Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Airlie Beach

Just a few months ago, Erik and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. I thought that a milestone such as 5 years of marriage would serve as a good reason for a little vacation, though Erik tried to convince me that 5 years is no different than 6 or 7 years or even today, for that matter. :) He does have a point, but after some discussion we decided that an anniversary trip was in order, so I began planning. Planning is one of my favorite things about going on vacation, whereas Erik mostly prefers to "wing it". I think there are positives and negatives to both types of travel, as sometimes when you plan too much you might miss out on things you would have otherwise stumbled upon. On the flip side, if you do not plan enough, you can miss some of the best sights a region has to offer, which is the stance that I usually tend to take. My first thought was that we should head to Port Douglas, near Cairns, to soak up some sun, see the Daintree Rainforest, and dive the Great Barrier Reef. However, that would be a nice trip to take with visiting family and/or friends, so I kept searching. My next thought was to stay at a nice eco-resort on an island off the coast of Queensland, as it would be a bit of a splurge and we could pamper ourselves for a few days. Then I thought that sounded like a vacation we should take when we are old and tired, so I started searching again. It was actually one of the footy club members (a parent of one of the players) who suggested that we sail around the Whitsunday Islands. Erik had done this before when he traveled around Australia 10 years ago, but it would still be a unique experience to go on a trip like that together. After a little bit of searching, we were both sold and the decision on where to go had been made.

The Whitsunday Coast is not easily accessible from Melbourne, despite being a few hours away via plane. All flights go through Brisbane and there is only one flight each day to/from Brisbane, which means you spend quite a bit of time traveling. The Whitsunday Coast Airport has only two gates and is about the size of a large house in the United States. From the airport, it is about a 35 minute drive to Airlie Beach, which is the "jumping off point" for most of the Whitsunday Island sailing trips. We did not arrive until 4pm, which meant that we would spend a full day in Airlie before heading out on our boat. Due to the fact that it was our anniversary and we received a generous financial gift from my parents, we splurged on our lodging at  Peppers Coral Coast. The room was top notch and the manager even left a bottle of complimentary champagne in our room for our anniversary!
Huuuuuuge spa tub in the bathroom
View from the balcony of our apartment
Once we checked in, we walked into town in search of dinner. We ended up at an outdoor backpacker bar with live music and reasonably priced drinks. There was a place to order food next door, so we enjoyed dinner, drinks, tunes, and warm weather for a few hours before heading back to Peppers.
Live music at Magnums
Nighttime view of the pool and restaurant at Peppers
Breakfast was included in our room rate, and the food was good, though not the best hotel brekkie we've ever eaten. We had a bit of time to kill since our boat was not leaving until 4pm, so we soaked up the Queensland sun for a few hours.
Enjoying a beautiful view from the pool lounger!
After checking in for our sailing trip, we went to hang out by the lagoon in town. It makes for a great place to cool off, and the setting right next to the ocean is quite picturesque.

We then picked up plenty of booze for our trip and walked down to Abel Point Marina, the landmark from which our boat would be departing. Soon after, we met our crew and fellow passengers, and we were off on a 2 day/2 night adventure of sailing around the Whitsunday Islands!!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Snow in September?!

Okay, so it did not actually snow in Melbourne today, but seeing as I have not seen snow since sometime around February of 2011, the hail that gathered at our back door today certainly looked like snow!

Every Thursday I teach at the "uni" from 8am until noon and then from 2pm until 4pm. During my lunch break, I generally go for a run and then eat lunch with Erik after my workout. I was very excited about my run today, seeing as it was quite warm and sunny. Of course, I must have momentarily forgotten that we live in Melbourne and the weather can change instantaneously without warning. About half way through my run, I did notice some dark clouds, however, I thought the weather might blow over. Unfortunately, a few minutes later, I was being slapped in the face with hail that was coming down at a 45 degree angle. Lucky for me, I was near a bridge overpass, so I was able to duck under that for a few minutes while the hardest stuff fell down. I decided to tough it out and finish the run in the rain/hail, but had I waited about 15 more minutes, I would have finished my run in sunny and warm conditions! During the remainder of the day, the weather fluctuated between beautiful blue skies and torrential downpours with hail. I returned home about an hour after what I thought was the last hailstorm, so I was surprised to see the remnants of the storms. I really did do a double take when I saw the white stuff!
Is it winter or spring?!
Pellets large enough to do damage to vehicles, I think!
The winds wreaked havoc on the new blooms of flowering trees.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wine Weekend!

