Monday, October 15, 2007

Going away for a little while...

Hi Folks,

A quick note - I'm taking a short break from the blogging world. I made a very difficult decision tonight, and now need (want?) some time to sort things out - which means I won't be devoting time to sharing my interests with the wide world for a little while.

Thank you for reading thus far, and I hope you'll continue to read when I'm back on my feet.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Join the Bloggers' Banquet

If you're a food blogger, check this out.

I'm hoping to get there - anyone else out there interested?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On Holiday: Brisbane in October

I can hardly believe it, but it's been 10 years since I finished high school. I'm trying very very hard not to dwell on all the things that I planned to have done with my life by now, but nothing really makes you think about the time that's past more than attending your 10-year high school reunion.
I went to school up in Ipswich, and also had the dubious honour of boarding at the school for the four years I spent there.

This is a picture of a picture (probably of a copy of a picture) of the school in 1894, two years after it took in its first students. This original building housed both the schoolrooms and the bedrooms of the students.

And this is that same building now. It's now the administration block, complete with myths and legends about ghosts and deaths from the belltower (which is out of photo, to the right). I've always loved the history about the place. The original gatekeepers cottages are also still standing, at the start of the driveway, and are used for drama classes now. I was disappointed, though, that the school drive seems to have lost half of its trees. People used to come along there in a horse and carriage and have their wedding pictures taken there. I'm guessing not many do that any more. I'm ambivalent about my feelings for the school in general. My first year there I would have sworn it was hell on earth. But as the years passed I developed quite a soft spot for the grounds, the old buildings (not so much the new buildings - they are all quite utilitarian), and some of those truly OLD trees.

Anyway, I wasn't sure, even up until I walked in the room, that I wanted to go to this reunion. I'm now glad that I did, as it was interesting to see people I haven't spoken to since that final day at school. But it also hammered home to me that all the people I WANTED to stay in contact with, I have. I decided to head up for more than just a weekend though, so I took a couple of weeks off work (amazingly, from BOTH jobs) and headed up for a week. Since funds are always short I opted to look for a backpacker hostel, and wow did I hit the jackpot.

Somewhere to Stay touts itself as "The BEST backpackers accommodation in Brisbane". Are they the best in Brisbane? I don't know, I haven't been to every other place in Brisbane. But hell, they must come bloody close. I chose to pay a little extra for a standard single room so I wouldn't have to be sociable in a dorm room. The advertised room rate for a single is $39, with discounts for longer stays (so for me 5 nights ended up costing $178 instead of $195. Hey, a discount's a discount!). Check out the website - what more could you want from somewhere to stay than what this place can offer?! There's a pool to cool off in, a kitchen to cook your own food (cos although West End has some fantastic places to eat, that's an expensive way to live), a MASSIVE TV to watch, a laundry to clean your clothes, lots of foreign guys to drool over... when it came time for me to leave I seriously considered asking my Monday-to-Friday boss for an extra week, and running the risk of being fired from my weekend job. But really, lovely though it was there, I had to finish the holiday and head home (sniff, sniffle). Believe me, I'll be back there next time though.

Speaking of fantastic places to eat, I did give a few of them a go.

185 Boundary Street, West End QLD 4101
Ph: (07) 3846 7746
This place seemed like a nice funky little cafe. They were advertising a "Big Brekky" including a cup of coffee for $14. I figured, yeah, that'll do. Huh. I've had bigger. However the eggs were poached to perfection, the toast was thick and crusty, and the chippolatas were deliciously herby. On the downside I wasn't thrilled at being told that 50c was going to be added to the cost because I wanted tea instead of coffee - the reason I was given was that "tea is more expensive" (what the...?). Right there and then I almost walked out. The atmosphere of the place was good, with nice jazz/funk music playing, and interesting decor. That being said, I didn't go back again, as I found better places nearby.

