Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wine, "Roos", and Toronto?!?

 Hunter Valley, Australia

Wine is a big thing here in Australia, a really big thing!

A trip to the bottle shop (liquor/wine store) and you will find an amazing selection of wines from Australia and New Zealand, and usually, from nowhere else. Unbelievably, you can walk into a fair sized bottle shop, a Californian Cabernet? Nope. A French Bordeaux? Nope. A Canadian Pinot? Never! I am not saying you can't get any of these great imports here, but it's just that the average bottle shop mostly carries only Aussie and Kiwi wine. Why? Because they make some of the best wines in the world here. And we have discovered we are spoiled to live right amongst it :-)

There are so many diverse regions of wine here in Australia and New Zealand. But essentially, they can be divided between the cool climate wine regions and the warm climate wine regions. The cool climate regions include notables such as Barossa Valley in South Australia where the big bold reds are grown.  Think Penfolds Grange. Also for cool climate, Pinot Noir is amazing from New Zealand and Tasmania. New Zealand is famous for it's Sauvignon Blancs, which taste like no other I have had. But here in the warmer north (remember southern hemisphere), we have the Hunter Valley.

To see what all the talk was about, Nancy and I decided to spend a beautiful fall weekend up in "the Hunter" as it is affectionately known. About a 2.5 hour drive north from Sydney, the Hunter is an amazing mix of large and boutique wineries nestled between some very picturesque hills.

As this is a warm climate region, the grapes were picked way back in February. The growing season is hot, so the vines grown have to be chosen carefully. The vines the Hunter is famous for are the white Semillon, and the red Shiraz. Semillon is a wine more flavourful than a Riesling, but dryer than a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. A great easy drinking white wine, perfect for the hot summers here. 

Shiraz, well I think everyone knows Australian Shiraz. Australia is one of the world's largest producers of it aside from France where the grape is called Syrah. Shiraz falls between a bold Cabernet/Merlot and the lighter Pinot. Here are a couple samples of what we tried.

Now, there are some other aspects of the Hunter being a warm climate, interesting things grow in abundance here. For example, we went to Pepper Tree winery which is named after the many black pepper trees growing along the property. Also the Hunter has many olive groves. Fresh pressed olive oil with any infused flavour you can imagine can be easily found everywhere. The other somewhat interesting novelty is that there are Kangaroos hopping around it. 

Roos, which is the local nickname, and very common here in the wild. Still new to Australia, we get excited every time we see one. The locals look at us oddly because Roos are as common as deer In Canada and generally thought of as a nuisance. Wonder what a group of Roos are called? A flock? No way! Herd? Maybe...

They are actually called a mob of Roos. Yes a mob - weird. And here is a mob of Roos by a vineyard that Nancy chased.

Being informed new locals, we signed ourselves up for an all day wine tour. 5 wineries, 35 tastings, and case of wine to take home, we were happy campers by the time we got back to the bed and breakfast.

On the way back to Sydney, we took the scenic drive home, and decided to drive through where every Ontario native should, Toronto! Yes, that is Toronto, New South Wales.

There actually is a Toronto, NSW. How odd it was to see a street sign to both Toronto and Sydney. It's a small little town on the western shores of not Lake Ontario, but Lake Macquarie. Lake Macquarie is a large salt water lake just in from the ocean. It's a great little lake side town, but not much like the Toronto I know.

Here is Toronto's waterfront, wow palm trees along Lakeshore Road!

And downtown Toronto, where's the street cars?

And finally me just being a tourist in Australia's "tidy town."

Quick Railey news update. He is out of solitary confinement and in general doggy population in quarantine. He passed his tests. Guess we don't need to bring him the cake we baked with the file in it after all. Just over two more weeks and he will be out on good behaviour. We can't wait!

Next up, coffee in Australia, stay tuned...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Railey's Inter-continental Adventure

Sydney Australia

For those of you who have been following my almost daily facebook posts this week, you'll know that our little dog Railey has finally arrived in Australia! It's been a stressful and long process and still 25+ days to go before I can safely say he is a free dog.

