Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Trip to Jervis Bay

Ever since my wife bought a book about Jervis Bay (about 6 years ago) she wanted to go there and explore. This year, we allocated two days of the extra long weekend for such trip.

The day before the trip I went to a service station and filled up the fuel tank with Unleaded 98 to make sure I wouldn't have to refuel mid-way. I expected the 98th to provide good fuel economy, but 200 km later I couldn't believe how good it turned out to be. To finish that distance I only spent 1/8 of my 68-litre fuel tank. That amounts to 4.25 litres per 100 km - same as Fiat 500 Pop. Talk about Falcons being gas guzzlers!

While I was driving towards Jervis Bay I confirmed my long-standing belief which survived so many experiments that it can be considered a law. Let's call it Vlad's Highway Law #1 (yeah, I expect to discover more): as soon as an overtaking lane ends you will catch up with a slow-moving vehicle. Usually you spot that vehicle ahead when the overtaking lane just starts, but however fast you go, the lane will end before you have a chance to overtake that sleepy driver.

At one point I saw a warning road sign "Possums crossing". I looked at the road side and who do you think I noticed there? Two girls in bikinis! Well, I appreciate their letting me know about possums, but why wasn't there a sign about girls? Honestly, I was just a GPS-led lemming who travelled from point A to point B through complete nothingness. I had no idea whether the line of trees along the road concealed a beach or a mountain range. Apparently, it was the former. In such case a sign "Drive carefully: girls in bikinis for the next 2 km" would be much more useful than the possum warning. After all, in the history of car driving what do you think caused more road incidents - possums or scantily clad girls?

Our first destination was the place of our stopover, Coolangatta Estate. I think of it as a winery which offers accommodation and dining. A guy who was drinking beer in their restaurant probably thought of it as a pub with some overpriced house wines. I visited their cellar door before and found their wines nice but not special. However it was the first time ever when I stayed at a winery, so I didn't know what to expect: drunken parties throughout the night? People knocking on the cellar door at 3 am and asking for more?

To rate my accommodation experience I will use Kano model. It's a theory of customer satisfaction which I learned about while studying Scrum. (Never thought of its being of any use outside the work, or even at work, but there you go - I am telling you about it in my blog!) It classifies product/service features into five categories three of which I will use:
  • Delighters/exciters - features which cause customer's delight if present, but do not cause negative feelings when absent. There were two of such features: vineyard views from the verandah and a beautiful, albeit non-functional, fireplace in the room. Definitely, not what I expect from my average stay.
  • Then we have satisfiers - attributes which result in satisfaction when fulfilled and dissatisfaction when not fulfilled. In this category I should mention the size of the room - I found it pleasantly spacious. For me it's more of an aesthetic than a utilitarian quality. To think about it, why would one need a big place if all one plans to do there is to sleep? Nevertheless, I felt pretty disappointed when a guesthouse room where we stayed in Melbourne turned out to be a rather cramped one.
  • And finally there are dissatisfiers -  attributes which are taken for granted when fulfilled but result in dissatisfaction when not fulfilled. We discovered one when my wife made an attempt to close the curtains. As Olga was pulling the curtain, the rail got dislodged from the bracket and plummeted down nearly missing her. An inspection of the bracket revealed that it was fixed so close to the perpendicular wall that there was no place to attach a rod end which would act as a stopper. When I replaced the rod and carefully drew the curtains along it I also found that their size was not sufficient to cover the whole window - so much for the privacy. That was a typical example of a dissatisfier - usually one, quite mindlessly, pulls a curtain and immediately forgets about it without having any conscious sense of satisfaction from being able to block voyeurs from peeping inside one's room (unless one is paranoid, of course). However, if one can't accomplish this simple act it results in a certain, and sometimes an acute, dissatisfaction.
I actually reported the episode with the curtains to the reception lady during the check-out. The lady was so impressed by my depiction of that horrible incident which almost cost my wife her life that she forfeited the cost of our breakfast. That almost made up for the inflated price of the room. The thing is, Sunday stay usually has a low, weekday price. However, those smartasses reckoned that many people would plug the gap between the weekend and Australia Day with an annual leave or, following an Australian age-honoured tradition, a sickie, making it a super-long weekend. So they charged the full weekend rate on Sunday and they didn't get it wrong - on Saturday, when we placed a booking, there were only 4 rooms remaining out of 30+.