169 Boundary Street, West End QLD 4101
Ph: (07) 3844 8324
Now here we have a place that could very quickly become a favourite, if I lived in the area. Espressohead was a bit grungier than Satchmo's, but was so friendly, and the staff so nice, that who could care? They were also a fair bit busier than Satchmo's, so I think there's a lesson there, but for all that the atmosphere is fairly relaxed and laid back. The mural painted on canvas on the wall kinda freaked me out, as it has a picture of a very large rat (hopefully NOT a statement regarding things you could find in the kitchen). Can't fault the food, though. Vicki and I had lunch there one day, and I figured $7.50 was a decent price for a chicken and salad sandwich. Then a monster of a sandwich between two slabs of Turkish bread came out. It supplied me for two meals! The chicken was real slices of herb-roasted chicken, and the salad fillings seemed very fresh. So after such a successful lunch I simply had to go back and try breakfast.
Enter one "Aussie Breakfast" of bacon, eggs, tomato, chippolatas and toast for $9.50. Then add hash browns and a pot of tea to take the total to $14. Now the same price as Satchmo's, but SO much better. Next time I'm in West End I'll be going here again to check things out a bit further. Oh yes, good coffee too.

The Gunshop Cafe
53 Mollison Street, South Brisbane QLD 4101
Ph: (07) 3844 2241
Oh my, this place is interesting. It apparently actually used to be a gun shop, complete with dark windows, rows of firearms, and boxes upon boxes of ammo. Nice! It's now a swanky little cafe/restaurant that gets pretty darn busy, despite the prices (two of us ate there for $100)
. Jane and I were looking for somewhere to eat while we caught up a little (as the reunion was a difficult place to chat for any length of time) and ended up here. We each ordered the 300g rib fillet - it came out atop small whole potatoes and broccolini, with a dollop of herb butter on top and a thin slice of prosciutto. It didn't blow my mind, but it was nonetheless very nice. Before starting our mains we had considered sharing a cheese platter to finish (especially when I noticed the Timboon Brie on the board!) but when the time came we found something sweet was calling. We ordered a creme brulee (Jane) and lemon panacotta (for me). The waitress getting the two of them mixed up (calling the creme brulee the panacotta and vice versa). And the creme brulee was missing the brulee bit, if you know what I mean - it was more just a creme caramel. Jane reported that it was still quite nice, but she'd been looking forward to that first tap with the spoon. The panacotta was quite nice, but again, nothing to get too excited about. Overall we agreed that the meal was somewhere between "good" and "very good". I'd be interested in going back to see what they can do with lunch.
We also (well, mostly Jane) came up with an interesting idea for Jane to take up in the new year, which I'll be very interested in seeing if she follows through: 12 dates in 12 months. Sounds simple - we shall see how simple it is, and how it unfolds.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Great Ocean Road... Finally!!!

Brace yourself, folks, this is going to be a long one!! After nearly two years I have finally gotten around to "doing" the Great Ocean Road. Finally!!! And it was well worth the wait.

The original plan was to have morning tea in Lorne, however the lack of a car park or any establishment that tempted me resulted in my driving straight through. So I then thought "Oh well, there's always Apollo Bay". And much the same thing happened as in Lorne! So after that I decided to stop making plans, and just go with the flow.

Please allow me to digress just momentarily to chat about one of the big loves of my life - my car:

This here is my trusty steed. Ever since I gave him a work-over about 2.5 years ago I've longed for a road that will REALLY test whether the money (and blood, sweat, and scars) were worth it. What you're looking at is a 99 model N15 Pulsar SLX with an engine chip, Whiteline "works" suspension and handling kit (complete with springs, shocks, rear 20mm adjustable sway bar, steering rack bushes, camber bushes, and a few things I've now forgotten... still haven't got the front strut brace), 2.25" cat-back exhaust system, CAI, 16" mags, spotties... basically a car with 1.6L of power (cough cough, hehe) that corners like a frikking DEMON. Many outside the Pulsar forums don't think the old pulsar is worth the effort. But for love, anything is worth it :-) But enough car-speak.

I hit the intersection at Lavers Hill and was going to keep on going, but saw a sign by the side of the road at this place

advertising Devonshire Tea. And I'm a complete sucker for a Devonshire Tea, as you might have gathered from a previous post.

And this one was well worth the stop. Beautiful scones, delicious jam, and absolutely divine thickened (not whipped) cream. Oh wow. That, and the views down a valley through the window made it WELL worth the stop. And I once again made a furry friend. What is it with cats and me? Why do they take one look at me and think "here's a sucker that'll pat me for a while"? He was a gorgeous ginger-and-white guy who quite pointedly let me know he expected much behind-the-ear scratching before I was allowed to leave. So I obliged - it seemed the only thing to do.

