a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘australia’

ya wanna try them all? ;)

I am finally not working every minute so hope to post a little more often

I have spent this week in a haze of nostalgia hankering for the land of Oz.  It’s the Vancouver Wine Festival, one of the world’s best.  I have been going for a very long time – since the Aussies taught me about wine and I came back to Canada with all this wine knowledge and a sophisticated palate.  Back in those days, wine was mostly the province of men over 50.  I searched the yellow pages and found a wine society I could join only to discover there was only one other person in the room who looked about my age – she was there with her mother.  Vanessa became a great friend and I owe a lot of my social life in my 30s to that chance encounter.

http://vanwinefest.ca/

But this is about Australian wine!  I was especially moved because it was the birthday of my best friend from my Sydney days just last week so Australia was already on my mind.  Each year the Vancouver International Wine Festival has a feature country and this year it is Australia.  So I had lots of opportunities to taste wine and chat with people with genuine Aussie accents.  The first winery I hit last night was Longview.  Mark was going to explain where Adelaide Hills was but I said, “I’ve been there.  That’s why I am here”.

http://www.longviewvineyard.com.au/

For those who don’t know Adelaide Hills, it is a coolish climate region in South Australia near Adelaide.  Australia is the land of sunshine so getting the evening temperature to 9 degrees is not easy.  It’s what makes the wines of Adelaide Hills a little more special.  They taste less “Australian” and more “European”.  I discovered Adelaide Hills as a by-product of my friendship with Elizabeth.  I always promised I would come back for her wedding but appreciated that is not the ideal time to spend time with friends so I came early and told her I would disappear for 5 days a little ahead of the wedding so she wouldn’t feel responsible for entertaining me and take myself on a wine tour of South Australia.

I hired some lovely gentleman off the internet (before doing this was common) who had grown up in the Barossa.  Trevor squired me around South Australia and treated me like I was his daughter.  I have the mindset of an engineer so naturally I arrived with a gigantic list of all the wineries I wanted to visit.  He is very gracious so did not tell me I was crazy… We devised a plan.  I would learn to spit and we would try to do seven or eight wineries a day.  Some would be from my list and some would be his suggestions.

http://www.auburntours.com.au/auburntours.htm

We would spend two days in the Barossa Valley, one day in the Clare Valley, a day in Adelaide Hills and a day in McLaren Vale.  Five of the best days of my life.  Drinking the different regions side by side allowed me to really see the differences and decide what I wanted to buy from which region.  Since I live in Canada where wine has a sin tax that exceeds gasoline (seriously, these are plants – they are GOOD for the planet 😉 it was challenging to drink and not buy.  I had already quizzed Elizabeth and her soon to be husband in Sydney so decided their wedding present would be a case of wine – different types so they could be opened at different times in their marriage.  Trevor had lots of contacts at the wineries so it was organized it could be a mixed case and would be shipped from the winery where bottle 12 was purchased.

That was Peter Lehmann.  I have quite a few wonderful Australian winery experiences but I have a special place in my heart for Peter Lehmann – and Trevor.  When we arrived, not only did I try a bunch of different wines but each was paired with a snack.  I really wished I could have shared it with someone.  I was so wowed by the experience that I bought more than one wine there and finished the case.

http://peterlehmannwines.com/

If you would like to learn more about wine, there is no better place to go than Australia.  As I was informed last night, you don’t talk about “terroir” 🙂  You will taste it but keep that word to yourself.  I have spent a lot of time this week gushing to Australian winemakers or marketing reps and recounting some of my winery experiences.

a great place to drink aussie wine :)

a great place to drink aussie wine 🙂

Not all aspects of aging are welcome but sometimes being old works in your favour.  I was extremely fortunate to meet an Aussie in Toronto who was determined to teach me about wine.  Then I moved to Sydney with him.  I went to people’s houses where they had BOXES of wine!  They went to the Hunter Valley and stocked up as they tasted the wines at the actual wineries.  In the early 90s it was like being Alice in wine Wonderland.