This is worth a read for any of you who are thinking of importing an animal or just want to know how it all went down.

When deciding to move to Australia we were faced with the serious question of what to do with Railey? For me frankly there was never a question and thankfully Dean has been very supportive with the decision. Initially the process seemed daunting and at times impossible but after many weeks of research with government consulates, airlines and vets we figured out the process (a long, elaborate and expensive process at that.)

The conclusion:  If it’s possible than it will be done. There is no price that can be put on Railey, he’s a part of this family. Come on, look at those eyes.. how can you not love this dog?

So I started the long and involved process of importing an animal into Australia. Thankfully the quarantine rules had relaxed a few years ago from 6 months to min. 30 days (HUGE difference) and Railey was a young and healthy animal so the risk of sickness or complications on the flight was minimal.  

It began way back in December 2010 tackling one obstacle after another from government paperwork applications, finding a trustworthy pet exporting company to expensive vaccinations and blood tests. Gratefully Railey passed each stage with ease.

I left for Australia in mid-march leaving Railey in the care of my Mom. There is no place Railey loves more than my mom’s. With her huge backyard, long walks at Clair Ville ranch, her constant love and his big bro Turner the golden lab to harass, he couldn’t be happier staying at Grandma’s.  The day I left she stood on the driveway with Railey in her arms and made his paw wave goodbye to me as I drove away. I cried the entire way to the airport knowing it will be two months ‘till I see him again and three months ‘till he’s safe here in his new home.

Two months later on Friday May 6th his inter-continental adventure began. 10:30am Petflight (the pet exporting company) collected him from the safety of my Mom’s home and brought him to an Etobicoke dog kennel where he was kept for four long days. My mom says he was reluctant to go with them, which makes me sad as I can only imagine the confusion he felt. At this point I was really concerned about his wellbeing during the next stages of the process as he’s used to constant companionship and care and has never experienced kennels or plane rides.

Tuesday May 10th, 8pm EST– Departure Day.  We were able to track Railey's flight on the Aircanda website with the airway bill number they provided.  It was a anxious 24 hours, with texts back and forth between Dean and I whenever the site was updated "Railey landed in Vancouver, step 1 done.", "Mr. R is en route to Sydney!!", Then Thursday morning "Little r has landed in Sydney. He's finally here!"

It took most of the morning for the quarantine representatives to collect all the animals from other arriving flights and get the dogs checked into the station at Eastern Creek Quarantine in Sydney. Once Railey had arrived I was able to make an appointment to visit him the following day.

Friday morning we were allowed a short 1/2 hour visit. The Quarantine Station is like a high security penitentiary for criminals with barbed wire fencing around the entire premises. Each dog is given their own cage but not allowed contact with the other dogs. It was quite funny actually as we walked through the grounds all the other dogs, big and small, came running to their gate, pressing their faces or paws up against the fence like prisiors waiting to be released.

I was worried that Railey wouldn't remember me after so much time apart but he was ecstatic to see us! He jumped around uncontrollably for about 10 full minutes then rolled over on his tummy for a belly rub.  This was a great relief as it showed us that he was not traumatized by the flight.

Happy and relieved to have our dog in the same country as us we left for home feeling that the final stretch was in sight.  But it couldn't be this easy could it? ...

Saturday evening, we get an email from the on-sight vet saying there are some questions about Railey's blood work. Apparently he was NOT eligible to be exported and required another blood test in Toronto.  Emails start flying around to our vet and the transport company in Toronto.... How was this missed? Explain?  I'm still waiting for an explanation but there is nothing I can do about it now.

Railey was moved to the isolation section of the quarantine and scheduled for yet more blood work on Monday.  We are told Railey must stay in isolation until the blood results are back.. this could take anywhere from 10 - 14 days.  SIGH.. so once again we are left waiting in angst to hear the fait of our dog.

