Thursday, March 26, 2009

Family Circus

A long awaited news of a wedding finally reached us. My hubs came to me beaming with the glad tidings. Our unmarried cousin was finally tying the knot.
'But', he cautioned me at the end of the news, 'you're not to tell anyone NOW. People (by which term he meant the parents and well wishers of the cousin) do not want Mr.X to know of this wedding for fear he may spoil it, as is his wont.'
'Fear not Oh spouse of mine', I assured him, 'This shall not pass my lips.' (And TECHNICALLY it didn't. I'm only typing about it here!!)

Further digging by yours truly unearthed the facts behind the alliance - who arranged it, how it was arranged and such details. 
I have to digress a little here. A deplorable condition that I have observed while in conversation with most men - they seem to leave out all the important albeit small details that make a news so interesting. If I had got the news through a female relative, I wouldn't have needed to dig at all.
Anyway, I was used to the digging and to my surprise heard Hubs saying unconcernedly that Mr.Y was instrumental in bringing about the match.

'Mr.Y?', I queried Hubs, 'He is the matchmaker? And you're asking ME to keep my lips sealed?'
Hubs was confused. 'What is the connection?'
'Have you any idea how we are related to Mr.Y in the first place?', I asked him, knowing quite well he hasn't.
I got the expected reply. 
'No-o-o. I just know him as Y Uncle.' 
'My poor child, you call him Y uncle because he is Mr.X's brother-in-law!'

I got the desired effect. Hubs was flatly surprised. 

A few days later he gave me an update - 'Its quite alright. It seems Mr.Y has promised not to let Mr.X know of the alliance until the last minute'.
Danger averted. What a relief!

Ahh.. the family intrigues. What will life be, without them!!!

'Tis the last day

This is the last of a eight parts series. Check out the others Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7

After a breakfast in the beautiful garden of Undercliff, we were shown over the winery by Jane Hashmere. We sampled their house wines and my favorite was what she called a dessert wine - a sweet offering with nothing of the bitterness of the usual wines.
Bidding goodbye to Tannin who obligingly posed for a few photographs with us, we were on our way back to Sydney.
It was a straightforward expressway until we neared Sydney. The highway we were on was to take us via the famous harbour bridge to the heart of the town where our hotel was located. The husband had read that the road splits into two - one goes to the bridge and the other to a tunnel. He was cautiously driving so as not to take the wrong turn into the tunnel.
The helpful signs told us we weren't far from the Harbour Bridge. And at the blink of four eyes (ours of course) we saw that we had missed turning into the lane which was to take us to the bridge and instead were headed to the tunnel. 
Our anguished eyes saw other vehicles merrily rolling along our left towards the Bridge (at break neck speed) and we had no choice but to follow our chosen path.
Now we were in the tunnel, and he slowed down a little bit so that we don't make another costly mistake and immediately was honked at by our followers - no slow pokes carefully scrutinising the road signs were allowed!
So he speeded up and at the next blink we saw that we had missed our turning again and were now headed to somewhere totally unrelated to our destination! Well, what will you! 
We surrendered ourselves to the nasty fate and went where the road took us - which turned out to be Bondi Beach.
With our half-spoilt mood at having to drive in the lo-o-ong boring tunnel and being tricked by the universe in general left me in no mood to appreciate the Bondi (pronounced Bon-dye) Beach. All that I can say now about it is that, it was like Marina on a hot day with a cool breeze filled with sunbathers. 
Mentally cursing fate and fully realising what our prophetess-of-the-diner had meant by 'No GPS? You can't drive!', we took ourselves off to the hotel to drop off the car ASAP.
We switched our preferred mode of transport to train and from King's Cross Station (oh yes they have one here) we took a double decker metro train (really!) to the Sydney Sky Tower.
It's another boring commercial entertainment spot where you get to ride a closed lift all the way to the top of a tower and get to see Sydney. And the entertainment ends there.
We got down quick and strolled around Hyde Park (they have that too!) for a while and then went on to the famous Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. 
What can I say about Opera House? We saw it, took photos to tell everybody we saw it and that's about it. Had I been an architect, I would've gone into raptures over the complex building style maybe. As it is, I'm not the former and and I did not do the latter. 
After a delicious dinner at India Quay, we took a bus back to the hotel and rested preparatory to the long journey back home on the morrow.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The dreamy seventh day

