21.3.17 – Mornington Peninsula Winetasting

The storm which raged outside all night hadn’t left town and heavy rain greeted our sleepy ears. An ocean of rain couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm today though and we happily munched down watermelon and read through our vineyard tourist leaflets. Mornington has a cool climate (really?) so is renowned for the Burgundy grapes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Other grape varietals are grown though as winemakers experiment. 

At 11am the Your Shuttle bus pulled up outside and we dashed from our porch, through the rain, into the comfort of the dry van. Our driver Chris welcomed us and we chatted away and in no time were at our first vineyard, Ten Minutes By Tractor. The cellar door and restaurant were undergoing redevelopment, so tastings were relocated in an old shed which had a cosy atmosphere, especially with the noise of the rain on the corrugated roof. We were warmly greeted by Jasmine who talked us through the wines available that day, the history of the vineyards and gave us loads of information on winemaking and the regions vintages. We really enjoyed our time there.

Ten Minutes By Tractor temporary cellar door

Their Chardonnay was very good but we loved their 2015 Pinot Noir. Red fruit and almost peppery. Alison didn’t used to like Pinot Noir which meant I got a bottle to myself but she is coming round to it. I guess I’ll have to share.

Five minutes on foot was next doors T’Gallant and Jasmine kindly lent us an umbrella, checking for spiders first. T’Gallant has a large cellar door and after the intimacy of Ten Minutes By Tractor it was an initial shock to encounter large tour groups. The staff took us through their wines though and kept an eye on us. They had pioneered Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio wines (same grape) and had a delicious sweet and slightly fizzy pink moscato. Our favourite though was their 2015 Romeo which was a mix of Shiraz from a vineyard at Heathcote and Muscat from a vineyard at Rutherglen, so neither from Mornington! The aroma reminded me of Pedro Ximenez Sherry, one of our Christmas favourites.

T’Gallant cellar door
Thirteen tastings in, we enjoyed some fresh air outside and were picked up and driven down the road to the scenic Eldridge Estate which we had chosen as it grows Gamay grapes, one of my favourites. The beauty of our Your Shuttle tour with Chris is that it was bespoke and she was able to take us to the vineyards we wanted to visit. 

The owner was loading cases of wine into a car and he said hello and left us with Dan who talked us through the wine tasting, giving us info on vintages, wine styles and winemaking. I loved their 2016 PTG, a mix of Pinot Noir and Gamay and Al loved their 2016 Fume Blanc which is barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc.

The cellar door of Eldridge Estate. Chris our driver on the left.

Next up was Montalto, recommended to us by Kathy our Airbnb host in Melbourne. They had a kitchen garden which provided veg and herbs to their restaurant and a sculpture park around their vines. A great day out if the sun is shining. Al wanted to eat here but we visited the cellar door first where we tried their delicious Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but also a Shiraz and a sweet Moscato. 

I think we were both glad to get some food into us and what great food it was. Aubergine with chickpeas and herbs to start and then a garlic, chive and ham pizza. 

We had a wander round the veg garden. 

Then the beautiful vineyard. 

Then we walked next door to Tucks Ridge our fifth vineyard. After four vineyards and garlic pizza my palate was a bit cloudy and my head was in a very happy place and on this wave of euphoria alongside the friendly, informative and interesting conversation from our cellar door host I forgot to take any photos. Here is a tree outside. 

Suffice to say, their wines were great and we learnt loads including the difference between their single vineyard Chardonnay and their estate Chardonnay which amazingly didn’t escape my tired palate. Our favourite wine was their 2014 Shiraz which tasted of white pepper.

Back out in the rain, we happily walked up a muddy track to our sixth and final vineyard of the day, Red Hill Estate. We tried their Chardonnays, Pinot Grigio and Muscat but we both loved their 2015 Pinot Noir. Alison was finally converted. She was at one with Miles from the film Sideways

As if by magic, Chris appeared and we were taken to the poshest food deli I’ve ever been to. A cave of specialist cheese, meats, dips and wines from all the local vineyards. To round our day off in style we bought a tiny piece of blue cheese and some crisps and a glass of wine each. Finally a full glass! This meant our final score was 38 different wines tasted and 2 smiley faces in probably the best Tuesday of our lives! We had loved our tour of the small, boutique and bigger, slick vineyards and the contrasts of our experiences in them. We had also learnt about some winemaking techniques and increased our appreciation of what it takes to fill your glasses.

