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Grapes, Oranges, Walnuts. Who Says Wall Tackle?

 

Gorgeous morning.  Spectacular.  Low 20s, light warm wind, just heavenly.  Pic above is view from the living room deck.  We had some breakfast then walked the beach barefoot for about an hour.  I was going to take a full on swim but having seen blue bottles (small blue jellyfish) on the beach, did more of a tot getting soaked in the inflatable dunk, and called it a day.  We checked out from our beach house just after 10.

 

  

 

The drive south was mainly on the A3, a two lane highway with exceptional views of the coast, very northern California.

 

 

Not far out of Swansea is an old stone bridge called Spiky Bridge; it was part of a track laid down by convicts in the early 1800s.  Why the bridge has spikes no one knows, but it did keep cattle from jumping/falling off.  Cool relic of the old Australia.

 

 

Some of the signage along the way was, while not baffling, deserving of a second take.  For example: "Stop.  Revive.  Survive.”  Or, e.g., Alert?  Stay alive.”  And, “Secure Your Load.  Penalties apply.”  Oh yes, finally, “Bush Watch.”  That is not to mention the odd place names that brought a second take (e.g., Break Me Neck Hill and Bust Me Gall Hill; Wye River – because it’s bigger than a rivulet--and even so I am leaving out The Nut).

 

 

SS read a factoid from a travel piece today: Tasmania has the highest road kill per capita of anywhere in the world.  I believe it.  You should have seen the death toll on the drive today.

 

 

We got into Hobart midday and took lunch at a market pier on the shore.  After that we were able to get early check-in.

 

 

The hotel we’re staying at is both a design statement and a heritage marker.  On the one hand, it’s the most interesting reno/new build in the central business district, situated on a working pier.  On the other, it’s a testament to all the heritage of Hobart (in fact, you can take a tour that explains each and every character enshrined on the guest room doors; pic above is a mural of them all). Carnival cruise monstrosity left mid-afternoon.  Wow was that a big ship.

 

Our door/room is dedicated to Patsy Maher, a boisterous Cockney who worked his way up from selling fruits from a donkey cart (“the orse”) to selling at the Theatre Royal; his story is enshrined on the entrance to the room. Who says wall tackle was one of his lines, apparently.

 

History aside (and as you can see, the common areas are brim full with local artifacts), this is a phenomenal hotel which I would give full marks to, and we’ve stayed at some swanky digs over the years.  We started by looking at Air BnB but found them expensive, not central, and most didn’t include parking.  So we went the hotel route for Hobart and wow was that a great decision.  Ideally, a hotel offers comfort, convenience and spacious digs; this delivers in spades, modern, well-designed, cool, and in the thick of it all.  Complimentary valet.  Ever even heard of that?  You could fit a couple of bowling alleys down the corridor.  Nespresso, check.  Blue tooth Bose, check.  Whisper quiet at night.  As for the historical narrative that comes up in the elevator ("you will need to develop a manly chest if you want to compete with all the best") it's, um, er, quirky.

 

 

We had arrived early enough to catch the weekly market in the CBD, Salamanca; a fair representation of local artisans, foodies, farmers, antique dealers and kitsch peddlers.  A lot of fun.  Also, surprisingly, were a large numbers of indie brewers and distillers.  I had to refrain from taste testing the guy selling vodka and gin made from distilled sheep’s whey—that’s a recipe for what they call digestive upset.

 

We spent most of the glorious afternoon wandering around the CBD.

 

 

Our dinner was something of an event at a local outpost that rates as one of Australia’s best restaurants: Franklin.  You know the kind of place: Reservations open up 45 days in advance and then disappear immediately.  And, yes, we reserved 45 days ago.  (Walk-ins get a stool at the bar, space permitting, and how cruel is a stool without a back?)

 

We had a pretty delectable meal without the touch of tweezers, foam or aimless drizzle, which passes for haute cuisine.