Right after arrival we went to the local restaurant for a lunch. There I confirmed one more law - Vlad's Law of Australian Hospitality: the further away from a state capital, the bigger the portions. Having studied the menu I was pondering whether I wanted a standard half-rack of pork ribs or I was hungry enough for a whole one. I decided to start with the standard option and, boy, was I glad I did it! Usually most of the meat is cut away from the ribs and you spend more energy extracting meat fibres from between them than you acquire from consuming the obtained protein. That half-rack had more meat on top of it than some of the steaks I ordered in restaurants.

Now about the overpriced house wines - in the restaurant they were actually the same price as at the conveniently co-located cellar door. The customers, who wanted to order a bottle, were encouraged to go to the cellar door and buy one. There they were met by an experienced lady who, just by looking at a customer, could immediately tell if the said customer wanted a cooled bottle of sparkling and if he wanted it opened on the spot. That actually happened during my visit to the cellar door and left me duly impressed by the lady's powers of observation.

This paragraph is for those curious about what I have bought at the cellar door. Interestingly, my choice was rather non-traditional for me. For one thing, I bought a sparkling wine which I had never done before at cellar doors. This time I was interested in tasting a 7-years old sparkling wine which was kept on lees for 4 years - Estate Grown CJB Sparkling Chardonnay 2009. The wine appeared to tick all the boxes in my sparkling wine checklist - it was not sour, it was brut and it had nice bitterness from the lees. Just from tasting I could not tell if the bitterness would be too much when I drink the whole bottle, but finding this out was a good reason to buy one. I also bought Estate Grown Verdelho 2015 and Estate Grown Alexander Berry Chardonnay 2014. The latter was again an unusual choice as I don't like the Chardonnay's varietal taste. The Coolangatta's version, however, didn't have much of it, but had a nice vanilla flavour from oak - either that, or I have started warming up to that variety.

As to the drunken parties, there weren't any. The closest thing to a debauch I witnessed there was a solitary man who nodded off on a verandah drinking a glass of wine. It was 9 pm.

Next day we went to Jervis Bay. It is famous for its white beaches, but there isn't much to tell about them - if you've seen one, you've seen them all. The sand is white, the water is placidly lapping at, or in the extreme cases, gently smacking the shore, the people are busy with traditional beach activities - nothing to write home about. Still, there were some curious observations and incidents that I'd like to share with you.

One thing that I noticed was that almost every beach had a rusty creek flowing through it to the sea. Yes, rusty! It's the most appropriate description of the water colour. I wonder what caused such unusual colouration. It could be something innocuous, but the brownish plume of water swirling along the beach made me reconsider my bathing intentions.

Here is an unusual succulent: it was found just on the edge of high tide, it was the first one I saw with an umbel, and its leaves, when broken, had a pleasant fennel flavour. I gave it to Olga to smell and she asked me how come I always found nice-smelling leaves while the ones she picked were mostly plain. I had to let her in on a little secret - I gave her only the nice ones to smell. I wish there was a easy way to identify those plants - some of them would make terrific spices.

A man in a spacesuit attaches a giant huntsman spider to a tractor. No, I was not stoned - I have a photo-evidence!

A lighthouse which was so badly constructed and placed that it had to be exploded in order to prevent it from misguiding ships.

A road to the sea, literally. In fact it was a boat ramp with a small appendix for cars to make a U-turn. Surprisingly, there was no parking near the ramp so we just stopped for a minute at the U-turn spot marked with No Parking sign, to make some photos. Now imagine this - as soon as I moved beyond the regulatory 3 metres from my car, there appeared a Federal Police vehicle, the inhabitants of which reprimanded me for parking in the wrong spot. I immediately jumped back to my car and pledged not guilty as the regulatory two minutes had not expired yet. And you know what - they actually waited there to make sure we left in the due time. Now, that's what I call efficient public service!

Nothing special about this picture, but I believe everyone will find something to enjoy in it.

Found this in Vincentia - a corrupt place, obviously, but I took note of the number, just in case...

And I'll leave you with another one of my TGIF photos.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

A Day of Simple Pleasures

The day of simple pleasures started at 6:55 AM when my smartphone activated an alarm clock. One might wonder what can be pleasant about being woken up at 6:55 AM. The answer is: not having to get up; it was my time in lieu day and I simply forgot to switch off the alarm clock the night before. So, instead of bracing myself to enter the cold world of weekday mornings, I just muted the screaming phone and immediately fell asleep.

