“Either give me more wine or leave me alone.” – Rumi, circa 1200’s


Published in Forte Magazine, slightly edited for online version.

This week, I thought I’d write about something a little closer to home. And when we are blessed to be living in such a cultural, beautiful and produce filled place why not!

For my birthday a few weeks ago I decided to do a winery tour down the Bellarine Peninsula. I got the idea off a friend from Adelaide, where wineries outnumber houses* and winery tours are a regular event! Geelong is perfectly positioned for access to multiple wineries, with up to 4 or so different routes you can choose. These are all highlighted every year in November when we have Toast to the Coast – Buses drive the routes up and down all day and you buy a pass to get on and off! There are mostly free wine tastings at all of them, and you can buy take away bottles of any that take your fancy. There is food and entertainment, and of course the weather is lovely then too.

The route I chose for my birthday has loads of amazing wineries, but I chose a select few to occupy a couple of hours. To begin with we had lunch at Jack Rabbit winery, down in Portarlington and right on the bay. I chose Jack Rabbit because I think it undoubtedly has the most stunning views, set on a sprawling hill looking back over the Geelong region. It hosts many weddings and other celebrations every year because of its prime location. The menu is ever changing and we enjoyed charcuterie and anti pasto plates, filled with soft goats cheese, salty cured meats and delicious crunchy crisp breads. The sparkling white is really delicious, and we tried the house Merlot with lunch which was a mixture of home made beef pies, fish and chips and juicy salads.

View from Jack Rabbit, from their website.

Right next door to Jack Rabbit, is Terindah which was a favourite of mine last Toast to the Coast. The wine tasting area is almost like a big warehouse, and down from that on the hill is the main restaurant. It has a huge amount of area in front to sit in the sun and enjoy a Pinot, which is why I probably didn’t enjoy it as much having my birthday in Winter. The wine tasting area was very bland – Empty, no music and no atmosphere what so ever. They can boast an award winning Shiraz, but sipping our wine in silence was fairly dis interesting, so we finished the wine list (yes, the Shiraz was lovely for the record), and went a few hundred metres down the highway to Bellarine Estate.

Photo courtesy of winegeelong.com

Bellarine Estate was a complete contrast from Terindah. Warm, buzzing, and music filled it had a roaring fire and loads of comfy chairs and areas to sit. The bar was full and we tried the full selection of wines – We didn’t get to try the beers but they also do a really cool 5 mini pot beer floater so you can try the different ales and others they brew. Bellarine also do their own ginger beer which looked delicious (as most ginger beers do!). They also do amazing fire oven pizzas here and although we didn’t try any this as we were still so full from lunch, we’ve had them in the past and they are delicious. At Toast they roll our hay bails into their huge paddock area and its filled with little stalls to buy different foods and drinks. They also do the annual Harvest ‘n’ Graze here, last year Darryl Braithwaite sang and my calf muscles were so sore from dancing I couldn’t walk to work the next day!

Our final stop was at Leura Park on the highway home to Geelong – Usually amazing again in Summer with live music and a busy atmosphere, they were shutting when we got there are 4pm on Saturday, and they rushed us through the wine tasting – I’d been saving us all for cheese platters here so it was a pretty disappointing finish!

All in all though it was an awesome day and I highly recommend getting a crew together!

*statistic not proven :)

The hottest summer I ever had.


Published in Forte Magazine 

What would you like to read about when it’s cold and rainy outside, and your heater takes 3 good hours at work to finally defrost your fingers? How about I tell you all about my hottest holiday – When clothes were not even optional, just a hindrance. And lying on the cold tiles on the balcony (yes, sans clothes) was one of the only ways to keep a little cooler and be able to sleep.

6 years ago I lived in a tiny little town out of Venice called Spresiano for the summer. During the day, as any Mediterranean city, the few shops in the village shut between 12-3 pm each day and unlike the 60% of European people who speak English as a second language, this town was filled with locals who rarely came into contact with anyone who didn’t speak Italian. I absolutely adored it, learning to buy my bus tickets in and out of Venice from the crazy lady at the news agency who taught me how to say ‘return’ and ‘one way’, and the fresh market that came through every Thursday where you could buy fresh seafood and local meats. I lived here during June – August so the heat was extreme – I’m talking high of 40 at nighttime. I was also there during an intense heatwave which I certainly felt.