 

 

In this collage I have some mediocre pics of, clockwise, pickled kohlrabi on a delectable spiced tahini; wood smoked zucchini with a walnut pesto and lovage; a potato galette with ricotta; a delectable melt in your mouth buttery lamb which turned out to be a spit roast rump; and not one but two desserts.  Yes two!  The pics don’t tell the taste story, but the first is a deconstructed cherry sundae with a cherry granita mixed in with marinated cherries (in season here), chocolate sorbet on top of a macaroon; and next to that a very strange dessert, paper thin potatoes crisped to a wafer, then sandwiched between brown butter mousse and a drizzle of salted caramel.  Hugely satisfying and not at all neurotically dissected nouveau-ish.  Sweetest part of all, no tipping in Tassie. 

Each room has a display case with a themed exhibit.  

 

Wineglass Bay, the Isthmus Track, Promise Rock & Granite Mountains

Friday morning, February 2, looked a little bleak; cloudy and mild and looking like it might rain; but we are only here for a couple of nights so it was onwards and upwards.  Outside it turned out warm.  And, in fact, hit 23.  Plus the cloud cover probably kept us more active than if it had been full on sun.   We drove to Freycinet National Park, the Banff of Tasmania.  It was as the bird flies a few clicks, but 56 km by car, as we had to head north of Moulting Lagoon then south again.   On our way we passed the Devil’s Corner vineyard where a lookout, constructed on shipping containers, beckoned a few view shots south across Great Oyster Bay.    Once at Freycinet, we parked in the centre, then took the path to a lookout over Wineglass Bay, then the (well worn and heavily trafficked Grouse Grind-like) path down to the beach.      Famous for its clear waters and white sand, it was perhaps a bit of a letdown on a cloudy day, but still the surf was impressive and some locals dared the undertow.  Granite mountains rose up off the bay.  We had PB & banana sandwiches which, as any hiker knows, always taste epicurean on a hike.   Most tourists only go to the lookout; those that go all the way down to Wineglass beach retrace their steps and are done with it in less than two hours.  But there is an alternative return, making the whole trip 11 kms (as opposed to two); we chose the longer loop back.      This longer option took us across an isthmus, past the Hazards Lagoon, then to a beach on the east side of Wineglass called Hazards Beach on Promise Bay.  From there you walk the beach a ways then veer upwards on the Hazards Beach Track past Fleurie Point, through the forest, and after an extended period, back to the car park.  A wallaby jumped across the path at one point scaring the bejesus out of us, but apart from that it was lovely and serene if wholly taxing and despite the cloud cover very sweaty work.    SS descending the steps to Hazards Beach.  A huge private yacht moored at Promise Rock.   There was a moment of free state WiFi at the visitor’s centre and there we learned of Kyle and Emilia’s Danish Love Fest, which was surprising and amusing but also comforting given our remoteness.   On our return we drove north 20 kms; of the three local towns, Swansea, Coles Bay and Bicheno, only one has a butcher, so we headed north to Bicheno. (Or, as the locals say, butchery.)   Bicheno had the feel of an authentic town with people living and working there, not just day-trippers; the beach, in the centre, was lively and looked worth a swim.   The clouds had parted and the sun was shining and it was a lovely afternoon, if breezy.  We kicked back for the rest of the day.