Another pleasure, when I finally got out of bed, was to take as much time as I wanted to finish breakfast. Arguably, this kind of indulgence is available on most weekends. That day, however, was special: on a Monday morning I was sitting on a backyard terrace, watching frolicking lorikeets and enjoying my morning tea, while my colleagues were attending scheduled meetings, driving company profits, doing other very important tasks...

It's remarkable how TIL days feel different from an annual leave. They are supposed to compensate an employee for overtime, when he is tired after weekend work and feels like having a day off, but usually, by the time one gets his TIL, that feeling passes, and it's not perceived as a compensation - it's more like a bonus.

It was a rare sunny day, I had no plans and just on a whim decided to go to Manly beach. The morning peak hour was over and I got there exactly in GPS-predicted 38 minutes. A stroll along the promenade to Shelly Beach was a kind of pastime that evoked vacation memories and made me feel like I had all the time in the world.

On the promenade a few things attracted my attention. One was a sign which threatened me with 6 months' imprisonment if I manhandled a water dragon. I suspiciously looked around and, to my relief, didn't notice any dragons in my epsilon-vicinity. I don't know if I could restrain myself from grabbing that cute and cuddly creature if I saw it on a cliff face.

I had also noticed a shop sign which initially enraged my inner grammar Nazi.

However, a closer inspection of the premises revealed solid legal grounds for such outrage, namely, an assorted range of T-shirts.

My next simple pleasure was a lunch in a cafe on a sea shore, with a sea view. Well, slightly obscured by araucarias, but still a sea view. The place was called MOO Gourmet Burgers. We came there 10 minutes before the kitchen opening, but were allowed to spend that time on a balcony, enjoying the view: powerful thundering surf, a lonely sail and distant surfers at Winki break wiggling their way between waves and rocks.

The burger I chose from the menu was pretty tall. Actually, I was never quite sure about how to approach such burgers. Holding it in a hand and biting alternatively the top, the bottom and the middle seemed fiddly and tiresome. Trying to squash the burger so that it could fit in the mouth was a sure way of squeezing the patty out and sending it across the cafe into someone's face. Using knife and fork... hmm, that didn't sound like the right way to treat a burger. Finally, I settled on splitting it into two halves - a healthy half with salad and tomato, and a man's half with beef and cheese - and nibbling at them in turns. That worked quite well and my peace of mind was restored.

I liked the cafe's moo-themed decor: kids' drawings of cows on the walls, logos on serviettes and cow spotted drinking straws. Moo was everywhere - they even had Moo beer from Moorilla Brewery in Tasmania. When I visited Moorilla last December, I was too preoccupied with wine tasting and didn't pay much attention to beer. That was a mistake since I discovered that one of the beer varieties produced there was my favourite Hefeweizen. Now I know the place where to taste it in Sydney, and I am going to visit that place when the ambient temperature calls for beer, not for whiskey.

When I returned home I felt like having afternoon tea, an intention which was immediately carried out to my complete satisfaction. Again, I was sitting on the terrace, drinking T2 Blue Mountain tea, burning an incense stick, watching plumes of smoke snaking in the wind, and squinting at the setting Sun, which ineffectually tried to blind me, but only succeeded in bathing my backyard in warm golden glow.

My last simple pleasure that day was making fire in the open fireplace, basking in its radiant heat and watching the dancing flames.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Central Coast's Hidden Liquor Treasures

Last year we spent a week in Terrigal, a nice little town in Central Coast. So little, in fact, that after staying for a couple of days there one starts looking for some variety, unless one is a die-hard beachgoer. We weren't; so we jumped into the car and went exploring. We looked for road signs pointing to places of interest, and it happened so that the first three directed us to liquor producers. Well, we were looking for entertainment - we'd got it.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

2013 Trip to Tasmania - Tamar Valley Wineries

According to my notes, we visited 22 wineries in Tasmania, and 15 of them were in Tamar Valley. It is a big region and wineries are not as compactly grouped as in Mudgee or Yarra Valley, so it took us two days to visit all of them. It was still low season so in most wineries we were the only visitors - the way I like it as I get all the attention. I'll tell you about the wineries which left some impression regardless of the quality of their wine. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

