Wednesday 29 June 2011

Starvedog Lane 2005 Shiraz Viognier, Adelaide Hills

starvelaneDeep purple in colour this Shiraz Viognier from Starvedog Lane in the Adelaide Hills has a beautiful smooth nose of blackberry and liquorice (well Jane’s description is much more interesting: Christmas pudding with brandy sauce!). These flavours follow through to the palate where there is also a touch of pepper and light tannin structure (Jane found it didn’t taste as lush as she expected it would). It is a very smooth wine that is delivered in a dry style (but not too dry). The taste lingers and this is a very pleasurable drink. Drinking well now.

Sunday 26 June 2011

Peregrine Chardonnay 2007, Central Otago

With light oak, alcohol and lychee to the nose this wine has a beautiful golden hue. To taste there is an explosion of citrus, a touch of french oak and a bit of acid. It does feel like it’s lacking a bit in oak and the more I drink the level of acid builds and overall the balance doesn’t feel quite right. Maybe it would have been better to drink earlier but I suspect it still wouldn’t be quite right.

Monday 20 June 2011

Travel tips

Having done a lot of travel recently as part of our latest trip, primarily to Europe and the UK from New Zealand, we have learnt a number of things along our way or reused tips gleaned previously. In no particular order:

Trains & Trams

  1. One train may in fact be multiple trains. Check what the number your train is and make sure you’re getting onto the right carriage. We had a conductor tells us we were on the wrong train on our way to Maastricht (the train we were on was in fact hitching a ride and the correct train was a few carriages ahead).
  2. Trains are a great way to get around Europe. We have used them extensively throughout Western Europe and the UK.
  3. Storing luggage on a train can be challenging
    • Sometimes it is possible to store a bag in the gap between front and rear facing seats.
    • At the end of each carriage there is sometimes space for luggage.
    • Above seats is okay for packs and small bags.
  4. 1st class can be good for a bit of extra room and comfort in some countries (e.g. Germany), however in others (e.g. Netherlands, Belgium) there is no noticeable difference.
  5. Buying a return trip can be cheaper than one way. We found this when travelling from Luxembourg to Brugge, and were able to make use of the return trip later when going to Brussels.
  6. Be aware that you may need to change trains to get to your destination.
  7. Take food & water with you for long train journeys. NB: Check you are allowed to eat/drink on board.
  8. With some tickets, you aren’t actually buying a ticket, but are putting a prepaid amount onto a card.
  9. Each individual travelling often needs their own ticket / prepaid card.
  10. There is often a button on ticket machines for English.
  11. With prepaid cards and some tickets you often need to validate as you get on and logoff as you get off.

Luggage & Bags in general

  1. Have bags with good wheels or be prepared to carry them. Our Samsonite bags would have been dragged tens of kilometres when I consider how much ground we’ve covered with them in airports, railway stations and around city streets.
  2. Pacsafe bags give you an increased level of security. We have been using these for handbag and man bag and they have features such as a clip to lock the zip on, wire through the straps so they can’t easily be cut and a wire mesh that is part of the bag’s fabric.
  3. Locks on bags give you an increased sense of security. I prefer to avoid locks that require keys and have number locks. A lock with a cable could also be useful for locking your bag to something on the train (although I haven’t personally done this).
  4. A day pack can be useful for shopping and for carrying washing to and from laundrette.
  5. Stuff sacks are good for segregating clothing in a bag/pack to make them easier to find and to separate dirty clothes.
  6. Having checked in luggage that is not a dark colour is usually easier to find at an airport (we have red and yellow bags).
  7. Weigh your bag before you go to the airport (if you think it may be too heavy).
  8. Clear out your wallet/handbag of unnecessary stuff before leaving.


  1. Noise cancelling headphones make flights more enjoyable (even when not listening to music). I also have a theory that they reduce the impacts of jet lag due to not listening to the loud drone of the engines in full force.
  2. The temperature in trains and planes can vary between too hot and too cold. Be prepared. I often wear a thin Icebreaker merino wool t-shirt and Kathmandu shorts that have zips to put longs on.
  3. Many people say not to drink alcohol on a plane. I find I feel fine at the other end if I have water in-between each drink, but also don’t go overboard either.
  4. Keep hydrated on a plane.
  5. When flying we try to get into the destination timezone asap and consequently stay up a bit later if required. Similarly when we arrive at the destination we try and adapt straight away.


  1. GPS can be very useful for navigation, particularly in places like Cornwall where there are lots of un-named lanes.
  2. Car parking can be very expensive. Consider dropping the car off the rental agency instead (in some countries).
  3. When renting a car, ask about the road rules, any specific speed limits, toll roads, the type of petrol the car takes, any restrictions such as taking the car on boats, whether each driver needs to sign something, and make sure all dents are noted. Paying a few extra dollars for a bit more insurance also gives a bit more peace of mind.

