Tuesday, 21 October 2014

An Italian Adventure for a Special Birthday

My Aunty Ann had a very special birthday this year. She had originally planned to travel to Italy for her 50th birthday, but stupid cancer put a spanner in than plan. While I'm in no way glad she had to deal with that, I was glad we were in a position to join her when she decided to do the trip for a second time.
Sestri Levante
O'Hara was offered the opportunity to do his Project Management Professional course, so unfortunately had to make some changes to his itinerary last minute. This meant I was travelling by myself to meet my mum and Aunty in Sestri Levante, Italy. This trip was a family catch up by epic proportions. My mum and Aunty were obviously both there. My brother Callum came across, who I hadn't seen since leaving Australia the first time. My cousin Peta came for a few days, who we hadn't seen since visiting her in Europe in 2008. Clauds, who is a friend from college also was  there, so this was a fantastic week that I got to spend with family and friends.
Friends and family enjoying some beautiful days
Sestri Levante is a little village half way between Genoa and La Spezia on the Mediterranean Sea. This town is a tourist hot spot for Italians, and is slowly becoming more popular with the internationals. The day I arrived, it was the end of a long weekend and the place was buzzing. I failed a little at life when I first arrived, as I didn't have a working sim card and everything in Sestri closes between 12 and 3. I had to do some loitering outside a newsagent until they reopened so I could get a sim and text my mother. Obviously I have become completely useless without a phone, as I had no concept of pre-planning when and where to meet her. Once I was settled, I got down to important activities. Ordering cocktails and eating the free appetizers. This was easily the theme of my Italian adventure. Eating and drinking.
Our favourite things
We spent some days wandering the streets of Sestri, checking the shops, finding the best spritz cocktails, and generally relaxing. We spent a morning in La Spezia, being toured around a local farmers market. An afternoon getting soaking wet in the Cinque Terre. An evening learning how to prepare delicious Italian food. We travelled to Santa Margherita Ligure, for more shopping and eating and then travelling to Portofino for the afternoon to see how the other half (0.1%) live and more of the above. Drink. Eat. Repeat.
Cinque Terra
Farmers Markets at La Spezia
Portofino and Santa Margherita Ligure 
The fabulous trip was finished with a birthday lunch for Aunty Ann where we were able to celebrate with some lovely people in a beautiful part of the world. It would be impossible to plan a more perfect trip. Then I left my Fitbit on a table at a coffee shop on the last morning. Life fails for arrival and departure!
The wonderful company we had after Aunty Ann's Birthday lunch
I miss you all already.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A True Northern Adventure. Whitehorse, Yukon.

So, I've been incredibly slack in the blog updates. I'm going to play the "busy" card which I HATE with a passion... but a lot has been going on since Easter. Trip to Europe, holiday in Portland, new puppy, new fun stuff going on at work, and I've been growing a fetus. Yep. Come February 2014, O'Hara and I will be joining the world of parenting. Terrifying! Anyway, let me take you back to April 2014. A whole 6 months ago.

