A Christmas in the Country

Off to Orange we go, after a quick pit stop in Thirlmere for his family Christmas (it’s on the way, right?). Loaded with ham, turkey and all the trimmings, plus some pretty sweet Santa sacks, we messaged mum to get the Christmas pudding in the oven and hit the road.

It would be the first time in a while that the whole family would be together again and with the parents considering moving to Orange permanently, it was kinda sorta a big deal. I’d been promised wine, wineries and warm weather, which sounded like a win to me.

Day 1.
A second round of Christmas was toasted with an early coffee from Byng Street Local Store, a meander around Cook Park, a fiddle with my new drone, plums freshly picked from the trees lining the streets outside, and a table set with a 1986 Penfolds. Adorned with Santa hats we cracked crackers, swapped stories, mesmerised with magic, and drank a drop or two. Or three. Okay, it was five.

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Day 2.
Once more shops had begun to swing open their doors again after the Christmas break, we headed to the new local Omar by Academy Coffee where we ended up staying much longer than expected after he started talking to the two guys behind the machine about coffee. No surprises there. But with the promise of a menu filled with bagels to start in the next few days, we promised to be back again soon.

A breakfast big enough to fill our Christmas-stretched stomachs at The Agrestic Grocer, followed by a visit to Thornbrook Orchard to try our hand at fruit picking (one of the last surviving forms of slavery in Australia, according to Jack). If the kilo of apricots we got for $6 didn’t fill us up, the trip to Lake Canobolas for a picnic of Christmas leftovers surely did.

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It was a chilled afternoon in front of the cricket, as he was getting a withdrawal headache from being away from it for too long, followed by a pub crawl with the parents. First stop was to the Union Bank, sitting in the beer garden staring up at the ivy covered building while sipping on a lychee spritz. Then just around the corner to the Lord Anson, an old-school English pub where we feasted like kings on chicken parmys the size of our face, which I managed to finish much to his surprise and pleasure for not having put money on it. Last but not least, we ventured to the Greenhouse, a new nine-million dollar wonderland on top of the Orange Ex-Services Club, where mum tried to sign in using her library card, and we considered buying a beer tower each but settled on a wine just because of the way the Spanish guy behind the bar said it.

Day 3.
Rise and shine and off to Racine Bakery for a breakfast of baked goods, before heading back to Omar by Academy where we are now ‘known’ enough for him to get a free coffee thrown in to his already three-shot coffee order. Convincing ourselves that it’s definitely 5pm somewhere in the world, we headed to Ross Hill Wines for the 10am tour and tasting, and were taught all the tricks of the trade by owner James Robson himself. Having tried ten wines by twelve, and now be able to talk about tannin, comment on climate and organise oak from tank, we learned that not all chardys are crap and that white wine can be cellared (if you can wait that long). Oh, and that Ross Hill is the goods.

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Next we headed to Heifer Station where I not only got introduced to my spirit animal, the llama, but also two baby llamas, along with the most randomly awesome chickens I have ever seen, a Shetland pony, and a solid-looking sheep called Brutus. Oh yeah, and there was wine. Orange is definitely starting to grow on me.

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With the hangover starting to kick in around 2pm, which is never a good sign, we headed to Groundstone Cafe for some hip food before a solid siesta in the afternoon. You know what they say – start early, end early. Just in this case it was very very early.

Having become regulars at the Racine Bakery, for dinner that night we headed to Racine La Colline, the restaurant behind the institution. Up a winding, vine-lined dirt road we found the beautiful restaurant sitting atop the hill, picturesque water tank dripping in ivy, a garden overflowing with roses and lavender, and the smell of fresh hay. Three beautiful courses were enjoyed with the sun beating softly against my city skin. Best of all, Thursday night are training night, so we both enjoyed ourselves for only $50 a pop.

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Day 4.
We made pack-up day a picking day by heading to Huntley Berry Farm on our way home. A non-for-profit farm run to support those with a disability where visitors are free to roam the paddocks of produce, picking from the plentiful berry trees and vines and pay by the kilo at the end. We scored strawberries, the best blueberries, the ripest raspberries and my first mulberries. There is heaps to choose from, even vegetables. Highly recommended.

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So Orange, with your wine and your weather, your coffee and your croissants, your rolling hills and restaurants, you’re a place I wouldn’t mind calling my second home.

You have my tick of approval, mum and dad.

