ME Time: Thai Across Asia

This morning SS woke up, took a shower, walked out of the hotel, across the street, checked in at Cathay, had breakfast in the lounge, takes a seat up front, and then around five in the afternoon arrives in Hong Kong; he takes the airport train and a couple of stops later he checks in at the W, unpacks, and has an evening on the town.   But as we do all this glam travel on points, he takes that trip alone; it was broth without bread for me I guess.  Wait, no, there were enough points on Star Alliance to fly the long way round.  That’s the thing with these points programs, and us hedging our bets on both Aeroplan and BA. So bad news for me is I have to take a very long flight to Bangkok, then have a three-hour layover, then another short flight to Hong Kong.  I’ve learnt that the airline parlance for these indirect routings is “marriage routes” – you know, you type in Vancouver to Chicago on Aeroplan and it routes you through Denver with a six-hour layover.  But good news, if indeed it is good news, is that while he is flying effortlessly in biz, I’m making do in first.  Swimming pools, movie stars, the lot.   We were both out of the airport Rydges by 7:30 or so.  We walked over to the terminal and he checked in then we said goodbye as Thai was another ten-minute slog to check-in.  After security we met up again accidentally; the Aussies may be lax on domestic travel but international is another story, the undressing, the body scans, the wands checking for explosives, the beagles, and on and on.  Sydney has a pretty opulent international terminal.  I don’t think I’ve flown from there since our first trip to Australia decades ago. He was en route to the Cathay lounge while I took the seven minute walk into another wing.   Thai “invites” biz passengers to use the Air New Zealand lounge (shown in the collage above).  But because of my importance, my very special status, I also had access to Singapore and, when they scanned my boarding pass and saw that it was first class, a special sliding door opens and you enter a quiet enclave of international businessmen and wealthy Asians.  It’s like a secret Masonic handshake.   Singapore's SilverKris First lounge has an enormous amount of food and drink on offer, either self serve or off a menu with wait staff (and as with any Asian carrier, a lot of congee, noodles and savoury dishes that don’t appeal so much in the early hours).  In fact, all I ordered was fruit and yogurt.  Oh, and a glass of Veuve Clicquot.  Nothing else seemed right at 8:30 a.m.  It’s good to know, for the record, that even the poohbahs (when they order fruit salad) are still getting mainly melon.   I knew in advance that the coffee in Singapore was so-so and that you had to go next door to ANZ to get a proper flat white made by a real barista and really there is no better way to say goodbye to Australia than with a proper coffee, so after a tedious round of first class privilege I slummed over to ANZ.  It was crowded and noisy but large and airy and modern and, as business lounges go, rather good.   I headed downstairs to the gate for the 9:20 boarding.  There was general chaos, heaps of ground staff, at least a dozen wheel chairs, one issue after another.  But boarding began eventually.  All I had to do was walk in and turn left.  First is in the nose on the old 747s, ten seats in this version (of which five would be taken).  It would have been excruciating to climb the 11 stairs up to the second story.   The last time I flew Sydney to Bangkok was 1985, on Thai in economy, on a 747.  Who knows, maybe the same plane?  This was an old plane.  At least British has covered up the fact that their 747s are ancient by completely refitting the interiors, but this old dame felt beyond its prime.  AV was on one of those remote controls that you scroll through and the headset was three pronged (memories of CP Air anyone?).  No personal air vents.  Still, first world problems, right?    While the hard product, as the bloggers call it, left something to be desired, the soft product was superb.  Staff all introduced themselves to us in broken English and made sure they were correctly saying our names.  They explained the service and made us comfortable.  We had an extended boarding and a half hour on the tarmac; I’d already had a drink and read a Vanity Fair before we finally got the get-go.  Who knew that John Krasinski wasn’t as good an actor as his wife Emily Blunt?  No wonder VF is half the thickness it used to be.   One of the attendants who showed me the spelling of her Thai name (which was a cross between papaya and Stan Wawrinka) told me I could call her Anne.  She asked if I’d like a pair of pajamas.  I said yes, medium.  