Sunday, 20 December 2009

Carols in the Domain

Carols in the Domain is a free Xmas concert that takes place every year and aims to raise money for the Oasis Youth network - a part of the Salvation Army which works with homeless youngsters. Woolies has sponsored this concert for the past five years - it's a big corporate activity for us, as we also raise money for Oasis by the selling of Candle Bags. These contain candles (an integral part of the concert experience) as well as loads of other goodies, and sell for $15.

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Weeks before the concert it's a massive organisation to get hold of the products and pack all 12ooo bags! They are then crated and sent to the various selling points for the day of the concert. It's all organised by Donna - the PA to my ultimate boss - who has been very helpful to us as we moved over here, so Gus and I were happy to volunteer to sell bags on the day.

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We had absolutely no idea what a huge event this concert turned out to be.

First of all we had to find the Domain - which turned out to be the bit of the Botanical Gardens that slopes down from the city!

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We got there about 3pm - the concert started at 8.30pm - and were staggered by how many people were already there.

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People had even camped out overnight to bag a prime spot. And they continued to arrrive -to the point where the police had to turn latecomers away at about 8pm, as the venue had reached capacity of 50,000.

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I was on selling duty with other Woolies volunteers - the hottie in the red cap is Cameron from corporate finance. He sold quite a few bags - especially to the girls! I did well when he went for a coffee!

By about 7ish we had sold all the bags and so were able to go and join the concert crowd. As hard working volunteers we had VIP access to the area right in front of the stage. It had been a very hot day so we were gasping for a glass of something sparkly!

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These VIP lawn seats gave us a great view of the evening's entertainment and of the real VIP's who were in the blue seats you can just see in the photo above. Amongst the celebrities sitting just behind us were Nicole Kidman and Kristina Kenneally - the NSW Premier.

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The concert was televised nationally and was great fun. A mix of popular Xmas songs with well known carols - sung by famous Australian's (we had no idea who they were - probably some actress from Home & Away) and international stars such as Englebert Humperdink (still alive apparently) and Katherine Jenkins. She was fantastic but the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for The Wiggles and their rendition of that holiday classsic "Go Santa Go". Nope, no idea either. It must be an Antipodean thing.

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Happy hunting in the Hunter

We celebrated our first 6 months in Australia and Gus' birthday with a weekend in the Hunter valley. This is a wine producing area about 3 hours north west of Sydney. Like all wine areas it has become a haven for restaurants and an overall foodie experience to complement the wine tasting.
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Gus picked the accomodation and choose well. Patrick Plains turned out to be a great place - a small guest house with just 8 rooms, cool decor and a female owner who just loved the gay boys!

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She has owned the place for about 2 years and is refurbishing it to her own style. We chatted to her about her many trips to Sydney and her search for new tables for the rooms - this was a relief to us as we had thought the god awful pine monstrosity of a table was a permanent and deliberate feature! We practically had the place to ourselves and enjoyed the privacy and peaceful setting.

Our wine tasting took us first of all to Peterson, where we were presented with a terrible dilemma

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Chocolate or champage? Which one to pick first?

We really weren't sure about the wine tasting etiquette in the Hunter - we've been to the Sonoma and Napa valleys in the USA and to Franschhoek and Stellenbosch in Cape Town, and they all have different systems. Sometimes the wine tasting is free and sometimes you pay a nominal amount. Well we were obviously forgetting about the Aussie love of alcohol, as not only was the wine tasting free - but you were often given a wine tasting menu which guided you from dry whites, through reds to sparkling and then dessert! We ended up buying champagne from Petersons as it was quite delicious.

Friday night was Gus' birthday celebration, and he had picked Casuarina. This is a vineyard, a hotel and a well known restaurant. Indeed it was one of the original three restaurants that established the Hunter as a culinary destination. And it has not changed since then. The decor and the food are firmly rooted in 70's! When we arrived I did think the whole thing was going to be a bit Fawlty Towers but we loved it. It is known for the tableside flambe's - the chef cooks your meal next to your table, and chucks in a whole load of alcohol before setting it alight. With flames shooting high into the air this was a great experience - the lobster and prawn dish we had was superb - it's their signature dish.

The next night we went for a more modern choice - Botanica. With a great view of the vineyards from our table, we had a great meal - three courses for $60. And top entertainment too. Not laid on by the restaurant but by the couple at the next table. A young couple - they told the waiter that they had come down from Newcastle to see the Xmas lights at the Hunter Valley Gardens (more on that later). She had dressed up for the occasion in a stylish black dress; he was wearing denim shorts, a t shirt and canvas espadrilles! You see this all the time in Australia - the girls make an effort, the boys can barely bring themselves to put on clothes. They were a good looking couple, but dear lord, he had the manners of an ape. Does no-one get taught how to eat anymore? You bring your fork to your mouth - you don't lean down, bringing your mouth to the plate and shovel it in....this ain't Maccas. No wonder they'd gone out for the night, she probably knew not to take him home to meet Mum & Dad....

