December 2012 Archives
The year started with us in Sydney with Stu's friend Kore who was visiting from the USA. We saw the Sydney fireworks on New Year's Eve, then came home. Went to River Island with her and D&Y and had another week off just hanging around Canberra.
This year saw us have our biggest ever trips away from home. Stu had decided to take some long service leave and spent three months in Japan - two and a bit of those studying Japanese, and some travel at the end. So when the parents said they were going to the Middle East I decided I would go too. I spent two weeks with them on a tour round Israel and Jordan, then we appended that with ten days in Egypt. I still had a couple of weeks to fill in before I was planning to meet up with Stu, so took myself off to London and then wandered across the top of Europe from Paris to Copenhagen via Brussels, Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Billund. Finally I flew across to Japan and after a couple of days around Osaka had some time in Hokkaido. It was an epic trip and I saw some amazing stuff! I was quite nervous in the lead up to the trip that I'd get sick or something would happen and it would all fall apart. But fortunately nothing went wrong. In fact probably the only "disaster" of the whole trip was an airline going out of business while I was on my trip, costing me several hours out of my day in Copenhagen because I had to bus/train it there from Billund instead of fly.
In other travel news, we went to Dave's coast house in July and December, and visited Chay and David in Queensland in August. Finished off December with Boxing Day in Sydney, then a couple of days in the Hunter Valley.
I got my UK trip photos blogged - finishing up two years after the trip.
At work I came to the realisation that I like doing documentation. Tragic I know ;) As always a pretty busy year, although things did let up a bit for me after the trip, as we had several new people getting up to speed so we were able to spread the workload out a bit. So the latter part of the year gave me some time to do my other favourite thing - tidying! The year finished with a massive downer though, with one of our team members refusing to do oncall anymore and thereby increasing the work load for the rest of us. It's been causing me all sorts of stress/anxiety :(
Otherwise my health had a pretty good year, just a couple of short colds (got a flu vaccination which possibly helped).
We had a very social year this year, visiting, being visited and going out with lots of people. There were several games nights at Mishi's in February, March, April and July, although somehow Stu never managed to meet Lana. From Stu's work, we saw Josh and Ally a few times, Gaelian and Stephanie, Tristan, and Kirily. From my work there were a few bbqs at Chris', a Japanese feast at Doc's, a couple of dinners with Tony and Heather (that Stu missed for one reason or another) and some movie/singstar nights with a big group in January and October, and one with just Doc. Nat and Andrew came over a few times, including a hanami party. We saw Damien and Amanda a few times - for a birthday lunch (that Stu missed because he was in Japan), a Christmas dinner party, and a war games day. There were meetups with internet friends - we went out with Fiona and Chrispycon a few times, and Stu's friend Gene came to visit. From Sydney, we had beer with Luc, had the parents come down to stay for a weekend, although Stu wasn't feeling very well so we didn't spend much time with them, and Peter came to stay with us for a month while on a short term contract. Hao also came for a conference and we had a good catchup. David came to stay a few times, and Yvonne came once as well. All of that socialising meant we didn't have DC over as often, so the Buffy and Angel watching suffered somewhat.
With the fish, a fairly quiet year. We let the numbers dwindle down before we went away, as we wanted to minimise the number of tanks for Doc to have to look after while we were away. While we were away my last remaining original fish died - my ten year old angel. I gave that tank a thorough cleaning and got some danios for it. I also got five baby angels, but all but one of them died within a week :( So at the moment there's the "angel" tank with danios and an angel, the two foot with a couple of guppies and the remaining black neon tetras, and maybe a catfish or three we got from Chay and David, the four foot with duboisi, multis, a leleupi and a j.transcriptus (the big catfish died Christmas eve) and the "krib" tank downstairs with the three remaining kribs and a golden panchax killifish.
Not much happened on the Lego front this year (apart from visiting *two* Legolands on my holiday). Neil and I went to the annual Brick Expo, this time getting tickets to the VIP dinner. That was a lot of fun, and got to see all the Lego displays without crowds.
I've been doing a lot of jigsaws recently, and I did the second section of the 24000 piece one.