She took a moment, sighed, and suggested large.  I mean she did it as diplomatically as possible.  But word is out: It’s been a month off the diet and there is no hiding now.  I hear there is a Spanx boutique in Hong Kong. I changed before takeoff; 10 seats with two loos.   First service (as they called it) was an extended affair.  Lunch I guess you and I would call it.  They advertised on the menu Dom Perignon 2006 but in fact were pouring 2009.  This was of course very upsetting; I’ll have to post something online later.  The first bits and pieces were some amuse bouche canapes on toasts.  A huge bread basket, a temptation of carbs, was placed on my tray like some sick lab rat experiment.  And get this, it came with butter but also half a baked garlic.  Has anyone, in any cuisine, ever experienced that?  I actually asked the staff what it was for and they told me to spread it on the bread.  That was followed by 2500 calories in warm macadamia nuts.  Caviar on ice next with all the traditional trimmings, perfectly presented in a crescent dish nestled into a plate; my rule on caviar is similar to my rule on champagne (avoid buying it at all costs but never say no when offered).  They had a bottle of chilled Stoli which they brought around with the caviar and, you know, I get it, that’s the experience, but it wasn’t even noon Sydney time.   Then came an hors d’oeuvre of crayfish, scallop and duck with some caper mayonnaise.  The soup, the Thai soup, was rather excellent, sweet and sour, lemongrass and basil and chili.  Probably my favorite dish.  From what I could see the others ordered a western main but I ordered the Thai pork curry which rather flummoxed the staff and in the end I found out why: The curry comes with rice, broccoli, carrots, pork sausage, omelette, pepper, shallot and chili sauce.  That was a ton of food.   I said no to cheese.  I said no to fruit.  But both presentations looked lovely.  They came around with some very minor dessert offerings and a I had a small berry crumble tart with tea.  There were more changes of cutlery and service tweaks than you could imagine.  Truthfully, no one needs that much food, but flying is boring and it was entertaining and ate up a third of the flight.  (Although, thank goodness for the breath spray in the Rimowa amenity kit; raw onion on caviar, garlic on bread and wine in combination are like the old Scope mouthwash ad in the 70s for those of you who remember.)   The bed was superb, the mattress pad really comfortable, the ambiance a little hot (Asian carriers are generally too warm, North American carriers generally too cold) and when I woke up after a short siesta there were some Ferrero Rocher beside me (the least tempting chocolates known to humanity; I’d rather have a Twizzler).   On the drinks menu there is a quaint typo.  They remark that their bar is constantly adjusting according to vintages, that it is selected by experts for their premium passengers served on a “routation” basis.  I like that.    The second meal service was a bit of a bomb.  Some soup (OK), and a choice of chicken satay or pasta.  I saw the American turn his pasta back and it seemed too heavy anyway, but the satay was dry and tasteless.  I took a pass on dessert.   We landed early in Bangkok but, get this, deplaned on the tarmac.  That is crazy for a 747 packed full and landing at the hub terminal.  Anyway, I was first off the plane, a first I think in my life, and a woman at the bottom had a sheet with the five names of the first class passengers and the five of us were escorted into a bus, and whisked off, while all the rest crammed into the remaining convoy.  We drove forever.  We could have been in Koh Samui by the time we got off that bus.  Then the few of us who were transferring were escorted on a golf cart, and fast tracked through security, then taken into the first class lounge.   A bevy of women in traditional dress were all over me.  Do I want a massage, will I eat, drink, what do I want to read.    I took a shower, in a pretty elegant shower room supplied with Occitane, then was shown to my own private lounge.  Seriously.  Sofa, two chairs, work desk, TV.   For the final leg I’m slumming it in business.  There just wasn’t any first class product to get me to HKG.  Oh well, the good life has its limits.  The collage above shows the standard A330 biz class configuration common on short haul, a pretty basic Thai dinner, and arriving at the spectacularly huge Hong Kong Airport.   I’ve only flown first three times, with Cathay being the ultimate and British being pretty mediocre (they don’t even call their pajamas pajamas, they call them sleepers…).  This was wonderful but if you were making the effort I think you’d want to be aboard a newer craft.

