NSW Trip: Day 7: Sydney

31 10 2009

The reason for our trip to NSW and Sydney was the wedding of my husband’s niece, to be held on a function boat on Sydney Harbour, and leaving from the Sydney Opera House steps.

We started off with a leisurely fully cooked breakfast at the Sir Stamford (part of the room deal). The only complaint was that the tables were too high for the chairs — all part of that ostentatious French decor, but not very practical!

After breakfast we got a call from one of the brothers suggesting meeting up at a pub in The Rocks for lunch. It wasn’t far to walk, so we left the car in the parking garage and hoofed it over there. There were lots of people about on Circular Quay and in The Rocks, and a big cruise ship, the ‘Amsterdam’, was in port. It was a gorgeous day.

We joined the brothers and the groom-to-be but decided not to have lunch — we’d been overeating all week, and had had a late (big) breakfast, and we knew there’d be food at the wedding later this afternoon/evening.

The wedding guests were to meet at the Man’o’War steps at the Sydney Opera House at 5 pm, for a 5:30 departure on ‘The Pontoon’, a glass-enclosed function boat. We walked down from the hotel (5 minutes away), and waited and waited and waited. Eventually we got on board and left the wharf around 6 pm. My feet were hurting from wearing heels and walking on paving, and standing up for so long! There was even more standing while canapes were served outside on the top deck, and as we motored to the steps near the Park Hyatt at Circular Quay to pick up the bride and her father. Then it was back to Farm Cove where the wedding ceremony took place on the top deck of the boat, with the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and the city in the background. It was very windy, so the symbolic candles couldn’t be lit.


Iconic backdrop for a Sydney Harbour wedding

There was a lot more standing around until we were asked to move downstairs to the main level for the dinner. By this time it was close to 8 pm and my feet were killing me, even though the heels I had on were reasonably low.


Downstairs on 'The Pontoon'

Dinner was two courses, plus cheese and fruit platters, and coffee. There were two dishes per course and they were served alternately — person A got dish A, person B got dish B, person C got dish A, person D got dish B, etc. There’s a name for this style of catering, but I’ve forgotten what it is. You could swap with your neighbour if you didn’t want what was put in front of you. The entree courses were a goat cheese and onion tart or a ‘wild mushroom risotto with truffle oil infusion and grated parmesan’. I had the risotto — it was yummy! For the main course, the dishes were ‘aged porterhouse steak’ or a chicken dish. I had the steak. And it was aged all right — it was tough as old boots! Our dinner knives had no serration on them at all (what’s up with that??), though I’m not sure it would have made any difference. Pushing hard, it took me 33 slices to cut through each piece of the steak, and then 140 chews to break it up enough to swallow (I counted it ‘cos it was taking SOOOOOO long). That steak was very tough and I left half of the small portion I’d been served. Others at the table left some of theirs too, so it wasn’t just mine that was tough.


Miniscule portion of incredibly tough steak

The wines were from Hardy’s but I didn’t see which label. I had two glasses of the red to try to wash down the tough steak. And that was all the alcohol I had the whole wedding.

A few speeches were given between the courses, and once the dancing started, my husband and I retreated upstairs to take in the lights of Sydney at night. A few others did the same — mostly the smokers (I was surprised by how many were smokers). It was still pretty windy, but the air on our faces was better than the stuffy air downstairs. And going under the Harbour Bridge was neat!

We got back to the Opera House steps around 11:30 pm. Just before we landed, a Venetian-style water taxi came to pick up the bride and groom and ferry them off to wherever.

We said our goodbyes, and walked back to the hotel — well, I hobbled as my feet weren’t coping well!

It was a lovely ceremony and a delightful and beautiful setting, spoiled by three things — sore feet (my fault for choosing the shoes I did and not realising we’d be standing for some hours); very tough steak; and the incredibly steep, narrow and downright dangerous stairs that led down to the toilets. Those stairs were a real problem, even for those of us who were sober. In fact, I overheard a couple of ladies say, very early in the evening after they’d come down the stairs for the first time, that they wouldn’t be drinking as they wouldn’t want to negotiate those stairs under the influence of alcohol and in their (very) high heels. I have no idea how the boat catered for anyone who was a little infirm or wobbly on their feet — these seemed to be the only toilets.