New toys I bought this year included a new computer (the previous one was five years old) and an iPhone 5 (Optus data is worse on it than the 3GS but otherwise it's a pretty cool phone). Had many long hours of stress fighting with iTunes - moving to a new computer, getting the iOS updated on the old phone and moving to the new phone). I also stockpiled some Buckyballs before they were banned for sale in Australia and got the London Olympics for the wii (not as good as the original). For the house we bought a purple "comfy" chair for Stu for the study, a new lounge suite and a buffet to match the dining table, and a new printer.
We're still eating out quite a lot, and I've become one of those annoying food photographers. Our favourites are still Black Pepper for weekend brunches, and the Dumpling Inn. Other places we went to this year included Sammy's, Gus', Happy's, Alice's, Ardeche (ourselves and for Noah's birthday), Mork's (with Tony, Heather and Jess, and also with Damien and Amanda), Café Essen, Asia Café, Bella Vista (don't get there as often as we'd like, but did go with work and James and George and the kids), Ginger and Spice (for Annie's birthday), As Nature Intended, Kimchi and Zierholz Fyshwick. With work people there were also visits to Zierholz UC, Samiuz, Bolly Buds, 2 Yummy, Guzman Y Gomez, Chong Co and Mad Mex. We also got into a semi-regular habit of going for drinks after work on a Friday, at such places as Ha Ha Bar, The Lighthouse and the Labor Club.
I didn't do as much dessert creating this year, but did attempt a blueberry cheesecake, chocolate oranges, and a pretty spectacular layered cherry pavlova (twice!). Also made hollandaise sauce for the first time.
Fiddler on the Roof
War of the Worlds
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
(can't remember if I read any more books - didn't read many because of not getting the bus as much in the mornings, and taking a shorter bus in the afternoons and walking)
Other bits and pieces:
Blogged less - less to say during the week
UK photo sorting/blogging
Problems with a fish tank heater tripping the circuit breakers
Back fence latch ripped off by persons unknown
Enjoyed the new donut sculpture in Civic
Watched the new Cotter Dam overflow
Ran a trivia night at work that was "the best organised trivia night ever" (according to a couple of people)
Canberra Airport open day
Got annoyed at a major ramp up in comment spam
DC's dog Benny died
Poultry show at EPIC
Skiing - with Steve in July and twice with Peter in August
Started getting veggie boxes from Aussie Farmers Direct
Moving Feast Winery tour at Murrambateman with Tony and family
Did a bit of recording of VHS tapes to DVD
Fought with the overgrown garden
Nara Candle Festival
Halloween party at Chris'
Neighbour's goat died
Saw and got some great photos of the solar eclipse
Turned off my PIII 866 computer which had been running for most of eleven years
Exercise bike broke
Go Karting for a work Christmas party
Drinks and pizza at boss' boss' boss' boss' boss' place
Joined a small social club, went to their Christmas party
Sold my iPhone 3GS to Heather
Christmas afternoon tea at Scott and Kerry's
Ended the year with a pool party with Nat and Andrew and Steve over for swimming, dinner and games.
The last of the three brothers of this family to get married, in an Australian-Greek-Chinese wedding.
So quite a lovely wedding, and a good time was had by all.
But special mention needs to be made of the "professional" photographers. I haven't been to many weddings that have had professional photographers, so I don't really know what's normal.
But I didn't think walking down the aisle with the bride was
Or getting in everyone's faces during the ceremony (at one point the priest waved one of the photographers away)
Or sharing the dance floor during the bridal waltz
Or getting *in the middle* of the Greek dancing
Or sharing the exit limelight with the bride and groom
Personally, I found their behaviour to be not very professional at all, especially at the church. My cousins agreed, and they even later made a formal complaint. So when one of the photographers was overheard complaining that he couldn't get "five minutes" alone to work (when he'd just *had* five minutes alone, *and* the shot he was complaining about wasn't even setup by him), well you're hardly going to get any respect or sympathy. But hopefully the photos and video they get will make it worth it.
