The cruising party poopers!

We’re nearing the end of our nine day cruise. After our last port of call today (Noumea) we have two sea days left. We’ve taken lots of photos but won’t be able to post them until we arrive home and can download to our laptop.

So – what are our thoughts?

Mixed feelings. The first two days we were both alternating between thinking, ‘this is the life’, and, ‘is this the life for us’? The next two days we were thinking, ‘Mmmm, could get used to this’, and now – well, sort of back to the original feelings of the first two days.

We are very spoilt in living where we do, and in travelling in our caravan. We can arguably be on one of the best beaches in Australia (and possibly in the world) within a couple of minutes from our home in the summer (and for free). Taking our caravan north to Broome in the winter months brings more of the same. So, the South Pacific islands, although gorgeous, don’t have the same impact on us as they do on people who are starved of turquoise waters and white sand vistas.

Saying that though, we did enjoy our swims on our three Island visits. Noumea, today’s port of call, not so much. It’s a bit grungy and frightfully expensive. We were among the many passengers who did a courtesy couple of laps on the hop on, hop off bus before heading back to the ship for lunch, where we remained for the rest of the day.

On board there is lots to like, but also a counter balance of things not so impressive. Our cabin is lovely, the bed comfortable, and the balcony roomy. The meals are superb, as is the service. We’re not so impressed with some of the on board entertainment. There’s a night time show which lasts about 40 minutes – some have  been good, others rate a bare OK. There’s afternoon quiz sessions which we enjoy, so does everyone else. People end up sitting on the floor because it gets so crowded. There’s movies, we went to our first today. There’s music and dance bands scattered randomly around the ship. Each singer or band usually only plays for around 45 minutes.

So, that’s the entertainment we like, which doesn’t account for many hours in a day. After that, there’s pool games, bandeokie (kareoke done to a live band), silent discos and a few other things that we have no interest in. By far though the vast majority of the entertainment on board is presentations followed by upselling – other cruises, diamonds, watches, handbags, art auctions….. all sorts of things that they call entertainment, but in reality it’s just gimmicky marketing. The casino is also clearly a big money maker, its hugely promoted, and is very well frequented.

We’ve ended up getting some playing cards and a crib board and are playing crib in the evenings after dinner and the show. Guess we’re just party poopers!

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Waiting to cast off.

We’ve been on board Celebrity Solstice since just after 11am. Whilst Internet is still available I thought I’d add a little post of first impressions along with some photos. However, I’m wishing I’d packed our laptop. Apologies if the format is a little different and the photos smaller. The IPad is proving a little difficult.

Firstly, our stateroom. We’re on the 11th floor, and whilst in port have a lovely view over the harbour and the Opera House from our balcony.

View from our balcony

Our room is spacious and the bed king size. I had expected the room to be a lot smaller than the on line photographs had shown it to be. What a pleasant surprise, it’s exactly how was shown in the promotion photographs, and feels quite oppulent compared to my expectations.

More than enough room

We were welcomed on board with a glass of champagne, and shortly afterwards were offered an upgrade on our existing drinks package. Offer accepted, and promptly taken advantage of with a G & T each with our lunch, and later whilst on the sundeck, a Peroni for Paul, and Piña Colada for me.

Shortly we will be attending the safety demonstration, but in the meantime our bags have just been delivered, so I’d better go and help Paul unpack.

Must say – from first impressions I think perhaps I’m going to enjoy this!

A Night in the Rocks, Sydney

I’m sitting up in bed at the Holiday Inn in the Rocks. Our room is spacious, the bed comfortable, and the bed linen crisp and white. We’re almost across the road from where we’ll be boarding our ship in a few hours time.

All hotels in the Rocks are currently at a premium with cruise season reflected in their prices. Our room is $400 a night. We’re on the second floor with a view over a back lane. I’m sure on higher floors on the other side of the hotel you can most likely see our ship docked, nice I’m sure, but not for us this time.

