
The drawing of numbers in El Gordo works like no other lottery in the world.  To determine the winning numbers two large spheres filled with wooden balls are used.  One sphere contains several tens of thousands of balls inscribed with a unique 5 digit ticket number.  The second sphere contains 1,787 balls inscribed with a prize in euros on it.  During the drawing a single ball is removed from each sphere at the same time, and children sing the winning number and then the corresponding prize.  The process is repeated until the 1,787 prize-balls are connected to a number.  With the large number of tax-free prizes--paid out immediately-- the process is long and drawn out.
I hate to admit that I never bought a ticket for El Gordo, even though tradition says that everyone in Spain must play the lottery on the 22nd of December.  However, the sing song call of the numbers, heard echoing throughout a nation for hours on end became etched in my brain.  Even though the northern winds may not be strong enough to carry one of Spain's iconic sounds all the way to Australia, at 8:30 am (CTE) I will hear, or at least imagine, a distant song from my past.

Monday, December 21, 2009

An Australian Christmas Song

With under a week to go, I have to admit I am not in the Christmas spirit.  As the days get longer and warmer--today is the longest day of the year--I loose any interest in the Holidays.  I don't feel like making tamales, fruit cake, or rumballs.  Instead I have visions of cherry pie, home-made ice-cream, and slices of watermelon.
Of course I can not escape Christmas.  Decorations are abundant, and everywhere I go I am bombarded with Christmas Carols.  Santa is on every corner--I even saw him riding down the beach on the back of a sand buggy!  But I still can not help but feel that something is not right.  This is the second year that I spend the Holiday Season in the Southern Hemisphere and I have come to believe that no matter how many I spend here, I will never shake the feeling that I should be preparing for a summer picnic, not a hearty winter celebration.
However, to show that I am not a total bah-humbug I have taken the time to learn the words to Australia's most popular Christmas song.  Suzer posted this video of it on her blog last year, and I would like to share it with all of my readers.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

All Aboard

We had been in Australia for just over 3 months and Liz, one of my dearest and closest friends that I meet while living in Spain, was coming for a visit.  Well, actually her visit had been planned before we even knew that we were moving to Australia, but I still teased her that the reason she was flying halfway across the world was to visit me not because she was taking a 5 week guided tour around Oz.
Her trip started in Perth and it just turned out that the weekend she arrived my husband was also being sent to the most isolated city in the world for work.  Of course, I would have to join him, and take advantage of some catch up time with my buddy.  However, what began as time together in the westernmost city of the continent, turned into a two day train ride across some of Australia's most isolated outback.
I decided to tag along as Liz's tour traveled from Perth to Adelaide on the famous Indian Pacific Railway.  At first I was a bit hesitant to board what is known as one of the world's greatest train rides.  After all, she was traveling in Gold Class and--due to class segregation--if I was to be able to visit with her I would have to travel in the same class.  After some deep thought, as well as digging deep into my pockets, I decided that this was an adventure that I could not miss.

On a warm December morning, I arrived an hour before departure time at the East Perth Terminal.
At exactly 11:55 the half-mile long train slowly pulled out of terminal and our voyage began.  With over 24 carriages that weighed over 1,362 tonnes, the train never reached record breaking speed, but at an average of 85 kilometers an hour we slowly worked our way across the southern part of Australia and were treated to a some unique landscapes, remote outposts, feral animals, and interesting travel companions.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


This week's theme is fast.
No trip to Sydney would be complete without a visit to its various harbours. If you are short on time and would like to visit several sights on the water the quickest form of transportation is probably a water taxi, but be prepared to pay for the fast service.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Deep Creek Conservation Park

If you want to see some of South Australia's most stunning coastal scenery head on down to Deep Creek Conservation Park.  The 45 square kilometer park is located 100 kilometers south-west of Adelaide on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

The park's breathtaking location on the Southern Ocean, lush dense forests, and varied landscape--majestic cliffs, undulating hills, steep gullies--make Deep Creek a Bushwalkers paradise.  There are numerous trails that are flanked by a diverse flora including a variety of Eucalyptus and Native Grass Trees.  Time on the trails also provides visitors with the opportunity to see Eastern Gray Kangaroos, Echidnas, Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoos and Bandicoots.