Two Petticoats, Courting Purposes and Other Unseemly Conduct

Thursday AM, February 1, we did a little green grocer shopping and, just down the street from where we were staying was a Roman making fresh pasta, so we bought one of his lasagnas, then headed out to the east coast.  We drove south first, through central Tasmania, farm after farm, cattle and sheep, mainly sheep, to a place called Campbell Town, where I stopped for a coffee and a photo opp but darned if there wasn’t even a blooming agapanthus to make a decent photo.  From there we veered off the main route to Hobart, instead going east to the coast.    It was like we were the only car on the road.  The farms gave way to eucalyptus forests.  We decided to count the road kill, which again was significant, mostly wallabies, possums and, er, some unidentifiables, but at 30 we found it too depressing.  I did come to a full stop, in a 100 km zone, to let a hedgehog cross, which took what seemed like an aeon, and this is really the problem; the risk of slowing or stopping on a narrow, no-shoulder, two lane 100 km/h highway versus just hitting the darn things.   There were no viewpoints along the way, although the views over the trees were beautiful, and here on a siding we snapped a few shots looking down toward the coast.   We landed in a sea town called Swansea around noon.  Very touristy retirement village-ish, but quaint.  I wandered into the local museum and got into a long and convoluted chat with a local on the historical committee who told me about the early UK settlers, convicts, whaling industry, the antique billiard table from the mid-1800s built in Melbourne that could be disassembled mortise and tenon style into 65 pieces and on which the WWI returning soldiers used to pass their time.  The museum had been many things, initially the school house.   I was taken by the rules of conduct for teachers lured to the colonies.  Here are some rules for teachers from 1879: Make your pens carefully.  Whittle nibs for children’s individual needs and preferences.  After 10 hours in school, you may spend the remaining time reading The Holy Bible and other good books.  Gentleman teachers may take one evening off for courting purposes and two evenings to attend church.  Lady teachers whom marry, or engage in unseemly conduct, will be dismissed.    In the pre-union days, teachers were also advised to put aside a goodly sum from each wage for their declining years, lest they become a burden on society.  And any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool and public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop, would be under suspicion for their worth, intention, integrity and honesty.   Sounds intolerable.  Not to worry, things had improved a few decades later when in 1915 lady teachers (their term, not mine) were reminded to: Not marry; not keep the company of men; be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless at a school function; never loiter in ice cream parlours; never ride in a carriage or automotive with a man unless he is your father or brother; not to dress in bright colours.  If that wasn’t enough, a woman teacher must under no circumstances dye her hair and must wear at least two petticoats and her dresses must be shorter than two inches above the ankle.   We had lunch at a bakery in Swansea then found our way to our Air BnB.  The enormous swath of Tasman Sea here is the Great Oyster Bay, with Swansea on the west, Coles Bay on the east.  We are semi-off-the-grid at a beach place on Nine Mile Beach, which is a spit that extends north and east from Swansea, nearly touching Coles Bay on the east side, but doesn’t, and this tiny opening creates an enormous lagoon to the north, fittingly called the Moulting Lagoon.   Nine Mile Beach beach house.  Great views east.  A converted shipping container provides an outdoor kitchen (!).  Beach view shows Swansea to the south. The elevation provides great ocean views as in this pic from the main deck.  Although the surf is tame, the roar is similar to Tofino.     Views of the beach.  Views of the beach.  Views of the beach... We walked a couple of hours on the beach.  There was no one to speak of.  The views were ridiculous.  I waded into the water at one point expecting the bracing Southern Ocean to surprise but in fact it was mild and much warmer than a swim on Saturna.   Nieghoubr's place not too shabby!  There was no WiFi but there was a Smart TV with an elaborate THX sound system, so SS hooked up his iPad and we watched downloaded shows after dinner.

No Use of Catapults. No Sign of Lance Murdock

  We spent a big chunk of the day walking/hiking at the Launceston Gorge.  The Gorge is to Launceston what Stanley Park is to Vancouver, not just spectacularly beautiful but right in the heart of the city.  In the late 1800s the British took what was essentially a swamp and glorified it into a local park; the existing topography didn’t hurt.   The Gorge is a rocky enclave, a canyon of sorts, that runs through the north side of the city, then empties into the Tamar river.  There are walking tracks, outlooks, the usual tea rooms and so forth.  I couldn't help thinking that Portland is the only other city I've been to with a gorge and Springfield, where the gorge features repeatedly, was immortalized in 1990 when Homer, inspired by Lance Murdock, attempts a feat of skateboarding across.  With predictable results.   There is a view chairlift for those inclined.  The unsupported 308 meter span across the basin is the longest in the world (unsupported stretch of chairlift; not terribly encouraging).   At the west end of the basin is the Alexandra Suspension bridge dating to 1904; maximum load 60 people.   To deter people (teens) from swimming in the basin, the municipality built a swimming pool.  Locals call it an eyesore.  NB: Many teens still swimming in the basin.   The British placed strict regulations on the park, back in the day.  No unseemly boisterousness.  No bad language.  No discharging firearms or using catapults.  No playing games.  There is a dell to the north that was once a leisure area with swings, maypoles and see-saws.  Use of play equipment was forbidden on Sundays and swings were chained to stop their use.  So you had a six day workweek and a day of leisure without any fun.  Today there was a bagpiper playing, among other songs, Waltzing Matilda and Ave Maria.  Regulations have their place... Wallabies mate. The British introduced peacocks, but the local fauna gets on well it seems.   Midday we drove to an inner city working farm, bought some berries, then to a vineyard not far out of town but their restaurant was closed, then came back to Launceston and had lunch at the bakery/café under our room.  It was gorgeous and sunny and we putzed around town for a while then took a late matinee.  We had dinner at a local across the street from where we’re staying.   Sunset from our room.  Last night in Launceston.  Next couple of days at a remote Air BnB without WiFi.  No blog posts until Hobart.

