My four days of freedom were only slightly interrupted by the arrival of Patrick, my brother. This is the same brother who would not normally venture to a foreign land 20 hours away and not with his sister of all people. Everyone can exhale. We both survived in spectacular fashion.
After a herculean effort to make his flight from San Francisco to Sydney, Patrick arrived jet lagged and in need of food. We ventured straight to my favorite spot – the Sydney Harbor. It’s a tradition that I started with me, myself and I on my very first visit to Sydney in 2004. Upon my arrival in Sydney, I go directly to Starbucks, grab my coffee (now a whopping $7.15 for a Grande Frappuccino) and do not stop until the bridge and opera house greet me with open arms. It struck me that Patrick did not seem as impressed with my routine but maybe a 22-hour flight and 80 degree heat will do that to a person.
As this is Patrick’s first time in Australia, I wanted him to share the appreciation and I had for this incredible city. We taste tested the Mercantile Hotel’s burgers, a town pleaser and beer and Patrick retreated to his hotel for a whopping 15 hours of sleep, while I visited with New York friends for dinner at Manly Beach.
Finally, the big day arrived and Santa located Patrick in Sydney but somehow neglected my stocking–typical I suppose. My dear Australian friends Angus and Maryam invited the foreigners to a Christmas barbeque Brazilian/Aussie style. The weather did not cooperate but who can complain about 70 degree temperatures even if it’s raining. Within moments of our appearance, Maryam’s brothers visiting Sydney from Brazil conjured up cherry cocktails and mouthwatering (truly) bites of seasoned beef. The booze and beef flowed throughout the afternoon and we spent a lovely day chatting about politics, guns (right after Connecticut shooting), the U.S. economy, travel and family. When I first experienced an Aussie Christmas in 2010 with Jono and Jill, I figured Jono’s mother was either a master cook or a glutton for punishment but now that I’ve eaten my way through another Christmas, I’ve concluded an Aussie Christmas warrants overindulgence. This Christmas afternoon we consumed eight kilos of meat (17 pounds), a case of wine, two cases of corona, two boxes of scampi, half a ham, a salad, potatoes and somewhere in between the courses of various cuts of meat, we disposed of a cheesecake. A cast of characters joined in our demise- friends of Maryam and Angus who stopped by for a spoonful here and there but mostly the core group of eight of us made for a silly afternoon and an even more dramatic morning.
I continue to make this mistake and maybe one of these days I will learn but I should never ever book a flight or get on an airplane the day after any type of celebration. Boxing Day here in Australia is a holiday for a reason. People need rest and recovery time after Christmas festivities. Instead I found myself at Sydney airport early in the morning dry heaving and wishing I had not left my Excedrin in the extra bag at Angus’ house. Patrick seemed to be in much better shape and even enjoyed his first Pie Face experience at the airport. It’s still foggy but I boarded the plane to Adelaide and even managed to sit in my seat for a few minutes before bolting to the bathroom in what would be come my craftiest move to date. Pleading motion sickness the flight attendant found me an empty row to sleep off my massive hangover. It’s important to note, Patrick left me to my own devices, which worked to my advantage. I awoke minutes before landing, fully covered with a blankie and my head resting gently on a fluffy pillow (a rather comfy pillow for an airplane) and a much-needed ginger ale at my side.
An hour and twenty minutes later, Patrick and I arrived in the Barossa Valley, a famous wine region outside of the City of Adelaide in South Australia. I faired the transfer ride rather well but missed on an important opportunity to converse with our driver–my favorite activity. We stayed at a beautiful resort, (the Louise) situated on a vineyard and home to the top restaurant in the region. Patrick pointed out the obvious. He much preferred visiting this hotel with a significant other but would settle for me.
The Barossa Valley population is small with only about 200,000 residents and an area of about 32 miles wide. It consists of 85 cellar doors and more than 100 wineries. The Mediterranean temperatures are perfect for grape growth and wine production with warm, dry days and cool nights. After sweating for nearly three weeks, Barossa proved to be a place I could finally enjoy a day in the sun. Patrick made the most of our first day in Barossa hitting the wineries by bike, while I spoiled myself with cheese and sunshine and a nap on our terrace. Our tasting dinner at the Appellation was equally delightful. The chef prepared the meal with local and seasonal produce. It was just a shame I overdid it on Christmas.
Our time in Barossa was quite peaceful. We enjoyed a wine tasting day where we visited some of the regions (and Australia’s) best vineyards: Henschke Cellars, a high-end, family owned winery in Eden Valley; Yalumba, our favorite and also family owned with delicious shiraz and cabernet sauvignon; Rockford, an old fashioned stone tasting room with great sparking reds; Hentley Farms, Peter Lehmans, a winery with decent wine but gorgeous grounds and Tsarcke’s, a winemakers successful experiment with shiraz. Shiraz is the wine of choice (Syrah to the rest of the world) but the area turns out some great bottles of Grenache, Tempranillo, Cabernet and Riesling as well. A few of the wineries produce a sparking red not to be confused with a Rose but it’s the Barossa Valley’s answer to black gold. A small amount of sparkling red is released and they are typically gone by the end of the month. Harvest in Barossa occurs anywhere from the end of March to mid-April depending on the weather. Tourism and wine are the mainstays of the Barossa Valley and after sampling some of the best and worst I can see why. Even the less known varieties and labels were excellent.
