29 October 2009

Excuse Me While I Kiss This Wine - A Day Tour in the Yarra Valley

It's mine - all mine! Crush it right into ma mouf!

Any evidence I ever needed that I am truly an adult comes from my increasing and voracious interest in wine drinking, err...tasting.... My number one priority for Australia was to get out there and start tasting – seriously tasting – as many of the local wines as I possibly could. Mission Accomplished.

The Yarra Valley is a cool temperate area 1 hour outside of Melbourne that is famous for its wineries and as an ideal location to produce Sparkling Wines of the highest quality – Domaine Chandon (of Moet &, for all you non-high rollers.) I booked myself a full day tour and starting dreaming of all that wine....


See, in our teens my best friend Heppy and I would pool our money and ask an older buddy (a 'boot' in Canadian slang) to procure us a bottle of the worst wine money can buy – a sweet white German monstrosity called Schloss Lauterheim. My seventeen year old palate could not distinguish between the sickly sweet bile taste of the cheap hooch and the magnificent reds my mum was drinking – had the good stuff been cheaper we probably would have drank that instead. It was about getting off our face, nothing more.

The full truth is that Schloss (if you drank too much we called it "Getting Schlossed") mixed well with Sprite and clove cigarettes and we split many a bottle of the gut-rot before I finally had had enough and could stomach no more. "I am finished with wine." I announced, reaching for vodka (a trend for me for many years) "It's gross."

It is with a red-stained mouth that I shake my head in horror at the memory, for now I am a Wino.

That is not to say I drink copious amounts of the stuff (although sometimes....) I now simply love to truly savour and enjoy a beautiful, special glass of wine. I love to learn about the different vintages, oaking processes and grapes, and I have a fascination with meal pairing.

Before the Yarra Valley, I had only been on a wine tasting tour of the Okanagan Valley in BC – my mum, S and I popped by 3 or 4 vineyards 2 summers ago. At that point I definitely loved wine, but knew little about it. S was often entrusted with the selection process in the liquor store or at restaurants – at that point the only thing I knew was that I didn't like Cab Savs.

How things have changed. I now worship at the altar of Zinfandel, adore a spot of Shiraz and a glass of Pinot Noir. I confidently order Malbecs and Pinot Grigios, Bourdeaxs and Valpolicellas....and still don't like Cab Savs.


Step One - We will have lots of fun.

Our first stop of the day was at an adorable heritage winery, St Huberts (Aussies pronounce in St Hugh-bitts, but my Canadian brain repels that and insists on St Ooo-bear – the proper, French pronunciation.) It was there that my awesome guide Nick walked us through the steps of basic tasting:

a) hold the glass up to the light and admire the colour
b) swirl it around (holding only by the stem to avoid heating the wine) and 'open it up'
c)first sip, quick and straight down
d) second sip, slosh it around all luxuriously over your teeth, tongue, lips and gums – 'chew the wine'
e) third sip, ignore your pride and slurp it up into your mouth like a little mini-gargle and 'smell the wine from the inside' as the aroma fills your mouth with wonderful boozey fumes. (This one is my favourite.)

I'll take it!

We sampled four wines – a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc that tasted light and green apple-y, a nutty Chardonnay that reminded me of popcorn (I generally do not like Chards – 'Cougar Pop" as my mum calls them) a 2006 Cabernet Merlot (plasticky and too oaky for me) and a great Pinot Noir called The Stag – I liked this one so much I bought a bottle.

Violet Dear: Wino.

Now it was 11am, I was drinking wine on an empty stomach and let's face it – was a little tipsy. We moved on to Rochford. This is an unbelievably gorgeous vineyard that also hosts major concerts in the Spring and Summer – recent acts include Chris Isaak (!) Leonard Cohen (!!) and the B52's (!!!) I am sorry to say I didn't love their wines as much as the other wineries offerings, other than a great Muscato with honey-ish fizz that I could see myself accidentally getting plastered on a hot Summer patio day... I will also say that they have the closest thing to a Cab Sav that I would consider drinking – not too oaky and with a strange-in-a-good way gruyere cheese flavour.

Frankly Rochford didn't need to have the best wines because the lunch that they presented (incredibly included in the tour!) was spectacular – I actually moaned while eating it. A few times. Of the four choices (a kangaroo ragout, a chicken dish, a pumpkin lasagna and a fish) I reliably chose the fish. (Of course I did – have you met me?)