E x

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Japan 2015

A video from a while back when Hannah and I ran away to Japan and South Korea for the winter holidays. Unfortunately my GoPro decided to pack it in and die after the third day so this video is only a very short snippet of our adventure. Still brings a tear to my eyes though.

Greetings from Granada

One of my most anticipated stops, Granada definitely delivered. After an interesting train ride there, where halfway we all got kicked off the train and instructed in Spanish to a load a buses out the door, around the corner, and across the car park (mind you this was in the middle of absolute nowhere), we arrived in Granada alive. A positive was that we bonded with a fellow traveller called Lyndon, whom was also completely and utterly confused by the process, and ended up going for dinner and drinks with her for both nights we were in Granada.

Settled in at Granada Inn Backpackers, and filled with fresh grilled calamari, we headed for the hills, and got quite lost in the Albayzín district that strangely resembled images I’ve seen of the backstreets in Greece. Two for the price of one, awesome! After what seemed like hours of walking up, we reached the Mirador San Nicolás look out, and could not be distracted from the incredible view across the valley to the Alhambra (although the young teenage couple making out in front of where everyone was taking photos gave it a good shot).  11707525_10153568852654497_7612906513413538825_n 11041037_10153568852779497_2771318323950389130_n

That night we met up with our new mate Lyndon, at a tapas bar recommended by the cute guy from the hostel called Bar La Riviera. It was here that we discovered the concept of free tapas. With every drink you order, you can choose two tapas options from the menu and they bring a plate enough for everyone at the table to eat. For free. Therefore it is economical to drink. Did I mention I like Granada?11240093_10153568851184497_7611325041498055511_n

Next morning Catherine went on a guided tour of the Alhambra, and in an attempt to ensure our day was better, we headed out early to catch a free walking tour. Eric was fantastic, even though he was a bit nervous as he informed us as his parents were part of the tour that day, and we learnt a lot about the history of Granada. He still owes me tapas though as I stunned both him, the group and myself when I perfectly guessed the height of the bell tower (57m). I think the gypsy ladies flicking rosemary around the church must have blessed me, or I’m just a genius. (Free walking tour: http://www.panchotours.com/tours-granada/tour/free-walking-tour-granada).11737973_10153568852389497_798061113727190250_n11217804_10153568851939497_5198379978072410465_n 11264858_10153568851639497_8771039461239411131_n

Next up we hopped on a bus and headed up the mountain to the Alhambra. We didn’t buy tickets because we are tight-asses, but still got to see enough of it for free. Apparently 30% of the Alhambra is free. Just make sure you get off at the Puerta de la Justicia stop before the last stop on the mountain to save yourself the walk. Although it is a good excuse to get an ice cream on a hot day. We even ended up bumping into Catherine on her tour, looking like a goof with her headphones in.11742860_10153568851289497_1302923126655887860_n 11743007_10153568851354497_6354907144267095234_n

After a quick flick through our Lonely Planet guide we decided to explore the Alcaiceria markets more, which were the old Moorish silk markets, to find one of the many tea houses or teterías that lined the Calderería Nueva. With a five page list of teas, we each selected one and relaxed in the candle-lit, bohemian teahouse. A definite hidden treasure of Granada.11755917_10153568851244497_1394163094950679448_n

When we finally returned to our accommodation to find Catherine, we also found three new roommates: two awesome girls from Australia (small world), and Tobias, our favorite costa-rican weed-loving larrikin. We got on with the girls like a house on fire and couldn’t wait to introduce them to the world of free tapas so brought them to dinner with Lyndon that night. God knows how we made it, but by 3am we were dancing up a storm in a tiny hall/nightclub in some random backstreet that was completely empty when we arrived at 1am. We still claim that we brought the party that night, but with a mixture of Beyoncé, Elvis and Spanish pop, who could resist. And nothing quite tops a night off like a gigantic plate of churros to share! I only wished I had eaten them before and not after my zumba-like dance sesh in the club.

10406771_10153568852259497_2214409896790608648_nAfter bidding our new friends goodbye, and planning a reunion once we all returned to Sydney, we hopped on a bus to the airport for a quick flight to Barcelona, baby! It was a whirlwind stop in Granada but a definite highlight of the trip. I’ll be back.

