Thursday, February 03, 2005

Australia: Day Two...

...and the saga continues.

Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Although I hadn't slept in a while, I still had trouble sleeping during my first night in Australia. I think I got a tiny little bit of sleep, but just a skinch. I have sleep issues as it is, but if you add adrenaline to the scenario it's a lost cause. I was thoroughly enjoying my room at the Holiday Inn in The Rocks district of Old Sydney and my bed was quite comforting (especially after the sardine treatment on the world's longest continuous flight). As I didn't sleep very well I got up early, showered, and packed so that I'd be ready to leave at the drop of a hat. I was supposed to meet everybody in the hotel lobby at 8:00AM and I was out the hotel doors around 6:45 AM (and feeling pretty good considering the lack of sleep and alcohol consumption). I took a right on George Street until I stumbled upon a little cafe where I had to try one of the Australian brekkie (breakfast) classics known as "Meat Pie". Mmmm...artery clogging goodness. I washed it down with a couple of "Short Blacks" (espressos) and a small bottle of milk. Damn fine milk...similar to Swiss milk. I like this country. I noticed on the wall behind the food display-case a couple of pictures of Bill Clinton from two separate visits. Pretty cool. I could see why he had a heart attack after trying such brekkie faves as meat pie, pasty, sausage roll, or eggs with rasher bacon.

I sauntered out upon George Street into the glorious sun of the Sydney morning and wandered down to Circular Quauy to get a view another glorious view of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Both of these structures are truly magnificent to behold. Pictures really don't do either of them justice. The way the light shines in the sky and the way it reflects of the harbour really accentuates these masterpieces of architecture. The bridge, in actuality, looks pretty simple, but it really has an haunting presence. It's really a marvel of early twentieth century architecture. They offer "Bridge Climbs", which are pretty damn cool if you're not afraid to do it. You can strap in and climb on top of the entire bridge. We didn't have an opportunity to do it as it's usually booked some time in advance. I guess there's always next time. The Opera House is even more astonishing. You've all seen it in pictures, but you've really got to see it in person. It's a wonder of the modern world that words really can't describe. I took a few more pictures and lazily made my way back to the hotel to meet the gang. We met at the hotel at 8:00AM and took some taxis to the Darlinghurst district of Sydney. Darlinghurst is a cool, kind of boho, district (somewhat similar to the East Village but more sparse).

We got out at 433 Liverpool Street to enjoy the best breakfast I've ever had. We arrived at Bill's Cafe some time around 8:30AM. Bill's Cafe has a reputation as one of the best breakfast joints in the world. The New York Times has declared that Bill's serves the finest scrambled eggs on the planet. They're right. The dining room is small, simple, and contemporary with a giant communal table in the middle of the room. Communal tables are lots of fun and I think it would be a neat trend in the U.S. We met a representative from Pipers Brook for breakfast. Pipers Brook is a moderately small sparkling wine producer in Tasmania. We tasted a few sparkling wines (the ONLY way to start the morning) and dove into the breakfast menu which is written on a large chalkboard. Everything on the menu looked amazing, but I had to try the infamous scrambled eggs. I ordered them with toast and of gravlax (cured salmon). I also ordered a side of toasted coconut bread because it sounded so good and a "Long Black" (black coffee). I know that scrambled eggs are pretty simple, but these were otherworldly. They were so rich and insanely creamy that I wanted to weep. The color was a deep yellow. Absolute heaven! The gravlax and the coconut toast were equally sublime, but the eggs spoke to me. I've had a minor obsession with scrambled eggs since. One of the secrets is organic free-range eggs and lots of cream. Mmmmmmm...cream. I'd like to imagine Samuel L. Jackson's character "Jules" in Pulp Fiction eating these eggs. He'd say something like, "Damn! These are some good motherf'in eggs! I mean these eggs are some tasty-ass shit! What?!? You think I'm kiddin'?!? Why would I lie about motherf'in eggs this good? Damn! These are the best motherf'in eggs I've ever had!". Anyway, he'd say something like that. Some other items on their breakfast menu include Sweetcorn Fritters with Roast Tomato and Bacon, Ricotta Hotcakes with Honeycomb Butter, Crumpets with Blackberry Butter, Potato and Feta Pancakes, and Fresh Bircher Muesli with Stone Fruit. If you're ever in Sydney you MUST go to Bill's Cafe and experience the FRESHEST, best breakfast you'll ever have. Bill Granger has become a celebrity chef in Australia and has several cookbooks and I think three restaurants. His food epitomizes the theory that FRESH and SIMPLE is best.