Please, sir - can I have some more?

It was a Red Emperor Fillet served with chat potatoes and a pesto cream sauce – it was firm and wonderfully cooked, and the potatoes were roasted to perfection. I was so expecting a schlocky "included lunch" that the perfectly seasoned and unique dish completely caught me off guard. It was delicious – worth at least 30++ in a Melbourne restaurant. We were served a full glass of our choice of wine – I bucked tradition and chose a full bodied Pinot Noir with my fish – always gotta do things differently!

The next stop was the (in)famous Domaine Chandon – one of only four outside of France (the others are Argentina, Brazil and Napa.) This high end sparkling wine (it cannot be called Champagne because it is not produced in the one eponymous valley)comes in three varieties – a sparkling Shiraz (red champagne-ish! Who knew?) a dry, more traditional white and a golden coloured sweet Cuvee Riche. Nick took us through the entire fascinating process of how sparkling wine is produced (and just how long it frickin' takes!) and then we headed for the tasting.

No sir, I still don't like it....

I learned something valuable that I did not know about myself – it is not purely the cheap Baby Duck sparkling wine that I do not like – I even hate the most expensive. This suspicion has been in my brain for a long time – S's brother likes to sit in the VIP areas of LA clubs and a bottle of Moet or Kristal inevitably gets doled out, but each time I gagged on that I blamed it on the copious amounts of Grey Goose I had imbibed earlier in the evening. This time I sampled all three and they still tasted of bile and wine coolers to me. Call me unedumecated – they make me want to yak.

Cutest bottles ever.

The final stop of the day was my favourite – the small, family owned Yering Farm. There was a real sense of tradition and a respect for doing things differently here – we sampled our delicious wines on the grass of the winery, soaking up all of the spectacular scenery and peering out for kangaroos in the distant fields. By this point in the day we were all tipsy and now friendly with one another and Nick even got behind the counter to do some pourings. A perfect end to a perfect day.

The effervescent Nick pouring out our wine.

I arrived back at Lindsay's house and opened the bottle of The Stag that I had bought at St Hubert's – she and I had been planning on going to a Drag Night in St Kilda but the day caught up with me and instead we relaxed and ate good snacks, talked girlie shit and by gum, we finished that bottle.

No surprise there.....

26 October 2009

A Perfect Sunday Supper - A Trip to Lygon Street

Melbourne's Commercial Drive, without the hippies and d-bags.

Melbourne's Little Italy is legendary – and for good reason. One out of every ten Melbournians was either born in Italy or has Italian parents and the result is a city that takes its food – 'just like'a mama used to make' - incredibly seriously - sometimes a tad too much so.

After an afternoon spent at the Old Melbourne Gaol (that's jail to us North Americans) I strolled up to Lygon Street, the city's main Italian area and home to a plethora of authentic eateries – everything from gelaterias, pastry shops, pizza places, fine dining and coffee houses. It is a huge swath of people eating, whether they are sitting, standing or walking with a cone or latte in hand.

I was baffled by the sheer choice of places to eat – every place was packed and each one looked better than the next. So I did what any traveler would do – I asked a local.
“Excuse me, are you from Melbourne?” I asked the first group of people who walked by. They paused.
“Yes we ahhh.” They all said in unison, their lack of R sounds proving their Australian citizenship.
“If you could only eat at one place here on Lygon Street, which one would you choose?” They all looked around for a moment, as if stunned at the idea of being forced to choose only one. Suddenly one woman's eyes glazed over dreamily.
“DOC – I would eat pizza at DOC.” Everyone else in her party seemed galled that they hadn't thought of it first.
“Of course! DOC! You must try it. It's....”
“....amazing.” another friend finished.

With a recommendation like that, who was I to second guess? I headed straight there.

After over a year looking through phonebook sized- photo menus this is a revelation.

DOC stands for Denominazione D'Origine Controllata, a term given in Italy to products deemed worthy of carrying the name, Italian foods with ethics and authenticity that keep them from turning into breadsticks at Eastside Bloody Mario's, and it is owned by real live Italian speaking Italians (a rarity in Vancouver!) This Pizza and Mozzarella bar (a new trend that will hopefully pop up in my city soon) is set just off of Lygon on Faraday St – and I knew from the moment that I walked in and was seated that this place was different than the kitsch-fest Eye-talian joints lining the main road.