The Balloon Ride
I have a bucket list. It gets smaller each year but as a planner I like to check things off the list. I’ve been trying to fly in a hot air balloon for about four years. It seems Mother Nature needs to provide clear skies and mild winds in order for balloons to fly safely. Alas, in the lobby of our resort, I scan a brochure of a multi-colored balloon and an opportunity to fly high above the Barossa Valley. I asked Patrick if he was interested and he clearly didn’t seem to be as excited as I was but agreed to come along for the ride. With a pick up time of 3:45 am, it’s tough to appreciate the experience on such little sleep but with the momentum and clear skies in my favor, I savored every minute. Our guide drove us around to a few locations to test the wind speed and when we located a spot for launch a group of 12 of us nervously awaited the next step. The balloon was unrolled from its packaging bag and a massive fan filled it with air while the basket was tilted over helplessly awaiting passengers. Keep in mind it’s pitch dark and now approximately 4:45 am. It took about 30 minutes before the balloon took shape and the basket could be pushed upright.
The 12 strangers and fast friends climbed into the bucket by section putting our lives in the hands of our pilot, Captain Justin. He pulled on some strings firing up the balloon and we began to sway side to side. It was time…up, up and away we went soaring over farms, meticulously manicured vineyards, homes, kangaroos, roads, hills and valleys of the Barossa. The best seat is the house is always the front row, the best apartment is the Penthouse and the best view is unobstructed. In other words, the view from the balloon suited me perfectly. The sun peaked through the clouds announcing a new day. We snapped a few shots and the sun disappeared as quickly as it presented itself. It would have probably made for brighter pictures but the scenery was remarkable either way. The ride only lasted an hour, the experience a lifetime. The smile on my face said it all but the pounding of my heart made it more real, more magical. Our powerful landing had us skating on farmland, as our balloon was not quite ready to stay grounded. The comment provided by our fellow British traveler and directed at Patrick said it all, “You looked like you were going to shit yourself.”
After our successful voyage, we celebrated with a breakfast of champions including champagne, local cheeses and meats, quiches, pizzas and tea and coffee. The air still cool but the sun fighting through the clouds blanketed us with warmth. Another adventure to cross off the list but more importantly another dream realized. I loved it.
A small city located in South Australia, Adelaide has a population of about 1.2 million and is the fifth largest city in Australia. The British founded Adelaide in 1836 but there are people from all over the world living in the city and its suburban parts. In 1838, six German families landed in Adelaide having left Germany to avoid religious prosecution. Most of these families headed to Barossa to make use of their wine making and agriculture talents. There are also, Italians Scottish, Vietnamese and Greeks calling Adelaide home. It wasn’t hard to figure out why Adelaide was coined the City of Churches. Walking around the Central Business District and the surrounding areas one would be hard pressed to not find a church on every block. The irony being the last Census in 2011 found Adelaide one of the least religious cities in all of Australia. Most the population identifies itself as Christian with the largest denominations being Catholic, Anglican, Uniting Church and Eastern Orthodox.
Most Adelaideans work in the healthcare or social service arenas but the area is very well known for its universities, education and sports. There is also a large manufacturing base present. There are some international banks in the Central Business District and lots of shopping opportunities. I most enjoyed my visit to the Central Market where I sampled lots of local produce. My new favorite dishes are Bircher Muesli and passion fruit swirled with a delightful Greek yogurt. It’s not like I ever find myself lacking for meals but this market filled with fresh fish, meat cuts, Thai massage, souvenirs, ethnic spices and dishes could make even the most healthy eater get a little crazy. Somewhere between Bali and Australia I became obsessed with finding the perfect bowl of Muesli, a breakfast meal with rolled oats, fruits and nuts and you can have with milk or yogurt. Adelaide proved to be the winner.
In Adelaide, Patrick and I met up with my friends known to most as the “Germans.” I met Corinna and Ingmar on my last trip to Australia in 2010 on a tour along the Great Ocean Road (Melbourne). Since our spontaneous meeting, the Germans have visited NYC (Corinna twice) and I have gone to Hamburg, Germany. Here in Adelaide we meet again. It’s comforting and personally rewarding for me to have friends all over the world. I get a kick out of Corinna’s planning and Ingmar’s calming ways. They are beautiful, kind and sincere people and I am fortunate to call them friends. We celebrated our Australian reunion over some fine wines and food South Australian style.
Our inaugural trip to South Australia provided me (and I expect Patrick) with a different outlook on Australian life. People move at a slower pace, there isn’t the hustle and bustle of the big city and food and wine is part of the daily life not just for celebration. People live in towns with a population as small as 20,000 and then commute to Adelaide or surrounding areas. Adelaide is situated between the Indian Ocean (St. Vincent’s Bay) at the Adelaide Hills and the charming River Torrens runs through the heart of the city giving way to parks, gardens and lots of open space for running, biking and picnicking.