We had some spare time between breakfast and the time that we'd be leaving the hotel (12:30PM). I walked around Sydney for a while enjoying all the sights and saw the only Aborigine I'd see on the trip. He was wearing a designer business suit and was hustling to or from work. I was enjoying every aspect of the highrise splendor of this beautiful metropolitan city. It's really gorgeous. The city-planners should be proud. I wandered down to Circular Quauy one last time and took my last pictures from my favorite spot. It was a stunningly beautiful day. It was sunny as can be and the air was still slightly crisp. Pure bliss. I walked back to George Street and found a small shop and bought a gross of postcards and stamps then headed back to the hotel. I tried to send an e-mail to everyone from the free hotel lobby computer. It was really slow, but I finally got the message to send. That was cool. I went to my room and started to fill out the postcards until I realized that I could do it on the hotel roof. I went to the top floor of the hotel where I ran into Shayn and his girlfriend coming down. He offereed me a taste of his E&E Sparkling Shiraz that he found at a local wine store. Yum. Thanks, Shayn! I made it to the roof and discovered that I was the only person there. I had the whole roof and the pool to myself. I didn't use the pool, but I found a table with a GORGEOUS view of the harbor. I could see the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, the ferry traffic, the downtown, and Old Sydney from my vantage point. This was the perfect place to fill out postcards. The sun was out and it was getting warm (pushing the 80's I think) and I had an amazing view. I had the perfect inspiration to write my postcards. I wrote out a ton (sorry if you didn't get one). I promised cards to several people, plus the obligation of family and friends. I forgot about a phenomonon in Australia. There's a gaping hole in the ozone layer. I got horrible sunburn on the back of my neck and on my arms. This would plague me for the rest of trip. Whoops! I've never been able to tan in my life, but I have blistered before (luckily not this time).

I managed to finish about 20 postcards and get them in the post box at the hotel. We met in the lobby at 12:30PM then boarded a bus that would take us to our lunch destination. We met a representative of Coopers (beer) at Deco for a fabulous light lunch spread (hommous, grilled shrimp, and such) and a Coopers beer tasting. All I have to say is that Coopers makes the best beers in Australia. Period. They're available here in the states and we sell them in the store in case anyone is interested. The rep gave us each a Coopers baseball cap. Thanks. I'm not a hat kinda guy, but this is the only baseball hat I'll ever wear. After the tasting we left Deco and boarded a bus headed to the Sydney train station. After a few glasses of sparkling wine in the early morning and some beer chasers it was time to leave the beautiful city of Sydney.

We arrived at the train station to board the Indian Pacific headed for Adelaide. The Indian Pacific is a famous railroad that is called such because it stretches from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. Their is a stretch between Adelaide and Perth that is the longest straight rail stretch in the world. Our trip from Sydney to Adelaide would be 1691km. Damn. We were escorted to our train car by our fabulous attendant Nikki and shown how to use our facilities and such. We were booked in a Golden Kangaroo Service car. This means that we each had individual sleeper cabins and full access to the dining car and the lounge car. Our group also had the ultra super cool conference car. We had a whole train car to ourselves which included a large conference table, couches, a TV and DVD player (which we never used) a counter top and kitchenette with sink. Pretty nice. We were met on the train by some of Australia's finest people in the wine business. I was really pleased to see Kerri Thompson of Leasingham Winery in the Clare Valley. I had had lunch with Kerri once in Michigan and she's an absolute joy (not to mention she's the world's best looking winemaker). We also met the amazingly talented Louisa Rose of Yalumba, winemaker Sue Mickan, Nick from Orlando/Seppelt, Nick Withers from Pacific Wine Partners, and a wine-writer from Queensland (I think his name is Peter). We settled into the conference car for the long haul and sat ourselves down at the giant conference table. All of our guests would take turns heading mini-seminars on regions, varietals, and wine styles.