Inspecting the quality of the crisps

I know what some of you are thinking. “What about the umbrella you were lent?”

Well, Chris bumped into the owner of Ten Minutes By Tractor in the deli so it was safely returned. As were we.

16.3.17 Melbourne

So, today’s task was to pick up our driving licenses from Poste Restante in Melbourne. For some unfathomable reason we didn’t bring them with us, so we applied for new ones online whilst in Bangkok and my marvellous Mum helped us out, yet again, by sending them onto Oz. This will mean we can start the Roberts International Wine Tour of Oz and NZ, which some of our friends are looking forward to drinking along with us back in the UK.

We get the tram into town and we go to the wrong PO to get them. This turns out to be a good thing as it means we walk past Guy’s old work colleague, Johan, from our time in London. He looks so stunned, doesn’t believe it is us, then realises it is us so we have a quick catch up, marvel at the smallness of the world and agree to have a few ales for good ol’ St Patrick tomorrow!

We get to the right PO and are shocked when the licences are not there. Oh dear, we hadn’t planned for this. The guy checks loads of other places and nope, they are definitely not there. 

Photo of sunny Melbourne to cheer us up.

We walk out feeling numb and try to decide what to do. I ring the car hire to see if just a passport or DVLA number will suffice, it won’t. We need the actual licences. 

We walk to the other post office, pass Johan walking the streets again, clearly having a productive day at the office!!! They confirm there is only one poste restante and also that post can take a month to come from the UK. A month!!!! Our car hire deposit is lost.

Johan has given us a bar recommendation which is near tourist info, so we go to tourist info first to see what our options are doing the vineyards via public transport. The place is staffed by 8 OAP’s and one none OAP, similar to the staffing levels in B&Q at home. We are passed on to about 4 people before someone agrees they have the knowledge to help us. 

Doing Coonawara vineyards on public transport doesn’t seem to be a valid option (unless we have 2 days to travel there and another 2 to travel back). It also limits the accommodation options, as we can’t use out of town camping grounds, so we’ll have to pay more. This leads us to reassess our limited cash reserves​.

We look for answers in the bottom of a (very expensive) lovely dark ale in the sunshine. Life isn’t all bad!

Time is passing, we decide to go back to Balwyn, via the bottlo for a couple of red wines that we will now not be visiting.

Once the UK is awake, Mum promptly sends us a tracking number which shows it has left the UK. But we are no closer to finding out where in Oz it is. Wine and movies (Grand Budapest Hotel) help us try to forget the day and relax, as much as we can.

Wines tasted:

Coonawara Shiraz Parker 2015

Heathcote Shiraz Brown Brothers The Standout 2014

Barossa Shiraz Earthworks 2016

Overland Out

Accommodation location

We set out to travel from England to Asia without flying. A slower, more sedate approach, in a time when time flies and life is gone in a flash, we wanted to slow time and see things properly. We also wanted to see how we would cope with life on the road. So after 190 days rocking and rolling the final transport count from Kenilworth to Kuala Lumpur is:-

Trains – 30
Buses – 25
Tube/metro – 20
Taxis – 14
Tuk Tuks/Songthaews – 8
Minivans – 8
Ferries/Speedboats/dinghies – 11

If anyone is considering doing it, do it.

Is there anything I would do differently? At my age, I’d bring nasal hair trimmers.

Have we learnt anything? Well, we already suspected but now we know that your average person is kind and helpful and stereotypes are not always true. Russian and Chinese train conductors, grannies, shopkeepers, dinnerladies, waiters, hoteliers, policemen, security guards and people on the street have all helped us when we have been lost or in need of something. We thank them all.

11-14.3.17 Kuala Lumpur

Even by our own standards we have done little in KL.

Our hotel is comfy, with a gym and pool which we tried to use most days.