Pelicans, Penguins & a Links Course

There is a wine route, a mere two-and-a-half-hour loop drive from Launceston, but once you factor in all the stops and deviations it’s a full day.  We started out early, in the clouds; it went 39 degrees Sunday, 31 degrees Monday, then in the teens this morning hitting a high of 24.  Needless to say it felt like we were  freezing.   The route we chose took us through farmland, mainly cattle and sheep, north to the coast.  The first stop was Jansz, which makes a number of sparklers, only one of which is available in Canada.    Then we pressed on to Bay of Fires.  At this point I was already done with vineyards: You can’t drink and drive, you can’t ship the wines home, you can’t buy them because you don’t have time to drink them and it’s all the more depressing because the wines are excellent and not that expensive.   We had a tip to take lunch at a place called Lost Farm.  It’s a restaurant in a links golf course called Barnbougle.    We just had fish and chips and a quesadilla (which the server pronounced as a kew-sah-dill-ah) and SS ordered wedgies on the side; the Aussies serve wedgies with sweet dipping sauce and sour cream.   Look at the SENSATIONAL view from the restaurant over the course.  The view from our table.  Wow.  I’d never visited a links course to which all I can say is they’re unusual, just like the British Open on TV, elegant in an austere way, and they look impossible to play.   Barnbougle with Bridport in the distance; not a typo—there is a river Brid, and a port at the mouth.   That’s some major rough.   You could access the beach at the course through a tunnel under the dunes.   The beach was gorgeous, Tofino-like.  It was sunny to the west, grey to the east.   At one point a scoop of pelicans flew by.   After lunch we hit the road and drove due west toward George Town.  If we saw one dead animal we saw 250 dead animals; no joke.  The road kill was through the roof.  Fortunately (or not?) mostly possums and wallabies.   North of George Town is the original northern outpost of the island, the Low Head lighthouse dating to 1833.   At the same point of Low Head is a rocky outcrop to a colony of penguins; they only come in at night, so there is a viewing area where you can go at dusk to watch them arrive and settle.   From Low Head we started the trek back south to Launceston.  The A route, the freeway, is the quickest way, but we decided to wend our way along the Tamar River, which took us along several rural roads east and west.    At one point you cross the Tamar on the Batman Bridge.   As we traversed the valley there was an opp to look north and south at a viewpoint.   By the time we got back to our lodging it was late in the day.  Shortly afterward we set out for the 20 minute walk to dinner at a place called Stillwater, where the Tamar runs down into town.  I guess it was our one fancy-ish dinner here.   We shared some smoked salmon and beet salad; then shared some gnocchi and braised vegetables.  I had a ridiculously curated date pudding dessert.  Good to have an uphill walk after.   We spotted an old theatre on the walk home.  Now a printer.  I guess at least it wasn’t torn down for condos.