There are special paper placemats made for "sit-down" wine tastings. The placemats have circles on them and are numbered or lettered. Wine glasses are placed on the circles and are differentiated by the numbers or letters. Our placemats were full and we were ready to go. Oh shit! We're on a train. The glasses were gently shaking and sliding into each other and then outward. The sound of rattling glasses became something that we grew accustomed to. Every few minutes someone would grab their glasses and push them back into position. It was a lot of fun. The seminars were great and very informative, but we'd often stop just to look at the scenery. The further we got away from Sydney the more desolate it got. Any houses in the outer perimeter would cling closely to the tracks. We'd pass cricket fields and small towns. The fields were green and lush with occasional blinding patches of yellow (some sort of grass) and occasional swatches of purple flowers bursting out of the sparse soil that clings to tracks. The soil would subtley get a deeper orange/reddish color the further we ventured. We passed a sheep shearing station and kilometers of nothingness. We were passing through the Blue Mountains and some of the most amazing sights I'd ever encountered. We passed through a canyon-like area that was nothing but surreal. Wow. As it was getting darker there was nothing to see. The seminars continued and we continued to "adjust" our glassware. Dinner time arrive and we made our way to the dining room car. Dinner on the train was surprisingly good. I had a great fresh salad followed by a loin of lamb (if my memories serves me right) and a chocolate torte of sorts. I don't exactly remember, but it was all quite good. My chocolate torte was delicious, but I should have opted for the national dessert of "Pavlova". It's a meringue topped with fruit. After dinner we retired the to lounge car to listen to the history of the railroad. The gentleman giving the lesson is essentially in charge of the train operations and he REALLY loves his job. We were each handed a disgusting looking concoction and asked to drink it. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it, but we (including the wine-makers) were all wine snobs. That handed us a glass of sparkling wine that had Blue Curacao added to it. Turns out the blue color is to symbolize the joining of the two oceans. Oh...clever. I politely drank it and struck up a conversation with a lovely older Australian couple. Most of the people in Gold Kangaroo Service were older. There were a bunch of schmucks behind us that had to spend the whole trip in seats. Ouch! The AusWAT group headed back to the conference car for the last seminar of the day. We had a seminar on Australian dessert wines. I saw the color of one of the wines and I got excited. I looked in the book and saw that one of the wines being poured was Chambers Rare Tokay. Chambers Rare Tokay may be the best wine I've ever tried. I was lucky enough to try it two times previously at a customer/friend's house. It sells for about $300.00 for a half bottle now, if you can get it. No one else in my group had tasted it before. It was fun to watch their faces. It is the nectar of the gods with it's notes of toffee, coffee, caramel, marmalade, blackstrap molasses, date, fig, nuts, nutmeg, and infinite other flavors. The finish is insanely long and wholly soul-satisfying. Damn that's good shit! We sat around for a while and had a few beers and I decided to retire for the evening. I made my way to my berth and opened the door to find that my "bed" had been lowered. The cabin is fine during the day with plenty of space for one person. It's a different story at night. The bed takes up the whole berth. Open the door and there it is. I managed to plop myself onto the "bed" and figured that it would be one more night without sleep. I'm essentially a "side-sleeper". The train was rocking so much that I was swaying crazily. I can't fall asleep on my back. It was going to be a long night. I'd catch the occasional light, train station, mining operation, or mill, but it was mostly just "dark".

Two days in Australia and I haven't seen a kangaroo yet.

To be continued...



Blogger Kathleen said...

Are you trying to tell me that there is someone out there who makes better scrambled eggs than you, Jason? I don't believe it for a minute!!!!

Nice accounting of your trip, so far. I look forward to the next installment!

7:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The journalists name was actually Ken. Ken Garget.


7:43 PM  

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