Lido Beach 

Venice 

My normal day went something like this: Sleep in until around 10-11am. Make a fresh Italian coffee on the stove in the percolator, eat a yoghurt and chuck the lightest possible clothes on to walk the 5-10 minutes to the supermarket. I went most days to buy things to eat for lunch, and to cook for dinner, and taught myself to make fresh pasta! (First attempt not so great, note: remember to make strips much much thinner or you’ll eat pasta rubber). Then after the supermarket venture, I came home and started drinking spritzs – Don’t judge me, I was on holidays and I was taught from the man I was staying with! It’s the way of life .. I swear. For those who don’t know, a Spritz is Aperol and Prosecco and your first one probably won’t be all that enjoyable, especially if you’re like me and don’t like orange flavored things but your second – Well that’s something else.

Duran Duran Concert 

Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand .. 

As the afternoon sun heated up, and I lived upstairs in an apartment with no air con, there was no chance to do anything but either make the decision to trek into Venice and get the water taxi to Lido and lay on the beach, or stay at home and watch my house guests huge collection of  DVD’s! The amount of LOST I watched that year .. Plus everyone is having a siesta, so even if you wanted to go out, everything is closed (by everything, I mean the 3 shops in the village).

In the afternoon if it has cooled at all I went for walks around the cane fields to get some exercise, but mostly during that big heat wave I just stayed in and attempted sunbaking, which was 5 minutes sun, 30 minutes cold shower and repeat. The nights were terrible at times, because it was SO hot and uncomfortable there was absolutely no respite. I literally used to lay outside on the balcony with just a pillow and try and get my body temperature down!!

Learning to dance with the locals 

I stayed here because I was on my first ever European Holiday, was young and full of myself and quickly ran out of money. A family friend took me in and let me stay with him, took me to Duran Duran concert on the beach and gave me generally amazing hospitality. Not a bad way to run out of money at 18 and have to spend your time savings your pennies!

And SkyTrax #1 Airline of the year is ..


CATHAY PACIFIC! After knocking Emirates firmly off the top (and down to number 4!), Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific have taken the number one crown for 2014. 

1. Cathay Pacific

I flew them a few years ago on an emergency trip home from London, and really enjoyed them – Hong Kong is also a huuuge airport, so even with an 8 hour layover I wasn’t completely bored!

Number 2 is a favorite of mine, Middle Eastern carrier QATAR, number 3 is Singapore Airlines (with the #1 rated airport in the world), and then Emirates. 

Bad: Sadly but not surprisingly Malaysian Airlines are a dim #18.

18. Malaysia Airlines

 

Surprising: The most surprising to me was Etihad at #9, and Air NZ at #16 – Both airlines are fantastic, and I highly rate them! 

9. Etihad Airways

16. Air New Zealand

 

The who?: Hainan Airlines – ranked #19, having never heard of them, they apparently are forking out $5 billion for a brand new fleet and have a consistently #10 rated cabin crew!

 

All information and pictures found on the Financial Post.

 

Como Melbourne, Chapel Street


Almost on the corner of Toorak Road and Chapel St in Melbournes CBD is the Como Hotel. I was put onto it by a friend who had stayed a few weeks before and raved out it – Not only for the location and the rooms, but the price – from around $220 per night in the lead in room, which is what we stayed in. It’s the Como Suite, and is huge. It has a king size bed, floor to ceiling mirror in a funny frame facing the bed, flat screen TV and a large desk, chair and mini bar. All of the drinks and snacks are gourmet and local, as are all the bathroom amenities.

Things I loved:

Chilled Champagne in a bucket on arrival because when we booked we wrote that it was out anniversary in the comments (which it was!). Considering they didn’t know what time we were arriving and we were quite late, this was great!

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I had considered upgrading to the Japanese Spa Suite, because this was the recommended room but as a couple on a ‘house saving’ budget I opted for the basic room. I’m so glad I did because our bathroom had a huge jacuzzi bath anyway! And just to be completely ridiculous, it even had a ‘Bath Menu’ – $30 and you ‘self draw’ your bath but you’re given bath salts etc, right up to a butler drawn bath with champagne!