NSW Trip: Day 6: Cessnock to Sydney

30 10 2009

We weren’t in a hurry to get into Sydney. We had plenty of time — check in at the hotel wasn’t until 3:00 PM and we were only a couple of hours out. I decided to go to the Cessnock Public Library about two streets away to check and delete the avalanche of emails I knew would be piling up. But the library was closed — it was the annual picnic day for the Council workers! Just my luck…

We drove back to Sydney the long way — via Kurri Kurri, Newcastle, Belmont (where we stopped at a patchwork fabric store!), then meandered down the coast through The Entrance (where we had lunch) to Woy Woy, then we cut back in to Gosford and on into Sydney.

The foreshore at The Entrance is very like the foreshores at Rockingham and Mandurah in Western Australia. Lots of picnic tables, grassed areas for families, cafes, etc. We grabbed a delicious chicken kebab each from the kebab shop on the corner and ate it at a picnic table under a tree. The weather was gorgeous.

The drive down the coast and through the little towns was very picturesque, but I’d live in dread of the bushfire danger lurking in the steep, well-wooded hillsides where lots of houses are built.

Susan the Navigator had some trouble getting us back on to the Pacific Highway — we wanted to go one way; she wanted us to go another. We stopped listening to her and did it ourselves! Once on the Pacific Highway, we had a dream run into the outskirts of Sydney. The road through Ku-ring-gai National Park is great — wide, smooth, with nicely flowing traffic. Then we hit the suburbs. The Highway takes you through a lot of suburbs, with lots of traffic, cars parked on the side of the road, short merging lanes, etc. It’s possible that we could have avoided all this, but we don’t know ‘cos I made a boo-boo with Susan!

The hotel where we were staying for the wedding tomorrow was the Sir Stamford Hotel at 93 Macquarie St, Sydney (http://www.stamford.com.au/) — opposite the Botanic Gardens and right near the Opera House and Circular Quay in the heart of Sydney. I entered ’93 Macquarie St, Sydney’ into Susan, and she took us there. Only it was 93 Macquarie St in some leafy suburb north of Sydney! “You have arrived at your destination” was interesting when we were looking at a house instead of a hotel near the Opera House! Then I found out that Susan had a city selection option for ‘Sydney’ and ‘Sydney CBD’. My error. When I selected ‘Sydney CBD’ then put in 93 Macquarie St, she got us back on course and delivered us over the Harbour Bridge and along the Cahill Expressway right to the hotel door. Too funny!

The Sir Stamford is a very classy hotel, but with all this ornate, over the top 18th Century French style decoration that doesn’t do a thing for me. It’s also pretty expensive (we had a group rate of $274 a night which included full breakfast for two each morning, but didn’t include parking at $35 a day). Our room was really big, with a HUGE all-marble bathroom.

We decided to see if there was anywhere close by to eat (other than the hotel), so we walked down to the Opera House (a 5-minute meander), then along Circular Quay to the Overseas Passenger Terminal. There were HEAPS of places to eat! We had that extra bottle of Zinfandel from Piggs Peake Winery that we couldn’t take on the plane with us, so we were looking for a restaurant/cafe that looked reasonable, but that also allowed BYO. With corkage of $15 per bottle at some places, it all looked too hard. Also, the area was very busy and noisy, with lots of crowds enjoying the warm weather the views and the ‘breeze’ off the harbour at the end of the working week. My husband was not fussed about the crowds, so we headed back to the hotel to cool off. We decided to get room service so we could drink the bottle of wine with our meal, in the quiet comfort of our room. The steak sandwiches from room service were excellent, and the Zin went down really well with them! It was a good decision.

The bed was really comfy, as were the pillows.

As an aside: It always amazes me that the more you pay for a hotel room in Australia and the US, the less of the basics you get. For example, the range of TV channels at the Sir Stamford was limited at best and they charged for all movies — they didn’t even have one of the Foxtel movie channels. All of the cheaper places we stayed on this trip had a much bigger range of TV channels. And expensive hotels charge an arm and a leg for internet connection — not that it mattered to me this time as I didn’t have my laptop. They may have fancy restaurants and gyms and special club facilities, but that means diddly at 10 PM when you’re not yet ready for sleep and just want to watch a bit of TV.