White walls, minimalist deli-nouveau d├ęcor, chalkboards covered in scrawling Italian – the emphasis is on the simple food, with no checked table cloths or chianti bottle candle holders in sight. The menu is populated with basic pizzas, anti pasti (including big chunks of hand torn fresh mozzarella) and salads, and the wine list, while small, contains a nice array of Aussie and imported offerings.

Wine and salt - this is what runs through my veins, ladies and gentlemen!

I ordered the most straightforward dish on the menu - the venerable Pizza Margherita. This simpler-than-simple pizza consists of three toppings: tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves. (I elected to pay a bit more and have them add buffalo mozzarella as well – a favourite!) I am not alone in thinking that a pizza joint can be judged on how well they are able to prepare a basic margherita - there is really no room for error in its simplicity. Sometimes the things in life that seem the easiest are actually the most difficult to execute properly. I paired my pizza with a glass of Panorama Shiraz, keeping with the whole “Hey, I'm in Australia” thing I have going....

In my next life I will be an Italian woman. Or Italian dog. Or goat. As long as I get to eat this all the time...

Twenty minutes later the pie arrived – a paean to the art of pizza. Yes – it was simple, but gloriously so – its lack of fancy, jazzy toppings allowing the basic beauty of its chewy, crispy crust and thin, fresh marinara sauce to shine through. The cheese covering the base was lovely but a little bland – but each bite with the buffalo mozzarella was a revelation. The delicate, almost watery nature of buffalo mozzarella seeped onto the pizza and transformed the crust into a creamy soft velvet, mixing with the sauce but never becoming soggy. Nothing overpowered another ingredient- it was me, some milk, some wheat and a tomato and it was perfect. Viva Italia.

See the wonderful watery runniness of it? They way it slips into the sauce? A perfect buffalo mozzarella.

Finishing my wine (using the tasting techniques I learned on my Yarra Valley tasting tour) I headed across the street for some dessert. Did I ever.

Brunetti is a Melbourne institution – a huge Italian patisserie/espresso bar dripping with marble and staffed by uniformed baristas and chic waiters. I decided that pizza wasn't enough – I ordered two, yes two, desserts and a cafe latte. You only live once – might as well clog those arteries and show 'em who's boss! Jerks.

"Less is More." - Most reasonable people.
"More is more." - Violet Dear

The chocolate canolli was a bit disappointing for me – a little greasy tasting with the chocolate filling more closely resembled a really firm cup of pudding rather than a rich creamy mousse. The Granatine, however, was wonderful – just barely sweet, a tad yeasty and filled with the smoothest, lightest zabaglione cream imaginable – I could have eaten 2 more but decided to call it a day so that I can hoist up my jeggings for a little bit longer...

Normally espresso makes me feel like a meth addict, but this one was mild and lovely.

Sitting in Brunetti as I slurped up my hot latte and ate decadent treats, listening to the musical lilt of Italiano surrounding me I really did feel like I was back in Italy. Lygon Street is such a vibrant, tasty neighbourhood – I think every city needs one.

A Little Italy with as many great dining options as Melbourne's Lygon Street is hard to find outside of the old boot, but I will keep trying.... and eating. And eating. And drinking wine..... with zabaglione cream. Now that's amore.

22 October 2009

A Foodie Shangri-La - Queen Victoria Market

Bulgy, rotund happy tasty tomato friends!

Satellite television can be a cruel friend. When S and I lived in Mumbai I would watch the Travel&Living channel and watch with salivation and sick envy the gooey food porno of Nigella, the minimalist comfort dishes of Ina and Giada's fattening glory (which she cannot possibly be eating.) Don't get me wrong - I LOVE Indian food but I can't cook it worth a damn. It was my opinion that while I was in India, why should I cook Indian food? The stuff was practically being given away everywhere I looked.

No, instead of dahl and roti I wanted to cook magnificent pastas, divine salads and olive oil soaked anti pasti. I wanted what they were eating on the Travel&Living Channel.