The size of the rooms – Even though we were only there for the night, the rooms were so spacious, with ample storage space, huge grey bathrobes and a gorgeous grey black bathroom.

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Even each floor, on our way to our room was grand, broken up with big sitting areas and wide hallways.

The location was so handy – We walked to a wonderful dumpling bar, past rows and rows of cool bars. We were heading up for the Melbourne Storm game at Aami Stadium, only a 10 minute cab ride from here.

They have a parking garage right next door that almost connects, but is not actually owned by the Como. It’s only $9 per day on weekends, which is super cheap for Melbourne (yesterday we paid $5.50 an HOUR!).

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Room service is 24/7 and you can put out your breakfast menu with what time you would like it brought up and as long as it’s on your door handle before 2am, you’re sorted!

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There isn’t anything to add on the’ things I don’t like’ list. It’s refreshing to find a wonderful hotel, with great service and prices in such a central location. Highly recommended!

*This was not a commissioned piece.

Awesome things that will cost you under $50


Published in Forte Magazine 

There are so many amazing sights and activities in the world, obviously. From the best places to enjoy a macaroon in Paris (Angelinas near the Louvre is amazing, and although there are always queues to eat in, you can buy pieces from the side store!), to hiring a convertible mustang to drive the route 66 between Las Vegas and Los Angeles ($50 per person for one day hire). But for even the most cashed up traveler, spending a lot of money on different activities can be a drag and so I’ve come up with a great list of cheap or free things to do and see in a few of my favorite cities!

• Walking tours – Sometimes these are free, sometimes they will cost around 10 euros. I went on one years ago in Barcelona, and paid a small fee. It was the best thing I did for the 5 days I was there because we got a huge walking tour of the city at night (safety in numbers with locals!), went out for a paella and sangria dinner (delicious), and finished with a flamenco show! It was the best way to see the city, and also meet people without feeling to much like a ‘tour’. They can easily be found at most hostels.

• Arc de Triomphe – This is my pick for Paris. It costs 9 euros, and 6 euros for people under 26. It hands down has the best views of Paris, with all of the streets like a spider leading away. It has awesome views of the Eiffel Tower, and is a perfect way to finish walking down the Champs Elysees as it’s on top of a roundabout. It also has an eternal flame and an abundance of history about France and the wars. Also, buying a weekend saver metro card for the weekend is around 2-6 euros for 2 days, instead of buying a per day 9 euro ticket!

arc de triomphe

• For the best views of the Empire State Building, climb to the ‘Top of the Rock’ at the Rockerfeller centre in New York City. People go to the Empire for views, but don’t actually get to see to see it from the outside! It’s also cheaper, at only $29 USD.

• Drinking beers in Cambodia – These start from 50c (where realistically a lot of things will!). Grab a few, sit by the pool, rent a motorbike, or enjoy with a bowl of cheap street food like glass noodle soup!

cambodia beer

• Every day in Times Square, they have discounted Broadway tickets on sale where you can queue for a different show, depending on the day of the week. Get in super early though to minimize your time lining up!

• Starbucks always have free WIFI  Enjoy a coffee (because even though it’s not ‘roasted and dried in Algeria and cold dripped through a funnel of unicorn hairs’, it’s a consistent franchise to enjoy a quick cuppa and check your emails! And upload photos of yourself doing all of the cool things above!

Simple things like pre purchasing tickets for things will always keep the costs down. The Eiffel Tower lines in peak season are 3 hours long and cost 14 euros but there is an empty line next to the main line for people who pre purchase it online, for the same cost. Being prepared makes a world of difference!

eiffell

The Royal Standard of England, Beaconsfield.


When my Aunty asked me if I wanted to go to the oldest pub in England for lunch my reaction was .. ‘Why haven’t I been there before!’. So a 15 minute drive through the tiny, windy roads from Great Missenden to Beaconsfield and we arrived at the Royal Standard of England. It is the oldest ‘freehouse’ in England, which just means it is independently owned of the breweries that supply it. It’s been serving people for over 900 years and has rich history, and of course a couple of ghosts. We’re lucky it’s a stunning day when we arrive, and the courtyard is decorated by the flower of the moment, red geraniums.