King bed at the Sir Stamford Hotel

NSW Trip: Day 5: The Hunter Valley

29 10 2009

It was winery day today! Hunter Valley is famous for its reds, especially Shiraz. And guess what our favourite wine variety is? Shiraz! Heaven.

Overall impressions

  • Geographic size: The Hunter Valley is physically quite small, which I found surprising. There are a lot of wineries there, but the size of the region wouldn’t come close to the square kilometres of the Margaret River wine region. The plus of that is that everything is in easy reach, so when a winery was recommended that we’d passed earlier, going back was not an issue.
  • Spitting: I’ve always tasted wine by smelling, swilling, and swallowing (why waste good wine by spitting it out, hey?). And as I’ve invariably been the driver, I’ve always had to limit my number of tastings. So today I decided to spit for the first time as I’d be doing all the driving. I wanted to taste as many wines as possible while staying well under the alcohol limit for driving. You know what? It was a great experience and one I’d happily repeat! With spitting you get the full flavour of the wine – the smell, the swilling in the mouth (or whatever it’s called), the ‘mouthfeel’. The only thing you don’t get is any lingering after taste on the back palate as you don’t swallow. By the end of the day, I was alert, fresh, clear-headed, focused and stone cold sober! My husband on the other hand…
  • Freight charges: We found an amazing difference in what wineries would charge to ship a case of wine to us in regional Western Australia. Most said they were quoting the Australia Post price; some even said that no freight companies would deliver cases to regional WA. So, if they were all quoting the Australia Post price for a case of wine (which would weigh pretty much the same no matter which winery it came from), how come we were quoted shipping charges from zero (with our choice of Australia Post or a freight company) through to $35? Sounds like someone is ripping off the consumer…

Wineries we visited and wines we tasted

Wyndham Estate (http://www.wyndhamestate.com), an old well-established winery at the top end of the Lower Hunter region:

  • Bin 555 Shiraz ($16): Very peppery; drink now
  • George Wyndham Range 2005 Shiraz ($21.50): Softer pepper; cellar up to 10 years
  • Regional Selection 2000 Hunter Valley Shiraz ($30): Barnyard smell — very off-putting; cellar a few more years
  • Black Cluster 2005 Single Vineyard Hunter Shiraz ($65): BEAUTIFUL! Cellar up to 15 years

Tyrrell’s Vineyard (http://www.tyrrells.com.au), another old, well-established winery. Overall, Tyrrell’s was very disappointing. We tried three shirazes, but as the old blokes behind the counter were just going through the motions of ‘customer service’, we got no information about the wines. It’s as though they didn’t care.


View from Tyrrell's carpark

Brokenwood (http://www.brokenwood.com.au) had a young girl behind the counter who had heaps of personality but I got the impression she didn’t know a lot about wine.

  • 2007 Cricket Pitch (cabernet/merlot/shiraz blend; $19): A quaffer; peppery
  • 2006 Shiraz (Barossa/McClaren Vale blend from South Australia; $30): Another quaffer, pepper; has some length
  • 2007 Hunter Valley Shiraz ($40): Earthy, soft but finished dry; longest on the palate of the four we tasted
  • 2005 Wade Block 2 Vineyard Shiraz ($45): initially astringent, then soft; second longest on the palate of those we tried

Pepper Tree Wines (http://www.peppertreewines.com.au) had the very personable and knowledgeable Craig behind the counter. He knew his stuff and he also recommended a couple of other wineries to try as well as a place for lunch (Bistro Molines). The current Hunter Valley tourist guide book said Pepper Tree made Zinfandel, but Craig said they stopped making it a couple of years ago — he referred us to Piggs Peake for Zinfandel, and to McWilliams Mt Pleasant for some other good shirazes. Thanks Craig!