There was no Yellow Tail.  Monty Python was still making fun of Australian wine.  Mostly it was just drunk by the locals.  And the locals drank wine out of 2L boxes from Riverina (which was very drinkable).  I caught a lot of grief for my extravagance.  I was willing to pay $10 for 750 ml of wine when I could get 2L for $6 – what was I thinking? 😉

As a novice, it was a transcendental experience.  The Aussies are the most unpretentious people I have met so you just rocked up to the winery and they said, “ya wanna try them all”?  In those days, there was no marketing.  It’s a wonderful place to grow grapes so most wineries did a bunch of different varietals.  There was a Riesling, a Gewurtztraminer, a Sauvignon (no blanc), a Semillon, a Chardonnay, a Merlot, a CabSav, a Shiraz and possibly even a Port.  You learned the difference between varietals by trying them all!

The Chardonnays were really oaky and I couldn’t drink the Shiraz – I felt like I was chewing wood instead of drinking wine.  I was a newbie wine drinker.  Riesling and Gewurtztraminer were just my speed.  It was how I discovered Gewurtztraminer – it took me ages to be able to pronounce it like a German instead of an Australian 🙂  I have so many memories of hanging out in bottle shops, drinking wine I purchased in restaurants and finding hidden gems in obscure wine shops (buying a ten year old Cabernet in a bottle shop at Circular Quay and hoping it was still OK – it was magnificent!)

My interest in Australian wine scored points with my boss who was a connoisseur.  And the Aussies like to drink 😉  It was a very freewheeling place back then at least.  I didn’t go back to the office to try to work after the News Corp audit completion LUNCH but it was incredible.  Wonderful Aussie produce paired with (I think) five different wines… I still remember the Petaluma white, one of his personal favourites.

I also remember when Grange was $64 a bottle.  I never got to drink it!  I bought it for my Australian boyfriend for his birthday.  When Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc costs $12, $64 is an astonishing amount.  Of course, it needs to be aged and our relationship didn’t last that long.  In 2000, Elizabeth and I searched Sydney trying to find a bottle of Grange so I could try it… without success, even though it cost over $300 a bottle by then.  I finally scored some by random accident in Canada where I think I paid just over $200.  I know it was a bargain!  I drank it with my friend Iain who has spent time in Australia for work and could appreciate the significance of drinking a bottle of aged Grange… we decided it wasn’t that great.  I mean, it was great… but not $200 great… so I would encourage you to try something else.

There is a cornucopia of wonderful wine from the land of Oz.  DO try to go there and drink it with the locals.  I’m not even sure if I would be drinking wine if it wasn’t for the Aussies.  They certainly made my virgin wine drinking experiences an absolute delight.  And they taught me how to introduce others to wine.  Start with Riesling, not Cabernet Sauvignon.

So, a shout out to Aussie winemakers and all the people with whom I have shared the pleasures of Aussie wines 😉

 

 

the playthings of superpowers…

london on a glorious day

london on a glorious day

I’m not sure I would want to live in London as it is so crowded and expensive but it is a fantastic place to spend a few days imagining other lives and wandering through history.  I’ve been to the city enough times now that I feel like a local and I have to remember to pay attention.

One of the ways I have found to make familiar places interesting is to change up my accommodation.  ME London put me in a new location from previous visits.

I’ve been to London so many times it often feels like I am just a local in an alternate location.  Regular life amped up a bit.  Lots of walking.  Power shopping.  Dinner with friends.

I normally don’t spend the big bucks required to stay in a location that doesn’t involve flashing an Oyster card.  But my sexy cave was walking distance to Bond Street – and the cashmere luxuries of the Burlington Arcade.

I had brought the sun with me from Oslo so a long walk seemed an ideal way to start the day.  Since I was the official photographer for my mom’s inaugural tour of London I have more tourist photos of the city than I have of Paris but there are definite holes in the collection.

So I stopped to read the plaques 😉  Having just come from Norway and its history as a bargaining chip, passing from Denmark to Sweden and struggling to establish an identity independent of the bigger powers, some of the plaques and statues spoke to me a little more loudly.

Reading between the lines in Westminster, you see the sacrifices made by Canadians and Australians at the hands of a condescending Great Britain.  They don’t teach it in school but apparently at one point Queen Victoria wanted to trade Canada for Barbados – at the time, sugar was a lot more compelling than beavers…

It’s surprising Canada hasn’t turned republican 😉  Lots of Australians have.  They have been mishandled by the Crown in a more flagrant way.