After getting all worked up and excited for the amazing meal I envisioned myself making in my cold water kitchen (2 burners, no oven = many salads) I would head to the shiny expat grocery store to shop for my ingredients. Once inside I would be confronted with the sad reality as I gazed upon pathetic displays of "Western" foods - a few sickly blocks of cheese, a token bottle of pesto, a handful of soft flavourless olives. The shelves looked full, until you noticed that they were stocked with endless repeats - the seemingly bursting shelves actually only held about 30 different products, all marked up and sold at prices that were shockingly high, but that I paid anyway just to try to taste the intangible flavour of home.

It was often an epic fail, to coin a phrase.... bizarre cobbled-together dishes emerged from my gas Coleman stove-thing and were eaten politely by S. "It's the ingredients," I would moan, "there's no goddamned cheese or non-Indian vegetables, no fresh seafood, no good olive oil. Eff it, let's go get an aloo gobi."After leaving Mumbai, for the next year we had no (or very brief) access to a kitchen.

But now I am in Melbourne and staying with my friend Lindsay - and this time not only is there a kitchen, there is even an oven... but that is not the best part.

The best part is the Queen Victoria Market in downtown Melbourne.

Commence arty sign photo, now!

It is one of the largest markets in the world, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and is seeped in tradition and history - all reasons that I opted to go on the Foodies Dream Tour organized by the visitors centre. I was in Heaven. Finally, my dreams of cheese, butter, wine and olives all smashed together in some sort of foodgasmic brain overload - thank god I had a guide, or I would have had a seizure.

They had possum and wallaby as well... reminds me of this.

The market was built in 1878, and has stood in its current incarnation since 1929, expanding out the back into long sheds when space in the main building filled up. The interior is an Art Deco dream - the marble counters acted as a natural cooling system before refrigeration and are all original and in the process of being restored.

Yep, they eat Skippy.

We started our tour in the meat hall - though I do not eat meat myself I do like to see steps in the right direction toward sustainable, 'special' meat experiences (rather than the endless unethical parade of factory farmed flesh the Western world is known for.) Wild game meats are a sustainable and healthy alternative to "Sad Cow Disease" (I just made that up. Yes? No?) and Aussies are nuts for their native meats. I almost tried a bite of kangaroo, but then remembered this little fellow. Goddamn my bleeding heart. Oh well, better mine than his....

Shiny happy oysters.

Ah, the seafood section. In both the meat and fish halls are family run butcher shops and fish mongers who have been in this Market since its opening date in 1929 - the quality shows. The air had only the faintest hint of a fishy smell despite the thousands of kilos of shrimp, octopus, clams and swimmy fishes lining the display cases. Just look at these glistening, fresh oysters - who could resist? A dash of lemon, a pinch of salt and slide it down the hatch.

This will be on the flag of Violetistan.

The Produce Hall is one of the loveliest I have ever seen. Heirloom tomatoes sit next to heritage apples and organic broccoli - and every piece is picture perfect. It is the small farmers of the world that are working to prevent a complete mono-culture of the world's seeds and the loss of historically important- and delicious - quirky fruits and vegetables. Support them!

Interesting fact - when the market was just starting to take on its current shape in 1917 the produce sheds were built over top of a huge graveyard - to this day there are over 9000 bodies in unmarked graves beneath the potatoes and melons. Macabre.

The only way to be into mushrooms and not be a giant douche...

At Granville Island, Vancouver's QVM equivalent, there are two long haired hippie dudes who have a booth in the fall: The Mushroom Guys. While they look like they'd be hawking those other kind of mushrooms they only sell strictly legal types while lovingly and passionately expounding on the wondrous properties and uses of chanterelles, morels, lobster and porcini- they are addicted. Since speaking with them at length one day now mushrooms get me excited - I feel like Amanda in Another Roadside Attraction. I can't wait to get home and cook with some pine and black ears as well as the three precious lovelies above!

Note the reflection of the Art Deco windows in the case....

The final wing we toured was the Deli - my favourite of all places. I felt like a kid in a creamy, salty candy store as our guide led us past Italian, Greek, French and Modern Aussie delis each selling wondrous piles of delight. I spent so much money - and I hav never been happier to do so, unless on shoes.

Mr Brando, I don't appreciate that suggestion.

Artesanal butters were really something I started getting into before leaving for Asia - a thin slice on a piece of bread can rival the complexity and flavour of a fine cheese. Some of the vendors in the Market fly their butter in from France (!) but these guys make it fresh using Aussie milk. If you usually eat the gold foil wrapped block from the grocery store or - gasp - margarine you simply need to haul ass down to the farmer's market and get your wee hands on some real butter. It makes all the difference in the world (and yes, to the ole' waistband, so moderati....oh whatever. I love butter more than skinny jeans...)

