Thursday, 15 December 2011

Christmas cheer ...

Our school Christmas tree (made out of 7 year old R's hand prints)

It's the last day of school here before we take two weeks off over the Christmas break.  The kids are super excited about Christmas and we've been having some Christmas fun this week with crafts, carols and Christmas themed Maths (the joy of homeschooling is that you can do these kind of things whereas in most schools, fun Christmas activities are a no-no).  Today, we're heading out for brunch and board games at the kids' favourite cafe before coming back to 'school' to make some Christmas cards.  We'll end the day with a little Christmas party (hopefully with bubbles for the teacher) and the much anticipated (by the kids at least) opening of presents.  I'm going to be taking a break from blogging over the next few weeks since C will be here (2 more sleeps!) and we're off on an adventure, which means I'll have plenty to blog about when I get back in January.  Happy Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Bubbles in beautiful locations ...

This picture just about sums up Mum's visit to Manly last week - we drank a lot of bubbles in fairly spectacular locations, including beach side in Manly and harbour side in the city with views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.  We spent a lot of time drinking, eating and doing minimal exercise.  This week, I'm in recovery mode with lots of healthy foods and plenty of exercise before I start it all again on the weekend when C arrives and Christmas family time begins.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Sunshine at last ...

There weren't too many sunny days in Sydney when Mum was visiting, so when the sun came out on Sunday morning, we jumped at the chance to enjoy some beach time.  We began with a walk along Manly beach where we spent time watching the kids delight in the waves crashing into Queenscliff pool.  As we headed to Shelly beach for a swim, we came across Father Christmas who was arriving at the surf club to meet the little nippers.  It's the first time I've seen the fat jolly man travel by surf boat!  It was (only just) warm enough for a swim at Shelly beach but we didn't last long - the water at Shelly is normally free from waves and seaweed but due to the recent weird tides, there was a lot of seaweed being churned around in the (small) waves.  After our quick dip, we ended our beach time with coffee and cake at the Sandbar right on Shelly beach.  We arrived home just in time to watch the clouds roll in with a big storm on the way.  So, unfortunately, the sunshine didn't last very long.

Waves at Queenscliff pool

Body boarding at Manly beach

Father Christmas arrives by surf boat

He arrives at North Steyne surf club

Monday, 12 December 2011

'Gross und Klein' ...

Last year when I was in Sydney, I went to the theatre many, many times, taking advantage of the under 30 ticket prices (normally $30).  However this year (since I'm getting old), I have had to carefully choose the theatre productions that I see (and can afford!).  Upon looking at this years offerings from the Sydney Theatre, I was immediately drawn to 'Gross und Klein' (Big and Small), purely for the fact that the lead actor was Cate Blanchett, one of Australia's finest actors (and also a graduate of the school I used to work at in Melbourne).  So, I splurged and bought Mum and I tickets for her recent visit to Sydney.

We were not disappointed.  It was amazing to see 'Australia's Cate' live on stage in such a unique play.  She was fabulous.  She produced such an incredible range of expressive emotions and as an audience member, you truly believed in her character, Lotte, an odd, lost soul wandering aimlessly around Germany trying to connect with people.  Also, I've never heard such a strong and powerful voice on stage; the way it projected out into the audience was amazing.  The storyline is a little odd and while it takes some time to 'get into', it is rewarding once you've figured it out.  Before attending the play, I read an interview with Blanchett and Benedict Andrews, the director, that summed up the experience of seeing such a quirky play ... in Andrews' words, I think it's great if people have mixed feelings about work because it means the work is alive.  I don't think theatre should always be easy to consume.  it should be a difficult and delicious pleasure.  It's an insult to the audenice to think you should pander to them or make it easy.  We go to the theatre to get closer to people.  I don't mean that in a touchy-feely way ... we go to the theatre to understand people more, to get deeper into them and to be touched by them.  Whether my work has been divisive or not, it should be judged on whether it does that.  Did a theatrical event take lace?  Did it touch you?  Didi it make you laugh or cry?  Didd you get closer to someone?  That's all I care about.  I'm happy to say that our experience of Cate Blanchett as Lotte in 'Gross und Klein' ticked all of Andrews' boxes.  If you're in Sydney and you get a chance to go, it's a performance not to be missed.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Sailing on the Sydney Harbour ...

