Friday, 25 March 2011

Sonoma Valley in the rain ...

Jolan and Arpad at the Buena Vista winery

Yesterday, I left the city of San Francisco behind and headed to the Sonoma Valley with my lovely Hungarian friends, Jolan and Arpad.  I was so lucky that they were able to take time off work and drive so far to see me (they live in San Jose).  Unfortunately, whenever we meet up, it never seems to be very nice weather ... in fact, the first time we met was on the top of Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) in China on a rainy and foggy day.  But, we didn't let the weather stop us then and we didn't let it stop us yesterday.

Wine cellars ... dug by the Chinese workers in the 1800s

Buena Vista

Our first stop was the Cline winery, where we explored a small museum showing the development of the Spanish missions that were built all the way up the coast from Mexico to just north of San Francisco.  Our first tasting adventure was at the Buena Vista winery, which was actually founded by a Hungarian man, who is credited with being the 'father' of the Sonoma wine region.  I found it fascinating to read his history ... Agoston Haraszthy was, like many Hungarian men, fiery and dramatic and certainly made a name for himself in the area, dabbling in a little bit of everything, before finally settling into wine making.  Here, we tried several chardonnay and pinot noir wines, all of which were lovely.

Ornate 1800s wine barrel

Governor Vallejo's house

After this winery, we drove for a bit, enjoying the scenery from the dry car, as opposed to the incredibly wet outdoors.  As we drove, a familiar and pungent hit my nose ... gum trees!  The area was filled with them, towering gum trees everywhere.  It was lucky that I'd only left Australia last week, otherwise, I would have felt homesick for certain.

The cookhouse

The gardens

We visited the small town of Sonoma, where we enjoyed a long, lazy lunch at a delicious Portuguese restaurant called LaSalette.  I'd never eaten real Portuguese food before, so we had fun sampling all the national speciality dishes and wines.

Lovely, mossy trees

Beautiful bird in the marsh lands

In the afternoon, we headed to Governor Vallejo's house.  He was the founder of the town of Sonoma and his daughter married the son of Haraszthy.  In the early evening, just as we headed back to San Francisco, the rain and clouds began to lift and we finally were able to see some views.  By the time we got back to the city, the sun was shining!  Now, I just need to get my head into work mode, ready for the conference.

Finally, a view of the hills

An old farmhouse

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

100% tourist in San Francisco ...

Grey skies in San Francisco

Today was my only full day in San Francisco, so I went like the clappers all day, trying to experience as much as possible.  I began the day with an 'early bird' (along with hundreds of other people) tour of Alcatraz.  The recommended time spent on the island is two hours.  I spent close to four ... I seem to have a morbid fascination with prisons and the horrifying stories that accompany them (perhaps being a Tasmanian, I've visited Port Arthur one too many time?)  I took the audio tour (excellent), listened to a 45 minute talk about the attempted escapes (fascinating) and wandered the island, trying to put myself into the shoes of the inmates, the staff and their families.   It must have been torture for the prisoners, being able to hear the sounds of everyday life as Alcatraz is so close to downtown San Francisco.

Alcatraz ferry with 'The Rock' in the background

Birds on Alcatraz ... the most recent residents


Warning on Alcatraz

Arriving at the dock

Indians welcome ... how nice

Derelict buildings and lush gardens, quite the contrast

The old Officer's Hall

The recreation yard

Mating season for the local birds

My next stop was a stroll along Fisherman's Wharf, a hot bed of overpriced tourist restaurants and souvenir shops.  My reason for visiting such an area (that I would normally avoid) was to see the resident sea lions lounging about on the docks.  They were quite spectacular ... close to 100 sea lions sleeping, swimming, communicating, playing on the docks so close to town.  I did become quite attached to them and spent a good 45 minutes just watching and laughing at them.  I feel another visit coming on before I leave San Francisco (and possibly a blog entry solely dedicated to these wonderful creatures). 

Sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf

'Get out of my way!'

The most vocal of the sea lions

A comforting message on an apartment building

My last major touristy stop for the day was the Golden Gate Bridge.  It is just as spectacular as I had imagined.  It is also a lot longer than I expected ... Wikipedia just told me that it is 2.7 km long.  Lucky I was up for a day of walking in the fresh (read, windy) air ... it was a 30 minute power walk just one way along the bridge.  I was slightly disappointed not to find a bus service at the other end, however, after a handful (or three) of cashews, I was able to head back to the other side.  I did regret not hiring a bike for the trip, but I've now worked up a significant appetite for my adventure into Chinatown this evening.  I navigated the San Francisco bus system back into the city, getting off several blocks earlier so that I could scope out Japantown.  Tonight, I'm aiming for a non-touristy Chinese restaurant with some authentic Chinese food and a Tsingdao or two. 

Golden Gate Bridge

... and again

The unfortunate truth of the Golden Gate Bridge ... America's premier suicide location

From the bridge

San Francisco from the bridge

View from the other side

Note ... the superior photo quality (!) is due to my new camera, a Canon EOS 60D ... thanks to my lovely family for gifting this for my 30th!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Adventures in the USA ...

I've only been back three days and I'm off again!  Tonight, I head down to San Francisco for the annual ASCD (Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development) conference.  My conference experience begins on Friday, with a pre-conference institute, followed by three very full days of interesting sessions.  So, I have two free days before the learning begins ... Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge and other touristy things are on the agenda for tomorrow followed by a day in the Sonoma wine region with some Hungarian friends that I met in China.  After the conference, I head to Las Vegas with C for his work conference.  I'm not so thrilled about Vegas, but can't wait for my day trip out to the Grand Canyon.  Ah, the adventures continue.

Monday, 21 March 2011

First day of spring ...

View from the ranch driveway

It's the first day of spring here in Canada and as you can see, it doesn't exactly look like spring weather!  Where is the green grass and new-born lambs?!  It was -5 in Calgary today and has been snowing lightly all day.  However, all the locals are happily proclaiming how lovely the weather is and how warm it's getting.  Hmmm.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Oh Canada!

Frozen Bow River

That's right, I've left the sunny beaches of Sydney and am now back in cold, snowy Canada.  I arrived back yesterday morning and headed straight to the River Cafe near downtown Calgary for a long, leisurely lunch with C and my good friend from high school, Camilla and her husband, Chris.  It was amazing that they happened to be in town (and on their way back to London) just as I arrived ... funny how far you need to travel to meet up with friends!  We enjoyed a delicious Canadian lunch with several bottles of bubbles to celebrate life before walking it off with a stroll to the top of a nearby hill to admire the view over downtown Calgary.  

The frozen Bow River with downtown in the background

It's good to be back and be with C again, but my goodness, it is mighty cold.  Over the past few weeks, I've been watching the Calgary weather reports with interest.  I was thrilled to watch the temperature steadily climb from -20 to +10, so you can imagine my disappointment when it was announced on  the Air Canada flight that it was -5 and snowing in Calgary.  It's chilly!  But there was a decent snowfall last night, so everything is white and pretty and I'm looking forward to rugging up and heading out to play in it later today.

Looking down onto the Bow River from a nearby hill 

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

'All That Glitters' ...

Last night, I finally got along to see a movie at the French Film Festival, 'All That Glitters'.  The movie follows two young girls living in the suburbs of Paris.  Lila and Ellie will stop at almost nothing to achieve their dream of being accepted amongst the crowd of young, rich Parisians.  Eventually they realise that perhaps all that glitters is not gold and that they are missing out on the true meaning of friendship in their pursuit of recognition amongst a fairly shallow group of people.  It's funny, it's quirky and it's just so uber cool as are most French movies.  I'm only sad that I won't get to see anymore during this film festival.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

'Up The Yangtze' ...