Stay tuned in the Winter for my new Cheese Blog, written by Mr Williams and I!

What else can I say? This is an amazing selection of cheese. I think I just had a stroke.

Yes, wine man, I will marry that Zin, I mean you.....

To finish off the excellent tour, what is a little taste of wine at 11:30am? This lovely shop sells local wines, ciders and microbrew beers. My suggestion? Walk home with the bags - that way you can pre-emptively work off the calories from the orgy of food and booze sure to follow after a visit to the Market.

Not the best lighting, but I hope you can clearly see how lurvely it was, despite the separated sauce :(

That evening I returned to Lindsay's flat, arms laden with bags and bags of goodies and ready to prepare a meal using only ingredients from the Market.

The Menu:
Seared Salmon fillet with a Blood Orange and Sauvignon Blanc vinaigrette (it separated at the last mo, but was still yummy!)
Roasted Asparagus
Crispy New Potatoes with Lemon and Chili
Tomato, Rocket and Boconcini Salad topped with basil, shallots and walnuts

So while yes, I love and miss India, there ain't no one more happy to see Queen Victoria Market than me. The tour was great and the supper- well, that was wonderful, if I do say so myself.

And I do!

Next time I'm making a boconcini sald with boconcini and a boconcini dressing.

20 October 2009

Taronga, I Love Ya - A Day At The Sydney Zoo.

Walla-what? Wallaby! This tiny kangaroo species is adorable. Look at him. My god.

I know I keep harping on about my stolen camera, but if there was ever a day that I wish I had my old huge zoom Canon it was on Monday- the day I visited the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. Never have I been in a place with so many amazing photo opportunities!

Normally I either avoid zoos or downright abhor them - sad, mistreated animals pacing around behind bars like they've lost their minds so that selfish people can tap the bars and snap flash photos - but Sydney's magnificent Taronga is not like that at all. The animals live in huge enclosures that simulate their natural habitats and are subject to some of the world's most successful breeding programs, a sign that they are calm, happy and well taken care of.

The zoo's acres of dazzling Sydney Harbour views are filled with animals from around the world, but I was most interested in the weirdo Aussie creatures: bilbies, wallabies, platypuses, kangaroos, echidnas, kookaburras, emus, chazzwazzers and many, many more... I remember my grandfather and I reading and re-reading the Worldbook Encyclopedia "Childcraft" books and I was utterly fascinated by all of the strange Chysalid-animals found in the land of Oz. This was my chance to see them up close.

It was sheer luck that the Taronga Zoo offers an amazing advantage to foreign tourists - for a mere 3 dollars (the price of a bottle of water - yes, you heard me - in Australia) - a guided tour of the "Wild Australia" section of the park. I had an extremely knowledgeable and friendly volunteer t myself as she showed me the ins and outs of her country's domestic marsupials and birds.

If you'll be my bodyguard/I can be your long lost pal/ I can call you Betty/And Betty when you call me/ You can call me Al

The first stop? The Koala Bear, of course. Along with the infamous kangaroo this guy is the most famous of all Aussie creatures - other than the drunken Bodhi surfers in Bali. I know they're not bears, and I know you're not supposed to cuddle 'em, but when I saw this eucalyptus-stoned little snugglepants I instantly wanted to throw caution to the wind and snatch him up. Thank god I was in a zoo, otherwise the facial scars could have been disfiguring. Hell, I want one as my personal guard dog - I'll just entice attackers, muggers, stalkers and rapists to hug him (who could resist?) and WHAM! Koala Attack!

Platypus Rock Sculpture - My favourite Aussie animal!

Has there ever been such a strange, mindblowing and completely bizarre animal as the Duck Billed Platypus? They are one of the two egg-laying mammals on the entire planet (along with the echidna, a porcupine/hedgehog lookin' thing) and they also happen to be freakin' adorable. My guide and I popped into their habitat twice with no luck - these guys can be elusive and shy and they often hide from vistor's sight. Determined to see one, I hoofed it back when I was leaving and... success! It was dark in their home and so my photos are all streaky and blurred, but I assure you that it was awesome. They are much smaller than I thought - the size of a flat pug, and that weird ducky beak is a sight to behold. Did I mention they have a poisonous claw on each hand? Platypus WIN.