We explored Chinatown and ate there.

We explored little India and ate there.

We explored the expat bar area and drank there.

Each afternoon the clouds would gather, the skies darken, thunder would rumble, lighting would pierce the humid air and a rainstorm would unleash its fury onto the city.

22nd floor view during rainstorm
22nd floor view after rainstorm

It was dramatic and we loved to watch it from our comfy room.

10.3.17 Penang to Kuala Lumpur

You maybe wondering where the 9th is?

Food.Blog.Food.Pack.Food.Bed. There you go. Just like most days.

Our expanding waistlines tell us its time to leave.

The bus is the most comfortable one yet. Three large seats wide and a good reclining level.

About an hour into the journey we pull into a garage. This isn’t expected. The driver tells us we need to change a tyre and we’ll be 20 minutes. We take the opportunity to buy crisps and nuts and pastry products from the garage next door for a healthy buffet breakfast.

An hour later and we’re back off. We listen to music and I’m so comfy and the ride is so smooth I fall asleep. Later, I come round from my slumber and watch Malaysia zoom past the window.

The aircon stops and we start to warm up. We pull over to the hard shoulder. The driver tells us the fan belt has gone and he needs to fix it. He takes his toolkit and goes outside. We start sweating as the temperature in the bus soars. We wait. The bus rocks from side to side as trucks speed past us. A bus pulls up in front. We are told to change and luckily there are exactly the right number of seats free. Another hour and we are in KL. 

A helpful ticketbooth lady explains our tube options and after two short rides we walk to our apartment hotel. This is our last Asian destination and sadly for us our last overland destination so we decided to up our flashpacker credentials and go out in style. We have a double bed, ensuite, fridge, kettle, pool and gym! 

Oh Yes! 

An ensuite!

We head to the local, huge temple of consumerism, Times Square, for food, where an ordinary chicken and chips and noodle dish fills us. Friday night essentials of red wine and chocolate are bought and we luxuriate in our 22nd floor room enjoying the view across KL.

Stadium Negara

8.3.17 Georgetown Dr and Dr Dolittle

The day started with a rat scuttling across our path, but with the open sewers its not suprising. We crossed the road to eat at a food stall our hostel recommended. Wanton mee for me and curry mee for her. Both good.

Delicious iced coffee
Wan Ton Mee

We walked to the bus station at Komtar and caught the number 10 to the botanical gardens. Al saw a cockroach on the bus.

We had chosen a bad day to visit the Botanical gardens as the specialist plant houses were closed. We were able to wander round the outside though to see cacti and bromeliads but sadly the fern house was huge so we couldn’t see everything.

We did see Lizards though, wandering around.

A troup of monkeys too.

It wasn’t top of our botanical gardens list but it was very tranquil to visit after the noise of Georgetown and is a beautiful green space.

Back in the old town I finally get to try Assam laksa, a local sour soup of tamarind, chili, sardine, pineapple and mint. It sounds like fridge leftovers but it works and I really enjoyed it.

Al had kaka on white toast at a street cafe which every morning had a long queue down the pavement. It was white bread, toasted, with coconut jam on. I’m pondering importing toasters to Penang.

Another Rat scuttled across our path.

Then it was Laundry Time! The glamour of travel is endless. Our hostel guy was complaining about the heat and I thought about his words as I sat sweating in the launderette. I melted. It was running down my head. I love the heat and humidity and its great for my psoriasis and sitting in the launderette was possibly the hottest moment of the trip so far. As a puddle of sweat formed under my chair, the lady in charge turned the fans on and the hot, humid air was moved about. I continued to sweat. A lot.

Back in the hostel, our friendly host clearly recognises my Dr Dolittle powers and hands me his pet python.

Another restaurant which always had a queue down the street was the 110 year old Hameediya. We had tried to go twice before but decided not to bother after seeing the queue and being spoilt for choice but as we leave the hostel our host tells us to go now as it will be quiet. We walk straight in. Chicken murtabak, tandori chicken and naan and biriyani rice with beef rendang, curried cabbage and pickled chilli. Each component was of high quality with strong flavours, delicious.