We are obviously 'real' sailors with our wine in hand

Nearly every week, I get asked if I'd like to go sailing with my bosses on a Friday evening.  I nearly always decline because I'm not a huge fan of sitting on a boat when it's windy and the waves are rolling in through the Heads from the ocean.  But when I do accept, I actually really enjoy myself.  I have Mum to thank for getting me out on the water this past Friday night; she was super excited about sailing on the Sydney Harbour.  And, it was fun.   It was a lovely evening and there were many boats on the water, which caused some chaos when we got to the marker which we had to turn around (we were in a real race, not on a casual sail).  It wasn't too windy or too rough, so who knows, maybe I'll be back out there this Friday night?

Sun setting over Sydney

Manly ferry amongst the sailing boats

A huge cruise ship dwarfs the sail boats

Chaos as we round the marker
The sun lights up Manly as we head towards the finish line

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Picasso and Paris ...

The current Picasso exhibit at the Art Gallery of New South Wales has caused much talk amongst Sydneysiders, so it was with much delight that Mum called to say that she'd booked us tickets (the entry system operates on a timed entry basis, meaning that the exhibit is never going to be over-crowded at any one time) for Wednesday afternoon.  The exhibition was excellent, not just for the intriguing works of art but also for the story was told through the sequence of the art.  The exhibit was organised into 10 rooms, each holding Picasso's work from a different time in Picasso's life - from his early days in the late 1800s right through until his death in 1973.  As with the last Picasso exhibition I saw (in New York last year), I was particularly taken with the pencil drawings.  With this exhibit, there were many sculptures on display, an art form that I wasn't aware Picasso was known for.  I particularly enjoyed the sheet metal sculptures.  Wednesday is also Art After Hours, where the gallery comes alive with free talks, tours and music.  Mum and I sipped on bubbles whilst listening to a jazz band play before heading to the main foyer to listen to Richard Gill, an opera conductor, speak about the importance of arts education in Australian schools.

Wishing to continue with the arty Parisian scene, last night we decided to go to the movies to see 'Midnight in Paris' which I'd already seen but was more than happy to see again since I loved it the first time around.  If you haven't seen it, I can highly recommend it - it makes you want to book a flight to Paris, preferably travelling back in time to the 1920s, with the beautiful architecture, fashion (I love the women's headwear of this era), music and art.  Following the movie, we were jolted back to reality of life in Australia in 2011 with dinner and drinks at the 4 Pines micro-brewery in Manly. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

China Beach ...

On Monday evening, Mum and I headed out for a 'splurge' meal at China Beach, an Asian fusion restaurant right next to Manly Beach.  I'd heard great things about the restaurant and was unable to get in last time I tried because, for most nights, you need to make a reservation.  Although I'd booked a window table for Monday evening (it was a wet and chilly night so not suitable for sitting outside), the restaurant was not full, so was a little quieter which was great since that seems to have been the only complaint about the restaurant.  The staff were outstanding and helped us to select dishes (and portion sizes) to accompany our chosen wine  (a Hunter Valley white that we'd tried the day before) and even giving us an extra starter which would apparently go superbly with the wine.  The food was amazing - fresh, delicious and beautifully presented.  The whole evening was a perfect splurge experience, with great food and wine in an amazing location and with an amazing person, my Mum!

Betel leaf with house smoked trout, grilled eggplant & green chilli Nam Jim

Lab Kai, Chicken with Kaffir lime, lemongrass, mint & a chilli, lime dressing

Steamed scallops with ginger, lemongrass & soy sauce

Pork belly special with green snake beans

Stir fried Sichuan eggplant, tofu, cashew nut & snow pea

Ice cream and sorbet - guava and raspberry sorbet, rum raison ice cream

Wine and view

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Manly - Spit walk ...

Late yesterday afternoon, Mum and I headed off on the Manly-Spit walk, a popular Sydney excursion.  The walk takes you on 9.1 km of coast line and bush to the Spit bridge, where you jump on a bus back to Manly.  It was a grey afternoon and the weather couldn't decide if it wanted to be warm or cold, but still, the walk was worthwhile.  Since it was high tide, we spent more time walking up on the cliffs than down along the beach, but the scenery is still quite beautiful.  Due to the somewhat depressing weather, there weren't many people on the path, but we were lucky enough to watch a hang-glider preparing for an afternoon flight and then to see him take off and soar way above the Sydney Harbour.  Here are a few pictures of our afternoon stroll ...

Not a bad view!

