A weekend trip to the ‘big smoke’

There were many reasons to head down to the ‘big smoke’, as my husband jokingly calls Sydney, but the most important one was to attend the baby shower of my brother’s girlfriend. My brother and his girlfriend are expecting their first baby, this baby is also the first (human) grand child for my parents so on Friday, armed with gifts for the soon-to-be parents, I boarded the plane to Sydney.

Vivid 2012 is a light festival of sorts, you may have already seen photos on This Sydney Life, imagine my delight when my brother’s girlfriend arranged for me to meet her and another friend at Circular Quay to check out it out on Friday night. Of course the area was jam-packed with people wanting to see the installations, the weather was perfect for such an event and this was the last weekend of Vivid. Moving at the pace of a baby learning to crawl we walked from the train station around to the Rocks, stopping regularly to take photos and just admire the show. Light and music combined to create an awesome display on Custom House and the Museum of Contemporary Art whilst the Opera House had slow moving images projected onto the surface of the sails, serious photographers lined the water’s edge with their tripods with the aim of capturing the perfect night time shot. Dinner was from a stall at the night markets, the choice of food was huge and varied from corn on the cob, sweet potato chips, pad thai, paella and organic hamburgers to dutch pancakes, gelato and cannoli. The seafood paella was scrumptious, we squeezed fresh lemon over the dish and looked for a place where we could sit, relax and enjoy the meal.

The baby shower was on Saturday, a fun time was had by all and of course there was plenty of yummy food to snack on, not to mention cakes and apple crumble pie for dessert. Games are always on the agenda at a baby shower, over the years I have played a few different ones but never have I performed so poorly at a task than on Saturday when as part of ‘pass the parcel’ I was required to sing a nursery rhyme. Even with assistance I could barely get out more than a couple of lines and I’m pretty sure that I even stuffed that up, someone suggested a buy a book of nursery rhymes however I’ll probably just end up googling them instead.

While in Sydney it seemed a shame not to go shopping with one of my dearest friends Jo, when I lived in Sydney it was a popular past time of ours and we often combined shopping with a visit to David Jones Food Hall, the Rocks Markets and a gallery or two. The plan was to meet up with Jo on the Sunday, the weather was looking bleak, it was a good idea to stay indoors and thankfully many of the shops in the Pitt Street Mall and Queen Victoria Building are linked and rarely require you to venture outside. Much money was saved shopping in the sales, my objective was to find new shoes, shirts and a handbag for work and I did just that, saving $100-$150 in the process which is pretty good by anyone’s standards. Lunch was in an asian kitchen/laksa house, we assumed that the number of asian people eating there was a good sign and certainly we found both the seafood and chicken laksa to be more than satisfactory. A hot chocolate mid-afternoon sustained us until we had to head home, shopping bags aplenty and a box of cupcakes in hand we joined the throng of people underground, said our goodbyes and caught the train home. With the rain pouring down and the temperature plummeting as night fell, walking into my brother’s home and smelling the heavenly scent of roast lamb and potato bake cooking in the oven was the perfect end to a wonderful weekend.

Summer wine

Sirromet Winery
Sirromet Winery

When friends come to visit it is nice to take them somewhere other than the shopping strip along the beach known as Surfers Paradise and the theme parks, two of my favourite places to go are Mt Tamborine and the Sirromet Winery. Yesterday was a little warm to be wandering around Mt Tamborine so we spent a few hours enjoying the food, wine and music at Sirromet. Queensland wines don’t have quite the same reputation as those produced down south in the Hunter Valley or Barossa Valley but don’t let that put you off, their fruity white wine and sparkling rose are nice and light for a summer afternoon of chatting with girlfriends.

The day was a typical hot and muggy Queensland summer day, thankfully the muggy didn’t eventuate into a huge storm and bucketloads of rain – we’ve had enough of that. The cellar door at Sirromet has many shaded areas, not to mention umbrellas and outdoor tables scattered around the green, we made ourselves at home near the cellar door and enjoyed a pinot gris while munching on cheese, crackers, fruit and nuts. If you’re really keen you can do a wine tour and if your budget stretches further than ours then lunch at Lurleens Restaurant is a must, the food is delicious and beautifully presented (if you’re into that sort of thing).

German style bratwurst with fries and salad
German style bratwurst with fries and salad

Every weekend the winery provides music as entertainment, it is a popular venue for hen’s parties and birthday parties and sure enough we hear a rendition of Happy Birthday sung as the band takes a break. The cheese and crackers were good, however the smell of food cooking tantalises our tastebuds and we  order lunch. My friend and I can’t go past the German style Bratwurst on a bread roll, it is a huge meal and there is no way we’re going to be able to eat it without cutting up the sausage and roll. Not caring whether the wine matches our food we share a bottle of sparkling rose, bubbles are always welcome when a group of girls get together and they match our mood which is more important at the time.

I’m driving and so cannot have more than 2 drinks during our time at the winery, by 2.30pm all of us were feeling the heat and thanks to having a full belly and a drink or two, we were also a little sleepy. Sirromet is located on a hill and to one side is a lovely shaded picnic area, for us, the trees provide  a great place to stretch out and cool down before getting into a hot car for the drive home. What a wonderful way to spend a Saturday: tasty food, nice wine and great company in a peaceful location.