On Sunday I wandered the Thames – and some of the most important historical buildings in London – with an Irishman.  This visit really illuminated the elusive nature of history.

wandering the thames...

wandering the thames…

So many countries are the playthings of superpowers.  Superpowers are the bullies of the global schoolyard.  What travel teaches us, though, is that often the individual citizens of superpowers are lovely and charming.  One has to keep an open mind and not hold someone’s flag against them.

Strangely it’s likely easier to be a tourist when you come from a plaything country.  The expectations on you are pretty low.  You don’t have to defend yourself from generalizations about your culture that might not reflect your own point of view.

Visit the superpowers.  Learn about history.  A lot of it won’t be pretty.  But, despite their roles as the playthings of superpowers, Norway, Australia and Canada emerged fairly unscathed.  And all worth your tourist dollars!  All tough places to make a go of it in the 19th century – but the kind of places where you innovate to stay alive.  And the landscape is rugged enough to discourage newcomers.  The world without man is an incredible place…  and there aren’t a lot of places on the planet where you can experience it in the 21st century.

But 21st century London is pretty benign.  And while it’s hard to get behind some of the historical choices, you just don’t see that kind of architecture unless you go to a superpower with a questionable past 😉

 

sprayed and quarantined ;)

I have not fallen off the face of the earth – or stopped writing or snapping photos – but it feels that way to me at least… I started writing this on the plane to Sydney… with so many great experiences in Toronto, Paris, Amsterdam and Ljubljana still to be committed to bytes… I have the memories – and the stories… hoping to record and share… we shall see… have committed to travel a little less in 2014 so my “normal” life is not always a gong show…

it’s Saturday so I can hide from the clients for a few hours so… for now…  we are going down under…

imagine you have used your Aeroplan points and booked nine months ahead so you can sit in business class.  You got lucky the flight to Korea got cancelled so you’ve been upgraded to the direct flight Vancouver-Sydney, which has allowed you to drink free champagne (real champagne, not sparkling wine pretending to be champagne :), watch FOUR movies and get a decent sleep thanks to your pod…   I love Air Canada 🙂

BTW, all movies recommended… Monsters University, Blue Jasmine, The Way Way Back… I am sure there was a fourth but watching four movies in a row rots your brain obviously 🙂

it’s 12 hours later…

I expect we will get sprayed.  They have already done the intercom message announcing there is a $16,000 fine if you bring in anything not allowed and don’t declare it.  I’m on a plane to Sydney, Australia.  Spraying and quarantining does seem right for a former penal colony (don’t bring that up if you do come to visit 🙂  but it’s actually a very smart thing to do.

Australia is an island and its flora and fauna are almost as unique as the Galapagos so it’s wise to be careful.  The cane toad taught them to be protective.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucQsDM7ZpsQ

This is my fourth arrival so I think I am prepared.  I didn’t pack my usual backup food and made sure to eat my fruit and nuts on the plane.  I made sure I didn’t buy any food gifts for my Australian friends at the airport.  I didn’t appreciate how strict the rules were and have had a luckily friendly conversation with the customs inspector and avoided getting fined or quarantined… but it’s good to be careful 😉

While it doesn’t feel all that welcoming on the airplane, once you’ve passed through customs everything changes!  This is “the lucky country” and it does feel that way.  It’s one of those countries that runs well so people are generally happy.  Aussies are some of the friendliest people in the world.  And it’s a very relaxed culture.

At least that’s how I remember it.  It’s exciting to be back.  My history with the land of Oz began over a decade ago.  I only became a chartered accountant because some dude in a suit in a tiny interview room in London, Ontario suggested that a Commonwealth CA would allow me to work anywhere in the Commonwealth should I pass the exams.

By that point I’d moved from roaming wheat fields and chasing live pigs down the road when they escaped from the barn to feeling slightly uncomfortable – but still succeeding – at the most famous business school in my country.  And now I had a chance to work on Bay Street.

My father talked about Bay Street while he taught me a lot about wheat fields and raising hogs (that is the business lingo for pigs 😉  Growing up in the middle of the Canadian north in a town that couldn’t even boast a population of four figures, working on Bay Street seemed as likely as flying to the moon.  I didn’t even know anyone who had been to Toronto on an airplane, let alone worked there.