During my 'I miss China' moments, I tend to search out Chinese movies, documentaries and books.  I've just finished the 'Wild China' series, which aired in 2008, right before I left for China (but was too busy to watch it) and this week, I stumbled across 'Up The Yangtze', which I really feel should be a 'must see' for anyone planning to move to China.  You can read Margaret and David's review here.  The award-winning documentary follows a poor family living on the banks of the Yangtze and their dealings with the flooding and consequent loss of their home due to the Three Gorges Dam project.  Anyone who has been in China will have encountered the poverty, be it in the cities or the rural villages.  It's in your face and confronting.  However, this documentary shows you the real story of such families.  It is heartbreaking and uncomfortable to watch at times.  The Yu family are poor, illiterate and live in a shack on the banks of the Yangtze.  Their three children want to further their education by attending high school, but their family is unable to afford it.  So, they send their 14 year old daughter off to work on the tour boats that cruise the Yangtze.  Meanwhile, the water levels are slowly rising until eventually their home is completely submerged and they are forced to leave.

After watching the film, I was curious about what happened to the family after the filming (which took place in 2007).  I was heartened to see that, due to the exposure from the film, many donations were made and the family are now receiving significant support - all the children are attending high school and the parents health is being improved with medical attention.  You can read more about the family's current situation here.  Although this was pleasing to see, it did make me wonder about all the other families who were affected by the Three Gorges project.  Whilst the documentary was grounding and beautifully done, next time I need a China fix, I think I'll search for something a little more upbeat.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Farewell Melbourne ...

Sunset in St Kilda

I've just returned from my last weekend in Melbourne where I had a fantastic weekend with family and friends.  It's always sad to say goodbye when I head off overseas once again.  Also, I always have mixed feelings about leaving - on one hand, I look forward to the adventures that await me, but on the other, I know that I'll greatly miss my family, friends and the Australian way of life.  However, there is not much time to feel sad as another busy week awaits while I pack up my apartment, take the kids on last minute excursions, get my fill of Australian film and theatre and plan my upcoming US trip.  Ah, the life of a global nomad.

Dinner view on Saturday night

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Orpheum Cinema ...

Last night, I headed to the Hayden Orpheum Cinema in Cremorne (30 minutes by bus from Manly) to see my first movie of the French Film Festival.  However, lack of organisation led to disappointment when I arrived and found that the movie was sold out.  All was not lost however.  Just visiting the Orpheum was a delight for the cinema is housed in a stunning 1930s Art Deco building.  Each cinema is gorgeously fitted out with beautiful light fittings and borders around the cinema screens.  Instead of a French romantic comedy, I went to see 'Rabbit Hole' starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart.  It was quite a traumatic movie (with more than a few tears shed on my part) but wonderfully acted and well worth seeing.  Now I just need to get organised and book my French Film Festival tickets ahead of time!

Monday, 7 March 2011

School camp ...

I've just returned from school camp, home-school style.  The whole family (mum, dad, two kids) and I spent yesterday in Canberra, exploring some of the wonderful museums on offer.  On Sunday, we all travelled to the nation's capital by train (I went a little earlier in order to catch up with Dad) and met up for breakfast yesterday morning before splitting up to conquer Canberra's museums.  R (mum) and six year old R went to the National Gallery to see the Ballet Russes exhibition, whilst R (dad), 11 year old B and I went to the Australian War Memorial to have a look at the WW1 and WW2 exhibits as part of B's history studies.  In the afternoon, we all met up at Questacon where the children delighted in watching their teacher have her head cut off in the guillotine as well as playing with other cool science activities.  'Camp' ended with the 4.5 hour train trip back to Sydney, where the children played whilst the adults drank red wine and watched the beautiful Australian scenery go by.  It definitely wasn't your average school camp, but lots of fun.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Waddamana ...