2013 Trip to Tasmania - Flowers and The Last Retreat

It was the only time of the year, two weeks around the border between November and December, when we could see both of them. We specifically planned the trip for that time, half a year in advance telling our bosses that they had to adjust their business plans so that their companies would not collapse in our absence. If we arrived two weeks earlier or later we would see only one or another. It had to be the right time of the year, time when both poppies and lavender were in bloom. And you know what - it was a wrong year!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

2013 Trip to Tasmania - Laurel Cottage and Frogmore Creek Winery

Port Arthur was our last destination in South-East of Tasmania after which we moved inland. That day we didn't have any more time for sightseeing, so we went straight to our next one-night accommodation, Laurel Cottage in Richmond. We came there ten minutes before the declared arrival time and were gently chastised by the cottage owner for not warning her by phone. Having been overwhelmed by such welcome, we silently grabbed the keys, dropped our bags, and rushed to take a sunset photo of the historical Richmond Bridge, which was found only 50 metres away.

Monday, 31 March 2014

2013 Trip to Tasmania - Day 5 - Port Arthur

Port Arthur... Port Arthur... The name rang a bell but, as it turned out, a wrong one. Port Arthur that I had in mind was a place of the most violent battle of the Russo-Japanese War. Obviously, it's not a good name for a town since Tasmanian Port Arthur also became known around the world for all the wrong reasons. Initially, it was a prison for British convicts popularised in Marcus Clarke's novel For the Term of His Natural Life. However, the locals did not want any stake in such kind of fame and even renamed the town to Carnarvon to disassociate themselves from the penal history of the site. Still, the gruesome past of one of the most brutal convict settlements proved to be a strong tourist attraction, and Carnarvonians were smart enough to realise that they would earn more money as Port-Arthurians, so the original name was restored in 1927. Sixty nine years later Port Arthur earned another grisly badge as a place of the deadliest massacre in the recent Australian history. After such introduction you will understand that we just couldn't miss it.

I can't say that the site itself was beautiful or impressive unless you are impressed by ruins. Come to think of it, what with 20 million tourists coming to see the remnants of Colosseum every year, I probably represent minority in this matter. Nevertheless, even I found a few ways to pleasantly pass the time in Port Arthur.

There were a few scheduled activities which were included into the price of an entry ticket, such as Harbour Cruise. Normally, I would eagerly board a boat, but having survived Tasman Island Cruise earlier that day, I found the phrase "water attractions" oxymoronic and kept my distance from the shore. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed a guided walking tour during which I visited all notable places and learned a lot about the history of Port Arthur, including why there were so many convicts in Britain at that time. It appeared that there were three main factors which simultaneously caused a high level of unemployment, and consequently, crime. Firstly, a lot of soldiers returned home after the end of Napoleonic Wars. Secondly, industrialisation started to pick up and many factory workers were made redundant. Finally, it was the time when landlords found it more profitable to develop the land themselves than to rent it to farmers. All this combined with tough laws, which allowed sentences up to 21 years for petty theft, provided a steady flow of convicts to overcrowded British gaols until the government decided to offshore correctional services.

After the tour I spent an hour in a museum learning curious facts about life in the penal colony and gazing at things made or used by convicts and officers. In that museum I found a particoloured "magpie convict suit" which I remembered seeing before, possibly in some movie, and thinking it was just a regular prisoner's uniform. It turned out that such uniform was reserved only for recidivists and was considered humiliating.

The last place I visited in Port Arthur was Convict Gallery, or as I called it, Card House. At the entrance every visitor was given a playing card which had a convict's name on it and they could find a story of that convict in the Gallery. Of course, I was curious to check why my miscreant was transported to Terra Australis and how he fared here. His story was not remarkable, but what I found interesting was that the harshness of British laws was offset by rather liberal parole rules in Australia. Prisoners were released on parole after serving less than half their sentence even though they committed misdemeanors in gaol. They also underwent training in trades while serving their sentence which gave them good prospects of finding a job upon release.

I found the visit to Port Arthur quite entertaining despite my general dislike of the museums; for me it was more of an educational experience than sightseeing. The convict history in Australia was unusual enough to keep me interested for at least a couple of hours and I would spend more time there had we come earlier. However, I won't go there again any time soon. That place is like a book: once you've read it, it will take some time before you feel like reading it again.

By the way, I've told you a lie. The last place I visited in Port Arthur was actually a gift shop where I was supplied with a piece of clothing. As you can see it's not a magpie suit; I wasn't that bad.