Jetsetting on Jetstar

    Yesterday when I was at the tennis SS went to the National Gallery of Victoria which had a free evening at the current show titled Triennial Extra.  There was art, DJs, bars, food, ideas, dance, design.  He saw a lot of cool stuff.    But none of what he saw was better than RF taking his XX grand slam…   Monday morning.  Tennis is over.  The jetsetters are on the move.   We checked out of the hotel before nine and were chauffeured to the elegant and luxe Terminal 4 at Melbourne: Solely serving low-cost air carriers (Jetstar, the Qantas version of Rouge, Tiger Air, etc.).  The great thing about this, though, was there was no pretension.  You check-in yourself, you tag your luggage, you weigh your luggage, if you’ve paid for your luggage the conveyer takes your luggage, etc.  It’s like self check-out at the grocery.  Then security, then a food court and shopping mall, then to the gate.  And at the gate you cross the tarmac to your flight.  Fact: McDonald’s at Melbourne T4 was selling macarons.  Seriously.   Here are some interesting things about flying domestic in Australia: 1. You can travel with liquids.  Water, an open bottle of water, all your sundries, whatever.  No restrictions.  No Ziploc bag. 2. You don’t need ID.  They never checked.  You just need a boarding pass. 3. In security, no undressing; only laptops have to come out of your carry on.   We walked out to gate 44 for our flight; they boarded off the tarmac with a rear and a front staircase.  We were in the front row, which meant nothing really in terms of service or legroom, it was one of those A320 monsters with three and three.  Less than an hour in the air; they came through with a beverage cart for purchase then, before you knew it, we’d landed; why they took us up to 33,000 feet is anyone’s guess. Collage shows departure in Melbourne, arrival at Launceston.   Picked up the rental Toyota at Launceston airport then checked into a lovely Air BNB slash inn type of place which sits over top of a local bakery on a quiet drag in the sort of centre of town.  Kitchenette, fully stocked, sofa, bed, about 650 sq feet, nice light, great bathroom.   We had lunch at a local near our room; smashed avocado on toast and eggplant parmigiana covered in an arugula salad. We did a mosey through town.  It was hot and humid; we expected Tasmania to be cool, but it was 31 upon arrival and sticky.  It did rain, mostly lightly with locals just getting sprinkled.  A few harder downpours which suddenly let up.  Everyone seemed to be happy with a bit of precip.  It was like the rain in Hawaii, not the rain in YVR. This church, Chalmers, built in 1895, now a design studio.  So it goes.   We took dinner down the street at a place called Geronimo where we shared grilled vegetables, salad and pizza.  Smith's Original!          