Anyways. Congratulations Andy and Crystal :)
The day after boxing day we made our exit from Sydney. Since we had to be back on the 30th for my cousin's wedding, the options were to stay in Sydney, go home, or have a couple of nights somewhere else. We decided to go to the Hunter Valley.
We let the GPS guide us out of Sydney, and we managed to avoid the most horrible piece of road in Sydney, which is the five kilometres between Gordon and Hornsby, where it's just stop start the whole way. The GPS took us round the north of all that, and it was much less stressful.
It's amazing the number of L-platers that were out. I reckon they should either be banned from highways altogether or allowed to do the full speed limit. Because forcing them to slow down on the freeways just makes everything slow for everyone else.
We decided not to go up the Sydney-Newcastle freeway, opting to get off at Peat's Ridge and take the back way. We mostly had the road to ourself, and it was a much prettier and less stressful drive.
Coming down the valley along the Great North Road was very pretty
Spaceman in a sculpture park north of Wollombi
Cessnock is very pretty at the moment with all the trees in bloom
As it turned out, we probably should have gone up the freeway, because we decided to go out to Minmi, which is right next to the freeway. So it was a bit of a detour, but we weren't in any hurry so that was ok.
Crazy big house on Richmond Vale Road
Caboose in Minmi
I want a liqour shelf like this! Pretty! Popped in here to get a (non-alcoholic) refreshing beverage
Then out to the cemetery to find graves of Stu's rellies
These guys found their own rellies
Then onto the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley. A little pricey, but very nice.
Crowne Plaza reception
We got a hotel style room in the main building. There's a tonne of self-contained units around the place that hold quite a few people. They looked lovely, and people were out with deck chairs sipping wine, which totally looked like the life :) They're a bit further away from the main building, and something like $800/night - ouch!
View from our room - not that exciting
What I did love about the place was the abundance of power points. Something like 14 of them around the room, in nice useful places, like right next to the bed. 10 points right there!
Settled in and got ourselves freshened up, then went for a walk around the place
The huge pool. A bit emptier at this point, but it was full of people a little earlier.
Giant chess set (there was a checkers set in the main building too)
Beach volleyball court
Waiting in the Vista Lounge before dinner
The Red Salt restaurant (also the breakfast buffet)
Our view for dinner
We started with this lovely Adina (a local) Pinot Grigio
The sweetie enjoys the wine and the view
Stu's entree. I think this was "Caramelized Tart, of golden shallot and baked locally sourced goat's cheese, witlof salad"
I had "Warm salad of lobster, kipfler potatoes & frisse endive, poached quail eggs & black truffle dressing"
For mains Stu had "Coq au vin free range chicken, braised in Hunter Valley pinot, golden eschalots & smoked bacon, roast garlic puree, fried bread crumbs". This thing was delicious - and look at that huge chunk of bacon! Yum!
I had "Confit duck leg with cassoulet of white beans, lovedale smokehouse sausage & bacon, poached quail eggs". The duck was nice, but too many beans for my taste.
We also had a side of "Sauteed mixed mushrooms with garlic and sherry vinegar (Swiss Browns, Buttons, King Oysters, Enoki)". Omigosh this was so delicious! One of my favourite parts of the meal!
We also had an amazing Rosehill shiraz - so smooth! Yumm!
For dessert we had some Brokenback vintage cheddar (we were too full to eat any more!)
After dinner I was so full I went for a little walk around the place.
Took this nice HDR shot from the entrance area on my phone
We had breakfast the next morning at the resort. A pretty decent buffet of food. Was quite crowded though, even though we were there near the end of service.
At 1pm we piled into a little minbus with a family of Swedish people and headed out on a winery tour (stopping to pick up some other people on the way).
Our first stop was Peacock Hill Winery. This was quite a small winery, and was much like the tours we did at Yass last year with a very small cellar door and crowds of people. I found it a bit stressful, but the lady was reasonably well organised, so it wasn't too bad.
They have dinosaurs, which kept the two little Swedish boys amused
Peacock Hill selection of wines
Yeah being driven around the Hunter Valley tasting wines is a lovely way to spend an afternoon
The next stop was McGuigan's. Having heard of this winery it wasn't surprising that they had a much bigger cellar door. And they have this whole room setup for tour groups that looked pretty amazing.