Adios!
P.s. No memory will ever surpass the one of me drunkenly ninja-kicking the bathroom cubical door at the club after Emma locked herself in there. I don’t know what possessed me to do it, maybe I did pick up some ninja moves in Japan afterall. All I know for sure though, is that it was fricken awesome. 11143417_10153568852204497_8259950756164554506_n11781664_10153568852454497_3083840934899123005_n 11760334_10153568852489497_6499775249252137034_n 10410707_10153568852559497_4360289396272756774_n 10394036_10153568852589497_7033414956053805214_n

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The Real Madrid

A hop, skip and a jump and we found ourselves flung 2000km across Europe to Madrid, Spain (more like a 40min Terravision bus ride and a Ryanair flight that managed to leave late but arrive early?). We found Sarah amongst the crowds of yelling Spaniards and jetted off in a taxi (splurge, I know) to our hostel, TOC.

With a new city, new country AND new companion, we took the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets, adjusting to the new language, smells, sights and most importantly food! We meandered into an incredible looking deli that turned out to have three levels to it and pointed at the picture of a seafood platter, a grilled cheese and jamon salad and a bottle of moscato. The English is not as good in Spain as in Italy, so we just crossed our fingers and hoped. It sort of adds to the excitement though, not being 100% sure of what you are going to get. We almost ordered two bottles of moscato “accidentally”. With a quick look around the shops near our hostel we finished the night off with a €12 bottle of Sangria. Free pour, baby!

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Supposed to wake up for a 9am free walking tour the next morning, we were lucky to make it to the 10am. Meeting our tour guide Juliana from ‘Sandemans New Madrid’ in the famous Plaza Mayor, she sent us around the corner to a supermarket to grab something for breakfast before we met the rest of the group. Oh My God. She sent us to heaven. This place put the SUPER in market. What turned out to be the shell of a church which was turned into an open market and then enclosed with glass panes, the San Miguel markets are beyond words. Like a gourmet tapas market, it was filled with a range of stores selling everything you could imagine in tapas style, so you could run around and fill try something from each shop. Needless to say we went back from dinner and breakfast the next morning.

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Once we reunited with the tour we were taken to the Worlds Oldest Restaurant, where we got the chance to look into the kitchen and see them preparing the most amazing looking suckling pig, as well as into the cellar which boasted bottles of wine from 1702. Legend has it that a girl once broke a bottle while in the cellar and her ghost is still seen in the kitchen cleaning dishes to pay for the damage. Eek!

We were treated to beautiful plazas and gardens surrounding the Royal Palace, churches, cafes, and fountains. We were shown the spot where an attempt was made to assassinate King Alfonso XIII on his wedding day by throwing a bouquet of flowers covering a bomb onto his bridal carriage. Unfortunately, while the bomb missed the King, it did kill 28 people and injured over 100. There is now a monument on the street and a bouquet of flowers placed on the balcony in which he stood to commemorate those lost.

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One of my favourite sites was the street with all the big banks. They were all such grand and beautiful buildings. In the middle of a large intersection sat a gorgeous fountain which Juliana told us could be drained through an underground passageway that linked the the bank’s gold vault as to drown anyone attempting to steal the gold. How James Bond is that!

After bidding Juliana farewell and tipping her appropriately, we headed to a supermarket, made some sandwiches (saving money!), tried to fit the rest of our ingredients in the overflowing hostel fridge, went for a shop on Gran Via (the main shopping street), and headed back to our beloved San Miguel Market for some paella among many other delicious treats.

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Around 10.30pm, when one would expect to be calling it a night if you weren’t already out, we headed to Puetra del Sol to meet Idoya, a local and friend of Sarah’s that she met on a train to Vienna a few years ago. Idoya kindly took us for the real Madrid experience, starting at a proper Spanish bar that she explained was easily identifiable by the florescent lights and €3 gin & tonics. After that we headed to a much trendier establishment called 1862 Dry Bar where I enjoyed at Singapore Sling, a type of cocktail that happens to be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, made by a bartender called Jesus. We starred in a short film that happened to be being filmed there, before heading off to the final bar where we struggled to finish one of the biggest gin & tonics I have ever seen (for only €5 of course) where we met some lovely people who had been having a bet about where we were from for ten minutes before building up the courage to ask us. Sarah ended up adding one of them on Facebook as she is moving to Sydney later in the year – what a social butterfly.

Groggy morning but made it to the station and on to the train headed for Cordoba. More on that later, loving Spain so far.