As always, a night in The Rocks was fabulous. We arrived here around 2pm yesterday. A quick freshen up, then out and about walking around the Rocks and Circular Quay. Later in the afternoon Paul ticked The Lord Nelson off his bucket list. The Lord Nelson is a lovely old pub established in the backstreets in the Rocks in 1841. With some very nice craft beers on tap, it’s a must try must for beer connoisseurs, so worth leaving the main tourist drag to hunt out. The brews are good, and the decor authentically old. We had a drink for ourselves, and then another for Cousin in law, Geoff. It’s a pub we’re sure Geoff would enjoy. We didn’t take our camera with us, but Paul has taken some photos of the pub on his phone, which I’ll post later. (We have to work out first how to get them from his phone to my IPad – not easy for these two technically challenged oldies).

Last time we were here (almost two years ago) we tried a lovely little Italian restaurant, Zia Piña. It was so good we just had to go back again. Their quality home style pasta and pizza dishes are reflected in the queues that happily wait outside for a table to become available. They don’t take bookings. You don’t usually have to wait long, and truly – the food is worth the wait.

Another walk around the Quay after dinner soaking up the atmosphere of Sydney Harbour before retiring for some much needed sleep. And today – our cruise begins….. Exciting.

Goin’ cruisin’

 

Summer appears to have ended early this year, leaving with a bang literally last night – a cracker of a storm with claps of thunder and bolts of lightning. I do love a good storm.

Autumn is upon us. The garden’s a riot of colour. The bees are buzzing, dozens of them, and butterflies are flitting from flower to flower, seemingly enjoying the roses and salvia as much as we do.

Critters adding more life and colour.

The autumn rose show is definitely on the way.

My favourite – Julia’s Rose.

Exquisite.

and the Frangipani cuttings have definitely taken.

Paul’s begun the painting of the verandah posts, only one side completed yet with two more sides of the house still to complete. The remainder will wait now till we return from our cruise in early April.

The painting of the verandah posts has begun.

A gazebo, a new addition to the back garden.

Enjoying a well earned beer at the end of a day of painting.

My oh my! how time flies. It seems like only yesterday that Paul returned from the UK and we were finalising plans for a cruise, our first. We leave tomorrow. Our bags are packed, and my finger and toe nails have been painted. (I believe you do that sort of thing when you’re cruising.

Not sure nail varnish suits these ‘gardener’s hands’.

Firstly, a night with Alice, Paul, Tim and Josh – always a pleasure. Oh, and while I remember – Josh’s band, Raksha, won a second Battle of the Bands last night, this time in Perth. The winnings – a fist full of dollars (but between six band members it won’t amount to much each). Also, I believe the recording of a single, plus some air time on one of the local radio stations. They go from strength to strength, showing a growing maturity of sound, and are accumulating a growing amount of accolades that reflect both their talent and dedication.

Then early Friday morning a flight to Sydney, and after a night there we’ll board the Celebrity Solstice for our nine night cruise in the South Pacific. I don’t know how internet access will be on board, but will definitely let you know what I think of cruising when I return, if not before. My friend Wendy assures me I’ll love it – that only boring people don’t enjoy cruising. I hope I don’t show myself up as being ‘boring’.

 

If only Granny could see me now!

In my last post I mentioned my oven was cleaning itself as I typed. Since then I’ve been reflecting on technology and the gadgets invented in a relatively short time since my granny passed away approximately 60 years ago.

These are some of the things that Granny never saw, nor could have imagined in her wildest dreams. I’m sure you could all add to this list.

In the 1950’s household telephones were few and far between. Most people rarely needed to make phone calls, and when they did it was usually from a coin operated red phone box. Almost every corner had one.
Not so long ago I remember phones became cordless, and then completely mobile. Today, most people in each and every household have their own mobile phone to take with them where every they go. I wonder what granny would think of that!

And computers – well if someone had prophesied the invention of computers and the internet, and that, again, almost every person in every household would have their own by the turn of last century, I’m sure granny would have been trying to get that person committed.