The trails vary in level of difficulty from easy to experienced, and a small section of the world famous Heysen Trail passes through the park.  It is important to note that many of the trails, especially those that drop down to the ocean or creek bottoms,  can be rough and may include some very steep climbs.
On a recent visit to the park we hiked the Deep Creek Circuit Hike.  The trail, which was very rugged in some areas and included several steep ascents as well as descents, was supposed to take 7 hours to complete but we were able to finish in 5.   The views were magnificent and highlights of the  trail included a glimpse of Kangaroo Island, dense understory, wind stunted eucalyptus trees, a cascading waterfall, and two isolated beach coves.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

For You Two Dollar

Each week on Tuesday I head into the Central Buisiness District to the Adelaide Central Market.  I spend several hours wandering the aisles, seeing what each of the vendors has to offer.  I love seeing what produce is in season, the exotic meats (camel anyone?), and endless choices of cheeses. Though prices are comparable across the market, deals can be found by those willing to take some time to search the 80+ stalls.  For those who don't have time or patience I would suggest arriving late in the afternoon.

At around 3:30 large tables begin to appear in the middle of the aisles.  These tables are gradually filled with produce that needs to be sold.  The items that end up on the table tend to be perishables--herbs, ripe fruit and vegetables, leafy greens-- that will not last until Thursday when the Market reopens.
The peddlers begin to advertise their wares with loud shouts.  It isn't long before the tables are surrounded by a swarm of people trying to get a good deal.  The crowds are not always amicable and it is not uncommon to get an elbow in the ribs, or have a head of lettuce snatched from your hands.  In many ways I enjoy watching the interaction between the hordes of people as much or maybe even more than grabbing a bargain.

When dealing with the hucksters I have found that please, thank you, and a big smile tends to go a long way, and can be rewarded with "For you my lovely, one dollar."  I've also discovered that once you've asked a price, if you attempt to wait and come back later you'll get "I already told you two dollars."  You also have to be careful of good deals or the "For you, a special deal," as this could mean walking away with a box of bananas, instead of the two that you planned to buy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sevenhill Cellar Door

As we walked along the Riesling trail, we decided to take a detour up to visit the Sevenhill Cellars.  A short path led us up a small hill through their vineyards, and at the crest we were surprised to find the majestic St. Aloysius Church nestled among the trellised vines.  The church, with its gothic architecture and stained glass windows, is very uncharacteristic of Australia.  We couldn't help but feel that we had somehow been transported to the vineyards of Southern France.

After a quick look around the Church (1875) and its crypt (only one below a parish church in Australia), we headed over to the Cellar door.  It turns out that Sevenhill Cellars is the oldest wineries in the Clare Valley, and it was established in 1851 by Jesuit Priests who had fled their home country to escape religious persecution.  The name Sevenhill was given to the area because of its resemblance to the Seven Hills of Rome.   The same year that they arrived, the Jesuit Priests planted vines, because they wanted a local supply for Sacramental Wine--at the time overseas sources were unreliable.  Today the Jesuit Manresa Society continues to produce Altar Wines, as well as Table and Fortified Wines.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Murky Water

This week's theme is undesirable.
My husband is an Environmental Scientist.  Whenever we are near water we always look for signs of pollution.  This picture was taken in the center to Tavira, Portugal.  Raw sewage was being dumped directly into the Rio Formosa--very undesirable.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Train Line (Re)cycled

When I left the US it was December 1st and when I arrived in Australia it was the 3rd.  Even though there was not an actual 2nd of December--our wedding anniversary--in my life this year, we still celebrated 6 years of marriage over the weekend with a mini-getaway to Clare Valley.

We have driven through Clare Valley many times on our travels north and decided it was time to spend some time getting to know the area a little better.  Clare Valley, which is best known for its dry riesling wines, is "conveniently" located 90 minutes to the north of Adelaide.  The valley is the merging of the bush, farmlands, and vineyards.

One of the best ways to become better acquainted with the area is to walk or cycle the Riesling Trail.  This 27 kilometer off-road recreation trail, named after the region's signature grape and wine, runs between Auburn and Clare.  The trail was once a train line that ran from Riverton to Clare that ceased operation in 1983 after major damage by the Ash Wednesday Bushfire.  There are those who lament the loss of a historical train line that opened in 1918, and that over the years brought not only tourists but also important commodities to the area.  Unfortunately, due to the steep grades and tight curves of the original tracks, it was unfeasible to rebuild the train line.  Fortunately, local winemakers campaigned to turn the old train line into a more conventional tourist attraction.