I Got What I Came For

In 2017 Nadal was up a break on Federer in the AO Final.  It looked like he would close the gap to one slam apart.  A year later it’s a done deal; Nadal will never close that gap and it will take someone very special to get to 20 slams.    Our last full day in Melbourne.  Hot.  Men’s final.  Hot hot.  It was 34 on our morning walk but hit 38 in the afternoon although all I can say for certain is that it was like being in an incubator and when the wind blew, instead of offering relief, it was like someone turned on a hairdryer.  There wasn’t much respite in the shade except that the tiny little spot on the crown of my head, just that very little soupcon of baldness, didn’t get burnt.   We headed out across the river for coffee then a mosey around the parks which lie near the tennis arenas.  We were heading towards the botanical gardens but only made it as far as Queen Victoria Gardens.  Our plan to stick to the shade didn’t help much.   We had a quick peak in the National Gallery of Victoria; there wasn’t time for a full on skinny as it was nearing midday and we had lunch reservations, but there was a sensational piece by Chinese sculptor Xu Shen with an eternity Buddha in Nirvana covered in a variety of mythical figures (Achilles, Dancing Faun, Narcissus, Icarus, etc.) near the entrance.   Although we’d only been out for less than three hours we returned to the hotel and showered off the sweat then headed out for lunch.  We decided to do one “fancy” meal in Melbourne and chose Cutler & Company, which is on the pricey side except at Sunday lunch, where they prepare an elaborate set menu at a much reduced price.    Three starters came to the table first, a seaweed cracker with fromage blanc; salami with marinated olives, and a Sydney rock oyster.  Since I don’t do oysters, they gave me a tiny baby corn charred on the grill.  Next, another three small plates, smoked mussels, stuffed and braised zucchini flower and sliced prosciutto with pickled peach.  Again, since I don’t do mussels, they gave me an heirloom tomato salad.  For mains SS had an ocean trout (what Canadians call steelhead) with chorizo vinaigrette and I had some hand rolled linguine with basil pesto and fresh peas which was beyond superb.  The prosciutto was the best I’d had outside of Italy and the peaches were sweet and tender as ganache.  For dessert I had fresh fruit with fig sorbet and SS had cheese.  Fresh marshmallows were served with the cheque.  It was a spectacular meal but when we emerged outside around 2 p.m. the heat nearly killed us.   We headed back to the CBD.  SS pushed on to check out some museums, and snapped these shots of the Manchester Unity Building, a deco gothic heritage structure with interesting friezes in the lobby.  The collage here shows one of the notable human attributes, caring for the sick.  Next to that is another not so human attribute, loaning money for a first home.  Go figure.  I simply motored on back to the AC at the Sofitel.   I guess the tennis was dry and dull.  NOT.  It was sensational and to come all this way and see a rout, which it appeared it would be after the first set, would have been a letdown.  Kudos to Cilic for trying, I would say his power and service prowess far exceeded Roger, but RF doesn’t give up, his defense is near miraculous, and when the pressure really, really mounts, he is as stoic and composed as the Buddha we saw in the AM, whereas Cilic fell apart emotionally, grimaces, sweat, anger and frustration.   I ran into a tennis umpire on the tram and we had a nice chat.  Not Carlos Bernardes, the other ATP Carlos.  Not Mohamed Lahyani, the umpire for the Isner Mahut match at Wimbledon that went on for two days and for which he appeared never to need a bathroom break.  But Carlos Ramos who, I think, is one of the better umpires in that he gives no favour to the big four (but you can Google him, all the big four have had run ins).  Interesting to see that Tennis Australia and/or the ATP provides no transport for their support team.   Eyes on the prize. Awards, rewards. Victory lap.    So that was tennis, and it was so incredibly worth it I can’t imagine.  I headed back to the hotel with a slew of over-excited fans.   The lobby of the Sofitel has an art display showcasing a celebrity photographer of the 60s and 70s called Slim Aarons; he was obsessed with capturing the mid-20th C jetsetters.  His catalog is mainly at the Getty in California.  Unfortunately they hang in the foyer bar where a full wall of glass blasts natural light: In the day you can’t even see the art because the light refracts off the glass so sharply.  In the evening, Edison fluorescents mar the images in stripes.  Still, they are so very cool and of a particular moment I had to post a couple regardless of the reflections.   Desert House Party: A 1970 party at a Richard Neutra house in Palm Springs.   Colourful Crew: On a yacht in Bermuda, 1970.  : Poolside Gossip: Nelda Linsk, in yellow, talking to former fashion model Helen Dzo Dzo Kaptur.  "Did you hear about the tennis..."    