Tour group wine tasting room
Us at McGuigan's
This cork stool looked pretty cool (but $249 and not particularly practical)
McGuigan's also make and sell cheeses. We might have bought some, but didn't have a cooler bag or a fridge at the hotel.
Sunflowers at McGuigan's
Next stop was the Pokolbin village for chocolate and cheese tasting. The chocolate tasting was ok (half a dozen nibbles of chocolate), but the cheese tasting wasn't really anything special. First you had to find the store that was doing it, then you had to ask for the cheeses to taste. Yeah, not ideal.
I did buy this cute little chocolate penguin from the chocolate place.
Our last stop was Brokenwood. This had a medium-sized cellar door and we sat around barrels to do the wine tasting. We even got to taste a wine which was normally only opened for people paying to taste the wines. So that was very nice.
On the way back we got up close to some kangaroos, which I think all the tourists liked :)
So a very nice (although somewhat expensive) afternoon, with half a box of wines and fortified wines acquired :)
For dinner we went to the Grapevine bar for beer and pizza
This was the "Truffled Mushroom" pizza, which sounded nice on the menu (swiss brown, button and enoki mushrooms, white sauce, confit garlic parmesan, thyme and truffle oil) but was a little bland
This was the "Italian" pizza - pepperoni, capsicum, mushrooms, olives, mozzarella, parmesan & chilli, sour cream, thyme and rocket. This was much nicer (I think the sour cream was a winner!)
After dinner the pool was looking nice so I wanted to go for a swim. But a change had come through which made it quite cold. So we didn't stay in long.
So our final day.
First stop (after breakfast at the Scottish Restaurant in Cessnock) was a trip to Morpeth to look for more of Stu's relatives in the cemetery. We didn't find any. Just some harness horses trotting by.
Then to St John's College, only to find the whole place has been turned into a retirement village. So far the historic buildings remain, but who knows for how much longer.
Walking around to the chapel
The organ is still there, but the chapel is now a little community hall
And the garden out the back has a gazebo, and the cross has been removed. A bit different to last time we were here.
And instead of a nice view out to the floodplain, all you can see is houses
So that was all a little sad.
This is the bridge at Hinton
And we found another probable relative of Stu's in the Hinton Cemetery
Next up the sweetie thought it might be nice to head to Port Stevens, and Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay.
As apparently did the rest of New South Wales
It was so crowded it was painful. We didn't stop anywhere along the beachside. Couldn't have anyway - no parking! Just snapped a pic out the window.
We did stop at the lighthouse though (only because a super huge 4WD couldn't fit into a half sized parking spot, so we got it)
Carried on. Shoal Bay was just as crowded.
Eventually ended up at Fingal Bay where we stopped for lunch a few streets back from the beach, where there was actually parking. Fish and chips and potato scallops. Because that's what you do when you go to the beach. Even though we were nowhere near the beach.
So left the craziness behind and headed back to Maitland to meet up with Margie at the Fox Bar. This a nice little wine bar. We had the whole front area to ourselves, but it was only when I went to the loo that I saw the lovely little garden they have out the back.
And finally headed back to Sydney. Would have been uneventful except a horse float overturned on the freeway near Kariong killing two horses and completely closing the road. The GPS saw it coming and we took a detour around it. No idea if it worked out faster (it probably did) but it was certainly less stressful and no stop-start traffic for us.
Finally made it back to my parent's place and crashed into bed
Boxing day morning we headed off fairly early, dropping the oncall laptop off at Neil's and stopping at Maccas Watson for breakfast for the sweetie and Maccas Sutton Forest for coffee for the sweetie.
Also stopping at Lake George to see the water
The destination: lunch at my parents' place with D&Y and the uncles and aunties.
Dessert included this gingerbread house which we demolished (apparently my lens was all wrong for this photograph #grunt)
Took a while in the afternoon to recover. Didn't need dinner (I stole a bit of Dad's). Then stayed the night at my parents'.
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