The village

I just love reading the very last page of the Weekend Australian magazine, the one with the unusual properties for sale (in fact, the family home I grew up in Tasmania was listed in the section when we were selling it in 2000).  Last weekend, the Tasmanian property stood out ... the entire village of Waddamana is for sale.  Waddamana (meaning 'noisy water') was established as a hydro-electric power station in the early 1900s and it holds a lot of significance for my family and I.  It was Waddamana where my maternal grandfather was first sent to work upon his arrival in Australia in 1950 after he fled Hungary.  And it was over 40 years later that our family would holiday at Waddamana, sometimes with family friends and other times, on Pony Club camp.  I have great memories of those times ... of staying in the little cottages, while the horses grazed in the back gardens and of going on long horse rides, stopping to swim in the rivers along the way.  I can only hope that a quirky buyer will snap up Waddamana and maintain its status as a unique and historical significant part of Tasmania's history.

The power station

Thursday, 3 March 2011

'In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)' ...

On the night of my 30th, Mum and I went to see a very comical play, 'In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)'   The play is set in the 1880s and tells the story of Dr Givings' radical new treatment for women's hysteria ... the vibrator.  As the story continues, and the patients continue to enjoy their treatment, Mrs Givings becomes increasingly curious about her husband's work, leading to some humorous events.  There are also several darker underlying themes, including homosexuality, jealously, loneliness and struggles with motherhood.  The play had the audience in stitches for over two hours but, perhaps the funniest part was the conversation between several women where they learnt that it was possible to experience the same feelings bought about by the treatment with their husbands.  To which one of the patients responded with a shrill, unbelieving laugh and "Oh?!  Surely not?!"  For those of you in Melbourne, 'In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)' is heading your way (7 April) and I can highly recommend getting a group of girlfriends together and heading along to see it.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Entering the world of the e-reader ...

I've never been an  e-reader type of person.  The thought of reading a book on a screen rather than on paper has never been appealing.  Until now.  C kindly gave me a Kindle for my birthday (perhaps because he's sick of carting my books to and from Canada and Australia?!) and now, I'm an addict.  The Kindle has surprised me enormously ... it's so easy to read on with no screen glare whatsoever.  I've found that it is much faster to read on as well - it only took me two one hour flights and two airport sittings to finished a book.  Already I've downloaded several books, including the 'San Francisco Lonely Planet', where I can 'bookmark' pages of interest, and a free copy of 'Pride and Prejudice' (in the hope that I can 'get into' the classics better by reading faster, and hopefully not feel so illiterate when discussing  books with my grandmother!)  I've had a great time browsing the Kindle store and was thrilled to discover a huge range of gifted education text books which will be very useful for my studies when I'm on the family's island.  I still can't imagine reading the Kindle whilst in bed, lying on the couch or on the beach, but for my travels, it's perfect!  

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Harvest Picnic at Hanging Rock ...

Hanging Rock

Sunday morning dawned grey, chilly and rainy, but that didn't stop us from piling into a hired people mover and making our way to the Harvest Picnic at Hanging Rock to celebrate my 30th.  We drove with the plan that if it was too wet, we'd go to a country pub for lunch.  Amazingly, just as we pulled off the road to Hanging Rock, the rain and mist cleared, leaving us with lovely, dry weather for the day.  We spent the whole day at the picnic, eating, drinking and chatting before finishing the day off with a hike up the rock, amidst many calls of 'Miranda ... Miranda ... where are you, Miranda?!'  When we returned back to our picnic rug, we discovered that we were the only visitors left at the grounds ... not bad for what we thought would be a day of rain and lunching inside!

Ah, my lovely family (we missed you, Dad!)

And more family ... my uncle, aunt and cousin, Pip

Friends ... Libby and Kate

...  Dom

... Steve and Rach

... Rach, Fi and Al

Under the 'Hanging Rock'

Spot the koala

Cloud and mist around Hanging Rock

Spot the black wallaby

6 cars left ... 4 of them belonging to our group.

The people and the people mover