  • 2007 Limited Release Hunter Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($25): Our second favourite of the range we tasted
  • 2004 Reserve Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon ($30; another South Australian wine!): Out top pick
  • 2008 Shiraz ($18): Had a touch of Viognier; our fourth choice
  • 2004 Grand Reserve Wrattonbully Cabernet Sauvignon ($55): Our third choice

After Pepper Tree, we followed Craig’s lunch recommendation and went to Bistro Molines (http://www.bistromolines.com.au), which is located off the beaten track at Tallavera Grove Winery (http://www.tallaveragrove.com.au). I expected ‘bistro’ to mean decent food at a decent price, nothing too fancy. Bistro Molines is very far removed from all of those things. It’s very fancy (we felt a little out of place in our jeans and T-shirts…), very expensive (lunch main courses were around $40 each, and entrees were $25 and up; wines by the glass started at $8), and while the food was delicious, it was a dining experience best suited for the evening. My husband had the twice-roasted duckling, and I had most excellent fig, gorgonzola and proscuitto entree. But it was an expensive lunch and we felt a little out of place among the other diners in their designer clothes and cars!

View from Bistro Molines

View from Bistro Molines

Piggs Peake Winery (http://www.piggspeake.com) was next on the list. We had to backtrack a bit to get to it, but it was worth it! The wines were expensive, but they were all magnificent. These guys were the only ones who don’t charge for freight anywhere in Australia. We ordered a mixed case (and got an extra bottle of Zin thrown in) and it arrived home a week after we ordered it, with all bottles individually wrapped in bubble wrap.

  • 2008 House of Bricks Shiraz ($55)
  • 2008 House of Bricks Cabernet ($55)
  • 2008 Wolfie Zinfandel ($55)

McWilliam’s Mount Pleasant (http://www.mountpleasantwines.com.au) was our last stop. They are another old winery, with a HUGE tasting room. No-one was serving when we got there, but the maintenance guy spotted us and came and served us! That was nice! He knew something about the wines too, even though he had some beers in his hands to take out to his workers at the end of the day. Later on the guy who’s normally behind the counter came in and took over from him. Lots of light-hearted banter!

  • 2005 Mt Pleasant Old Paddock and Old Hill Shiraz ($38.50): Our top pick of the wines we tasted here
  • 2004/2005 Mt Pleasant Rosehill Shiraz ($32): Our second pick
  • 2005/2006 Mt Pleasant Maurice O’Shea Shiraz ($60.50): Our third pick
  • 2007 Mt Pleasant Philip Shiraz ($18.00): Our fourth pick

And after all those wines, it was time to call it a day!

On the way back into Cessnock, we called into Potters Brewery (http://www.pottersbrewery.com.au/) — after all that wine, my husband said he felt like a beer! He had a tasting plate of their boutique beers, while I had a Diet Coke in keeping with my alcohol-free day.


Dinner that night was at the Cessnock SSS BBQ Barn (http://www.sssbbq.com.au), where we had the same as we’d had two nights ago in Dubbo — a large rack of ribs for him and a small rack for me. He must’ve had more than usual to drink as he also ordered a Chocolate Mud Pudding for dessert — and he never has dessert!

NSW Trip: Day 4: Getting to Cessnock and the Hunter Valley

28 10 2009

We left Dubbo and headed out on the Golden Highway, retracing some of our route from yesterday (as far as Dunedoo). We stopped in the little town of Merriwa for lunch at the bakery. My husband’s pie was ‘ordinary’ and my BBQ chicken wrap was horrible (cold, made with Chinese Hoisin sauce, and tiny chicken squares that looked preserved!). Then it was back on the road via Denman and Branxton, just south of Singleton.

At Branxton we turned south to Cessnock, where we’d decided to stay for two nights to make our trip to the Hunter Valley wine region worthwhile. We checked into the Best Western Wine Country Motor Inn ($110/night for a standard room), which is right in the heart of Cessnock. Very convenient! And surprisingly quiet.

Right next door to the Best Western was the Cessnock Rugby League Supporters Club, so we wandered over there to play some pool, and discovered that they had meals for $10 a head, including a glass of beer or house wine!

We couldn’t go past the pork roast… The red wine I had was from a cask of de Bortoli Cab sav, and was perfectly acceptable. And for $10 a head, it was a really good deal. The $3 per game pool table was a bit rich, though.