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Inside is a maze of rooms, old wooden beams decorated with an assortment of armoury, old stale flowers, signs and more. We choose a sunny table inside and peruse the menu. It’s a brilliant mix of typical English (Fish Pie, Fish and Chips, Sausage and Mash), to the more interesting (Welsh Rarebit, Devilled Lambs Kidney, baked Camembert and Bread), and a super specials board (Bacon Badger, Monkfish and salad). They have a great selection of Lighter Meals, through to Mains and Desserts. It also has an extensive wine list, which remains unpretentious with its simple wine categories of Red, White and Pink.

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We order the baked Camembert, Crevettes – large Mediterranean Prawns, and the Fish Pie, with a glass of french Sauv Blanc. The Camenbert absolutely blows me away when it comes out .. I was expecting a slice, but instead we got the entire wheel with a crusty baguette to dip in! It has been baked whole, and scored with sprigs of Rosemary and I dare anyone to find something more incredibly delicious!! The prawns had a great lemon dipping sauce, and the fish pie was creamy and so moreish (thats a word – it is). The sun really came out mid meal, so after 2 hours of trying to consume way too much food, we took our drinks outside and soaked up the sun. They have 3 (soon to be 4) local cats that swan around, which of course I was delighted with and topped the day of perfectly.

They have a sister pub a short walk away, and on their website they have a map of a local walk you can do around the area.

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The Royal Standard of England,
Forty Green,
Beaconsfield,
Buckinghamshire,
HP9 1XS,
England.

Tel: (01494) 673382

A day in Leeds, West Yorkshire.


As seen in Forte Magazine

If you’re after a town thats huge, with all of the high street stores you could imagine, but whilst still retaining the quintessential english feel, then Leeds in Yorkshire, England is that place. 

Leeds, in a 2011 survey of the urban area, had over 1.7 million people living there! They operate a one way driving system through town, which I suppose was implemented to help people, but to me seems to make things a little harder than they should be! With the smaller english streets though, and roads that turn into pavements it seem to keep the traffic in order.

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Getting there by motorway or by train is easy. Leeds train station is in the centre of town, and if you walk not 50-100 metres out of it, you’ll be sure to hit your first of many Primarks. Although it is teeming to the brim with Topshop, River Island and Next to name just a small few of the brand stores around, it keeps its English feel with them being situated in all of the original buildings and architecture that gives Leeds a homely feeling. There are rows of tall brick buildings, cathedrals, clock towers and old dome shaped establishments filling and making up the streets, and of course a pub or two on every corner.

We arrived in the late morning and set off through the Leeds Centre Market. We parked in a huge story carpark next to them, which cost over 10 pounds for less than 4 hours, so I certainly suggest finding one of the 4 pound all day parking lots! The markets have an outside and an inside market, selling everything from produce, to phones, flowers and clothes. Once outside, you have your choice to wander into any H+M, Primark and more. There are your typical Starbucks coffee shops, but also a lot of little local places to buy lunch, and dark little pubs to enjoy a local ale or two. 

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As mentioned previously, Leeds also has Jamie Olivers Italian Restaurant – Which I can say first hand is amazing! From the decor, to the service, to the food itself, you pretty much can’t go wrong if you wander into here. Unfortunately no Jamie himself cooking for you, but theres always hope ..

On top of that there is an award winning Cross Keys gastro pub, Shaky Jakes 50’s style diner for every flavour of milkshake known to man, and if you fancy a bit of history with your pint, try Whitelocks – It’s the oldest pub in Leeds and dates back to 1715. 

Leeds has a large entertainment history and current vibe to it, so if you’re there is November head to the annual Leeds International Film Festival. There are also heaps of theatres around, like the West Yorkshire Playhouse, the biggest one outside of London! 

Just outside of the Leeds train station is the huge, majestic Queens Hotel. As far wide and eye as the eye can see, it takes over at least one whole block of white brick building. It’s popular among travellers and locals alike, and a guest bedroom overlooking town will only set you back just over 100 pounds, even in peak season (June time). There’s wifi, room service and laundry service so if for some reason you’re too tired to explore the stunning town, you’ll be in fine hands.