Sirromet Winery

Sirromet's Cellar door and outdoor area
Sirromet's Cellar door and outdoor area
The vines
The vines

Sand, surf and a little bit of sunshine

The beach near Salt Mantra resort
Summer at the beach
Staffy running on the beach
Staffy returning to his owners on the beach

Another weekend over and we’re just that little bit closer to Christmas and the dawning of a near year. I was looking forward to a quiet weekend at home before launching into preparing for Christmas with my family, but my husband had other ideas, thanks to his work, we were lucky enough to be included in the 4 ASD Kids charity weekend at the Salt Mantra resort at Kingscliff. I could talk about the great work that the charity undertakes in assisting families and children with autism, but you’re better off reading the information on their website, 4 ASD Kids.

View from our balcony
View from our balcony at Mantra on Salt
Ocean view from hotel balcony
Ocean view from hotel balcony

Apart from getting sunburned lying around the pool and drinking far too much alcohol on the Saturday night it was an enjoyable weekend, our room had an ocean view and we could watch and listen to the waves crashing on the shore. The Special Olympics Dancers performed on Saturday night at the Gala event, they were wonderful and received standing ovations, on Sunday they were the most active and enthusiastic participants on the beach volleyball court.

Lifeguard station and flags at the beach
Swim between the flags
Blue bike near the beach
Bikes for hire

The Kingscliff area is a beautiful part of Northern New South Wales and not far from the border separating the state from Queensland, the beaches seem to go for miles and there are many popular spots for enjoying a picnic or barbeque. The cafes that line the esplanade offer hungry visitors a variety of tasty treats ranging from freshly baked cakes and pies to Thai food and Salt and Pepper Calamari. The lighthouse at Fingal Head is also worth visiting, at the edge of the cliff you can see the huge beach or look in the other direction at the columnar-jointed basalt called the Giant’s Causeway.

Fingal Head NSW
Fingal Head NSW
Giants Causeway, Fingal Head
Giants Causeway, Fingal Head
Looking south at the beach near Fingal Heads
Looking south at the beach near Fingal Heads
The beach and Pandanus Palms, Fingal Heads
The beach and Pandanus Palms, Fingal Heads

Melbourne in pictures

The Melbourne city circle tram
The Melbourne city circle tram

I spent a fantastic weekend in Melbourne, staying in an apartment in Bourke Street with one of my dearest friends and although the weather was mostly overcast and wet we walked many city blocks in search of bargains. I love the cosmopolitan nature of Melbourne, plenty of Greek, Italian and Asian cuisine and a range of design (fashion, homewares, art) from the quirky to the trendy, plus the coffee was excellent. We didn’t make it to any of the galleries or museums, choosing to spend our time chatting over a bite to eat, exploring paper shops or admiring Chloe, a well known painting in a Melbourne pub. Being so close to Christmas, the Myer Christmas windows were a huge drawcard for families and tourists, we lined up with the rest of the to ooh and aah at Santa and listen to Guy Sebastian singing ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’.

One of the Myer Christmas windows
One of the Myer Christmas windows, loved by children and adults

Melbourne has been declared Australia’s most livable city a couple of times over the last few years as well as being quite popular with tourists that want a different experience than Sydney offers. I can understand why and with cheap flights that take only a couple of hours from Brisbane, I plan on returning someday soon.

Street art on the exterior of a cafe
Street art on the exterior of a cafe
Entry to Chinatown, Melbourne
Entry to Chinatown, Melbourne
The facade of a building currently under construction
The facade of a building currently under construction
Delicious cakes and pastries at the International Bakery
Delicious cakes and pastries at the International Bakery
Pellegrini's - great food and excellent coffee
Pellegrini's - great food and excellent coffee

Upcoming arty farty, foodie and shopping extravaganza

In a couple of weeks I’ll be heading off to Melbourne for a long weekend of shopping, eating and visiting art galleries with one of my dearest friends Jo. One of the first stops will be a chocolate shop/cafe called Chokolait which I’m told serves the most divine hot chocolate, Greek and Italian dining is apparently excellent as well and I’m really looking forward to eating Greek food again, Greek restaurants a few and far between where I live. Shopping in Melbourne is supposed to be the best, better than any other Australian city anyway and Jo has suggested hitting the factory outlets as well as checking out Chapel Street and other areas of interest.

We’ll be staying somewhere in Bourke Street, central to most of the activities that we have in mind. Federation Square, home the National Gallery of Victory and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is not too far away, also reasonably close is the Arts Centre at Southbank on the Yarra River, another destination on the list of things to do and see. Of course I will be taking my camera, I rarely go anywhere without it and having never been to Melbourne it will be hard for me to resist snapping pictures of everything we see and eat.

It has been several years since we caught up with each other and that was in Sydney and during that visit Jo and I hopped on a ferry and crossed the harbour to visit Taronga zoo, in the afternoon we drank at a pub in Woolloomooloo and wandered around the Gallery of NSW. They are places I’ve been before, having lived in Sydney for a few years but I still took lots of photos, none of the food though which is highly unusual. Jo lives near a National Park, when you dine on her balcony it is often in the company of Rainbow Lorikeets, Cockatoos and other native birds.

Rainbow Lorikeets
Rainbow Lorikeets
Darling Harbour Fountain
Darling Harbour Fountain
Sydney Ferry with Harbour Bridge in background
Sydney Ferry with Harbour Bridge in background

I’m really excited about this upcoming trip, Jo is my arty, farty foodie friend and shopping is always on the menu, this trip we’ll both be able to do some Christmas shopping as well as buy some pretty things for ourselves 🙂