Just a few weeks after we arrived in Australia last year, one of Erik's supervisors started talking about having a wine weekend for their research group. He said it was too late to organize one for last spring, and that summer and fall might be too hot, so he set his sights on a wine trip for the spring of 2012. His planning did not disappoint, as we have just returned back to Melbourne after a lovely weekend of wine tasting in North East Victoria. We departed in our 25 passenger bus on Saturday morning and arrived in Wangaratta (know as "Wang" to the locals!) around lunch time. The lunch order had been called into a local cafe near the train station so that we could eat and head to a few wineries in the afternoon. Of course nothing happens quickly when you are traveling in a large group of people, but by the time we were finished with lunch we had time to hit up three different wineries in the Rutherglen region: All Saints, Chambers Rosewood, and Stanton & Killeen.
All Saints
Imagine how beautiful this entrance would be in autumn!
Still winter in the Rutherglen region!
All Saints probably had the most unique scenery, and they also had a small store with cheese samples next door. The second stop, Chambers Rosewood, was a very different type of wine tasting experience. Unlike most of the wineries who spend a lot of time on decor and ambiance, this stop was much more casual. In fact, the tastings were self serve, and there was not much controlling for serving size! There was one older gentleman working there and he was incredibly generous by basically letting our group, who were the only people in the place, go wild. Needless to say, this led to some craziness on the bus after departure from that winery.
Second stop on Saturday
Erik serving himself one of the many wine selections at Chambers.

For my OLMC peeps!
Our last stop on Saturday was at Stanton & Killeen. This was a lovely winery with several great wines, but to be honest everything was tasting good at that point! We stayed there until closing time and there was even a bit of footy-playing taking place before departure back to Wangaratta, where we were spending the night. Dinner was booked at a small Italian restaurant, D'Amico's, so we were able to finish the evening with MORE wine and delicious food. After dinner we made an attempt to search for a bit of night life in Wang, but after a short stay at the Albion Hotel, we decided that sleep was a better option.
Stanton & Killeen

Spontaneous footy games were not uncommon this weekend. 
Thank goodness for our DD!
Huge, bright patches of grape seed along the road
Day two of our wine adventure began at Milawa Cheese Factory as most Aussies start their days, with coffee and brekkie. From Milawa we headed to the King Valley wine region and began the day at Pizzini winery. Stop number two was at Gracebrook Vineyards, which had beautiful views of the mountain ranges. We ate lunch on their outside patio, discussing the fact that we could not have been much luckier with the weather, especially given Victoria's unpredictable spring. Our last stop of the weekend was Brown Brothers Winery. By this time, much of the group was finished drinking, but several of us enjoyed tasting their wines before the bus departed for Melbourne.
Erik's research group
Inside Pizzini winery
Gracebrook's selection of white wines
The stunning views at Gracebrook
Our table for lunch

Gracebrook also had a few farm animals
Final stop
Overall it was an extremely enjoyable weekend! We did have a few challenges due to the size of our group, as it would take time to order food, line up for tastings, get on/off the bus without leaving anyone, etc., so the patience level of some was surely tested. I think with a smaller group you could probably visit between 5 and 10 wineries a day, as there are many within a relatively close area. However, the advantage of a larger bus group is that everyone except the driver can join in on the tasting fun without worrying about driving. The tastings are completely free and essentially unlimited, so the major costs of a trip like this are transport an a place to stay. Money well spent in our book! There are several additional wine regions to explore in Victoria and also within Australia, and there is also a huge festival every June in same region we visited, called the Rutherglen Winery Walkabout, so I'd say that chances are good that this will not be my first and last post about wine!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Right on Cue

I believe I have previously touched on the fact that the Aussies do not use the solstice to define the seasons. Instead, they declare summer on December 1st, autumn on March 1st, winter on June 1st, and spring on September 1st. Winter of 2012 has apparently been the wettest winter in 16 years, and in the last week or so we have been having intermittent storms with sideways hail and thunder (it does not lightning/thunder here often). Apparently the weather gods are well aware of the Australian season changing dates though, because September 1st brought absolutely beautiful weather, with a repeat of similar weather today (about 65 and sunny). It was almost like a switch was flipped, as we had a cold, rainy morning on August 31st with clearing in the afternoon, and we have not seen a raindrop since. Of course I will not be shocked if we see rain and cool temperatures in the next few weeks, but it is a nice feeling to be on the "other" side of winter.

Yesterday was the Grand Final for our footy club, and unfortunately we did not come away victors. We were underdogs (number 4 seed versus the number 1 seed), but you would not have known that by watching the game, as the Moonee Valley boys absolutely held their own against the top-ranked club. Down by 2 points with about 2 minutes to go, we just could not set up a scoring opportunity. With about 30 seconds left in the match, the opposing team got possession of the ball and scored a goal to secure the win, 76-68. The match was played at Windy Hill, which used to be a ground for one of the professional AFL teams, the Essendon Bombers. The Bombers still train there, so the facility was top notch.
View from the Windy Hill club room, where we were provided with free food and booze after the game!
The last few weeks have been a fantastic playoff run for our team and I know that everyone at the footy club is looking forward to next season already. Fortunately, losing did not discourage the chance to celebrate a successful season, and the after party, computerized karaoke machine included, did not disappoint! The post season celebrations remind me a bit of "Binge Week", a tradition of football players at the university I attended where there is a themed party each night for a week after the end of the season. Today was "Silly Sunday" for the football club and tomorrow is "Mad Monday". Erik is due to fly back from Perth tonight and apparently has rearranged his work schedule so that he can participate in Monday's festivities. Perhaps I'll have some mid-week stories to share about his experience, though they will not be firsthand, as I have to go to work tomorrow!