This is the seventh of a eight parts series. Check out the others Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6, Day 8

Whenever I wanted to feel a little superstitious, I have always considered the number 7 to be my lucky number. And its fun to be superstitious now and then, just for the heck of it. 
In this trip too, 7 proved to be lucky. Day 7 of this trip was the best of the lot!
On this day, we started to a much-visited tourist spot - The Blue Mountains at Katoomba. Though we could've enjoyed it better without the sun shining away merrily, it was still a visually appealing spot.
The first stop was at the Three Sisters. A rock formation in the mountains. (Of course there's more info about it in Wikipedia, check here)
Taking the World's Steepest Railway, we descended into the Jamison valley between the mountains and walked along the rainforest boardwalk, getting our history lesson on the olden day coal miners and botany lessons about the flora of the rainforest. Our ascent back was by the the World's Steepest Cablecar, imaginatively named the Sceniscender.
Beside these, there weren't many to be seen (or described) in that place apart from commercial entertainments. So we were back on the road to our next destination - Hunter Valley. 
Our Lonely Planet guide had told us that Hunter Valley was home to numerous vineyards and we had planned to visit one of them and if possible stay the night there.
Being used to automatic transmission hitherto (for five days *wink*), I had many differences of opinion with the rented Getz. But the drivers behind me on the road were admirably much calm and composed (or resigned) compared to my poor husband who was going into apoplexies at my arguments with the car.
So I finally yielded the controls to him, and leant back to enjoy the scenery, in pleasurable anticipation of visiting a real live vineyard.
It was about ages later (half an hour in the real world) that I was still leaning back, not heeding the scenery and in anticipation that was fast losing its pleasure. We began to despair of ever reaching the Valley before sundown and were downcast at having to spend another precious day in just driving the stupidly long roads.
We saw a sign advertising Fresh Strawberries and stopped to buy some, hoping to learn from the shopkeeper the expected distance to Hunter Valley. We found a sulky school girl inside and asked her how far is it to Hunter Valley or the nearest vineyard. She turned a blank look upon us and said "I don't know" quite abruptly then tacked on a "Sorry" as an afterthought.
And we drove on. 

Our planned destination was the town, Cessnock. But it seemed to be too far away into the future and frankly we were getting fed up with the drive. Just as we were about to decide that it was no good and turn back, we chanced upon Wollombi.
Wollmbi (pronounced Woh-Lom-Bye) looked like a sleepy village, and except for loud coversations floating from the Wollombi Tavern, the scenery was peaceful. Silent roads, sleepy buildings and solemn hills surrounded us. Even the loud conversations did not mar the sense of beauty around us, it only added a cheery note! 
All our boredom fell away and we were excitedly looking out for a winery. Following our instincts and a sign along the way, we drove over a much rutted road and reached Undercliff winery.
A rose bush lined path took us into the heart of the establishment and we parked near a small cottage, looking for signs of inhabitation. Suddenly, a dog bounded out and started barking like mad wagging its tail. We stayed inside the car, not trusting the tail and soon a lady approached us shouting "Down Shannon" (I later found it was Tannin not Shannon).

Finding out that we were looking for a B&B, Jane Hashmere (who was our hostess) took us over the living quarters, which was the cottage we had parked by. 
It was a wooden cottage, built in 1847 by the first settlers in Wollombi. ("Quite historical you know".) The front door opened on to a living room complete with a fireplace (with a real poker!), mantelpiece with pictures, sofas that can bury you and old fashioned carpet and draperies.
To the left was a dining room leading to a kitchen and the bedroom (with a four poster bed AND a canopy!) beyond that. The furnishings, the wooden floors and panels, the old-fashined book cases, the decorations, the delicate china utensils, the little flower patterned bed clothes - as far as I was concerned, it was perfect! I had stepped into a Jane Austen! Nothing can compare to the joy brought by the feeling of living in a book!

