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Three Reasons to Love Sydney

Ok, so there are WAY more than three reasons to love Sydney but I’m holding back for future posts.

Sydney is FABULOUS.  We discovered this a couple of weeks ago when we spent a mini-holiday as Sydney tourists.  It was our first opportunity to spend any amount of quality time in the city and I can see why so many people call it their favorite Australian city.  I’ll still give preference to Melbourne (of course!) but I could see myself in Sydney and here’s why:

Three Reasons to Love Sydney

1.  The Opera House – It’s arguably the most iconic Australian image in existence so I won’t spent a ton of time explaining its majesty.  Let me just say that it’s beautiful, to my architecturally-untrained eyes, and every-bit of “wow” as you’d hope.  Each angle offering a spectacularly different view than the last.

The big surprise is that it’s not white as it appears in photos.  The tiles are cream.  And dirty….the only thing I didn’t like about the Opera House.

2. The Harbour Bridge – If you’re fiscally conservative (read: thrifty) like us you can get great FREE views of the bridge from the many ferries or from The Rocks and probably many other places.  It makes for a beautiful photo.  See?

If you have some spare change you can pay $200-$300 per person to climb the bridge and take pictures from there.  Thanks but no thanks.

3.  The Rocks – Two awesome things about The Rocks District (A list within a list!) : 1. The Rocks Market.  Great variety of items with stalls set throughout the historic Rocks district.  It reminded me a lot of the Tassy Salamanca Market.

2.  The Tiramisu Crunch at the Rocks Cafe.  I can’t speak about the quality of the other food at the cafe but the Tiramisu Crunch is the best dessert we’ve had in Australia hands down.  Espresso soaked cake layered with mascarpone and (I swear) cream cheese topped with candied nuts.  TO.DIE.FOR.

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“The Big Game” was a few weeks ago.  No, I’m not talking the Superbowl.  I’m talking about the AFL Grand Final between the Sydney Swans and the Hawthorn Hawks.  If you’re an avid reader of our blog it won’t be hard to guess what team we barracked for as you’ll have seen several previous posts about the Hawks.

We had a small get together at our place where we shared some Superbowl munchies like puppy chow (so sinful!) and party pinwheels.  One of our friends brought over a delicious trifle and another friend brought over these lovely cupcakes for the event.

We did a bit of betting on the quarter-scores and unintentionally, Ryan and I came out on top.  Nothing says “hospitality” like the host and hostess taking everyone’s money, right?   There’s really no need to go into who won the match.  HINT: If Ryan’s team had won, he would’ve done a blog post immediately instead of sulking in the corner.  That aside, it was still a lovely afternoon with friends, food, and footy!

Melbourne has a HUGE coffee culture and I can openly admit that we’ve assimilated quite well to that aspect of the city.  If you’re a regular reader, you’ll remember from my earlier post that it took us awhile to get used to the ordering system but now that we’ve been here a year and a half, we’re quite proficient in the language of Australian coffee.

Melbourne boasts some of the best coffee in Australia.  The baristas are trained and some consider their work to be an artform.  While I won’t go that far, there is definitely a difference between a good and bad coffee.  A good coffee makes you close your eyes, lick your lips, and say, “mmmm.” Australians, you know what I mean.  The only disappointment is that a coffee of this quality can cost anywhere between $3.50-$6.00…a lot for a cuppa Joe.

But all is not lost, dear reader.  A friend of ours recently told us how to make a homemade latte, without a machine.  It takes more time than just brewing a plunger coffee but as is so often the case, it is worth the wait.

Homemade No-Machine-Needed Latte

  • 2 heaping teaspoons/serving instant coffee grounds
  • Equal parts raw sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water/serving
  • 1 cup/serving milk (or you can use half water/half milk to make more of a cappuccino)

Whisk first three ingredients together for several minutes until you’ve got a wonderful froth and your kitchen smells like a café. Heavenly.

Split the froths between mugs.

Meanwhile, bring milk just to the boil but don’t let it burn.  Remove from heat immediately and pour into the coffee mugs.

ENJOY!

One Thousand Steps

We did it!  We climbed the infamous 1,000 Steps in Ferntree Gully.   Not only did make it to the top, I’m pretty sure we did it in record time.  Well, that is, not counting the runners and joggers and the 5 minute break we took half way up.

The One Thousand Steps, or the Kokoda Walk, is a 2.8km climb in Ferntree Gully.  It’s a popular destination for tourists and locals, as we found out one sunny Sunday.  We’d heard of the walk so often that we figured it must be worth doing.  Now that we’ve done it, we’re happy to say that we made it to the top.  But also happy to say that we’ll never need to do that again.  And  here’s why:

CONS:

  • As alluded to earlier, the track is crammed full of people.  It’s hard to get any real momentum going because you’re stopping and starting and dodging the crazy runners.
  • Speaking of the crazy runners, there are crazy runners who go up and down the stairs at break-neck paces.  No matter what they say, this is dangerous.  Especially on the day we were out when the stairs were wet with dew.  Someone is bound to get hurt.  Oh wait, maybe that’s why the ambo and paramedics are parked at the bottom of the hill just waiting for an accident to happen.  That doesn’t give one, who is about to start the climb, much hope.