Tomorrow I will visit him in Quarantine (isolation ward) but will have to wear a martian jumpsuit and cannot take him for his bath or walks as previously planned. What happens next will have to wait and see.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Races

Sydney Australia

Australians love the competitive thrill of racing animals or crustaceans and there are some pretty weird sporting events found across Australia. Anything from Alice Spring’s Camel Cup (camel races), sheep races to cockroach, crab, and toad races. Then of course the more normal horse and greyhound racing.

Looking for something interesting to do on a Friday night, we decided to take part in the very Auzzie tradition of Greyhound dog racing. We met up with our new neighbors (also new residents to Australia from France) and headed to Wentworth Racing Track just walking distance from our home.  None of us had ever bet on animal races before so we were hoping beginners luck would be on our side. We scanned the stats and the ticket teller kindly explained the system.  Place a dollar on #2 to win, a dollar on #8 to place.. and let’s go!

What a thrill, those dogs are FAST! I tried to take photos but they are so fast they just appear like blurs and are not even visible in the photos. Amazing!  

Now, with our newly developed betting skills we plan to take part in CRAB RACES on Wednesday night a local pub. I don't imagine they will be as fast so I'm sure to get some good shots of that!

Wentworth Park also hosts a Pet Race event in October where residents can bring their household dog and race them for fun. I can’t wait to bring Railey to this he’ll kick butt!

Speaking of Railey… we've entered the home stretch. He departs for Australia on Tuesday night.  I worry a lot about what's ahead for him with the long flight and his 30 days in quarantine. This is going to be a tough month. Once he's here safe and sound I’ll write about Railey’s big adventure.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Weekend Notes

Sydney Australia

Dean and I subscribe to a newsletter called 'Weekend Notes' which highlights cool things to do and see in and around Sydney. I've titled this blog post Weekend Notes 'cause I'm going to write a few short posts about some of the events we've attended.

Welcomed by a T-Rex
Night at the Museum
Have you ever wanted to pull a Ben Stiller and hang out with the dinosaurs at night in the museum? Well we thought that sounded cool, so off to the Sydney Australian Museum we went. From the looks of it many other people had the same desire, the line up to get in was about half an hour long but so worth the wait.
The Jurassic Lounge where the band played with a backdrop of skeletons.
For a few nights only the museum opened it's doors after hours with an exhibit called Jurassic Lounge offering performances, live music (a wicked local indie-rock band) and booze! All set against a prehistoric backdrop with dinosaur skeletons and random stuffed dead Australian animals.  We've never had so much fun at a museum in our lives. Amazing what a drink and some good music can do to improve the vibe.

There were lots of interactive exhibits to try ie. archaeological dig site, silent dance party (not sure what that had to do with dinosaurs but looked interesting) basically everyone dancing had head phones on listening to a DJ but to an outsider we could only see them dancing but heard no music.. weird. There was even a life size brontosaurus walking around scaring people. lol.

Good times at the museum.

Billabong Launch Party
Thanks to a few purchases I made at the new Billabong store in Pitt Street Mall, we were cordially invited to their new store launch party. The event was called "Trade in your Trunks" and all we had to do was drop an old swimsuit or "swimmers" they call them here and we'd get a free entry pass.  FUN!  Not exactly sure what they are going to do with our old swimmers but I was excited for the $1000 shopping spree draw and to see the rock band Van She play live. So take my saggy swimmers I say.

So like the fashion Deva's we are.. Dean and I show up fashionably late and enter the already hoppin' party.  Free food, free beer.. not bad for a free event. We mingle the party not knowing a single soul apparently brushing shoulders with famous surfers that we would never recognize 'cause neither of us knows a thing about surfers. It was a great people watching event, we quickly became amazed by the extremity of short skirts and high shoes worn in this city. It's almost not even possible. We checked out the new store which is three levels featuring a section for their Bob Marley line.