Well, the cottage was ours for the night if we wanted and we were welcome to look over the gardens in the fast fading sunlight. Do we wish to take it? Do we! Telling her breathlessly that we would LOVE to take it, out we rushed, to explore the garden before sundown. And what a garden it was! Perfectly manicured lawns, rows and rows of grapevines, maple (I think) trees, olive bushes, and many more shrubs and trees I can't name and to top it all off, a brook nearby! 

It was a dream to be there! And we roamed hither and thither with Tannin who was actually a very friendly dog, not getting enough of it. Out of the gathering dusk (Oooh I finally used this phrase!) came our hostess' voice, "I wouldn't go late to town for dinner if I were you". Brought back to earth, we drove back to the main street for dinner and stopped at Panino's.

Served by a friendly and patient waiter who had the time to explain the menu, suggest vegetarian alternatives and make jokes with us ensured a fine dining experience. And the italian dishes all tasted so good. My recommendation to anyone planning to visit Panino's - do! 

Soon we were back, doing what we love to do - Stargazing. And this time it was not from a french window. We sat on convenient logs in the garden and slowly lost ourselves to the overwhelming beauty that enveloped us. It was one of those rare and beautiful moments in life when you feel that indescribable feeling of happiness mingled with an awe of nature! 

Good things come to an end, and so did the seventh day and now my post. Next and last day in my next post.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Reaching Sydney

This is the sixth of a eight parts series. Check out the others Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5, Day 7Day 8

It was the sixth day and we had optimistically planned to drive all the way to Sydney from Melbourne, halting for the night somewhere. 
But we had reckoned without that all important factor - weather. We had apparently picked the hottest week to go sight seeing!

We had no clue of the coming disaster when we sat for breakfast with Graham Wells, and were sampling the huge bowl of fruit salad he had provided as starters, unconcernedly enjoying the view from the cool living room. We didn't know the previous day but the living room offered a beautiful view of his large farm and beyond that the Mornington Peninsula.

After breakfast, he hitched a ride with us till the main town saying he has 'temporarily lost the use of his license'. I immediately pricked up my ears sensing a story behind that sentence but was denied the joy by not knowing the correct wording to form a question which is both polite and hides my curiosity!

We made the Phillip Island National Park our next stop where we got to feed strange looking pellets to Wallabies and Kangaroos which lapped up the stuff like it was...a strange looking pellet.
By now, the sun was making itself felt quite strongly and I refused to come out from under my shady tree while hubby pranced about feeding kangaroos. The lucky guy got to feed a large sized kangaroo with a joey! But escaping a heatstroke scores with me everytime over feeding a 'roo.

It was becoming hellishly hot and I was envious of the Koala bears who were getting a shower. But the poor things needed more than that. They were crouched in their own cool nook in their tree. After the mild entertainment of watching hubby get his hand nipped by one of the large sized ducks, we decided we had had enough of wildlife to last us a long time yet and decided to get back to civilization - the Sydney part of it.

And so started the long, long drive. Driving through deserted countryside, losing our way in the middle, picking it up yet again - it was a fairly uneventful journey. As we reached Melbourne after what seemed like an eternity of boring drive through the too-hot region, we began to despair of ever reaching Sydney. Sudden change in plans made us dump the car back at the rental agency and book a flight through to Sydney. A few hours and a comfortable air journey later, we found ourselves in Sydney.

The mild disasters of losing one of our bags (thankfully full of clothes only) and renting a 2-Door Getz (which was such an anti-climax after being used to Lancers and Camrys) stumped our already tired spirits and dejectedly we made our way to Chifley's at Potts Point where we were to spend the night.

Comfortable rooms greeted us along with news from the airline that they had located our bag. With revived spirits we set out to explore the neighborhood and grab a bite. The cheerful girl behind the counter at the all-night diner offered us confused advice on sight seeing Sydney - 'You don't have GPS in your car? Then you can't drive around here'.
How dumb, I thought. Does everyone have to be latest-techno-savvy to be able to get around a city? That's too much of a city to expect of its tourists, even if it enjoys the status of being Australia's Most Expensive.
Reader, you must be anticipating the cliche and here it comes - I was to be proved completely wrong... - I can't resist adding another cliche here - ...and that's another story! (which you will find in the subsequent posts).