Once refreshed and fortified I continued on my way, heading for the Otway Fly Walk and all the terror it held.

I love a good walk through tranquil lush forest. It was a particularly windy day on Monday, so the roar of the wind through the trees was loud, but quite relaxing in its own way.

And then I got to the scaffolding that announced the start of the climb to the tree canopy.

From where I took this pic, at point 10, I was only 26m up. And you can see how high that tower goes. Perhaps now is a good time to mention that I do suffer from a HUGE fear of heights. To me, the scariest ride on earth is the ferris wheel. But I wasn't going to let some silly little fear stop me. See all those stairs going round and round and round and round and... well yeah, I did them.

And here I am, 47m above the ground. I have to wonder about the kindness of strangers... Some examples:

1) When you go to places like this, complete strangers are almost always happy to take pictures for you (especially if you're on your own) and even offer to take several to be sure you get a good one

2) I started chatting to others also on the small viewing form at the top of the tower, and mentioned my fear. They smiled and offered encouragement and praise for my efforts to conquer it. I know quite a few 'friends' who would tease me and make many jokes at my expense instead. Guess which would be most welcome, and help the most.

Aaaanyway, once I made it DOWN from the tower (oh God, that was an experience) I then decided to REALLY test myself, and go out on the cantilever. The cantilever is a viewing platform 33m from the ground - and the only thing holding it up is a couple of steel cables attached to a pole a looooong way from the end. From the safety of that pole I watched it gently swaying in the breeze, and with the footsteps of everyone out on it. I decided to wait until it got a bit less crowded out there. And then, white-knuckled and gripping the handrail, I shuffled out. And I kept that hold on the railing until I realised - hell, if it goes, I'm going with it! So I let go.

I even made myself kneel down and take a picture through the walkway... not sure how it looks, but that's 33m down... a looooong way. By the time I got back to the nearest stable-ish point I was quite clammy, sweaty hands, and my legs were shaking so bad I thought I'd fall over. But I didn't, and finished the scaffold walk back to the forest floor. I'm so proud of me.

From the Otway Fly Walk I headed a little further along the road to the Triplet Falls. Oh. My. God. SO much beauty. I took so many pictures, but the one above and the one below are my favourites from this area.

After a brief picnic in my car of orange juice and fruit, I decided that was enough stuffing around for the day, and it was time to get to my final destinations of the day: the Twelve Apostles and Port Campbell.

Here, of course, is the obligatory picture of some of the remaining apostles. I took heaps of great pictures, including one of flying sea-foam, as if the ocean were hawking up giant lugey's and spitting at me (nice imagery, eh?), but due to my infamiliarity (yes, I make up words) with the camera I was using, they weren't saved... due to the memory card being full (duh, me smart). And I'd taken an awesome shot of a storm coming over the ocean, framed through the blackened branches of a dead tree. *sigh* I would have liked to see how those shots came out. Ah well - I'll just have to do it again!

I stayed at the cabin and camping park in Port Campbell for the night. A nice little cabin to myself. Tuesday saw me heading back for home, via the inland route. I stopped off in Timboon and visited Timboon Farmhouse Cheese (23 Ford and Fells Road, Timboon. Ph: 03 5598 3387). Oh wow. I had me a little taste test of the cheeses on offer, except the blue cheese (never got the hang of those). Their organic Brie and Camembert were just, just, well, just divine. They also had on offer a Surprise Bay Cheddar and Stokes Point Smoked cheddar from their sister-farmhouse - King Island Dairy. There was also a gourmet feta marinated in olive oil and herbs, and two fresh cheeses - one coated in herbs, the other in peppers. Oh wow, oh wow. I LOVE my cheeses. Each of the types I tried just blew my mind. There were three blue cheese on offer that I declined - Timboonsola Blue, St Joseph's Blue, and one other I can't remember now. If the others are anything to go by, these would have been sublime as well. One corner of the shop is taken up with all the various awards they have won for their cheeses. All well-earned, I'd say!

My purchases - the King Island Surprise Bay Cheddar, Timboon Organic Brie, and Timboon Organic Feta.

From Timboon I went up to Campberdown and had a rather disappointing pub lunch, then set myself facing east and came home.

A rather full two days. About 600km trip, but so thoroughly enjoyable.