We were stuffed so we had a walk round the block and stopped for a cup of tea. On the way back a cockroach crossed our path and then a rat scuttled past.

Georgetown Part 2 – Architecture and Street Art

Georgetown isn’t easy to walk around. There are few pavements, so you walk in the road and trust the judgment of the speeding scooter drivers who are used to dodging tourists by a hairs breadth.

On top of this, you face the assault course of uneven surfaces, potholes, open sewers, gas meters, raised manholes, lowered manholes and the ends of sawn off street notices which all test your awareness, especially in flip flops. Despite the fear of raising my vision from the ground, I can’t stop staring at Georgetown. It is a film set of quirky detail. A beautiful, visual assault. Its worth the fear and I love the buildings here.

Bin and Door

In the old town, 19th century Straits Chinese architecture  dominates the residential and commercial property. Colonnades shade the main front doors which are flanked by a window on either side. The upstairs floor is a row of wooden shutters. Peranakan (meaning mixed – from Chinese immigrants marrying local Malay) floor tiles create beautiful facades. Muntri street is one of the best places to see examples of this style.

Since Georgetown had UNESCO heritage listing in 2008, some of the buildings have been bought up and carefully redeveloped into boutique cafes and hotels. They retain their original features but now proudly display a bright, clean exterior. For me though, the dilapidated, old exteriors are the most beautiful. Faded glamour is far more romantic than fresh paint.

One of the buildings we were able to enter and look around is China House, a narrow building of over a hundred metres long which stretches between two roads. The interior has had minimal renovation and houses cafe/bar/restaurant/music venue/shops in a retro, vintage Chinese bohemian space. There is a lot of art and I don’t like to use the ‘C’ word but it’s beyond cool. Plus their cakes were the best we’ve  eaten and the house Red was the best we’ve drunk but this post isn’t about food.

Robot Rabbit Waiter

Cake O’clock

Besides the Straits Chinese architecture, there are also fabulous colonial and art deco buildings.

We have been to Georgetown twice before, most recently in 2014 and I can’t remember much street art then but now I see it everywhere (having a map also helps). One of the tourist things to do now is tour the streets snapping art which I’m more than happy to do. Below is a selection of some of the many pictures I took but I don’t want to litter the internet too much.

Penang may not be to everyone’s taste, but with beautiful architecture, varied street art, stylish cafes, fabulous Malay, Chinese and Indian food, WE LOVE IT!

22 – 27.2.17 Koh Muk – Zen Paradise

The problem with paradise is the difference between the fantasy in your imagination and the reality you are faced with. The bigger the difference, the greater the upset. Of course, there may be no difference, in which case you are in a happy place.

Koh Muk is a beautiful island in the Anderman sea on the south west coast of Thailand. On the west side is the small but perfectly formed Had Farang beach, a small crescent of white sand which slips gently into clear, warm turquoise waters. Its surrounded by karst cliffs, covered in tropical vegetation of spiky palms and classic coconut palm trees. A feast for the eyes.

Our sunset facing bungalow had a view between some shady trees across the sea to Koh Kradan. It was the last one free when we arrived and although it was more than we wanted to pay, it was large with an ensuite and our new hammock fitted perfectly on the wooden balcony. Unfortunately it was also home to rats which would scratch around in the ceiling after dark. We were used to this after our time in China and a bang on the wall would quiet them down. However, we weren’t used to small presents of rat waste falling through a loose roof board into the room. The dad of the family who ran the accommodation came round and nailed up the loose board to solve that issue but the environment further tested our Dr Doolittle credentials. 

Monkeys would hang around on the roof and go through the bin after dark. I fed giant mosquitoes and in return they left me huge, itchy lumps. Al was greeted by cockroaches in the bathroom. After sunset each day, swarms of small flies would descend and cover you. One evening a giant cicada decided to spend the night with us, flapping and buzzing around the room. In the shallows of the sea, shoals of translucent green fish would hang around your legs. Hermit crabs were constantly shuffling around the beach, hiding in their mobile homes as you approached. Of course, you have to expect to interact with nature on a tropical island.