This bird dresses kind of like my Great-Auntie Dilly...

What the hell? Oh, it's an emu? Carry on.

Something has gone, like, Pet Semetary "It came back wrong" here..... Where is Gage? Oh for the love of god where is GAGE!

Wait, I let you get away with the last one, but what the eff is this thing? Well, my guide informed me that it is a cassowary, a large flightless rainforest bird that is similar size and shape to an emu or ostrich but is a lot more cranky and violent - hence the electric fence. But just look at his colour! And his magnificent creepy feet! They are known for being kicky birds.
Australia freaks me out.

Best. Kangaroo. Photo. Ever.

This lady is just chillin' out and sunning herself like a giant golden retriever. Seeing kangaroos in the flesh made me feel like I was in some hallucinogenic "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" sort of world where things are slightly wrong and it makes your brain hurt. They are so common and so mundane in Aus that having them here in the zoo is purely for us tourists - the equivalent of having raccoons on display in North America. They remind me of a donkey/dog/deer cross - and yes, they do hop and sometimes balance on their huge leg-like tails. I've seen it, but it still makes no sense at all to me.

Along with these hopping beauts my guide took me through the nocturnal display, of which I have no photos due to the nighttime lighting. All manner of weird marsupials are contained within - possums, bilbies, wombats and bandicoots - even the elusive Tasmanian Devil. The whole pouch thing still freaks me out - the babies are born the size of jellybeans and somehow hoist their way blindly into the pouch where the mummy begins to take care of them and they mature for another six months (or less, depending on the species) before actually being "born." Is that gross or magical? I can't even decide....

OMFG. Wallaby. It was soft like a cat! And not one of those janky cats, a nice one!

We made our final stop to see my favourite of the marsupials - the Wallaby. A tiny, friendlier version of the kangaroo - how could that not be amazing? Taronga is unique in a lot of ways - in the kangaroo and wallaby enclosures there are no fences (as the animals are tame and have been mostly hand-reared due to being orphaned) and so if one ventures onto the path you are permitted to pet it. It was my lucky of luckiest days - this was one of the most special moments of my life, right up there with petting this baby elephant.

You can just see the white shells of the Opera House peeking out behind him....

At this point I bid my guide farewell and thanked her profusely for educating me on all of the weird, wacky and wonderful Aussie creatures. I couldn't resist a peek at my favourite of the African species - the Giraffe, another of nature's bizarre R. Crumb LSD animals. Similarly, I also visited the pygmy hippo, but one woman shouting "Thass not verry big, innit?" in a thick British accent and claiming that this hippo was "crap" kind of ruined the experience for me.....

Probably the most entertainment you can have on this side of the law.

It struck me as I spent a full thirty minutes staring with glee at the Meerkats that I have never talked about my cats here on the blog, and I can't imagine why I haven't - I guess they just haven't come up.... I have two cats, Kevin and Trixie, and Trixie (who S calls Tracksuit, or Trackasoo in a Japanese accent) looks EXACTLY like a meerkat, but black and white. She even stands on the edge of the couch and looks around just like one. I love her (and Kevin) more than anything, but if I could trade them in for meerkats I would do it in a second. In a second.

You'd do it too.

Oh, who could resist? I was so enthralled by this gag that I can't remember anything about these sweet little foxes, other than the fact that a) they are cute b) they have big ears and c) they are foxes.

Whee! Little penguins!

The otters, seals and penguins were my final stop. Is it super ignorant to admit that until my visit to Taronga Zoo I had no idea that there were penguins in Australia? Well, there are. And they are little. And they are called "Little Australian Penguins" - that is their actual name. So, screw you Antarctica! I didn't wanna visit you anyway....

It was a wonderful day at the zoo, completely worth the admission fee (50 AUD including ferry.) I learned an awful lot about Aussie animals and birds (I've got my eye on you, cassowary) and enjoyed soaking up the rays in the wonderfully scenic location. While some (hell, most) zoos are unethical and poorly run, Taronga is an exemplary park for big and little kids alike.

Now I just have to find those old Childcraft Encyclopedias and see how it compares....

Up close - Human. Background - Chimp. No sir, not enough evidence for me. Creationism all the way!