It is possible to rent a bike to ride the trail, but due to time constrictions we decided to walk.  We spent a couple of relaxing hours on the trail between Clare and Seven Hills, enjoying the ever changing scenery and majestic views.  The trail itself was well maintained.  Directions and distances were posted, and there were additional information boards.  We were even able to stop off at a couple of cellar doors.  Had we been on a bike or started earlier we could have visited more, but then again I am not sure about drinking and riding!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Spring Gully Conservation Park

Spring Gully Conservation Park is located 139 kilometers north of Adelaide near Clare Valley.  The Conservation Park, established in 1926, is one of only places in South Australia where Red Stringybark Trees grow.   This gum tree is small to medium-sized and has a rough fibrous bark.  Unfortunately, due to the current drought, the park has suffered from a major loss of the Red Stringbark, which is better suited for a wetter climate.

The hill top location of the grassy woodlands provides for fabulous views to the west across the Adelaide Plains.  There are a couple of short trails in the park that allow visitors to explore the undulating landscape and its ridges and gullies.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sydney Opera House

This week's theme is curved.

The Sydney Opera House and its curved roof--made up of 1,056,000 white tiles-- is one of the must-see sights of the world.  Construction of this great iconic building began in 1959 after Jorn Utzon, a Danish architect, won an international design competition.  The building was not without controversy and in 1966 Utzon quit the project, leaving a consortium of Australian architects to design a compromised interior.  The building was formally completed in 1973, at a cost of $102 million.
The site of the Opera House, Bennelong Point, was originally used by aboriginal fisherman to discard shells.  The "middens," piles of white shells accumulated over thousands of years, were white clay quarries for the aboriginals.  The clay collected at this spot was used as ceremonial body paint. Today, aboriginal spokesmen are adamant that Jorn Utzon was inspired to design the shell-like shape of the modern day opera house after the ancient aboriginal middens.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Moolack Shores

Ever since my parents moved to Oregon from New Mexico, over 10 years ago, a drive along the pacific coast between Newport and Lincoln City has been a yearly event.  Of course, a trip to the coast has to include a cup of chowder. Our favorite is at the Chowder Bowl at Nye Beach in Newport. Our annual journey also included an announcement from my mother, who is always in the backseat, that someday we have to come down and spend a night Moolack Shores.  I am not sure where she got her attraction to the nondescript 1950's style roadside motel, but she was very vocal about her desire.
This year her dream became a reality when we left my father in Corvallis and headed down to the coast for a girls' night.  Located about 5 miles from Newport on the road to Depot bay is Moolack Shores.  It's webpage boasts "utterly unique lodging on the Oregon Coast."  However, as we entered the parking lot,  characterless was the first word that popped into my mind.  My mother remained optimistic that the room would exceed expectations, and what can I say other than mother always knows best.
When we opened the door to the Antique Room--each of the 12 rooms has it's own theme--we found both natural beauty and quirky charm. The motel is perched on a bluff right above the crashing surf, and we were greeted with an uninterrupted view of the Pacific Ocean. The room itself was a bit small, but because of the large picture window, tall ceilings and the open balcony it felt spacious.  The furniture in the room matched the antique theme and the owner has not gone overboard in the decorating--though the Mozart lamp may not suit everyone's taste.  There is also a wood burning stove to keep the room cozy on those long winter nights.

The motel provides a well maintained private staircase that takes you directly to waters edge.  Once on the sand, you have the option of walking in either direction on several miles of undeveloped beach.  This part of the coast has limited access, so there aren't many other people around.  The towering cliffs along the beach are also an excellent place to look for fossils.

If you are driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in Oregon and looking for a hotel that has a bit more personality than the large chain hotels, Moolack Shores may be the place for you.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Little Cheeky

One of my husbands favorite meals when eating out in Spain was Carillada or for those who don't speak Spanish "hog's cheek".  As much as he would rave about it, I could never get myself to order it, or to even consider making some at home.  So when my father announced that there were some halibut cheeks in the freezer,  I had a hard time getting too excited.
I guess you could call halibut the monster fish of the ocean since it can grow to be more than 8 feet long and weigh over 700 pounds. I had no idea they could grow so big and was surprised to see the palm sized medallions sitting on the counter ready to be cooked--no way that these babies came from a guppy.

My mom decided that we would lightly bread them and fry them in a little butter.  Now in my opinion, butter makes everything edible, so I was feeling pretty good about this culinary adventure.  As I took my first bite, I couldn't believe it.  If I had not known what I was eating I would have sworn that the tender, sweet, succulent meat in my mouth was lobster.  I had no problem gobbling up the two cheeks on my plate, and diving in for seconds.

Halibut cheeks now rank up there as one of my favorite dishes, and now I can't help but wonder if maybe I missed out on something by skipping the hog jowls.