Granny used to wash the households clothes using either a copper and hand wringer or if she was lucky, a wringer washing machine. I remember my mother using the same. Then the twin tub – wow how sophisticated was that. Now we not only have washing machines that wash, rinse and spin dry automatically, some even switch to dry mode and will tumble dry the clothes at the end of the wash cycle. How good is that!

Our gardens are watered automatically at a time of our choosing. Today I woke up to the sound of mine switching on at 6am. What would granny have thought to see me lying in bed whilst the sprinklers switched on and off around the gardens.

We all have super duper refrigerators, some that are even plumbed in to automatically make ice for our drinks. Perhaps fridges became more common place earlier in hotter Australia than they did in the cool of South Island New Zealand. In New Zealand I don’t have to go back a hundred years ago as some may imagine to remember households without refrigerators. I was around 12 before the household I grew up in had our own refrigerator. Prior to that I remember clearly how, in the summer months, mum would make the jelly for Sunday’s after dinner treat, cooling it in cold water in the concrete laundry trough until it set. After we’d eaten our Sunday mid-day roast dinner, one of the older boys who could cycle fast would be sent to the local shop to purchase a block of ice cream to go with the jelly. He’d return with the cardboard wrapped ice cream block, wrapped in multiple layers of newspaper to keep it frozen. What a treat that was for us. I don’t even have to go back to granny’s days to remember households that survived without the aid of fridges to cool our food.

Granny may have been lucky enough to have watched a tv program on a black and white television playing in a shop window. She most definitely would not have owned one, nor was it likely she would have known anyone else who did. I wonder what she’d think if she could come back now and see more than one ‘colour’ television in almost every household. And there’s more….. we don’t even have to arrange our days around the time of a program we want to watch. If it’s at an inconvenient time we simply record the program and watch it later.

Most likely in granny’s early married days she would have baked all her own bread, spending hours kneading the dough, then cooking it in her wood, or coal fired stove. Perhaps occasionally her budget may have stretched to a store bought loaf which she would have sliced herself. Then, sliced bread became available in the shops, most likely the most amazing invention during her life time.

Now, not only do we have an amazing variety of breads to purchase, but we can also buy our own bread making machines. We boast that ‘we’ve made our own bread’. Have we heck! All we’ve done is measure some ingredients into the machine. The machine’s done all the kneading, then proved the dough, then knocked it down and kneaded it again. Then proved it again, and finally switched to bake mode, and has baked a perfectly cooked loaf according to our liking. I’m sure granny would have been in awe of such a device, but I doubt she would have credited us with having baked our own bread.

Swimming pools used to be something associated with Hollywood stars. Now having a pool in our own back yard is within almost every households budget if we so choose. If a household does choose to have a backyard pool, the water can be heated with the aid of either solar, gas or electricity, and cleaning is a breeze with the assistance of automatic pool vacuums.

For those of us who don’t chose to have a pool for the hot summer days to cool off in, we use our ducted air conditioning. When summer’s over and we need heating , a different selection of the touch pad switches the unit from cooling to heating and our houses are warmed to whichever temperature we pre-select.

I’m sure my granny would be in awe at all what have at our disposal today and take for granted. I’m not so sure she’d be so much in awe if she saw how we used what should be spare time. Most of us are more ‘time poor’ than ever. I’m sure she couldn’t relate to texting codes, but if she did, and if she could bring herself to use such an expression, I could well imagine her typing WTF in the boldest of capital letters!

Busy making other plans

Summer draws to a close and autumn is moving in. We’re busy making plans for our winter sojourn and I’m reminded of John Lennon’s famous quote from, Beautiful Boy – ‘Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.’

We have two trips on the near horizon, the first is our first ever cruise. Only a nine day sampler leaving from Sydney in less than two weeks. Not sure if we’ll like cruising, but so many people seem to love it, so we thought it was about time we tried it out for ourselves. I’ll be letting you know what we think very soon.