16 October 2009

Meanwhile, in Sydney....

If there was ever a time I wish my good camera hadn't gotten stolen...

I had barely been in Melbourne for 24 hours when I took off for Sydney for a four day weekend trip. Though I was jetlagged, tired and confused Lindsay and I decided to get the really touristy tourist stuff out of the way (man, life is a chore- an absolute chore) and so we headed off from our hostel in King's Cross (more on this neighbourhood in a future blog) to walk the city.

Walking around a bend in the harbour and being smacked in the face with the huge spectre of the famed opera house and the gigantic Sydney Harbour Bridge was one of the most surreal moments of my life. Few architectural wonders are so stunning, so fabled - I had only felt this way a few times before - when seeing the huge towers of Angkor Wat, the behemoth Colleseum in Rome and the Eiffel Tower. I was giddy......

Beauty and the Dork. You decide who is who.... (PS - I am the Dork)

.....as evidenced by the hundred photos that I took from all angles.

Oh Sydney, your walk of fame includes Germaine Greer and for that I am so impressed...

From the Opera House we followed the boardwalk (exactly like the Seawall in Vancouver) until we accidentally ran into the middle of The Rocks. Lindsay kept thinking that I actually wanted to visit some stone structures when I kept squawking about The Rocks.... really it's just the name of the historic district in Sydney. It was here in the 1830's that Australia as we know it today took shape and transformed from a penal colony to a modern society. At the expense of the Aborigines, of course....

Old meets new #1 - murals dot the area showing The Rocks in 1901.

We spent some time in the wonderful (and free) Rocks Museum and the gentleman on duty whipped out a map and regaled us with historical anecdotes and jokes and painstakingly marked each pointg of interest. About 3 minutes later we left the map on a coffee shop counter and watched in horror as it was swept into the soppy wet garbage. Thankfully, we were still able to remember what he had told us - kind of.

Old Meets New ##2 - 19th century row houses and skyscrapers.

The Rocks became a hotbed of seedy port-town activity and when 3 people died from the Plague in 1901 the conservative government (now moved to a posh suburb) declared it unsafe and razed it to the ground. Jerks. Thankfully there is still enough left to make for a cool few hours walk.

A boat crosses the shadow of the bridge.

From The Rocks we crossed the monolithic Sydney Harbour Bridge, dubbed the coathanger by the locals. It was built in the 1930's and is just gigantic. I had my heart set on doing the Bridge Climb - you are harnessed in and actually traverse the huge arcs of the structure, up to the summit and back down- until I found out that it was 169 dollars. We walked instead across the normal way instead....

Oh you pretty thing...

From the centre of the bridge we couldn't resist snapping more shots of the Opera House - it is ridiculously pretty from any angle. Though its critics have called it "a typewriter full of scallop shells" it is almost universally adored. Despite the controversy surrounding its completion it was made a UNESCO site in 2007 and is considered the most iconic building of the 20th century. So yeah, you bet your sweet ass I took a lot of photos.

The best gate ever. St Peter guards a piece of crap compared....

Across the bridge I insisted we stroll the boardwalk of Luna Park, Sydney's retro theme park. It is a mix of Coney Island (before they went and executed that elephant...*adjusts collar* RIP Topsy) Australiana and retro 50's kitsch. I loved it.

Dear California Adventure, you suck. Love, Violet Dear.

How amazing is this? The Sydney Harbour Bridge, an old timey ferris wheel and all of the 'fairy floss' that you can eat. It is actually kind of embarrassing how many things in Luna Park I took photos of. But the midway was so much better than the usual toothless prison-tattooed carny operated scam fest we have at home, I couldn't resist.

More than a little bit terrifying.

Do I even have to say anything?

This game is much cheaper than the others.

I could have stayed in Luna Park all day - they even serve wine (how very Australian of them) but we were tired and hungry....

Back in the land of good beer.

...but not too tired and hungry to resist a drink with this view. Sydney, you big beautiful lady!

Our perfect day concluded with an hour around Sydney's big sexy harbour - the largest inner city harbour in the world and certainly the most beautiful. We managed to time out trip to take in the sunset and it only cost 5 bucks. I don't need no fancy yacht!

All in all - a great day- and I am about to start another! Let's see what we get up to.... I'll let you know.

Me and this guy love Sydney.