Sunday, December 14, 2008

Reflections: Sydney

By the time I reached Sydney, I think I was mentally and physically exhausted. Relaxing that much can be draining! But seriously, all of the plane travel, combined with going out, staying out late, and drinking too much vino, made for two tired gals. But my mate Shaye and I were both determined to continue having fun, and to end our trip on a high note!

Some of my observations of Sydney? It’s a much different city from Melbourne. It’s a little bit more sprawling. Lots of different neighborhoods, but so difficult to get around! Not like Melbourne (or SF, or even NY…), in Sydney, you have to navigate between multiple public transportation systems—from light rail, to monorail, to buses, and of course ferries! (Which sadly, we never made it onto the ferry!)

In Sydney, we were clearly in a big city. The people were not quite as friendly. There were plenty of skyscrapers and large buildings. I walked by a number of major corporations, and saw lots of familiar shops and brand names. Suddenly, it almost felt like we weren’t that far away.

In any case, there were lots of things about our few days in Sydney that I did loved. Here’s a few of them:

Bondi Beach
One of the most famous beaches in the world, it’s about a 30 min bus ride outside of the Central Business District in Sydney. There are many beaches to choose from when you’re visiting Sydney, and we did think about seeing some of the other ones (like Manley!) But again, this was our first trip out there. It just felt wrong to go some where other than Bondi—this really is the beach that Sydney is known for!

The view from Icebergs is a must see

It’s a beautiful stretch of beach, and a cute little beach community. My friend JT was lucky enough to live out here for a year and she loved it. Having been there myself now, I can understand why. We chose to go out there on a Sunday, so it was filled surfers, families, and people trying to get out of the city. It was a bustling beach scene.

The day we were there, it was sunny and beautiful out. We spent our time there sitting, drinking mimosas, and doing a lot of people watching.

For more photos of beautiful Bondi, click on the slideshow below:

Bondi Beach!

Wildlife Park
It seems silly to do this, and I’m not really a big zoo or animal person, but how can you go all the way to Australia for the first time and not get up close and personal with a koala and kangaroo? You don't. I guarantee you, when you come back from your first trip to Australia, everyone will want to know if you saw a koala or a kangaroo (especially if you know any kids at all!)

We were actually kind of lucky. As part of our wine tasting tour, we had about an hour at this Wildlife Park. It was just the right amount of time for me. We ‘met’ a koala bear (poor thing, had just woken up and was bombarded by a bus load of American tourists), and had the chance to feed a kangaroo. Now, let me be the first to warn you. Those kangaroos are vicious! They go after you when they want more food, and sadly, we even saw one go after a young boy. You’ve been warned!

Here's a link to some photos of our time at the Wildlife Park. I know you've always wanted to see a photo of me and a koala. Or me feeding a kangaroo. Or better yet, a photo of an emu.

Was it a little silly? Yes. Is it still a must do? Yea, probably. At least if it’s your first trip Down Under.

Hunter Valley
Now, onto one of the best days of my vacation. Wine tasting day! Shaye and I signed up for a bus tour, so that everything would be all taken care of. The bus picked us up from our hotel, drove us to the different vineyards, had VIP tastings all lined up, and even lunch was provided (and it wasn’t half bad!)

As we drove through some beautiful parts of Australia, we learned a few things. We heard stories about the prisoners that first came to Australia, saw some of the original roads they had built, and even an old graveyard. We learned that avocados, navel oranges, and tons of stone fruits grow in this region. The Wollombi Valley is beautiful, and there is a healthy farming community there.

We started off the day with a quick stop at the Wollombi Tavern where we sampled some of the famous Dr. Jurd’s Jungle Juice (this is something you’ll have to ask me about in person…or check it out here.)

From there, we moved on and tasted at Brokenwood and Oakvale vineyards in the Hunter Valley. The wines at both vineyards were amazing. Really good. And really reasonably priced. We learned the grape harvest in Australia usually beings in mid January, and goes until the end of March. The region we were in gets HOT HOT HOT, and they’re really known for their semillons and shirazs. All of the wines were screw tops (yay!), and at both vineyards, we had knowledgeable people leading the tasting for us.