We quickly lost interest once Van She came on stage.. they really blew.. I'll give them the benefit of a poor sound venue.

Living in Australia 101 (Lesson #2 - SPIDERS)
On April 16th Dean and I hosted our first Australian house party!!  Out in the back patio Dean is BBQ'ing up a storm like usual and I'm chatting with a friend when his eyes open large gazing above my head and he mouth's "oh my ..."  Immediately I know something is not right.. swing around to find a giant spider webbed only inches from my head.  For those of you who don't know me I'm seriously not cool with spiders.  Our friend Austin whisked the spidey away with a broom into the back ally but I still fear the day he returns.  This incident motivated me to research Australian Spiders. Which brings me to

Lesson #2 of living in Australia- Know Your Spiders.

Redback Spider
The infamous redback spider belongs to the same family as the American Black Widow Spider.

Size: female 12mm, male 3mm. Pea size body.
Habitat: Found all over Australia in dry sheltered areas around homes, gardens and parks.
Afraid factor: The redback is dangerous and venomous, but not aggressive as it spends most of it's time in the web. The bite is not painful initially but intense pain develops after about 5 minutes. Symptoms include localized sweating at the site of the bite, muscular weakness and even paralysis.

Funnel-Web Spider
This guy is SCARY! The funnel-web spider is very aggressive and it's venom is deadly (one of the deadliest spiders in the world)

Size: Male 20mm, female 30mm
Habitat: The funnel-web is found in rainforest and wet eucalypt forests but can also be found in damp shady areas of private gardens in Sydney.. YIKES! (but according to a friend only north sydney- I'll believe that) They burrow in the ground under rocks or logs not in webs.
Afraid Factor: HIGH! BE AFRAID! The bite of this spider is one of the most dangerous in the world. Bites can be fatal if not treated. An anti-venom is available. Seek treatment if bitten.

Mouse Spider

This spider got it's name because similar to the funnel-web they dig deep burrows (like a mouse) Probably also 'cause they have furry little bodies.. eww look at this one's furry back-side.

Size: male 15mm, female 30mm
Habitat: Burrowing spiders found in the east coastal and highland regions of Australia (Yay! this one's not in Sydney!) Burrows in creek banks and sometimes in suburban gardens.
Afraid Factor: This one is toxic and it's bite is potentially life threatening. However, the mouse spider is less aggressive than the Sydney Funnel-web and doesn't always inject venom when it bites.

This is almost making me barf just writing and googling these spiders so I hope you appreciate my efforts to educate you on Australian spiders. This will likely give me nightmares tonight.

Huntsman Spider
This is a large spider with crab-like legs and is fast moving. He hunts his prey instead of catching it in a web.

We saw one of these in our room in Bali. Thank goodness I did my spider 101 lesson before we saw this monstrosity. Yet, still a scary site.

Size: up to 15cm across the legs
Habitat: Houses, gardens, under rocks, logs.
Afraid Factor: Non toxic and doesn't usually strike humans. Bites only cause mild local pain.

Garden Orb Spider

This is the crazy dude that we found in the back court yard at our party. Just inches away from my head!

Size: female 2-3 cm, male 1.5 - 2cm
Habitat: Gardens
Afraid Factor: Orb weavers are afraid to bite. Symptoms include mild local pain, numbness and swelling.

Wolf Spider

The wolf spider has a distinct Union Jack impression on it's back.
Size: 15mm to 30mm
Habitat: Found Austraila-wide this is a ground dwelling spider that hunts it's prey instead of catching it in a web. Found around homes and garden areas.
Afraid Factor: The bite is poisonous but not leathal. They are non-aggressive but this doesn't mean poke them they will bite if aggrivated.

CONCLUSION:  Be careful around gardens, wooded areas and forests. General rule of thumb;  brown spiders BE AFRAID but black spiders be VERY AFRAID. And never mess with a funnel-web.