The Dane in Three

I was going to call this post Hot Pants and a Unique Sweet but then Caroline Wozniacki made history and it seemed flip.   We dropped off laundry first thing.  You know how vacation plus humidity plus staying in a hotel goes.  I remember when Brad Gilbert was Andy Murray’s coach and on ESPN he was telling an anecdote about doing (dropping off) Andy’s laundry because even when you’re a gazillionaire hotel laundry fees are too much to stomach.   Then we cut across Carlton Gardens with its lovely nymph receiving turtle spray and its Exhibition Hall (a UNESCO World Heritage site) towards Fitzroy.  They were in the early stages of hosting a “hot rod show” which had attracted a mixed bag of cars from a Chevy Chevelle to Wacky Races dragsters.    A not too mint Avanti on site looked a little sad compared to a red Chrysler.   We returned to Bentwood for breakfast because, well, earlier in the week it was just so darn good.   Toasted sour dough with beet paste, topped with heirloom carrots, radish, greens, goat cheese and a poached egg, sprinkled with pistachios.  That bacon on the side, shurely shome mishtake?   After breakfast we walked to the east, the Fitzroy/Collingwood border, where we ambled and shopped along Smith Street.  And, yes, there was Birmingham Hotel, amongst everything else Smithy, from butchers to bakers to expensive candle stick makers.   Smith Street was about the most fun shopping I’ve had in years.  There was an abundance of every single thing you didn’t need (hand-crafted violins, footy memorabilia, kitsch, antiques, outright junk, curated boutiques) and essentials (food of every manner, stationery to take-away to pet care to cleaners), in short, you could live there, and have fun there, and not be awash in multinational chains.  As we walked south you could sense the rents getting higher; less graffiti and more predictability (e.g., a McDonalds).   I had to be restrained from buying artificial fruit.   How could you say no?  We did.   Too big for luggage.   I’m sure Frank would approve.   Very, very hot pants.  I’m thinking Versace crossed with Laugh-in.  SS wouldn’t even let me try them on!   Vintage Passepartout by Edra.  It was meant for hot pants.   Unique sweet.   After a lot of fun on Smith Street we walked further east through Fitzroy Gardens into Richmond.   There wasn’t a heck of a lot of see in that neighbourhood, but the walk was good.  A long ways from the centre, we caught a tram back to the hotel   With the tennis schedule, we are doing a late-ish breakfast followed by an early dinner.  Tonight we went to, as Time Out calls it, the “no-bookings” zone, a slew of restaurants that are walk-in only and for which people queue forever or, as TO put it, crowds that only slightly fall short of the 1964 visit of the Beatles to Melbourne.  Some, like Chin Chin, do allow reservations (for parties of nine; this is assuming I have eight friends to ask along).  Others, like Meatball, serve meatballs, where an hour and a half wait is common for a product about 40% as good as what SS can pull off on a Tuesday night.  Still, I should be grateful that we can eat a decent meal and, 15 minutes later, be at Rod Laver arena; Wimbledon and Flushing Meadow are over an hour from central London and NYC, respectively, and Roland Garros is also a trek deep west in Paris.   We ended up at a place called Cumulus (which, we didn’t know, is owned by the same people as Marion, where we ate last night).  It was, at 5 p.m., you guessed it, packed.  We ate at the kitchen bar watching the chefs, sous-chefs, and expediters handle a Saturday crowd; crudites with taramasalata; dates filled with chorizo wrapped in prosciutto; melt in your mouth ricotta dumplings; and Scotch pork, whatever that is, but to me a loin delicately marinated and served on an apple puree.    The tennis began with a song from Abba (yes, seriously), an award (Order of Australia) to an Aussie women’s singles player of the 1970s (Evonne Goolagong Cawley), the national anthem, the Vegemite song, and then the women’s final.  Which was, how can I put it?  Which was phenomenal.  Absolutely over the top point to point amazing, competitive, heart wrenching, brilliant tennis; 60% humidity notwithstanding.  I didn’t have a pony in the race, but it was unfortunate to see Halep dig so deep, to fight so hard, to struggle over two weeks with injuries and near losses, only to fade out at the very end.  It really was a final for the ages.  I honestly felt privileged to be there; if there are seven billion people on the planet, a packed Rod Laver arena represents about .0002%.  Caroline thanks her dad, accepts a check for $4,000,000, and hopes she'll finally get a cover of Elle.  (She actually said that.)   Back at the hotel by 11; so sweet to be 15 minutes from the arena.

Happy Australia Day 2018: Protest in Peace

So said the tabloids; the movement to reject Australia Day as a testament to European presence was dominating social media.  Happy Invasion Day some were calling it. Celebrating Australia Day. Celebrating Australia Day. Flowers laid at State Parliament to celebrate Australia Day. Or protest Australia Day.  It's open to interpretation.   The parade passes by.   SS in Docklands. It was hot.  It was only just over 30, but very humid in the AM, although it cleared in the afternoon, the humidity dropped, then it was just hot hot.  We walked the Yarra again, first Soutbank, then crossing at South Wharf north to Docklands, a rehabilitated neighbourhood akin to London’s Canary Wharf.  About 1.5 hours.  We became obsessed with the clash of architectural styles which dominated the new builds, no better shown than in this retro condo and monolith behind it. As it neared lunch we caught a tram back into the centre for some window shopping, stopping at the David Jones department store for some eats at its tony food hall. 3-D menu and placemat.  You can only see the dogs cheating and the kids kissing if you toggle the images. It's hard on foot.   If for some unknown reason travel seems like bliss, or even just a good time, take three minutes to watch Tripp and Tyler do air travel in a car.  Excuse me sir, would you like to buy some ear phones?  Because, really, why is travel such a hassle?  Walking and eating in Melbourne isn't: For dinner we went, Florida senior style, to a restaurant at 5 p.m.  Beauty of doing this is 15,000 people, two weeks of the year, are all having dinner between the day and night sessions at the AO, so you arrive at five and the places are already buzzing.  Tonight we ate at Marion, a wine bar in Fitzroy about 15 minutes walk north of the hotel.  House made terrine, in-house bread and pickles; superb.  I would say this was our best meal to date; a casual restaurant, not stuffy, well considered food, didn't cost an arm and a leg. The tennis tonight, the last semi-final, Federer and Chung.  As unlikely a semi as anyone could have ever imagined.  So goes sport.  I may be sitting in the shade, and it may be an open air stadium, but 15,000 people all sweating together is not pretty.  The collage shows the national anthem followed by, wait for it, the Vegemite song (seriously: it was Australia Day after all) and Roger serving.  This was fantastic tennis.  Roger was a clinic, painting the lines, every trick in the book, he totally befuddled Chung.  There was huge excitement in the arena (which, due to some light rain, was tennis played with the roof closed, but without air conditioning).  Then, only an hour plus in, due to a blister, a blister of all things, Chung conceded.  Jeez, half the fans in the stadium made the trek to Rod Laver arena with a blister or two.  HUGE letdown.  GREAT beginnings then just sheer disappointment.  