The second is a five month road trip north to the beautiful Kimberleys, this time incorporating my number 1 bucket list destination – The Gibb River Road. We’ve repaired our second hand tent. Our super duper Black Wolf air mattresses have arrived (hopefully as comfortable as per the reviews), and our new, Camps Nine book has arrived. Since the books arrival we’ve had our nose buried in it, perusing all the new campsites between here and Kununurra. Our excitement is peaking, and we can’t wait to get going.

And that brings to mind John Lennon’s famous quote. Whilst all the plans seem to be all consuming, life is still happening in the here and now.

We have a few new toys, one needed, one bought on the spur of the moment, and one bought because we were finding it hard to live without.

The first, the needed item was a new oven. I’ve always liked wall ovens for ease of cleaning without having to kneel on the floor. To replace our antiquated and inefficient oven with a wall oven would have meant an expensive kitchen remodel. So, as a compromise we’re giving a pyrolytic, self cleaning oven a go. It cooks beautifully, and is currently in cleaning mode whilst I’m typing this. How good is that – the most dreaded of house hold chores is happening on it’s own, freeing me up to write instead.

Cooked in new oven.

Bought on the spur of the moment – a new bike. I grew up riding a bike with a back pedal brake, so when I called in – ‘just for a look’ at a cycle shop’s closing down sale, and saw bikes with back pedal brakes, and now also with gears, well what’s a girls supposed to do!

Deadly treadly.

My first ride. This back pedal brake thingie that I thought I remembered so well had been forgotten on the few occasions I rode my last bike, which had twin levered, handlebar brakes. My riding confidence was lacking and my first ride was at a snails pace, fortunately. Trying to co-ordinate the braking with putting my feet back on terra firma wasn’t easy, and down I went. After Paul realised only my ego had suffered, he couldn’t stop laughing. I did get straight back on, and have had a few rides since. Slowly, I’m gaining my bike confidence back, but at the same time thinking – ‘what was I thinking’, buying a bike at my age.

And the one thing bought because we were finding it hard to live without, a new Thermo-mix. I left my first one in Tassie with my sister for safe-keeping. Since moving back into a house though, I was missing the simplicity of having such a useful gadget permanently available and waiting for use on my bench top. Wendy’s tight budget means other priorities would be prohibitive for her to purchase one for herself. Gifting my old one to her now permanently provided the perfect excuse to purchase the new updated model for myself.

Between the new oven and the thermo-mix, cooking is once again a real pleasure! The resulting additional kilos from sampling the results not so blissful. Guess that means I’d better get those bike wheels rolling.

Will’s Domain

One of the guys Paul used to work with has always raved over Will’s Domain winery and restaurant. With a day to spare on Thursday we decided to give it a try.

Our favourite winery restaurant, and yardstick by which to measure others by in the region to date is Aravina. Obviously, we’ll only compare like with like. Aravina is on the pricey side, so is Will’s Domain. Here’s how the comparison fared.

Firstly, the seats – Will’s Domain had very comfortable dining seats, with low curved backs that hug the lumber area. As I remember it Aravina had high backed, straight cane seats, which I find particularly uncomfortable.

Sitting comfortably

Sitting comfortably

Next, the view -both had stunning views, but perhaps Will’s Domain was more expansive, giving it the edge.

Healthy, well looked after vines to look at.

Healthy, well looked after vines to look at.

Being happy with the seats and the view, the meal also had to live up to Aravina’s high standards in order to knock it off the perch as our number 1.

So, how did it compare.

It was a warm, humid day so Paul chose a pre-dinner drink of a locally brewed Eagles Bay ale. I chose the Wills Domain Rose. Both refreshing choices that didn’t disappoint. I continued with a second of the same with my main, but Paul being the skipper made do with water after he’d finished his ale.

We started with a shared charcuterie Board. No complaints from either of us. In fact, I’m not usually a fan of black pudding, but the small pieces of warmed black pudding were enough to change my mind. Delightful.

Charcuterie Board, already partially eaten before I remembered my camera.

Charcuterie Board, already partially eaten before I remembered my camera.