A Change is Gonna Come

  Great picture.  I forgot to post that the day after MONA in Hobart.  I can’t recall the artist exactly, my recollection is he was into “architectural modelism” but had no architecture training.  There were beautiful modernistic renderings of towns and town centres.   Nothing much to blog about today.  The ginormous Celebrity Constellation and hefty Holland America Noordam had both docked overnight resulting in teeming hordes of tourists around the hotel.  We had to check out of our dream room and return the rental car before 1 p.m. to avoid incurring another day’s expense.  That left us with three hours before our flight; you basically can’t fly anywhere internationally from Tasmania and if you are flying internationally you almost always have to connect overnight in Melbourne or Sydney—so we are, in Sydney.  I spent an hour of our airport time trying to download an app to use the Virgin WiFi entertainment system--unsuccessfully.  Then on board they gave me an iPad so in the end it didn't matter and I watched the very silly Borg McEnroe movie.  By the time we got to Sydney it was evening; we caught a free transfer from the domestic terminal to an airport hotel.   Hobart is a tarmac airport.  Jets were arriving, being deplaned, luggage was coming and going, fuel trucks were refuelling, it was total organized chaos and amazing how adept the Aussies were at managing it all.   Leaving Tassie.   A basic airplane meal of chicken satay; arriving in NSW; checking out the departure terminal for exercise where several young Asians were stomping on their luggage to fit more in; our super basic hotel for an airport overnight and the view towards the runway.   Nothing fancy to blog about here.  But the beauty is that tomorrow morning SS and I can walk across the street to the international terminal and check in within 10 minutes of checking out.

Canadian Convicts, Tasmanian Devils and an Old Brew

I neglected to write about our ferry trip yesterday (vis-à-vis BCF).  There was one ferry employee at the island on departure (it’s a pay on the mainland free return like Salt Spring Crofton).  There was one deckhand directing traffic on the ferry; the captain helped (the captain helped load traffic!).  The captain ran into a foot passenger who was an old friend so they went up to the helm together.  We were first in line so could see it all and, as they roped open the door to the steering room for a breeze virtually anyone could have walked in and piloted the ship by force.  They chatted the whole way, which was amusing that sixty cars and minibuses were put at risk while the captain did “two things” at once…  When we arrived the one deckhand put down the ramp on his own, no terminal staff, he even walked down the ramp and opened the gate.  The foot passengers were not clear when we drove off.  And the amazing thing about it all was that they do that every half hour every day and no one gets run over, drowns or is maimed.  Plus they ran on time.   This morning was another beautiful day.  Freakishly perfect in fact with not even a whisper of cloud cover.  The bay (which is essentially the River Derwent basin) was like glass.  It eventually reached 25, so our hottest day in Tassie too.  We decided to stay in town.  The island looks small and everything looks close but in fact as with all things Australian distance is often deceiving and I was ready for a day on legs not a bucket seat.   The top shot shows our hotel and working pier taken from the southwest.  The pic below it if you can squint and see my crappy picture, is of an historical photo of the same wharf about 100 years ago.   Curated pulp fiction. Old signage.   We spent the morning wandering the Salamanca/Battery Point neck of the woods which initially served as a fortress against, e.g., French and American whaling ships, then became a rather tony enclave of homes, and is now a mostly gentrified inner city hood with quaint shops and colonial era inns.   SS commented that if you were to remove a few bits of flora (and the ad hoc remnant of wallaby poop) you pretty much have a British village.   Did you know that in 1837-8 in Canada (in what is now Ontario) there were political rebellions which led to “radicals” being sentenced to death and over 90 political prisoners being sent to (what is now) Tasmania?  I thought all the convicts came from the UK.  Not so.  This very crappy picture (the worst pictures are taken on the most beautiful days) is one of a couple Hobart memorials to the Canadians.   I spent some time at the local museum, where SS had dropped in a few days ago, to see their Tasmanian Devil exhibit.  Not a canine, not a feline, a marsupial of course.  Much maligned and misunderstood (I, for one, grew up on Tas, the ludicrous Loony Toons concept animal), and considered a vile predator by many early settlers and farmers.    The TD is in fact a social carnivore, particularly useful in an eco system where they can live off dead prey and the weakest of the flock; nowadays a farmer is more likely to leave a maimed (dead) animal out in the field for the TDs to feast on then set a trap to eradicate the lot.  Their bared teeth actually indicate a stress yawn and their feverish tiger like growls are in fact not aggressive but in satisfaction, say eating a fresh kill.    