NSW Trip: Day 3: Dubbo

27 10 2009

The whole reason for going to Dubbo was to visit the Western Plains Zoo (now part of Taronga Zoo). We’d always said that we should do this trip ‘one day’ — especially after we visited the San Diego Wildlife Park at Escondido some years back — and now that day had arrived.


The zoo is just on the outskirts of Dubbo, so is really easy to get to (once you’re in Dubbo, of course!). But it’s pricey. It costs $45 per adult for entry to the zoo. This is for a two-day pass, but there’s no option to purchase a single day ticket — you can only purchase a two-day pass. On top of that are charges for bike hire (min. $15 per bike; $21 each for a bike with 3 gears; $69 for a golf cart-style buggy), and all hire charges are for a minimum of 4 hours, so no option to hire for an hour.

You can drive around the zoo in your own car (about a 5 km loop) and get out and walk to the exhibits, or walk the entire loop, or hire a bike or buggy. We hired bikes, but because the sun was out and had some heat, we had to purchase peaked caps and sunscreen too (another almost $50). All up our trip to the Dubbo zoo cost us around $200… And we were only there for about two hours.

Why two hours? Well, to be honest, that’s all it took. We drove around slowly on the first pass, stopping for me to get out and take some pictures. Then we bought the caps and sunscreen, filled in all the paperwork for the bike hire, then rode around the loop and some of the inner trails, again stopping to take photos etc. It really only took two hours. And we’re not at all fit. A fit rider would so it in much less, even allowing for stopping and taking photos. (Pictures are here)

We considered our expenses for those two hours our charitable contribution to the zoo…

So, what to do for the rest of the day? It was around lunchtime, and we’d booked a room for two nights, so we couldn’t check out. The bike hire attendant had suggested we go to the Hunter Valley and do a ‘slight detour’ via Dunedoo to see Gulgong and Mudgee, so we decided to do that drive this afternoon.

Gulgong is a very historic town, famed for its connection to Henry Lawson (famous Australian poet), and is know to most older Australians as ‘the town on the $10 note’… that’s until they redesigned the notes back in the 1980s and took it off the $10 note! Gulgong has narrow streets, massively high kerbs, and a so-so bakery where we bought pies for lunch.

Next stop was Mudgee, where the streets were much wider. Pretty town, though we didn’t stop for any length of time. If we’re out that way again, we’d stop there and perhaps check out some wineries in the region.

From Mudgee, we headed in a loop back to Dubbo via Ulan (a dot on the map and nothing more when you get there!), then towards Wellington, then took the Goolma road direct to Dubbo.

A comment about the roads out here in western NSW — they are narrow, have narrow shoulders, have a LOT of truck traffic, and are really potholed, patchy and rough in many places. They need serious work. I thought some of the country roads in Western Australia were bad — they’re far better than the NSW roads we travelled on.

We had an early dinner when we got back into Dubbo, at a place we’d spotted earlier — SSS BBQ Barns. My husband had the full rack of BBQ pork ribs ($28.95), and I had a half rack (more than enough; $12.95). They were delicious! The meat melted right off the bones and you really didn’t have to handle the bones at all. Bonus points for the country music they played too!

NSW Trip: Day 2: Getting to Dubbo

26 10 2009

Monday 26 October was a wild, wet, and cold day. Some parts of Sydney had 110 mm of rain that day (some 5+ inches)…

It was time to test out the GPS! We had to get from the airport, out of Sydney, and on our way to Dubbo, and we expected to take much of the day getting there. My work colleague is called Susan, so my husband decided to call the Garmin GPS ‘Susan’. I fired her up, entered Dubbo as our destination, and sat back to let her guide us through Sydney and up and over the Blue Mountains. Sounds easy, right?