But I was really lucky that I kept having interesting, accomplished, sophisticated men see potential in me that I never saw in myself and it landed me all sorts of places I never expected to be.

The biggest culture shock of my life – arriving in Sydney.  Not because it’s SO different to Canada.  But it isn’t Canada (it’s closer now than it was back then) and I was living in a foreign country!  A country so remote you got a free stopover.  Back then I chose Fiji!  And almost got sunstroke roaming in the mid-day sun in January… but that’s another story…

Now you can fly to Sydney from Vancouver or the US west coast direct!  But you are still far away from the rest of the world.  It’s part of the experience.

iconic sydney on a sunny day

iconic sydney on a sunny day

Once we’d been sprayed and sat on the plane for a while so that spray could kill whatever it kills and I’d passed through customs without being quarantined, I came into the arrivals area just like you would in every other airport.

But, at this one, my best friend from those days in Sydney so long ago was waiting for me.  Elizabeth is like my maternal grandmother, one of those people who is so gracious and delightful you want to clone them – or at least teach others to take their lead 🙂

Last time I saw her I was watching her get married!  This time I got to meet her equally delightful daughter and catch up on the last decade…

Immediately she said, “it’s your trip.  What do you want to do?”

That’s when I realized how incredibly privileged I was.  As I told her, for most people Australia is a once in a lifetime trip and they have a list of things they need to tick off.  I KNOW Sydney… not absolutely but I have done the tourist stuff more than once.  And I’ve travelled the country more than almost any Aussie I’ve ever met.

I can fly to one of the most remote corners of the earth and just chill… but you might only get there once… so recommendations will be forthcoming 🙂

For now, what to do when you arrive…

the view from icebergs

the view from icebergs

We went to Icebergs on Bondi Beach for lunch… because Elizabeth lives in Sydney and has a husband and young daughter so it was still on her “to do list”.  Things have changed in the last decade.  Apparently Top Chef Australia is huge!  So DO book…

We didn’t… and still got a seat in the bar with a brilliant view over Bondi and yummy food.  Sydney is in the top most beautiful cities in the world so there are many places you can go – and SHOULD!  But start at Bondi… as I said to Elizabeth, it’s just like the postcards… welcome to one of the most memorable places on the planet…

The sun didn’t shine all that often while I was in Sydney but there was always sunshine on the plate.  I don’t surf – so, for me, the land of Oz has always been associated with food and wine that tastes different when the sun shines so much…

Gastronomy, koalas, the incredible wow of great friendships still to come… stay tuned… 😉

there really ARE kangaroos on the front lawn down under ;)

Of course, you have to be in the driveway of a sheep farm in remote western Australia after the owners have been away for a few days so the roos are partying on the grass – cause they know he is one of the only farmers in the ‘hood who doesn’t shoot kangaroos.  But I really DID see kangaroos on the front lawn and I told my Australian boyfriend at the time, “I am going back to Canada and telling everyone they can see kangaroos on the front lawn if they go to Oz” 🙂

roo from kitchen window

roo from kitchen window

Of course it amused me mostly because I was Canadian and used to foreigners thinking we kept polar bears as pets or lived in teepees.  This was decades before the internet or even cable TV so most people didn’t  think the world was flat anymore but detailed knowledge of foreign locales was in short supply.

So, when I arrived in Sydney in 1990, I had very little idea what to expect.  Aussies love their country so I was expecting a land of milk and honey based on all the glowing reports I had heard from expats on my three month European tour enroute to “the lucky country”.  If nothing else, I had just spent most of the month of December on the Canadian prairie with my parents where a proper “you can feel your breath freezing in your throat” winter had given my Australian boyfriend a taste of the “real Canada” – where the tough people live 🙂

So, arriving from minus 40 to plus 40 in a matter of hours, was enough reason to fall in love with Australia the minute of arrival.

Like the relationships  you see in montages on-screen in romantic comedies, there was a reality check.  Australia proved to not just be “Canada with lots of sunshine” as I had anticipated.  But it was my first expat experience.  And there was much to love about the country and the people.

