Day trip to the Yarra Valley: A wine lover’s paradise

Wine and me are like long lost friends.  We have a love/hate relationship.  I adore wine so much that I must have at least a glass or two each and every night.  Yet sometimes I adore it too much and find myself creeping up to three or four or five glasses and then ouch….the next day sucks!

I’ve often heard it is part of the so-called Mediterranean diet.  That the French, Italians and Greeks consume wine with passion and vigor as part of their healthy lifestyles and diets.  Whether or not this is fully medically proven I do not know or quite frankly, even care (I am sure there is much debate as there seems to be an awful lot of debate about anything these days related to health and diet!) . Basically, I love wine.  Period.

Of course I didn’t grow up on wine like the French or Italians do.  It was an acquired taste that took time, maturity and well, taste!  I first began drinking wine for occasional family meals during my college years, normally for special occasions like birthdays, holidays or dining out.  However, I really learned and grew to love wine during my eight months living abroad in France back in my twenties.

Being a student living off my parents and having relatively no extra money, my good amie and I went for the down and dirty stuff.  The infamous Côtes du Rhône….the cheapest wine you could buy for 5 francs a bottle (about US$1 at the time).  It was nasty, thick, acidic stuff that literally slide down your throat but did the job.  An instantaneous buzz would arise after sucking down two or three glasses.

Mon amie and I even got so hooked on it (we were silly, immature and cheap) that we would fill an empty Evian water bottle with cheap, red Côtes du Rhône and bring it as a “roadie”.  Our Evian bottle filled with cheap wine followed us all over Paris at night where we drank it sitting beneath the Tour Eiffel, Le Sacre Coeur and la Seine We were cheap, pathetic and young.  But it was so much fun and still remains to be one of my fondest memories of life as a student in Paris.  Drinking cheap Côtes du Rhône in an Evian bottle under the Parisian stars!  What could be better than that?

Fast forward the years to my trip to Australia in 2003, and I was still as much as ever in love with wine.  My passion for wine has always been attended to while traveling, especially in countries that produce brilliant wines such as Australia.  Thus, it made perfect sense that we spent our last day in Australia touring the lovely Yarra Valley, located 40 miles/61 km east of Melbourne.  In my opinion, there was no better way to leave a fabulous vacation in a truly wonderful country than by visiting its nearby vineyards.  Of course, I was not disappointed!

We took a tour (there was no way we were going to drive!) leaving Melbourne in the morning and spent the day tasting at four idyllic vineyards in the Yarra Valley.  There were only a few of us on the small van which was perfect.  There is nothing I detest more than being stuck on a huge obnoxious tour bus loaded with drunk wine tasters!

The Yarra Valley is a beautiful, peaceful setting that hosts over 70 award-winning vineyards as well as picturesque villages, gardens and shops along the way.  The Yarra Valley is famous for their Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, and Cabernet Sauvignons,  which flourish in the valley’s cool climate.  We were fortunate to try many delicious, savory wines thus breezed lightly through the day, enjoying ourselves immensely.

Here are some photos along the way….

It was the perfect way to end a wonderful trip.  Thankfully we had some time to “sleep it off” before catching our insanely long flight back to the United States the following morning.

Unfortunately, the flight home ended up being perhaps the craziest flight of my life as we made an emergency landing at two in the morning at the Honolulu airport in Hawaii.  There was no warning, no information or comments to the passengers about what was going on.  All we knew was that the lights suddenly went on, the pilot said “Flight attendants, prepare for landing” and our Qantas 747 plunged down faster than my stomach could handle.

Still left in the dark, we landed at a previously unopened airport to police lights and ambulances.  Only after the police apparently boarded the plane (we were sitting at the total end of the bus so couldn’t see or hear what was going on) and left, did the captain come on to announce to the passengers what had happened.

Apparently a mad man/presumed terrorist (I have doubts) was on board making irrational comments about 9/11 and bringing the plane down.  (Remember this trip was made in 2003….after 9/11 and the crazy heightened security that has made traveling never the same).  Some fellow passengers tackled the guy down, and he was hand-cuffed and sedated while we were in the middle of no where out in the ocean.  Honolulu was the closest place we could land.

Ok, I was pretty freaked out at that point wondering what in the hell just happened.  It took two hours to unload every single piece of luggage from our 747 jumbo jet and them more time for the police to find this crazy guy’s baggage.  We were not allowed to get off the plane and were all extremely tired and stressed out by that point.

Two hours later, we took off again making our landing in LA late.  I raced through security, sweating bullets and caught my connecting four-hour flight within five minutes before departure.  It was a crazy way to end a trip, that’s for sure!  But it is certainly one I’ll never forget.