Not so much. Here are some problems I found with my first-ever GPS user experience:

  • GPS units want you to know where you’re going. They REALLY want an address. A specific address. Not just a city like ‘Dubbo’. I learned later that you can enter a highway number and it’s happier. But when you don’t know the highway numbers either, that’s a problem!
  • GPS units want to take you onto toll roads. Which is not a problem if there are cash booths for people like us from out of state in rental cars and without fancy electronic passes. But when there’s no cash booth (as announced prior to the M7 Motorway), we tend to freak out. What will happen? Will we be fined lots of money? How can we avoid the toll roads? Will some barrier come down and crush us if we go through a tool booth without an E pass? (we don’t have toll roads in Western Australia…) We exited the M5 before the M7, but Susan kept wanting to take us back on to the M7. I was trying hard to figure out where we were using a street directory; we were in some industrial area… Fortunately, I spotted a service station and the lady there very helpfully gave me the toll road phone number and told us that we could go on the toll roads as long as we called the number within 48 hours and paid via credit card over the phone. That was a relief! So Susan got us back on to the M7. I later found out that there’s a ‘Detour’ button on the GPS and pressing that means that the GPS recalculates the route based on the direction you’re currently going in.
  • GPS units take you in directions you don’t expect. I had a mud-map of the area (a single page map that encompassed much of NSW), and I expected that Susan would direct us off the M7 on to the M4/Highway 32, which goes up over the Blue Mountains via Katoomba. A nice, wide, dual carriage highway that I’ve seen from the train to Katoomba. Nope. Susan decided that we should go past the M4 exit and on towards Richmond, where she then took us on a circuitous route via Kurrajong over the Blue Mountains on a weirdly named road called ‘Bells Line of Road’. I’m sure it was very scenic had the clouds not been covering much of the road and had it not been raining buckets! It was a narrow, winding, tree-lined, single-lane road, with no shoulders for the most part. We eventually got to Lithgow, bypassing Katoomba altogether… Another thing I found later — I could have changed Susan’s settings to avoid toll roads and to take the most direct route.

Once we got to Lithgow, we were out of the heavy rains and only encountered patchy showers. It was still cold though. We were also on the right road from Lithgow onwards (Highway 32), and so we drove on through Bathurst, Orange, and Wellington, before finally reaching Dubbo late in the afternoon. It’s pretty countryside — more undulating than I expected. I guess I expected flat plains, not rolling ones!

We booked in to the Cattleman’s Inn in Dubbo for two nights ($115/night), then had a lovely — but HUGE! — meal in their restaurant. We both had the steak — a 600g ribeye on the bone, with peppercorn sauce, mashed potatoes, and a side salad (for only $2.50 extra, not $7 like some places charge) — along with a 2008 PepperJack Cabernet Sauvignon. Yummy!

Next stop: Dubbo’s Western Plains Zoo (the reason for going to Dubbo!)


NSW Trip: Day 1: Getting to Sydney

25 10 2009

We left home around 6 AM for the 2.75 hour drive to our friends’ place in Perth, where we parked the car and from where we caught a cab to the airport (our friends were at an event so couldn’t take us like they usually do).

It was SUCH a relief (and a novel experience for me) to not have a laptop bag! I could just walk right through the hand luggage screening and not deal with the hassle of pulling a laptop out and then getting it back into my bag while others were also clamouring for the limited countertop space.

After hanging out for an hour or so at the Qantas Club, we caught the 11 AM flight to Sydney. There were quite a few police at the Gate — several members of the Finks motorcycle club were on board, heading back from some sort of gathering they’d had in Perth the previous few days. They were sitting quite some rows back from us, and as far as I could tell, were absolutely no problem to anyone. When we got to Sydney, there were NSW police waiting at our Gate too — probably for the same reason.

The more I read about the loss of services on airlines, the more I appreciate Qantas. Ours was a CityFlyer lunchtime flight and we were served a hot lunch, with free wine and soft drinks. Here’s what we had on our lunch tray (just a reminder of what it was like for the Americans who have lost these services over the past 10 or 20 years):

  • Soy chicken with rice and veges
  • Bread roll and butter
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Small Toblerone chocolate
  • Water
  • Wine
  • Soft drink
  • Ice cream afterwards
  • Tea/coffee

We arrived in Sydney as expected around 6:30 PM, but it was well after 8 PM by the time we left the airport to drive about 500 metres to the hotel. Why? Because Europcar tried to give me the run around! I had checked out car rental prices on the internet and found that if I booked via Alamo (US), the deal for a car supplied by Europcar was cheaper than Europcar’s internet price. I’d called Europcar Australia some weeks earlier and asked if they could match the Alamo price. They said they couldn’t and to book through Alamo, which I did (it was some $150 cheaper).