The Australian boyfriend not one of my best ideas… but it was the way I got to his country.  I am sure I would have got there eventually but it would never have had the same impact.

Going to Oz was how I grew up.  It changed my life forever and I can’t imagine its trajectory without the Australian – or his country.  I know it would have been a lot more boring and I am really grateful I got to take the less-travelled path.

This is much to say about Australia – and Australians.  I lived there for eighteen months.  I have been back twice.  And will return for a third visit this November.  I wish I had stayed longer and become a citizen – but I tend to have a rather messy personal life.  I can recognize an Australian accent – and don’t think they sound English – or South African.

Today’s post though is to celebrate Elizabeth.  Because it is her birthday!  And also the first year anniversary of this blog!  I wasn’t sure if it could be sustainable but I really enjoy writing and – even if there aren’t as many posts as I had envisioned – there is a regular commentary.

I noticed a little while ago that the blog anniversary was coming up and was trying to figure out what the right post would be.  And then I realized the anniversary was Elizabeth’s birthday.  So the answer was obvious 🙂

As has already been noted, most of my friendships have an unusual genesis compared to the average person.  I am very interested in people and happy to put a lot of effort into maintaining friendships with people who impress me.

Elizabeth is definitely one of those!  Back in 1990, I was her boss.  We were working in a firm of chartered accountants and she was doing a work term so was only 18.  But she was so poised and a model employee.  I didn’t really have to “boss” her at all so it was easy for a friendship to develop.  It was unexpected since she was almost exactly a decade younger than me.  But she really wanted to travel.

So that’s how it started.  I had only started to travel at that point but had just done a three month tour of western Europe and we talked about travel and Europe every chance we got.  I inspired her future travel plans and she reminded me of my own 18 year old mindset.

wedding in oz

wedding in oz

When I left to return to Canada, we exchanged addresses and vowed to stay in touch.  So often that doesn’t amount to much but we were both good at it.  In the early days we sent letters and always exchanged gifts at Christmas and birthdays, trying to find something local.  It helped me hold on to Oz – and introduced her to Canada.

I also promised I would come back for her wedding.  It took a little while… but she had to find the right guy 🙂  Going to her wedding was one of the highlights of my life.  She comes from this wonderful family who had always welcomed me as the third child and much fuss was made of the fact that I had come from Canada for the wedding.  But I meant it when I told her I was coming 😉

She also came to Germany for one of my weddings (there were three – all to the same guy :)).  It was her first trip to Europe.  She had finally made the leap and executed the first of the plans we had made back in 1990 for her world travel.  Her enthusiasm was contagious and I was still a new immigrant and equally enamored of all the “cute” German towns.

german cakes :)

german cakes 🙂

She now has a daughter – whom I will meet for the first time in November.  She looks just like her mom.  I think she will be 5 by the time I get to Sydney so a really wonderful age to meet someone.  I am really looking forward to seeing them all.

Sadly, there will be no kangaroos on their front lawn.  It really is a sophisticated, developed country with some of the best wine in the entire world.  When I went for the wedding, I took myself on a wine tour of South Australia to get out of Elizabeth’s hair while she was doing wedding prep, and decided a case of wine from different producers with different maturity dates would make a great wedding present.  I’ll be able to hear the stories of the bottles in person…

So… in honour of the blog’s anniversary (and Elizabeth’s birthday), I will pour a glass of Australian wine and make a toast to “the lucky country” – and kangaroos 🙂  You should do the same.  Aussies do it all well – so pick your poison – anything from sparkling to Shiraz…  or combine them and have a sparkling Shiraz, a personal favourite!

drinking like a pro ;)

If I didn’t like boys so much, I would know nothing about wine 🙂  One of my mother’s favourite stories is her recounting of my first day at school.  She was hoping I was there to learn something but when asked about my first impressions, I just listed the cute boys – in order.  The analytical skills obviously kick in early…

It was an Australian boy who said he would teach me about wine if I would date him.  It seemed a pretty decent exchange since at the time I knew approximately two wines and neither was especially memorable.  The wine education went well and I ended up in Oz circa 1990.