At Brokenwood, I was intrigued to see a Nebbiolo on the menu, and was happy we got to taste it. Grant told us his description of the wine (which I loved!), “Tar and Roses” he said. Grant had a lot of little sayings, and I couldn't help but smile each time he gave us a new one. When describing the Cabernet and Merlot blend (which I actually really liked, although I’m typically not much of a merlot drinker), Grant said “the cab is a doughnut wine, the merlot rounds it out and fills in the middle part.” Interesting descriptions. Interesting guy.

Our tasting at Oakvale even included an awesome paring of wine and cheese (the Dutch style marinated feta with bay leaves and peppers was AMAZING!) Thank you Grant and Gordon!

We took a break in there and had lunch at San Martino Restaurant. And I was pleasantly surprised. Lunch was good! And we had five or so different wines that we paired with each course/dish. Amazing! Our little tour group had a great time at lunch, and Shaye and I both quickly realized how lucky we were to have a good tour group. These people really helped make the trip as amazing as it was.

After lunch, we stopped in to Blue Tongue, a microbrewery right there next to the restaurant. This was one of my favorite stops. The beer we tasted was delish—why don’t we make more alcoholic ginger beer in the states??

All in all, the day we spent in Hunter Valley was one of my favorites. Having tasted wine in a few different wine regions, this one is near the top of my list. The people were all really friendly, the pairings made for a more interesting tasting, and there was just the right amount of information provided. I would most definitely recommend booking a day trip out to Hunter Valley (the company we went through was Australian Eco Adventures, they were great!)

And to see the random photos from our day in beautiful wine country, click here!

The Food Scene
So, unlike Melbourne, when I mentioned to friends that I’m traveling to Sydney, everyone had suggestions of places to go and see. I had a long list of restaurants, bars, and notable Sydney/Australian chefs in hand long before I headed down there. I almost had too many suggestions.

One of the hardest things was making sense out of it all. Who knew me? Who knew my taste buds and my idea of what a ‘good restaurant’ was? While I like a good ‘scene’, I don’t like it to be too ‘sceney’. Get the difference? I want to be comfortable in a restaurant. I don’t want to be in a restaurant where I feel the people are there just to be cool (and trust me, we did end up seeing tons of those spots). I go to a restaurant for it’s food. Yes, the d├ęcor and atmosphere play into it all, but that’s secondary. As we sorted through dozens of restaurant and bar names, and decided each meal or each night where to go, I had to take into consideration who provided the suggestions to me.

The other interesting thing? What is ‘Australian cuisine’?? Cynics would say “What Australian cuisine?”, making a jab that it is a cuisine of ‘borrowed flavors’.

Me though? I liked it. Maybe it’s because of my love for Asian spices and flavors, but I thought there were some interesting spices and flavor combinations that I don’t get to see often here in the U.S.

In San Francisco, we are just beginning to see a greater variance of Asian flavors, with people like Chef Tim Luym bringing ‘fusion’ flavors of Southeast Asian, and with Thai, Indian and Malaysian cuisines becoming more and more popular, there’s finally more awareness and understanding of these cuisines. Yet it’s still not as wide spread as it was in Australia. Obviously, given Australia’s proximity to Southeast Asia, one would expect there to be greater influences from that region.

I think there was definitely a lively and bustling food scene in Sydney. Lots of local ‘celebrity chefs’ the Australian’s are excited about (from Neil Perry to Tobie Puttock to Kylie Kwong…) There is a lot to taste in Sydney. It’s all still ‘growing up’ and coming to it’s own. I think it’ll be an interesting food scene to keep our eyes on in the future.

Here's a link to some snapshots from our time in Sydney. All in all, we had an amazing time in Sydney...and the next time I return? I think I'd be curious to check out more of the neighborhoods, steer away from the super touristy spots, and continue to eat my way through the city!

1 comment:

  1. Your trips sounds spectacular Jamie, so jealous. My friend actually just moved to Australia and loves it. Over holiday break, I'll take you for a hike, be ready to sweat a little! Don't work too hard this week.