When we got to the Europcar counter, they had my booking for a standard size car (‘Toyota Camry or similar’) but wanted to put us into a Hyundai i30 (?) hatch, which they said was *their* standard-size car! No way. First, the hatch didn’t have a boot (trunk for the Americans), and I insisted on a vehicle that did as we would be travelling and I didn’t want our luggage to be visible. So then the Europcar agent tried to get us into a Hyundai Elantra. Um, no! That’s not a ‘Toyota Camry or similar’. So I insisted that we get a ‘Camry or similar’ as we were going to be travelling a few thousand kilometres in the country and needed a decent car for country driving.

Eventually we got what I’d paid for — a silver Toyota Camry. The agent (who was very nice, by the way) said that a Camry was their full-size car, and so he’d give me a ‘free’ upgrade for the price I’d already paid with Alamo. Oh, and I’d booked a GPS too, and while we were waiting for a Camry to ‘become available’, the agent showed me how to attach it to the windscreen, turn it on etc.

With all that hassle, it was close to 8:30 PM by the time we found and checked into the hotel (Quest Apartments, Mascot), which is right near the airport. We’d seen the Ibis Hotel just two blocks away and walked there for dinner (Quest doesn’t have dining facilities). The food was great but the service was poor, except for the trainee who was good.

The Quest room was good ($125 a night). Small-ish, but you expect that for an airport hotel. It was very quiet too — I thought the windows might beĀ  double-glazed, but they weren’t.

Here’s the ‘barcode’ painting above the bed in our Quest room — I wonder how much they paid for that masterpiece?:


Next stop: Dubbo…


Journal covers

20 10 2009

I found a great pattern for a journal cover in a quilting magazine recently. I’d been meaning to try one out after my friend Whitney suggested it a few months back. But I just hadn’t seen a pattern I was inspired by.

So this weekend, I took the plunge and decided to make a journal cover from that pattern using a piece of batik I’d cut up into curves and sewn back together again at our retreat at the end of September (thanks for teaching me that technique, Michelle!).

I really liked how the covers turned out, and so I made some more — five altogether, and I have plans for another five at least! They’re pretty easy to make, but it takes a lot of time to do all the embellishing and decoration. Also, the materials cost a bit — one A5-size journal cover uses up much of two fat quarters (one for the cover, one for the lining) plus a decent size piece of quilt batting. So each one costs around $15 before I even start.

Here are pictures of the first five journal covers I made (the Fall Flowers one is already sold — Whitney saw it and just had to have it!) — they are all available for sale from my Etsy store:

Spring weather

16 10 2009

Finally, the first warm day in months! It was a long hot summer extending almost into June, and it’s been a long cold winter, extending well into October. Today we had the first fine, warm (but pleasant), sunny day in months. And it was my day off! So after I’d done some gardening, I packed a picnic lunch and we headed out for a drive. Everything is still really green at the moment, though in a few weeks the heat will dry it all out and it will turn yellow/brown and the weather will get too hot for a picnic in the bush.

We stopped at a picnic spot on the Blackwood River for lunch, and saw a couple of bobtail goannas (we’d seen a live snake on the road just before we got to the picnic spot), as well as some blue wrens. Only three or four cars crossed the bridge in the hour or so we were there so it was incredibly quiet except for the birdsong.

Blackwood River on Winnejup Rd

Blackwood River on Winnejup Rd

View of Blackwood River from picnic shelter

View of Blackwood River from picnic shelter

Spot the blue wren

Spot the blue wren

Bobtails were enjoying the spring weather too!

Bobtails were enjoying the spring weather too!

More Christmas preparations

12 10 2009

I made some more stuff for my Etsy store over the weekend, in preparation for the hoped-for Christmas ‘rush’. Remember, make your stocking stuffer purchases before 30 November to guarantee delivery before Christmas!

Here are some of the things I made:

More stocking stuffers from my Etsy store

More stocking stuffers from my Etsy store