I'll tell you all about our (mis)adventures in driving in Sydney but let me go chronologically and first tell you about the most wonderful part of our trip and the most wonderful place we've ever stayed at. In the next post.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Happy Feet at Phillip Island

This is the fifth of a eight parts series. Check out the others Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 6Day 7Day 8

Fifth day found us bound for Phillip Island. A long drive was ahead.  It was another new experience for me to don the role of the GPS and carefully keep tracing the route with a finger. The downside was that I tended to stare more at the Street Directory than at the roads.

The countryside in Victoria gets monotonous after a while. It was exciting at first to see extremely fat cows, roly-poly sheep and stately horses grazing about amidst huge rolling meadows and large bales of hay. But soon, the familiarity bred not exactly contempt but a sort of smiling indulgence. 

We finally reached Queenscliff from where a ferry was to carry us and our car to Sorrento, from where we would drive on to Phillip Island. After a comfortable but uneventful journey while the mercury was rising slowly but steadily, we reached the Penguin Parade.

It was here that we were to meet the world's smallest penguins coming back at dusk from their day-long forage into the sea to catch and eat fish. Their kids were waiting in the land in little burrows and these sweet parents regurgitate their food to feed their young. Translated into more understandable terms, that sentence reads 'the parents puke. children eat the puked contents.'
Wish I had confined myself to the euphemistic talk don't you?

These stomach-churnings aside, those penguins were one of the cutest 
animals alive and their waddling was such a funny-cute sight to behold! They are about a feet high and about half a feet wide and it was so lovely to watch the dear little things emerging from the beach and pass unconcernedly the horde of humans seated in platforms.

Penguin parading over, we again went in search of a place to stay the night and came upon a Bed & Breakfast along the road. We took the turn and after a bumpy ride came upon a long low building in gloom. And without warning the lights came on, brightly lighting the yard. A short stocky man came out of the shadows with a hearty welcome.

It was too cinematic to be believed and I approached him with some trepidation. But nothing cinematic happened. After satisfactory negotiation of terms he invited us in to take a look at our room. 
We entered the main entrance and came upon a living room so cluttered with articles that it was hard to see where the walls ended and where the furniture began.

It was a large, high ceilinged room, with two pianos, a computer in a corner, sofas arranged around the fireplace, a dining table, numerous chairs, cushions and knick knacks spread about and draperies, pictures, more knick knacks and books lining the walls. The christmas decorations hadn't been taken down yet. We passed on to our sleeping quarters which was a tiny bed room with a massive bed which had pillows and cushions and blankets piled on it. 

The best thing about the room was a french window opening directly onto the backyard. It was this that made us choose this room over others shown by our enthusiastic host. Once we were settled our host, Graham Wells, asked us to join him in a drink and we sat around the fireplace 'getting acquainted'.

Maybe it was the combined effects of my overactive imagination and the previous night's Dahl, but thoughts of another, non-eatable Dahl and one his stories (The Landlady. Have you read it? 'tis a good one) kept popping up in my head all the time we were there. But do not fear, dear reader (assuming you are one of those who do so), my story had a different ending!

We were tired and we had another long drive ahead of us the next day. Sleep was the only thing we desired, or so we thought. We pushed away most of the cushions and switched off the lights....and saw the sky glittering with a billion diamonds through the french window. What price sleep now?

We went to the window and were amazed anew at the stellar display of the stars and nothing but stars in a clear sky. But the garage light was still on and hubby voiced our cumulative wish ' I wish he would switch off that light'. And at the next second, the lights were off! 

Chuckling at our good luck, we settled down at the french window, forgetting sleep and fatigue. And the fifth day came to an end to find us watching the countless sparklers and shooting stars and holding whispered conversation since that night was too sacredly beautiful to be talked in normally. It was like another 'night to remember'. 

The next day posed a stark contrast to such a romantic night and I'll tell you all about it in the next post.

A Delightful Drive

This is the fourth of a eight parts series. Check out the others Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 5Day 6,Day 7Day 8

The fourth morning found us excitedly aboard the rented Camry, on our way to the Great Ocean Road - described in guide sites as 'One of world's most scenic drives' - which stretches itself along the southern coast of Australia.