The resort was also home to a more familiar type of small creature – children. Either side of our bungalow were families enjoying the beauty of the Thai islands, something we hadn’t experienced before and a change from the backpacker trail.

Our days would be spent topping up the tan. I watched Al go brown as some bits of me went from white to off-white and some bits went from white to red. I would easily win ‘Mr Blotchy Tan 2017’ We’d swim in the warm sea, so clear that at chin depth I could see my toes. We’d watch the sun disappear each day with a cold beer or a cocktail and after savoury, rich, spicy, coconut, Thai curries, would watch electrical storms out to sea bring atmosphere to the night sky. A tropical paradise.

Bonus Post – Music

When we were planning our trip we were inspired by the fabulous book The Idle Traveller by Dan Kieran

It reminded me of a song by one of the best bands in our lifetime.

The Tourist

It barks at no one else but me
Like it’s seen a ghost
I guess it seen the sparks a-flowing
No one else would know
Hey man slow down, slow down
Idiot, slow down, slow down

Sometimes I get overcharged
That’s when you see sparks
You ask me where the hell I’m going
At a thousand feet per second
Hey man slow down, slow down
Idiot slow down, slow down
Hey man slow down, slow down
Idiot slow down, slow down

10.2.17 Leaving Bangkok on an overnight bus.

Tonight, at 7pm, we head to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, so we pack, shower and checkout at the last minute. The hostel charges us 11p to store our bags all day.

We walk round the corner onto Pra Athit past ‘fresh orange’ lady who never failed to shout at us whenever we passed her in the last week. Past Jaywalk cafe, the beef noodle bar, the pork on rice street stall, the coffee stand, seamstress number 1 working away on her old singer sewing machine that is familiar to us as pub tables. Past the Malay curry house, the barbers, the wonton noodle shop, the quaint coffee shop, the mobile papaya salad lady and her constant queue of customers. Past 7/11, KC Guesthouse and seamstress number 2 who is always chatting to the duck blood soup stall holder  on the other side of the pavement. Finally, 200 metres later, we arrive at our breakfast destination, the chicken on rice stall. On the way we have avoided pot holes, open drains, steep curbs and uneven concrete despite being distracted by endless interesting diversions, more than my memory has listed above. This city is so vibrant, with so much going on which is why it enthuses me and I love it so much.

Al has  boiled chicken on rice and I have fried. We perch on small plastic stools and on the metal table are bowls of chopped chilli and ginger and an urn of sauce. It tastes of soy, ginger, chilli, garlic, fish sauce and my mouth is watering just thinking about it. I apply it liberally over my chicken and munch away. I’m not quite sure how a dish as simple as chicken on rice can taste so good but it does.

We have a coffee at the quaint shop and watch mobile papaya lady carefully make up her dish in a huge mortar. She carefully tastes it, adjusting the flavour to her customers requirements which is maybe why she has so many.

We wander about, giving up on shopping as we normally do and focusing on food which we always do. We end up in a cafe where falafel and hummus is ordered with coconut shakes. Tamarind and coconut for me and chai Indian spices and coconut for Al. The shakes are very good.

We are just killing time and we know it, so we go back to the hostel and sit in the cafe and blog and write diaries all afternoon.

We decide to eat before the overnight bus but somewhere familiar where no unwanted after affects have occured so I have a pork noodle soup and Al has mataback.

We sit in the park opposite and watch the sun go down over the Chaopraya until a fitness class with very powerful speakers moves us on.

 We go to the travel office at 7pm and wait for the normal minivan to pick us up. Times have changed though and around 7.30 the Pied Piper of tourists turns up and he gives us a sticker each and we follow him on foot as he gathers more and more people from various accommodations. There are dozens following him by the time we arrive at a coach park, where in the darkness, we can see dozens of people already waiting. We stand around for about an hour watching bats swooping around nearby trees. At 8.30pm two full coaches take people south and at 9pm its our turn. Its a semi-organized bun fight as we try to board three coaches. We manage to get assigned the last two seats on the posh looking double decker and are amazed to find they are fairly near the front.

We leave, the lights go out and I read till 11pm. At 1am we stop for food but we only share a drink and we head north into the night.