For wine aficionados there are few better places to stumble upon.  In those days, Monty Python made fun of Australian wine (they were WRONG!), the wineries were not owned by corporations and they made one of each and people made fun of you when you spent more than $7 on a 750 ml bottle of wine.

There are a lot of negative aspects to getting old but one of the sweet spots is taunting young Aussie wine drinkers with my introductory experience.  I would rock up to a winery and they would just pour me one of each… we started with Riesling and ended with Cabernet Sauvignon – or sometimes even Port.  It took me years to not pronounce Gewurtstraminer like an Aussie (i.e. wrong :)) because that was how I first heard the word.

When I moved back to Canada in 1992 with my 100 bottles of incredibly cheap Aussie wine (including my favourite, which was actually from New Zealand – the most expensive, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc for $11 a bottle because I found it before Wine Spectator did :), I couldn’t find any decent Australian wine in the market place so decided to explore Chile, starting at A…

This year Chile was the feature country at the Playhouse Wine Festival so it was a wonderful visit to my past.  Because I have been working so much in the past few months, I had no time to make a plan for my tasting so decided to just chill and revisit lots of old favourites, try a few new things and spend lots of time talking to the people pouring the wine.

It really helped me remember why we should all drink wine.  Long ago I went to this same event with a work colleague, back when I knew very little, and discovered he had worked in a wine shop to pay for university so I flitted around the room with him trying to absorb it all.

But the part I remember the most is his favourite wine – chosen for memories of those he had shared it with, not its terroir.  That is what I really love about wine.  Drinking it with friends.  The memories.  The stories.  Pros do not drink alone.  Wine geeks love my story about finishing a bottle of Catena Zapata Nicolas out of plastic cups in the Mendoza airport – but for me it’s really a story about travelling to Argentina with my friend Kerry shortly after my dad died.  There are so many bottles of wine that have been part of the narrative of my life.  Open a bottle and make a toast to someone important to you…

the DNA of your everyday life…

Yesterday I was speed walking through Waterfront Station at my usual frantic pace, distracted from lack of sleep, and suddenly realized I needed to pay attention.  Because I wasn’t on my way to the client – but to the German Consulate –  so I couldn’t just operate on auto-pilot.  I have been traversing this same route a lot in the past couple of months and a routine has been established that I had to break.

It got me thinking about our everyday routines and how ordinary places become part of our life whether we are aware of it or not.  I think lots of people don’t realize there are places and rituals that have become an important component of their life – and that they would miss them if they didn’t do them.  This is why some people feel a bit lost the day after they retire.

Having moved likely about 40 times – changing everything from neighbourhood to town to country – I have always been very conscious of my daily environment.  And have found quite ordinary places and experiences imbued with great meaning and inducing much nostalgia.

Back in 1990, I lived in Sydney, Australia.  When I went back in 2000 for my first return visit, I took the train to Artarmon.  It’s a residential suburb that no one but a local would know and has nothing to attract tourists. But I wanted to get off the train there and retrace the route I had taken so many times.  Check out magazines in the news agent.  Walk by the TAB without placing a bet.  See if the Indian restaurant where I used to look for my boyfriend if he wasn’t in the apartment was still there.  Gaze up at the high rise where I had lived then.  Just soak up the atmosphere of my everyday Sydney life and try to re-live some memories.

Moving so much has taught me to value my everyday life and the relationships I develop in each place.  My hairstylist, my drycleaner, my tailor.  They all KNOW me.  It’s a personal relationship, not just a business transaction.  It makes everyday life sweeter and more meaningful.

The thought loop finished at the German Consulate, which as I expected was in the same building as one of my other clients.  They have moved to a new building but it still feels familiar to enter the door and know where to go.  Which made me think of the fun of new routines.  It’s good to break habits and explore new things.

I once dated someone who used to not take the most direct route when we were walking – but the most interesting or pleasant.  I am all about efficiency (the German Consulate felt like home 🙂 but I had to concede he had a point.  And while I generally take the efficient route to run errands, when I explore new cities or have a day off in my own, I just wander and see what happens.  In Paris, I might find a wonderful patisserie.  In Amsterdam I might encounter someone dressed like Darth Vader.  And here at home I might end up helping a lost tourist find the right bus.  Going beyond the DNA of my everyday life always offers unexpected pleasures…

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