I’ve reposted a sign I took a pic of and posted last week with the “historical” devil sign.  Amazing the difference.  Until 2010 the TD signs portrayed the animals as vicious and a menace; it was common to take potshots at the signs.  Once they revised the signs to make the animals look social and acceptable attitudes changed overnight.   We took a late breakfast on the harbour then a cab to the Cascade brewery.  I didn’t even know Cascade existed until the time we took the train Sydney to Perth and it was served in the bar car.  But it is in fact Australia’s second oldest continually operating business (a bank, of course, is the oldest).   The enterprise began in the 1800s by an English settler who convinced the local government to cede him 2,000 acres above Hobart where a stream ran through a valley; the plan was to open a logging mill, use the water to provide energy, and the local forest as fodder for his enterprise.  While he did in fact open a logging mill, the used water flowing from it, followed by the contributions from a tannery further downstream, led to some fetid results and a lack of clean water for Hobart residents.  Instead, he transitioned his mill to a brewery and, I guess, the result is history.   The building looks like the front to a sanitarium in a gothic novel.  It is an architectural hodge podge.  The first few floors were built by convicts from sandstone quarries, made into local brick, and cobbled together in piecemeal fashion.  When the mill converted to brewing and needed more space for vats, they added on floors with another type of brick.  Then, over time, the back of the brewery was expanded and modified to accommodate modernization.  It really is like a film lot, with an historical front and bits and bobs out back.   Beautiful beer garden; forget the tour and just go for lunch.   Spanish chestnut, poplar, cedar, fir, oak, cherry, eucalyptus.  What country am I in?   The tour was fine, more anecdotes than information, and of course afterwards there was free drinks in their really lovely beer garden, literally a garden with beer, not simply picnic tables on paving stones.  Cascade beer fun fact: The only brewery in Australia using mountain water; all the rest are on mains.  In the collage above two pics are the bottling plant; the lower right is the original entrance crafted from sandstone by convicts.  In order to keep the horse drawn carriages then, and lorries now, from eroding the gate pillars, you'll see a small piece of black steel as a guide.  There are two actually, one on both side, both cannons from war ships that ended up in the scrap heap in the 1820s, still remaining today as guideposts.   Invalid stout: loaded up with iron for the expectant mum! The one historical factoid that is really worth repeating is the brewery tradition of providing workers with free beer.  The bell rang five times a day: start of workday, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, end of day.  Each break workers were given the opportunity for free beer.  Grab a mug and drink away, then return to work.  That old custom remained in place for many years.  Until when?  The turn of the 20th century?  WWI?  Maybe American prohibition or WWII or the 1950s perhaps when the infamous Aussie “six o’clock swill” was repealed through longer bar hours?  No.  It remained in place until 1993 when Carlton bought the family enterprise and corporate poohbahs couldn’t believe the tradition of drinking on the job.  (But they still give workers free beer on payday and, get this: every Friday at quitting time employees can drink draft at the tasting room for two full hours on the company’s dime.)  As SS put it, there is a Newfoundland streak in the Tassies; self-deprecating but also staunchly independent and not prone to radical change.   We walked back to the centre on a public path which followed the “rivulet” that passes through the brewery.  You pass the “female factory” which is a UNESCO site where female convicts were conscripted to a workhouse.  Then you wend your way back into the CBD. Some of the local architecture along the rivulet, as per the pic above, is interesting if quirky.   We spent some time in the marina area before returning to the hotel and taking dinner in the hotel restaurant, which looks out from the wharf across the bay.   For dinner we just went downstairs to the hotel’s “Wharf” restaurant.  The collage shows their lounge, some seared kingfish and a delectable eggplant main.  It was modern Australian and very good but not necessarily as refined as some of the outposts we’d made an effort to book over the last week.  The deuce beside us were two older bejewelled dames, one wealthy ex-pat from Hobart who has spent the last 40 years living in Palm Beach, Florida, and regaled me with tales of famous colleagues and fine hotels and investments gone awry; her Cartier jewelry was only mildly distracting but her nail polish told another story altogether.  SS did his best to talk to her childhood friend Jean, well pearled from a successful career in real estate and only modestly compromised by two hearing aids and a walker.  There was, I think fortunately, no expectation for a waltz.  We made our excuses shortly after nine.  