Anyone who has spent any time with us over the past two years have almost certainly heard us *me*, utter the phrase "I have got to see the Northern Lights while I'm here!". One afternoon I was casually complaining to my boss, that it was so expensive to travel north. He looked at me like I was a bit of a moron, and said "Not really. Air North flies out of Kelowna and it's pretty cheap". 5 minutes later, he'd sent me a link to the winter packages and a plan was born. A week later while chatting to our Aussie travelling contingent (Wilson's and Greg and Lil), dates were set and a week after that the flights were booked.
Hello Yukon!
It turns out there is plenty to do in the Yukon, and we didn't really get close to the other things we considered. Depending on the time of year, your activities can vary. I read reviews that Spring was a shitty time to visit the Yukon as winter activities are done and summer activities haven't started. I'm calling bullshit, though there is a chance we got super lucky. The weather was incredible, we saw the Northern Lights, the snow was gone from the road, it was light until 10:30 at night, and my body was loving the extra sun.
Checking out the sunset over Whitehorse
O'Hara and I arrived on Thursday night before Good Friday, and spent the next day wandering the streets of Whitehorse and visiting the museum. We found a fantastic breakfast place, the Burnt Toast Cafe, so good in fact that we ate there 3 days in a row.  We visited the Whitehorse museum which had a bunch of information on how the town started up, and all the wildlife that exists in the area. As a gold town, there was a lot of interesting information for two gold miners.
MOUNTAIN GOAT! It's a real animal!!
We drove out on our second night in an attempt to view the Aurora Borealis. We'd been told to drive towards the hot springs, as you need to be away from city lights in order to have good viewing. While driving out there we spotted it in the sky. We were pumped. With added determination we drove on and found a park a few minutes outside the Takhini Hot Springs. We set up shop, made a hot milo, and waited. Nothing. All reports were saying the aurora should be raging, but we couldn't see a whole lot. After about 20 min of shivering and trying to spot what we thought was the aurora we packed up and drove towards home. Not 5min down the road, we saw it... apparently we'd been parked just out of view.
My camera isn't designed for this... but awesome none the less
The next day we went to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve to check off a few animals of our bucket list. Unfortunately the moose was MILES aways, so really could be anything. We did see a mountain goat though, which was pretty damn exciting. After viewing some nifty creatures, we went out to the Takhini Hot Springs. They have an amazing crepe restaurant which was ridiculously good after a morning of walking around the wildlife preserve. The hot springs were HOT. It was really relaxing, but I can imagine it would be an incredible experience to be there at night, in the snow, drinking beers. It would also be awesome to sit back and watch the aurora overhead.
Hot spring times
That night we had grand scheme plans to view an aurora "storm" that was coming through. We found a beautiful lake that was still frozen and we set up shop complete with fire, beer and sausages for dinner. As it was spring we had to wait until about 11pm before it was dark, which meant plenty of time for fun photos. Lil was in charge of this because a) she's the best photographer, and b) I forgot to charge my camera battery. Genius. I think we were at Lake Laberge, but I can't guarantee that. Unfortunately the storm didn't come through until about 5am, way after we had gone to bed and the sun had started to come up. Now I'm an expert and aurora watching though, I'll try it out in Kamloops if a big storm comes through again.
Lil Difilippo took these stunners!
From what we managed to see of the Yukon in the 3 days we were there, it's a pretty special place. I hope we get up there again!
Our Yukon crew. Aussies taking over Canada!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Vancouver International Wine Festival

I have been slack. Really, really slack. I'm going to blame it on work being crazy busy (partially true), but I have managed to keep up to date with the Real Housewives of Melbourne and Facebook... So really I've just been slack. Sorry! I'm going to take you back to the first weekend in March. Yes, that long ago...

There has been a bit of a theme since coming to Canada, we're pretty good at going to wine festivals. It could possibly count as our super power. Since being here we've gone to 4 wine festivals, all with a fairly similar outcome.

While all the others were all Canadian wines, this one had wines from all over the world. Including Australia. Unfortunately the wines from Australia left a lot to be desired. Yellow and Pink were on the menu, which was disappointing. As we've drunk a lot of Canadian wine, we focused our attention on French and Argentinian wines. In particular, the ones we couldn't afford. 
To start with, we drank champagne (or French champagne as they like to say on the Real Housewives of Melbourne). As we went to the Saturday afternoon session, it wasn't overly busy and we were able to hit the booths as fast as we liked. We tried some delicious champagnes, and I'm hoping they were of higher quality than Pink and Yellow. As the prices were often over $100, I suspect they are a little fancier. The aim of the afternoon was to drink enough champagne that it covered our $65 ticket. The result? Great success.

After focusing on bubbles for a while, we moved to the Bordeaux and Rhône reds. After a few glasses our power of words was failing us. In an effort to tell the young French man serving us from one winery that I liked reds with a bit of tannins (robust?!), Alexis told him I liked "strong" wines. He took that to mean I am a huge derro, and poured me the cheapest, shittiest stuff. After I poured it out, I turned to Lex and said "I think I'm being judged." She laughed, but when we turned back to him and I said I didn't like it, he turned the bottle over, showed me the alcohol contest and said "but it's very strong?!" The shame!

We moved on from French wine after that. Too much judging. We tried some from Argentina, they must have been good as we bought a few bottles. There were also tastings from the USA and Chile. It was a great afternoon and we followed it up with a delish dinner and cocktails from L'Abatoir, and a hangover driving home the next day. 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Australia Day in the Snow

This year we didn't go down to Vancouver for the amazing spectacle that is Moose's Down Under. As we'd just got home from being in Texas, and it was a Sunday it just wasn't worth the drive over the Coq. Instead we celebrated as only Australians know how. Up the hill.