Boats in the Fairlight area

Cool, squiggly gum trees

Thanks to the rainy weather, the wildflowers were spectacular
More pretty flowers

Hang gliding out towards the Heads (South Head on the right)

Looking out towards North Head (near Manly)

Famous Manly ferry, North Head and a glimpse of blue sky

Up close and personal with a spiky bush

A big rock with a great view

Yet another little cove

Another big rock, this time with a support

Walking on soft sand at the end of long walk is h a r d

And another cove!

And finally at the bus stop ... ready for a glass of wine, dinner and a bath!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Meandering through the Hunter Valley ...

View from our breakfast table

After the Elton John concert, our second priority of the weekend was to explore the Hunter Valley to admire the countryside and sample some of the local wines.  We didn't have a lot of time so we headed to the area that was most concentrated with wineries and drove around the small roads just checking it all out.  We wound up at the Small Winemakers Centre, which is a location for winemakers who are not large enough to have their own cellar doors to show their wares and offer tastings of their wines.  They also had a cafe attached where we sat for some time, enjoying both the food, the first tea/coffee of the day and the stunning view.  For me, I truly felt like I was back in Australia with the sight and smell of the gum trees surrounding us.  After breakfast, we tackled the wine tasting counter, trying many of the local specialities (shiraz and semillon) from a number of small winemakers, making several purchases to take home with us.

Wine tasting at the Small Winemakers Centre

A bird enjoys the Sunday morning sunshine

In the early afternoon, we headed back to Newcastle where we met up with a couple of friends who I used to play hockey with at the Kew Hockey Club.  They've been in Newcastle for a few years now and were kind enough to take us to a beautiful bar in a terrific location - on top of the Newcastle surf life saving club.  The view was stunning on such a cold, wet and stormy afternoon.  I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the coastline of Newcastle was - I was expecting it to be a very industrial looking city.

Lake at Small Winemakers Centre

Driving through Wine Country

After a quick catch up, it was time to head back to Sydney on the train, ready for a week filled with exciting experiences to share with Mum during her holiday in Manly.

Storm approaching the vineyards

View from the Newcastle Surf Club Bar

Catching up with old hockey friends

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Elton John in the Hunter Valley ...

View from the train

It was with much anticipation that Mum and I boarded the train bound for Newcastle early on Saturday morning.  We were headed for the Hunter Valley with two purposes in mind - Elton John and wine.  After 2.5 hours on the train and about an hour in the car, we arrived at our accommodation in East Maitland at the Windsor Castle Hotel, which had possibly the only hotel room left in the entire Hunter Valley due to Elton's appearance in the valley (and my lack of organisation in booking something).  Thankfully (and perhaps surprisingly) the room was quite lovely and perfect for our needs.

The Windsor Castle Hotel

Waiting for the gates to open

After dumping our bags, we quickly headed out to the Hope Estate to line up so that we could secure ourselves a good position on the lawn for the concert.  Surprisingly, the line wasn't that long and we were amongst the first people there.  We only had to wait for about 30 minutes before security let us in early and we quickly found a great position and settled in for an afternoon of people-watching (wow, people can behave oddly after too much booze or other substances) whilst drinking bubbles.  We had ordered a gourmet hamper which was well worth it (we'll ignore the fact that the antipasto platter was covered in mould and needed to be exchanged) and kept us entertained for several hours as we ate our way through its contents.

Enjoying our gourmet hamper in the afternoon sunshine

I'm a new fan of the cello ... no reason why.

The music began at about 6.30 with Eran James whose music was okay but fairly unremarkable.  However, the second support act, 2 Cellos, was amazing - both musically and as eye candy.  The 2 Cellos group is made up of two absolutely gorgeous Croatian guys playing rock songs on the cello - U2's 'With or Without You' and Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' were the stand out hits.  I was thrilled to see that the 2 Cellos stayed on stage, playing, for most of Elton's performance.  Eventually Elton arrived on stage and entertained the crowd for well over two hours, demonstrating his superb singing ability as well as some athletic ability with a jump or two over the piano.  He played all the big hits as well as some other songs that I was unfamiliar with.

Mr John himself

Mother and daughter enjoying the music

The fantastic concert (and firework display at the end of the evening) was only slightly dampened by the fact that it took us 1.5 hours to get out of the car park and another hour to get home thanks to the dodgy directions from the traffic warden.  But, overall, it was a fabulous experience to see a worldwide icon such as Elton live in concert!