Navigation & The Wisdom of the Crowd

  1. Cached Google Maps are good for navigation when offline e.g. in a train and not wanting to use data, or when lost and wandering around a foreign city.
  2. Ask a local for their recommendation of restaurants and bars i.e. where they would go.
  3. Crowdsourced reviews can be great for determining where to eat/not eat, what to do, where to stay etc. e.g. Tripadvisor, Foursquare, Google Places, Local review sites such as Yelp.
  4. Some accommodation, cafes and restaurants have free (or cheap) Internet access. McDonald’s is often a good option. Also try searching for “free wifi” on Google maps.
  5. Finding geocaches can be a good way to see different things in a city (particularly multi-art geocaches that are oriented towards this).
  6. Having the address of your destination written down in the local language can make getting directions easier & to give to taxi drivers.
  7. In terms of finding a laundrette, searching for wash on Google Maps seems to work well in many countries.
  8. Use Google Streetview to understand where to stop if taking a tram or bus when arriving in a city.
  9. If staying in a big city for a while it can be cheaper to get city transport passes that require ID photos, so having a spare photo on hand can be useful.
  10. Maps, Tours & Bus timetables can be downloaded to some phones.

Food & Beverages

  1. Some places have discounts or specials for Foursquare users. I, for example, got a free beer in San Francisco.
  2. Coffee in planes is usually bad.
  3. Coffee in Europe that has milk in it tends to be bad. go for Espresso instead.
  4. Beware dodgy water and buy water if unsure.
  5. Beer can sometimes be better value than buying water in restaurants.


  1. Many places (inc. accommodation) only take cash. Check. Also, be conscious of fees to take cash out. We have found that we tend to use our standard Eftpos card when travelling to get cash out (cheaper than a cash advance on a credit card, for our cards at least); this had a Plus logo on it which other than Brugge, we have found almost every money machine supports. Having a backup card, in case one gets gobbled by a machine, lost or for whatever reason doesn’t work is is also recommended.
  2. When travelling in the US (in particular) have $1 notes easily on hand for tipping.

Travel documentation

  1. Store copies of important documentation Online. I’ve used Dropbox and Webmail on recent trips. Dropbox provides a 2GB account for free.
  2. TripIt is excellent for collating all your travel information. I also make sure to print off a copy as a backup and store as pdf.

Electronic devices

  1. A wifi-enabled device can be very useful for research and booking tickets as you travel.
  2. A 4 way plug is a valuable addition to your travel luggage if you have multiple devices that require power. With one travel adapter you can power multiple devices.
  3. A computer (with a decent sized hard drive) and/or a large USB stick can be good for backing up photos from your camera.
  4. Roaming on mobile networks can be very expensive (particularly for data). Consider getting a local SIM card or just using Wifi.

Travel Repairs & Related Accessories

  1. Take duct tape wrapped around a pen. It can be useful for repairs.
  2. Dental floss can be good for repairs.
  3. A pocket knife can be good for picnics. Don’t forget though to pack it in checked in luggage when on flights.
  4. A hotel sewing kit is worth taking for emergency repairs.


  1. B&B’s can be an excellent choice for accommodation. The best accommodation we have ever stayed in (inc. hotels and motels) was in fact a B&B in Brugge where there were lots of additional extras and the added value of having a local available to answer questions.
  2. Some accommodation (B&B’s and Apartments in particular) will not provide soap and shampoo.
  3. Accommodation in Europe often has heritage status and lots of stairs with no (or tiny) elevators. Consider this when deciding what luggage to take and when booking accommodation.


  1. Know how to tell the time using 24 hour clock. Timetables are often in 24 hour time.
  2. When travelling in winter wear layers (this makes it easier to warm up or cool down).
  3. Knowing a few words of the language of the country you’re travelling to is useful (a few numbers, where’s the toilet?, the bill/cheque please?, thankyou)

Saturday 18 June 2011

Cycling from Fisherman’s Wharf across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito

After brunch in downtown San Francisco we headed to the cable car line down by the Powell Street Bart station. The queue was too long and we didn’t fancy jumping on the tram a block or two up the street and hoping for a space, so we grabbed a street car a little further along Market Street that took us all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf along The Embarcadero.

We then hired a couple of bikes from the first place we came across, Bike and Roll, for US$32 for the day + US$5 for insurance – US$5 for mentioning we’d seen the hire place mentioned on City Explorer tv. After signing our life away, we were off.

The 9 mile ride starts off flat around the waterfront, past the Ghirardelli building, and we then rode out to the end of the pier. We then cycled / walked up a reasonable-sized hill overlooking Fort Mason,


before descending to a nice long flat ride along Marina Boulevard and the lovely beach along Golden Gate Promenade.


A very friendly ranger then came and ask us if we were lost, since we were looking down at our map, had a chat to us about the area,


and pointed out some pelicans flying nearby.


Continuing along the long promenade towards the bridge, we stopped for a breather


before heading up Long Ave and Lincoln Boulevard to the bridge, with nice views looking back along where we had cycled.


The view near the top of the hill was lovely looking out to the bridge.


We then cycled across the bridge on the only side that was the open (the Eastern side).