In Search of Real Bread

  The food at the Australian Open is an affront: to taste, the senses, nutrition and satiety.  All the fried stuff of an exhibition midway, $14 sandwiches made with white foam and coloured paste, more fried items, stand alone chip kiosks, and more offers of salt than you can shake a stick at.  There is a Rockpool, we ate at the Sydney outpost years ago, and you can spend $200 on lunch if you like.  My tour gives me entrance to a corporate lounge where the food is OK if even more overpriced than the sandwiches.  But here’s something special: You can bring your own food in.  So today we set out to find a take away lunch.   We spent an hour walking south along the Yarra to, yes, South Yarra.  It was hot today; hot hot.  Not hot, hot, hot, that is scheduled for tomorrow.  But 28 and 29 and humid.  So it was a gorgeous walk if a little sticky.  And we ended up at a place called Ned the Baker who makes some of the most stupendous bread in Melbourne and, from my perspective, a baguette that rivals anything in Paris.  I got my take away but we also stopped and had a late breakfast.  Cheese toastie with a poached egg and mustard greens.  The heart in SS's coffee at the bottom of his cup! Then I retraced the hour long walk and SS did a shop and stop on his own.   I went to the AO early-ish to watch mixed doubles at Rod Laver arena; doubles rarely gets much attention and is almost never on a show court, but it’s fun, there’s no deuce points, and the pace is zippier than many singles matches. En route I saw the crowds swarming a photo opp with Korea's Chung.  Here's a pic of a pic. Memorabilia of Margaret Court's career in the arena named after her.  Then there was, wait for it, a disappointing women’s semi final: Wozniacki, once upon a time a 67 week number one player, took out Belgian Elise Mertens.    That was followed by a special ceremony honoring Billie Jean King.   The second women’s semi was number one Halep and Kerber, who I’d seen neatly win earlier in the week.  The first set was a rout; 13 minutes and Halep was up.  So at that point it seemed sensible to leave, meet SS for dinner, and forget about it all.   We had a wonderful early supper at Lucy Liu, a hip Asian fusion place in the downtown, pork buns, slow cooked ribs, sashimi, papaya salad, that sort of thing.  When all was said and done it was nearly time for he men’s semi, so I headed back to the AO.  And there I saw throngs of day session fans leaving: Wouldn’t you know the Halep match went three and would have been worth sticking out.   Before the men’s, Todd Martin, who is current chair of the tennis hall of fame, inducted Germany’s Michael Stich and the Czech Helena Sukova as its newest members.  It was sort of special given so many hall of famers were on site: Billie Jean King, Rod Laver, Stan Smith, Margaret Court, and a dozen others. Below in the collage above is BJK in the red jump suit.   Kyle Edmund had shown amazing speed, serving prowess and stamina against Grigor Dimitrov two days ago.  Alas, he more or less crumbled under Cilic, who didn’t even have to bring his best game or his best serving, just good returns and capable serving to defeat Edmunds in three sets, only the second of which was close and competitive.  We’ll have to see how Chung handles Federer tomorrow.
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