After dinner we too headed off to see the Xmas lights. Hunter Valley Gardens are display gardens - their Xmas lights display is a major attraction. And on that night it seemed that the entire population of Newcastle was there. Too many over excited children for me. Though we did see ape boy again - he had changed out of his canvas espadrilles and was now wearing flip flops (thongs to the Aussies). Clearly even canvas shoes were too formal for him.

Driving home the next day we met more of the local wildlife! These ones had much better table manners and even took time out from their meal to smile and say hello!

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Sunday, 29 November 2009

Giving thanks

We celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday for the very first time. We've been very fortunate since our arrival down under in meeting some great new friends. One of the first new friends was Florida Girl. We met through her blog - which actually inspired me to set up and write this one. FG has introduced us to her delightful family and her own circle of down under friends - most of whom are ex pats too.

So at this Thanksgiving dinner were one Brit, one Kiwi, one Canadian, several Aussies, one South African, several Americans and some Texans - it was quite the British Empire reunion. The food was awesome. Turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potato and yam casserole, green bean casserole, two types of corn bread, two types of stuffing - it was quite the carb fest. Delicious.

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One Thanksgiving tradition is to go round the table and each state what you are thankful for. So here's my blog version of that tradition.

I am thankful for the new friends that we have made in Australia, and for the warm welcome that we continue to receive. Thank you Florida Girl for inviting us into your home, for your hospitality and for your continued friendship. I am thankful that Abi and Fraser were able to come over to Australia and that they had a great time here, and I am thankful that Adam is coming over at Xmas. Finally, I am thankful that I get to share this adventure with Gus, he is my rock and I love him more than I let him know.

Aye aye Cap'n

Last weekend was a hot one with temperatures forecast to go past 40 degrees centigrade. That's the kind of heat that would bring the whole of the UK to a halt - with schools closed, buses and trains cancelled, and the Sun would run pics of packed beaches in Bournemouth and Southend, with a topless young female and the headline "Phew, what a scorcher"

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Here in Sydney - it was business as usual. Aussies don't let heat, duststorms or other natural phenomena get in the way of having a good time. We'd been invited to spend Saturday afternoon on a boat in the harbour with some friends and a bunch of their friends. We rocked up at Rushcutters Bay at the allotted hour
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and were somewhat taken aback by the amount of alcohol being loaded onto the boat. Then we met the others - mainly Irish and in their twenties. OK - that explains that then.

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Once loaded with all the essentials - ice, beer, champagne, more ice, more beer, white wine, more ice, rose wine, more ice, more champagne - we headed off for a quick motor around the harbour - past the Opera House and under the bridge - before the captain floored the throttle and we zoom zoomed over to Middle Harbour.
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Here we partook of liquid refreshment.

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for several hours

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before heading back to land, where we continued the get together in Ru
shcutters Park.

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Gus and I then went home, ordered a takeaway pizza and fell asleep!

Next day, we both felt a bit jaded. I can assure you it was not the alcohol - the temps hit 43 degrees. I even have a photo as evidence!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

That was the week that was....

The kids had a great week here - sadly it was all over far too quickly. And it will be another five months before they are back over again. We did have fun and packed a lot of touristy stuff into our time together. We visited Bondi, Coogee and Manly beaches - went on various forms of public transport -ferries, trams, buses, monorail - climbed the lookout towers on the Harbour Bridge, and saw every variety of Australian wildlife at Taronga Zoo, Sydney Aquarium, Wildlife World and Featherdale Wildlife Park. We loved the Oz Trek experience at the Sydney Tower, cycling on the swirly hill at the Olympic Park and the Undersea 3D film at the Imax cinema.

Interacting with the animals at Featherdale was a highlight, interacting with the school parties at Wildlife World was a defininte lowlight. And on that point - do Aussie kids ever actually take any lessons? Based on our experience, every school in the Sydney area was visiting a tourist destination during that week. You have not experienced hell until you have been trapped in the Wildlife World with all the glass cages amplifying the noise of several hundred screaming kids. The irony of where we were was not lost on me.

Having fun at Manly beach (despite the flies)

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The schoolkids weren't the only ones fighting at Wildlife World

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We proved that you don't need a car to get around Sydney

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How scary were those sharks?
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The giraffes have the best view

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Luk Chai the baby elephant

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Mother and baby

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Featherdale - a real treat

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Getting dizzy yet?

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So kids - did you have fun?

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