Once over the bridge the cycle to Sausalito was mostly downhill, with one uphill.


Sausalito is a lovely seaside village where we grabbed a bite to eat and a slightly overpriced ice-cream, before getting on a ferry back to the city. It is worth noting that there are two ferries that operate from Sausalito to the city, both of which go to different piers in the city that are a decent distance apart (Pier 1 vs Pier 39), one of which you pay for from an automated machine on the wharf, the other on-board.


We ended up getting the boat to Pier 1 due to the schedule and came across this very cool piece of art before returning our bikes to a return point near Pier 1.


Friday 17 June 2011

San Francisco: Cable Car, Alcatraz, Fishermans Wharf and Lombard Street.

For our first full day in San Francisco, we wandered down to the corner of Powell Street and Market Street and bought a 3-day Passport from the ticket office for US$20 that entitled us to use the cable car, light rail and buses as much as we wanted.

We then joined the line for the Powell Street/Market Street cable car and watched as the cable cars arrived and were then changed to a different track via a very manual approach of a turntable and people dragging the car.

We got a seat on the outside of the car with the driver behind us, which made for an excellent view and also a great commentary from the driver. The car we were in was from the 1880’s (or thereabouts) and it is operated through connecting to a cable and disconnecting at times too, such as when going downhill.


The cable car we were on concluded at Taylor Street and we then wandered down to the waterfront and then along to Pier 33 to pick up our Online pre-purchased tickets to Alcatraz.


The boat trip to Alcatraz only takes about 10 minutes and commences after you have been herded like sheep and then had your photo taken with a fake painted backdrop of Alcatraz. Needless to say, we did not purchase the photo on our return.


When you arrive on the Island, a briefing occurs that covers a little bit of history and where you need to go. The walk up to the Main prison takes about 5-10 minutes and has a beautiful outlook.


A superb audio tour guides you through the prison, retelling stories and explaining how the prison worked.


There are lovely views from Alcatraz looking back to San Francisco.P1010810_078P1010812_080

Back on the mainland we wandered around to the bustling Fishermans Wharf at Pier 39,


and spent a while looking at the sea lions.


I then went for a wander to Lombard Street to obverse the silliness of this road.


We the headed back to town on the cable car.


Thursday 16 June 2011

Taylor Street Coffee Shop,Union Square area, San Francisco

From the outside it doesn’t look great, but this little cafe does some excellent breakfasts. The generous portion of quality fruit accompanying the well priced breakfast combos is excellent.


I thoroughly enjoyed the French Toast; it was a good thickness and perfectly cooked. It came with a dusting of icing sugar and cinnamon, and I then added Maple syrup (which was on the table).

Jane had the scrambled eggs and found them to be okay, but they were a little oily.

A good place for breakfast I would happily return to.

Franco Manca, Chiswick, London

For our last dinner in London we went with friends to Franco Manca in Chiswick and enjoyed their well-priced (nothing over £7) pizzas.


It is obvious that pride is taken with their pizzas; even the pizza oven was built in Naples. The ingredients are primarily organic and on the back of the menu, they proudly state where they have come from; Tomatoes from Salerno, Salami from Brindisa, ....


We had an enjoyable meal here with good service and would happily return.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Restaurant Review: Stein’s, Richmond

Stein’s is a Bavarian-style restaurant located in a lovely location on the Thames river. With only outdoor seating it is an authentic beer garden with German beers and meals.

Jane & I both had the schnitzel and it was huge, well cooked and accompanied by german potato salad (which I thought was a bit too salty, but otherwise good).


I enjoyed a Paulaner lager and Jane had an Austrian Lemonade that was great.

The meal was well priced and we would happily return.

The Thames in Richmond, London

A short walk from where we were staying in Richmond, London was the Thames river. This is such a lovely area to walk around, with some excellent bars and restaurants. We were surprised to see how high the flood line is, and to find that it is very common for the path to be covered by water in some parts.


Monday 13 June 2011

Lands End, Minack theatre, Penzance, St Michaels Mount

The day following the wedding some of us headed off for a look around the South Western part of Cornwall. We started by heading down to Lands End at the far South Western end of the mainland of the United Kingdom.

After looking at the miniature houses (the second of which is the Tintagel post office, pictured in an earlier post),


we enjoyed looking out over the beautiful coastline and doing the obligatory standard tourist shots.


They even have a sign here which they will manually adjust (for a fee) to include your home town.


We also got an excellent view of a Royal Navy Rescue helicopter.

P1010674_084The Minack theatre has a beautiful vista with theatre goers watching a play with the ocean in the background. We unfortunately timed it badly and weren’t able to go into the theatre.


We stopped in Penzance for lunch, where I had some excellent Fried Pilchards and Jane had a generously filled Lobster tail ciabatta.


In case you’re interested, there is also a Guinness World Record attempt for the most pirates in one place on June 26th. Tom’s head was the perfect size for this shot.


Just down the road, St Michaels Mount emerges from the sea. We took the boat across since the tide was in. An hour later and we apparently could have walked back via the causeway.