Adios!

N.B. This is a link to the free tour we did, as there are lots of different groups that meet in Plaza Mayor: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g187514-d1913235-Reviews-SANDEMANs_NEW_Madrid_Tours-Madrid.html

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Kyoto also spells Tokyo

It has hit that point, as it does in every trip, where you suddenly realise how fast the time has gone, and how little you have left. As the cold seems endless, the race through train stations never ending, and the new faces familiar, the days begin to blur into one and you lose track of how long you’ve been traveling for. But if you ask me, these are the greatest days. The days you don’t have internet connection, but don’t even realise. They days you forget about time-wasters like makeup and planned outfits. The days you just want to lose yourself in a city in order to truly find its treasures. The days that challenge you, change you, but stay with you forever.

This week started with an end. On our final morning in Kyoto, we vowed to find the large Buddha we had spotted on the edge of town while we were up the Kyoto Tower. A true test of how well we knew the streets, we managed to find it after going in a few circles (however that was most likely due to us getting lost in conversation). The monument, we learnt on arrival, was called Ryozen Kannon and is a tribute to all the unknown soldiers who bravely fought and died in World War II. The 24 metre high compassionate Buddha is a symbol of peace, both for the state of Japan, and for those who died fighting for it. Not mentioned anywhere in our guidebook, I was particularly pleased with our discovery. It was an interesting and un-touristed little complex with plenty of temples, memorials and shrines – some for luck, marriage, peace and even blessings for miscarried foetus.

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After our walk back to the hostel, the falling snow made it all the easier to jump on the toasty-warm Shinkansen train for three hours, headed to Tokyo! As we laid back in our spacious seats, we watched the world literally fly by – the dense city centres to the sparse rural villages, all looking as though someone had lightly dusted them with a fine icing sugar. All going too perfectly to plan, we were two stops out of Tokyo when the cabin crew realised we were on the wrong train (our JR pass did not cover super express Shinkansen, only the express) and asked us ever so politely to get off at the next stop and get on the next train. While ordinarily this sort of mistake could have been disastrous to a tight schedule, the next train came in a measly 5 minutes. Nice one, Japan!

Once arriving in Tokyo City, we found Hiroko, after a kind gentleman helped us decode a confusing pay phone, much to both ours and his amusement. Hiroko is a friend of my grandmother’s who hosted me when I first visited Japan, some 19 years ago. She had kindly offered to have us stay at her house for the first night we were in Tokyo so we could see her perform in a traditional drum concert to be held the next day. She was more than hospitable while we stayed with her, more than we could ever have asked for or expected. She treated us to the most amazing sushi train experience I have ever had (they filleted the fish before your eyes), the chance to cook our own okonomiyaki, a real crazy Japanese experience at a Ninja restaurant, cakes, cats, and most of all an insight into a side of Japanese culture we could not have got through guidebooks. She even introduced us to her friend Emi who, with her husband, kindly took us up the Tokyo SkyTree to 350metres above Tokyo and treated us to a lovely lunch while Hiroko practiced her drumming.

One of my favourite things I discovered while staying with Hiroko was the technology. Her toilet can be put through a range of strange motions such as spray, heat, dry, mist, etc (you can work out what for), her bath heats and fills itself up and tells you when it is ready, and her washing machine will weigh your load of washing and tell you how much soap to put in and how long it will take. What are we doing in Australia!?

All in all, we could not have thanked Hiroko enough for her immense generosity, and although all she would accept was a bunch of flowers and some chocolates, we are eternally grateful for all that she did for us and can’t wait for her to visit Australia to repay her for her hospitality.

On our second night in Tokyo, after a delicious dinner, Hiroko was kind enough to drop us to our hostel (quite literally to the door, any closer and her car would have been through the front window) where the second half of our Tokyo journey began. But more on that later…

Good night for now. I hope you are all smiling just as much as me.

IMG_0203 Our sushi plate stack – we tried Tuna, Sea Urchin, Salmon, Bloody Clam, Scallop, Red Fish and many more…

IMG_0207 Hiroko and I

IMG_0202 View from the Tokyo SkyTree

IMG_0204 Lunch with Emi and Hero

<a href=”https://emmabreislin.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/img_0205.jpg”>IMG_0205 Hiroko’s traditional drum performance

IMG_0206 Making our own okonomiyaki