Stay tuned…next post I’m headed back to Argentina where I visited San Carlos de Bariloche and Buenos Aires a few years back. 

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Rockin’ in Melbourne

Scan above of my ticket stub to the sensational “We Will Rock You” musical set to the music of Queen performed in the heart of Melbourne.

After an amazing four days spent exploring Cairns, Port Douglas and the Great Barrier Reef, we hopped flight number three of our trip and headed the four-hour flight south to lovely, culturally alive Melbourne (pronounced “Mel-bun” by the Aussies).  We didn’t land in Melbourne until well past nine at night thus besides collecting our luggage and taking a cab to our hotel, there wasn’t much time for much else except a few well-deserved and highly cherished glasses of Australian wine in the hotel bar.

We rose early for our English style breakfast in the hotel dining room and indulged in tea, coffee, fresh pastries, scones and jellies.  We had yet another busy day ahead of us checking out Melbourne.   Since my father had been there a few times before, we didn’t need a tour guide.  I had him to show me around and bring me to all the latest and greatest spots.

Melbourne is the second largest city in Australia with a population close to four million.  Melbourne is an interesting and exciting city because it is a huge cultural melting pot with one of the largest populations of Greeks outside of Athens and a sizable population of Chinese, Lebanese, Italian and Vietnamese immigrants.  One in three Melburnians were born overseas or have parents who were born overseas, creating a largely diverse population awash with culture.  I was excited to check it out as Melbourne sounded like my kind of place.

We spent the morning doing a lengthy jog through the lush Botanical Gardens.  I always find seeing a place on foot via trekking or running to be extremely exciting because you can cover more ground than walking.  It was a clear, perfect day– t-shirt and jeans weather of 60 degree F (felt like heaven after steamy, humid Cairns!).  I enjoyed the cooler air and took advantage of the weather by spending the entire day outside, exploring Melbourne.

I found Melbourne to be quite different from Sydney.  The entire mindset and feeling of the place felt like comparing apples to oranges.   While Sydney is sexy, cosmopolitan and fast-moving, Melbourne felt more laid back, hippy and diverse.  Melbourne reminded me more of Chicago (where I lived for five wonderful years) while Sydney seemed more like an Australian Paris or New York with all its chic and glamour.  I adored both cities but felt more at ease in Melbourne.  It was my kind of town.

Picture below of lovely Melbourne (called in Aussie accent “Melbun”). 

Downtown Melbourne:  Melbourne’s city center is built around the Yarra River which flows into Port Philip, a large natural bay that leads out to the sea.

The Yarra River

Restaurant district:  Melbourne’s cultural diversity leads to an incredible variety of ethnic treats.  You can find any kind of food you want in Melbourne.  Plus the food like most I found in Australia, was wonderful. 

The city center:  The main part of town where businesses are located plus great shopping, restaurants, cafes and clubs.

Funky, fun and hip Fitzroy:  About as bohemian as you can get with lots of great shopping for those retro vintage finds.

The fantastic Queen Victoria Market where you can buy anything and everything as fresh and wonderfully delicious as can be.

Unfortunately I was not in my thirdeyemom mindset when I went on this trip (remember it was in 2003!  I’ve grown and matured since then…at least I hope so!) and probably missed tons of great photo opps that would illustrate the quirky, vitality and excitement of the various neighborhoods in Melbourne.  There was St. Kilda which was bohemian and filled with outrageous cake shops, Carlton which had its own Aussie-style “Little Italy“, and Melbourne’s very own Chinatown.  The far-stretching neighborhoods went on for miles and each one had its own unique and special charm.  I would love to have the opportunity to revisit Melbourne someday and rediscover all the fabulous things it has to offer.  It is a great city, in my humble opinion, that I thoroughly enjoyed.

The last highlight of our stay in Melbourne was our big night out on the town.  It all began with a gourmet Italian meal nearby the theater where we started out with a $50 bottle of wine (the cheapest on the menu…thank God my dad was paying!).  The tiny restaurant only had twenty tables and was fully booked.  But per my dad who had eaten there a year before, the food was so good we chose to eat our four-course meal at the bar!  It was amazing and I was so full afterwards that I thought I’d pass out during the musical.  Yet, the loud, vibrant sounds of QUEEN singing “We will, we will ROCK YOU!” got me jumping off my chair and feeling like I was ready to pack my bags and move to Melbourne.  The musical blasted my eardrums, raised my heart beat and excited my soul for I love QUEEN and there was nothing better than hearing it in lovely, lively “Mel-bun”!  We love ya Mel-bun” they cried and sang with all their might.  What a fantastic send-off!

Stay tuned…my last post on Australia will be a day trip to the Yarra Valley wine regions for lots and lots of tasting and sipping yummy Australian wines. 

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