Calling it blandly a 'road' gives it an impression of a tame pathway, even with the 'Great' tacked on to it. It was more than just a path and it was to take us on a wonderful journey. In retrospect and in a much Anne Shirley-ish way I'd like to rename it the Brown Way of Delight!

This road (I have to use this generic for want of a better one) has a multitude of little stops along the way - usually they are lookout points offering a grand (and sometimes not so grand) view of the Southern Ocean, or they are little paths leading to little beaches or they lead the way to some historic spot.

The first turn we took brought us to the Split Point Lighthouse at a little town called Airey's Inlet. If we had a helicopter, maybe we could've seen the 'split point' for ourselves I believe. As it is, we just saw this medium sized light house. Nearby in the sea, there were huge rock formations - one of them named the Table Rock and the other, Eagle Rock.

Walking back, we came upon a Tea Room which displayed handwritten notices that they serve light meals as well. So in we went. It was a cottage converted into an eatery. Tables and chairs were laid in the garden amidst rose bushes and other flowering plants. We entered inside to place our order and the room we entered into must have been the kitchen. What I presumed to be a family consisting of a mother, father and a grown up son were in charge of the place.
It was particularly delightful to sit in that homely surroundings and munch on delicious sandwiches.

I have to pass lightly over the various stops we made at various 'scenic lookout' points. To say it in a line - they offered scenic view of the ocean. Oh, how lame that sounds! I'm hampered by not having words powerful enough to describe the beauty the actual view offered.

Into every ointment, a fly must fall. And in ours, not one but hordes of flies fell. At every stop, once we were out of the car, about a million friendly flies came to greet us. And what an effusive greeting it was! They were everywhere at once - any part of us which was not covered were claimed by the flies as their dancing ground. I'm sure we presented a comical sight to the other travellers - waving our hands about and doing all sorts of gyrations to remove the flies from our persons - had the other travellers time enough to stop their gyrations to take a look at us!

A beautiful river (the Cumberland River), a not-so-beautiful falls (Erskine Falls) and a scenic lookout spot with a cute name (Teddy's Lookout) were visually taken in by us next. Then it was onward for the most famous of them all - The Twelve Apostles. Man, they totally deserve those capitals. The geography lesson is in that Wikipedia article. All I have to offer in addition is one huge 'WOW'.

And it was between the Apostles and the Loch Ard Gorge nearby, we played pendulums. After the apostles, we took ourselves off to see the Gorge, making a mental note to be back to see the sunset with the Apostles. If I ever have a 'Things to see before I die' list, I can now blissfully put a tick next to 'Watch sunset with the Apostles'. It was definitely worth more than the drive back from the Gorge.

After the sunset, we drove again to the Gorge because the beach there stuck snugly between the humungous rocks was too attractive to be missed. After dipping our feet in that ice cold water, we scrambled up and drove back (again) to the Apostles to find a place to stay the night.

After some search, we finally chanced upon the romantically named Summer's Rest near the Port Campbell town. We caught the Filipino owner eagerly watching the final minutes of an Australian Open game - and were thankful for her interest in tennis without which she would've gone home earlier locking the place up!

She suggested we hie ourselves at the blink of an eye to the town if we wanted to see any trace of dinner. Hie we did. And entered Waves just before they closed the doors. The harried waiter firmly told us that the only thing he can get us late comers will be Veg Curry or Chicken Curry with Rice and Dahl. (Not Dal or Dhal. Dahl).

We happily couldn't believe our ears. We never expected to be presented with our good old rice, dal (though it was Dahl) and curry in a tiny Australian town. If the waiter thought we would be disappointed at not getting the more exotic fares at Waves, he was sadly mistaken!
The simple but nice meal was over and we were back to our refuge for the night - a cute and cheerfully appointed apartment with all necessary comforts packed in that single room. With that, the fourth day came to a rest at Summer's Rest.

The morrow was to bring us penguins, a long drive, a ferry ride and night halt at a Bed & Breakfast, the likes of which we had never seen before. And that is in the next post.