Now, unfortunately this year the snow has been nothing short of hopeless. Fortunately for us however, the weather was particularly warm this weekend. Therefore it was spring conditions in January, so the little snow that was left was at least soft. This was particularly useful this weekend as O'Hara and I decided it was necessary to do a run in our bathers. Or in O'Hara's case, his undies and the Australian flag. Does this count as desecration? It's probably lucky we have more lenient rules about the flag in Australia.

As it's pretty standard for Australians to want to take their clothes off, there was a huge group of transplants that were stripping off for a run. Because we didn't know anyone there, we decided to do it ourselves. This was a good and bad idea. Good because there was sun on our run, bad because it meant we had to explain ourselves. It was awkward on more than one occasion.

The worst part of my time was when I managed to loose my snowboard down the hill, while I was wearing nothing but a string bikini. Anyone who snowboards knows it's a huge rookie error to leave your board flat side down... well I did that on the worst possible of days. Luckily for me I was spared the agony of having to trek down the hill to get it as a very kind snow patrol guy was bringing it up just as I realised it was gone.

Unfortunately the bikini I wore, was bought back in about 2006. The southern cross on my butt looks more like a square than a diamond, but hey. You win some, you loose some.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Texmess Part 2: Dallas and Austin

So, the reason for us planning a last minute trip to Texas came about because we had friends who would be travelling though (and obviously because we've always wanted to go!)

After Salado, we drove up to Dallas to meet Camille and Meagan. Because they had come across from New Mexico, or northern Texas somewhere they had a bit of a drive before getting to Dallas. While we were in Salado a bunch of people told us they didn't like Dallas, but Fort Worth was ok. Always down for travel advice, we visited the Fort Worth Stockyards on the way to Dallas. The stockyards are an area in the city that is all cowboy. They have a huge indoor rink where rodeos are held on the reg. There are also a bunch of bars and shopping areas which are pretty cute, and the worlds largest Honky Tonk. I'm not even sure what that means. Twice a day they also run the longhorns through the street. Just for fun! 
Fitzy is locked up under a southern sorority girl, and protected by longhorns. At Billy Bobs in FW.
You can make them into a chair... or ride them!
In Dallas we tested out AirBnB, which we hadn't done at all before. Basically you are renting out someones house, so you can get a big place for a few people and not pay an absolute fortune. The place we stayed at was pretty awesome. Spa on the rooftop, large kitchen and living area and 3 bedrooms. It's pretty weird being in someone else's house though. 

I took us on a slight mission on the first night for some delicious Mexican food. We didn't want to drive, so we could take full advantage of the margaritas (obviously) so I found a place we could walk to. I always forget that walking around cities you don't know isn't always the best idea, and in this case it was a little shady. Luckily we had no problems and took the highway route on the way home! The next day we had southern soul food for breakfast and we got our first taste of grits. So, grits are basically just ground corn they are sort of cooked up like porridge. For breakfast I had them with garlic, poached eggs, bacon and lots of cheese. It's a strange texture, but they were pretty delicious. We then spent the afternoon touring the JFK museum. This was pretty interesting for us, as none of us knew a lot about what happened. 
Causing trouble in the hot tub. Also, Po Po on segways! YES!
That night we met up with some friends, of our friend's boyfriend. Lost? It was a long connection, but in true southern hospitality, these guys met us out for drinks! It was awesome and super lovely of them to meet us. They also provided the perfect guidance for what we should be doing in Austin.

Ah Austin. The town we'd heard so much about. This city did not let us down. Our hangovers may have thought otherwise, but it really was a good time. Austin's 6th Street, seems to be a never-ending street full of bars and restaurants. We ate the best wings we've ever had there, had many delicious cocktails and pulled out some of our best dance moves. We found a Flick look-a-like, witnessed some questionable co-worker activity and played arcade beer pong. It had everything we needed, and I wish we could have spent more time there.
The Capitol Building. Struggling with life.
So many loves.
On our way back to Houston we stopped at City Market in Luling, for some more BBQ. This place was impressive. There was a huge line to order your food, but this was totally worth it. We may have over ordered, but again we weren't super sad about the situation. I haven't eaten BBQ since getting back to Canada. I'm ready to get back on that horse!
Meat, meat, meat! Say "no" to carbs.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Texmess Part 1: Houston and Salado

Howdy partner! Reporting back from our Texas getaway. We’ve wanted to go to Texas for years. Back in 2008 when we were travelling Europe we stayed with a friend of my Aunty’s. and she told us all about the time she lived in Texas. We were hooked.