Goin’ South

We did art Sunday so it was only suitable to do nature Monday.  And we did nature as far south as, I guess, we'll ever be.   Antarctica isn’t on the bucket list.  Although we’ve done Argentina and Chile we took a pass on Patagonia.  So, short of an exile, I think we’ve gone about as far south as either of us will ever go in our lives.  I mean, when it comes to any land mass at this latitude, if you exempt the ice to the south there’s only Tasmania and Patagonia.   We started the day by driving about 35 kms south to Kettering for the ferry; you know the place—you pass Margate, the Electrona Industrial Park then Snug (and Lower Snug).  Easy.  In the summer the ferry leaves every half hour; one is called Mirambeema and the other, wait for it, the Bowen.  Except for all the eucalypts, it wasn’t much different than arriving at Pender Island.   Bruny Island is a sort of tourist slash foodie slash day-tripper slash camper van off the grid sort getaway.  We had a preconceived notion of Salt Spring but in fact while the land mass is the size of Singapore, and there is a distillery, a cider works, a brewery, a vineyard, a cheesemaker, a berry farm, and a substantial national park, only 650 people live on the island.  It was really like Salt Spring Island 40 years ago.   We drove north first, to the furthest point on the “Iron Pot” called Dennes Point.  There was a nice café and we had breakfast, fabulous flat whites, and a bit of a poke.  I thought of Brent when I saw the interior wood pile.   Views of Bull Bay, a beach on the east.  After breakfast we drove south past Bull Bay, Great Bay, the Isthmus Bay, and deep into the southernmost reaches of the South Bruny National Park.   Trumpeter Bay.  It’s after Bull Bay but before Great Bay.  Remember, there’s a quiz at the end.   As we approached the southernmost point, I shot a couple of pics of the sensational views.   After a very long and arduous drive we pulled into the tiny lot at the south end of the island.  Here we hiked up to the Cape Bruny Lighthouse with its spectacular views over Standaway Bay and beyond to the Southern Ocean.   After a long, awesome break here, we headed back on the unmarked roads.  Can you tell which direction is which?  Just remember to keep to the left; the left, by the way, is not the right side, the right side in Australia is the left side…   Just to emphasize how far south we went, Telus sent me a text at lunch “welcoming” me back to Australia!    On our route back you pass the Cloudy Bay Lagoon.  The lagoon on, say, Gilligan’s Island, always sounded so safe and glamorous, but in reality a lagoon is a bit of a septic system for the ocean, still, buggy, smelly and just a saltwater bog.   We stopped at the local vineyard for lunch.  We both had burgers.  What you see is a local lamb and wallaby burger.  The local brewery made an absolutely superb hoppy malty ale with 2.8% alcohol, positively a dream for a DD.  We had a very relaxing nosh.   After lunch we headed back into another part of the national park on the east side of the island, where the waters are turquoise, the sand white, and the views reminded us of the British Virgin Islands.   This shot is of Adventure Bay, from a distance, which lies on the east side of the isthmus, which they call The Neck.  Keeping track?   When we got to the other part of the park we did a hike past where Captain Cook landed.   This hike looked back over Adventure Bay, Cool Point and Blighs Rocks, gorgeous spots all.   Someone’s been busy.  Faux inuksuk beach.   We caught a late afternoon ferry back, waded through rush hour traffic, then walked up to a tiny little highly rated resto called Templo.  As you know I am not a fan of a chef’s menu but given this was a temple to pasta we went all in.   There were some particularly good dishes including a wood smoked carrots on buttermilk with cumin and hazelnuts, ling cod with pine nuts, and a (not photographable) sensational mini gnocchi with pork ragu.  Four deuces, a communal table for ten, and the bar; teensy.  Two sittings.  That’s sorted.   There is free guest laundry at the hotel; time to get back to the room!  