To follow, Paul ordered Duck with peaches. I ordered Wagyu beef with beets. The waitress suggested that a side order would also be needed. I think there were only three to choose from, none of which appealed particularly to me. Paul however opted for the potato chunks crisped in pork fat.

Paul's duck breast, cooked perfectly.

Paul’s duck breast, cooked perfectly.

The mains arrived with the side of potatoes. And yes, we did need a side dish. Not for the quantity, the meals were of adequate size for us. But the meals weren’t a complete main. No matter what I pay for a main meal, I always expect it to be complete in it’s own right. I expect the starring dish, usually a protein of choice to be supported by some carbs, a coloured vegetable, and some greens. It doesn’t have to be more than a few spears of asparagus, or a broccoli floweret, but there needs to be something in order for the meal to justify being called a ‘main’. In this case the lack of green on my plate provided the first let down for the day. With the other two side dishes on offer on the menu being ones that didn’t appeal, my main, no matter how nice it was, didn’t stand a chance of providing an equal to the meals I’ve had at Aravina.

Some greens would have made all the difference to my Wagyu beef.

Some greens would have made all the difference to my Wagyu beef.

Saying that though, Paul, not usually a fan of duck, did enjoy his main. My Wagyu beef was delicious, and the pickled beet strips accompanying by beef provided a nice fresh crunch. The small roasted beets on the side, however, were a touch gritty. The crispy pork roasted potatoes, although not the green vegetable I would have liked, were never-the-less, to die for!

The mains out of the way, nice but a bit lacking. Next came dessert. There were four to choose from. We narrowed down our selection to three, and then asked the waitress’ advice on which one would be the best as a shared desert. We went with her recommendation of the goats yogurt with raspberry granita, and liquorice wafers.

Between our mains and the arrival of our dessert we received a complimentary palate cleanser. As I understand it, the purpose of a palate cleanser prior to dessert is to clean the palate in readiness for the transition to something sweet. Our palate cleanser arrived – goats yogurt with raspberry granita. We hadn’t realised how similar it was until shortly after our dessert arrived – a bigger portion of the same. Goats yogurt and raspberry granita, only with the addition of three fresh raspberries and some liquorice wafer. Grumble number two! Apologies for looking a gift horse in the mouth, but surely it would be good restaurant sense to serve a palate cleanser completely different from the ordered dessert, even if it is complimentary. Not that the dessert wasn’t delicious, it was. But to be the same basic ingredients as the cleanser – Come on, really!!!!

Complimentary palate cleanser - goats yogurt with raspberry granita.

Complimentary palate cleanser – goats yogurt with raspberry granita.

And dessert, a larger serving of the palate cleanser only with three fresh raspberries and some liquorice wafer.

And dessert, a larger serving of the palate cleanser only with three fresh raspberries and some liquorice wafer.

Next a visit to the ladies before we finished. Now here, Wills Domain really let itself down. The hand basin in the ladies was one long marble basin with a slit at the base of a downward slope for the water to run through. A taller person most likely wouldn’t have seen the marble rear wall behind the slit, but I’m short, and I looked full on to the rear marble. What would have been visible to most people looked sparkling clean, but what I saw looked slimy and neglected. Perhaps it was just stains, but whatever it was, it didn’t look pretty. If it was stains, it needs replacing. If it was slime, it needs a damned good scrub.

The ambience, the seating and the view were tops. The service also was what one would expect from one of the top end wineries. The wines (sampled prior to dinner) were good. The menu was a good size, not to large so as to be overwhelming, but enough options to please. The starter was superb. The mains however, weren’t complete, and the desert was let down by already being sampled by way of the palate cleanser. The hand basin in the women’s WC was questionable.

My first impression of Wills Domain was that it was going to give Aravina a run for it’s money – but by the end of our visit, Aravina still holds it’s top position. Well in my opinion anyway.  Saying that though, we did still enjoy our meal, and our day out. What a joy it is to have such an abundance of world class restaurants and wineries virtually on our doorstep. What a pleasure.