Conveniently, we had some friends from home that were planning a bit of a road trip from Vegas to New Orleans. We managed to tag in with that lot and meet them in Dallas and Austin. Now, before that happened O’Hara and I spent 4 nights exploring some other parts of Texas.
Boots and belts everywhere
First night in, we managed to catch up with a new friend that lives in Houston. We only just met him over Christmas at a friends wedding. Perfect timing! He took us for some fabulous tacos and margaritas and then followed it up at a true cowboy bar. This was our first western bar experience, complete with trying to two-step and line dance. We learnt a few moves, all in preparation for when we take up the rodeo circuit.
Nailed it
On Saturday we got lucky, and were taken to a shooting range for some clay pigeon shooting. We had done this once before at a friends farm, and I was rubbish. Don’t think I hit a single one. This time however I bought my A game. O’Hara did not. I absolutely cleaned him up. It’s one of the only times I’ve beaten him in any sort of sport. Poor kid was not impressed.

After a brilliant morning shooting things, we tried to pick up our hire car. Unfortunately for us, it closed at 12. Epic fail. We made a mad dash back to Deavo’s place booked somewhere else, had to call them and ask them to stay open for a few extra minutes and got a car in the nick of time. We were just way to relaxed for our own good, and it was day 1.
We saw a lot of this

After finally getting the car, we drove the 3 hours to Salado, which is a cute little B&B town about an hour north of Austin. We stayed at the Yellow House Inn and couldn’t have asked for a better place (don't even get me started on the breakfast. It was incredible). Salado is a fairly central location, which meant we were able to explore the area easily. We visited the Texas Ranger Museum in Waco. Explored the funny little Homestead Village and ate delicious homemade and homegrown food. Acted like fools at Belton Lake at sunset. Spent hours looking in antique stores in Salado and ate more great food.
Homestead

Monday, 13 January 2014

White Christmas Round 2

The first year was just a practice round, this/last year was the real deal. This Christmas we again congregated at Kelly and Paul’s house for an Australian Invasion. The main course… a Turducken!! For those that don’t know, a Turducken is a turkey stuffed with a duck, stuffed with a chicken. The turkey is a whole bird and the duck and chicken are de-boned. It was absolutely freaking delicious. As is the Canadian thing to do, the whole thing was chucked in a turkey fryer. These miraculous contraptions are the easiest way to cook a turkey. Rather than waiting around the over for hours, a bird can be done in about 45min! As the outside skin of the bird is the only part in contact with the oil, it’s also not nearly as bad for you as you would expect.
 
I made Christmas ham! All by myself! I think that's why O'Hara wore the jumper again.
The most delicious birds you've ever seen, and Master Chef.
I ate myself stupid and suffered from the turkey sleeping power for a good hour after dinner.

On Boxing Day, Kamloops was the lucky recipient of freezing rain. Australians, this is rain that is super chilled so as soon as it hits any surface it freezes. It also happens to turn every flat surface into a skating rink. We were planning on leaving early and driving to Whistler to meet a friend from high school, but this mess and black ice on the road meant we delayed until after lunch. Luckily for us it warmed up and the roads were clear and we got to see Sarah and Shaun. Unfortunately we could only stay for one night as we had booked Silver Star for the next 5 nights.
 
Friend! High school friend!
Silver Star was a great success for the period between Christmas and New Year. The Wilsons, Ouimets and Greg and Lil were all there to ski with, drink with, eat with and play games with. We managed to get 4 solid days of snowboarding in, though I’m unsure if my skills progressed at all. O’Hara and I have taken it upon ourselves to learn how to do jumps on our snowboard. I think this should be quite easy, as children seem to have no problem doing it. Sadly for us this isn’t the case.
 
I look casual, but really fell about 5 times trying to get this pic.

With views like this, why wouldn't you get a pic in the snow in your bikini? 

We went on a snowshoeing adventure while we were there. That was a good time! A guide took us on all these paths you'd never see by yourself. Or if you did, you'd likely get lost and die. We had one near miss where we had our own adventure, but everyone made it back safely. New Year’s Eve ended up being a slight fail. The boys made the mistake of going way too hard, way too early in the hot tub. As O’Hara has found in the past, this can and will end badly.