PROS:

  • I love that Australians remember their service men and women through various memorials throughout the nation.  The Kokoda Walk (to get to the stairs) has a very nice memorial and info centre regarding the armed forces.
  • The scenery through the Dandenong Ranges is spectacular.  I love the smell of the mountain ash trees and you can’t really beat the fresh air that high up.
  • There are plenty of picnic areas to enjoy a meal before or after the climb and really make a day of it.
  • Ok, yes, it’s a good workout and there is a feeling of accomplishment when you’ve reached the top.

(ONE MORE) CON:

  • The view at the top (One Tree Hill) is less than spectacular.  I didn’t even take a picture.  You’ll see much better views at Sky High

Bottom Line: It’s worth doing at least once but be sure you have plenty of time or choose a time when there won’t be a ton of people to maneuver around.

The Fern Tree Gully Picnic Ground is the stating base for the walk/climb.  You can take the Belgrave Line train (get off at Upper Ferntree Gully Station) and walk East on Burwood Highway for 1 km to the park entrance.  Or by car it’s at the end of the Mount Dandenong Tourst Road (on the west side)
Opening Hours: The gates to Ferntree Gully Picnic Ground are open between 6am and 9pm.

Love from the Yarra Valley

Today is 9/11 back home in the US.  In the 10 minutes I had the TV on this morning I saw footage after footage of the towers falling.  Instead of focusing on those horrible moments in our world’s history I thought I’d post these photos I’ve been holding onto for awhile.  They were taken the last time I was at Domaine Chandon in Yarra Valley with my dad and today seems like the perfect time to post them.  We will never forget.

1.  Visit during low-season/winter.  Even though the vines weren’t lush with grapes and greenery, we got a true sense of the valley since we weren’t dodging other tourists.  It was beautiful and peaceful.  It’s what I imagined Napa would’ve been like 50 years ago.

2.  Pick only a few wineries to visit and spend ample time at them.  There are a lot of wineries to choose from in the Barossa Valley but we picked only a few to visit (based on recommendations from the Barossa House B&B where we stayed).  Choosing only a few made it easier for us to chat with the winemakers and to really understand the vines and the wines.  Each was unique.  Whistler Wines had a low-key and welcoming atmosphere.  We talked and tasted and then spent some time in the kangaroo reserve where they nurse back to health injured kangaroos and wildlife.  We spent a fair amount of time at Jacob’s Creek.  Their nature/history walk around the grounds is a great way to break up the wine tasting.

3.  Enjoy the food in the Barossa.  We spent half a day at Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop.  We enjoyed a fabulous lunch, sat in on a free cooking demonstration in Maggie’s Studio kitchen, picked up a few foodie ingredients, and toured her vast orchards and farmland.  It was a great experience and unexpectedly the highlight of the trip.

We also had a fabulous dinner at 1918 in Tanunda.  All the meals are cooked with local ingredients and served with local wines, naturally.  My Braised Braised Beef cheek, soft white polenta, roasted shallots, frisee, and chimmi churri was very memorable.

4. Make time to visit some of the local stores in towns.  The three triangle towns in the Barossa Valley; Angaston, Nuriootpa, and Tanunda all have cute main streets with cafes and boutiques.  Outside of Nuriootpa at an antique shop we found one of our favorite souvenirs to date; an old wrench that is forged with the word “MELBOURNE”.  We have some creative ideas for how we’ll make this into art when we return home.

5. Visit the Barossa Valley Farmer’s Market.  Don’t expect to be blown away by the size of the market.  It’s definitely a small-town market.  But DO expect to be blown away by the friendliness of the producers and stallholders, by the vibrant color of the plants and produce, and by the breadth of natural and organic products.  We went early so we could grab a coffee and a sandwich at the market and enjoy the experience.  I snagged a picture with Saskia Beer, Maggie’s daughter which pretty much capped off a fabulous weekend.  On our way out of the barn where the market is held I found this sign propped up against the wall and it kind of summed up our Barossa experience.

1.  Yes, we are alive!  We have been uber busy (and slacking on blog posts) with my dad in town, lots of work, the Olympics, and {insert any other excuse I can think of here}.

2.  Speaking of the Olympics…all over the country Australians were disappointed with the performance of their Olympians.  On the other side of the coin, it was a great time to be American!  Even though we couldn’t see any coverage of the American athletes since all coverage of the games here was of Aussies we still watched the medal count like hawks.

3.  In case you missed it, “The Economist” magazine ranked Melbourne #1 for a second year as “Most Liveable City” in the world.  It should be noted that Adelaide, Perth, Sydney, and Auckland were all ranked higher on the list than the first US city, which was NYC.  Cost of living must not have been a factor in the study, which I found incredibly ironic coming from “The Economist”.  Read what the Aussies had to say about their first-place finish.

4.  We are jazzed about our return home in less than a year and making our list of things to do/visit in Australia before we leave.  Any suggestions?

5.  We’ve missed you.  I can’t wait to tell you what we’ve been up to.  Stay tuned…

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