The Compulsion to Create

We took breakfast at a really authentic bakery (in the Jim Lahey style ) called Pigeon where they made the most delicious Eccles cakes.  We passed a restaurant on the pier playing contemporary jazz to keep the boarders and ne’er do wells away, and, hand on God, witnessed a seagull doing the moonwalk.  Then, more or less, first thing, to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, a relatively new complex on the river Derwent quite a clip outside of town.  It’s pretty much top of the list for Tassie tourists and locals alike, bursting at the seams by the time we left early aft.   You could take a ferry from the pier where our hotel is, to a dock seventy steps down from the museum, but we drove.    Surrounded by vineyards and bordered by water on one side you would expect the best, but the exterior was not inviting in any respect.    In fact, the entrance, pictured above (a mirrored wall) was of a "considered dissonance" to put it kindly, and more of an affront than a welcome.   Inside, however, it was a different experience altogether.  Much of the museum lies underground or wedged into the rocky outcrop; you traverse spiral staircases, tunneled walkways and a mish-mash of rooms that are disorienting and not afar from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.  A beautiful lounge with a tapas bar extended out onto a rocky beach.   But the work speaks volumes.  The old and new aspects are sometimes metaphorical but sometimes, as in the above two pictures, literal, where you have ritual figures of antiquity from Auvergne next to early 20th century American armless carvings.   As you descend to the main galleries you pass a room with a mummified tomb of Pausirus (100 BCE).  Cleverly (or not) the tomb is set on a concrete walkway surrounded by water, so only a couple of people are permitted in the room a time; here SS traverses the paving stones around the pool to the tomb.   Another massive installation adorns a wall over two floors, 1600 individual drawings in collage.   When you reach the bottom level there was a water installation called Bit Pop by Julius Fall that spanned nearly three levels. My pictures may not do it justice, but as the water fell it formed words, ad hoc, and then trickled into space; it was powerful and ephemeral in one breath and weirdly hypnotizing.   Another unusual and captivating piece was called Bounty by Patrick Hall which was a construction of real bones representing the ocean.   The current exhibit at the museum has a theme of lesser known or unrecognized artists.  Naifs, hermits, ex-soldiers, stone forgers, pastors, priests, beauticians, collectors, obsessives, free hand artists, typographers, cartoonists, inventors, politicos.  In short, people compelled to be artists, not just names.  In this vein:   Two rooms focused on pastors and their biblical art; these “preaching plates” from 1958.   An artist, Morton Bartlett, obsessed with young mannequins.   Andre Robillard’s 23 guns and rocket launchers.   Hans-Jorg Georgi’s 24 cardboard airplanes.   At one point we queued for “an experience” in a room called Event Horizon by an artist called James Turrell.  Basically, about seven of us took off our shoes, surrendered our devices, put on white sockettes, and then entered a large room of rounded white walls and various lighting coordinates, where there was a staff person in a white smock who looked at the ground and ensured we didn’t touch the walls or sit, and there we stood for 16 or so minutes, as the lights changed colour and, on occasion, strobes went off.  It was a little bit Woody Allen’s Sleeper and a little bit Kubrick's 2001.  Ho hum on the hallucinatory experience but en route, you pass through a light hallway, pictured above, which was (for me) totally disorienting and weirdly uncomfortable.  The pic doesn’t do the size justice, as it was about 10 feet wide and 16 high.   I can’t remember the details, but a Russian ex-soldier focused on recreating historical soldiers, to the tune of an army of nearly 2,000.   Was everything great?  No.  No, no, no. Lot’s but not all.  Take, e.g., this collage:   The skeletons, well, let’s just say they speak for themselves.  The hanging devices, Cloaca, by “radical” Belgian conceptual artist Wim Delvoye, is essentially a poop machine which, when provided with food at one end will, on a daily basis (at 2 p.m. to be exact) produce some fecal matter.  I am not kidding.  And as for the tea cart, that was a bit twee: When you exit the basement you go through a screen door into what elsewhere would be a standard museum shop but here has an older woman (your mum) offering to serve you tea.  For free.  Hmmmm.   But the good far outweighed the crap.  The crap.  Geddit?   One of my absolute favorites were 12 exquisite, intricate and inexplicable “doodles” by an artist who drew them while working at a call centre.     That's the wall outside the tea shop...  We had lunch on the grounds at a café at a picnic table in the shade; salmon on greens and Spanish omelette.  Then we drove back the hotel, dropped off the car, and walked into north Hobart.   Can you tell what city you’re in?  Bristol?  Newcastle?  Milton Keynes?   We ran into an old guy who had a 1910 FN (Fabrique Nationale) motorbike who had driven it across Asia and Europe, from Nepal to the UK, not dissimilar to what I did in 1985 except he skipped Africa (!), but of course we were in a reconditioned Bedford.  No Room for Watermelons was his published diary.     In the evening we headed out to another “hot” Hobart restaurant, Dier Makr.  They do a degustation menu, not really my thing, but on Sunday it’s simpler and a la carte.  We ate a sensational small dinner for not very much. For starters, pictured, buratta, rhubarb chutney and pickled cucumber, and anchovies in lemon.  We sat at the kitchen so to speak; the chef knew the chef at Farmer's Apprentice, two blocks from my office.  Small world.  

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.
1 2