Day 5: Ballina, Sydney, Pokolbin, Success!

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Lisa’s daily dairy of our Australian Adventure continues (cue old-school 1960s Batman music here. Dah-na-na-na-na-Dah-na-na-na-na)….

For no reason whatsoever I woke up at 4:00am and couldn’t go back to sleep. I think it’s because it feels like Christmas every morning since a few days before we even left for the trip! We enjoyed a quiet last morning in our lovely suite at the Ramada, and were the first patrons for a second time at The Bean Bank. Are you tired of admiring my morning flat white?:

I had the “big breakfast”, and Tony had the omelet and the muesli (two breakfasts). As you can see, we hated it:

Sometimes I am a space cadet. For example, Shannan was kind enough to offer a ride to the airport, and I told him our flight was at 10:40am. We made a plan for a pick up, and he asked us to be in touch when we got back to our room and noticed that it was a different time.

Did I look then? Nope.

This morning at about 5:15am, THANK GOODNESS I checked, just in time to see that our flight LANDS at 10:35, and leaves at 9:00am. Should we panic?! I’m sure we made for a stressful start to Shannan’s day, but he was a champ about it and came to pick us up with his delicious family, bright and early at 8:00am.

I’m pretty sure Shannan, Mady, and Sebastian qualify as the cutest family in Ballina. Everyone is smiling and pumped! Sebastian is super-yummy and I almost bit him right on the face while saying goodbye. Even though we’re excited for the next phase of the Australian Adventure, we’re bummed to leave Ballina, and sad to say good-bye to Shannan and company.

Please, for anyone living in or around Ballina visit Shannan and his gym RAW F.A.S.T Fitness. You won’t be disappointed.

Everyone kept telling us we only needed to get to the airport 30 minutes before take off… say what??! We didn’t believe it. I’m not kidding you, from the front door to the gate, it was 4 minutes. For serious.

No ballywho. No waiting for hours and standing in line. The front half of the plane loads through the front door, the back half through the back door. And then you go. It’s a bullshit free system – point for the Australians.

Here’s Tony (with me behind) walking up to the plane:

I was so excited to start part II of our adventure that the top of my head almost blasted off as the plane approached Sydney:

After retrieving our luggage we headed to the rental car dealer. We got a “Holden” – which neither of us has seen before. Check our cute little rental!

This is the point of the show when the anxiety sets in. The driver’s seat is on the other side – the traffic flows on the other side (the left side). We’ve got to drive through some Sydney traffic and about 2 hours north to the Hunter Valley, using the GPS on Tony’s phone… We begin our mantra for the day, “staaaaay to the leeeeft…. Staaaaay to the leeeeft….”

We make it about 40 feet and I notice a red light on the dash, “stop the car! Stop the car!” I exclaim. With a line of other car-renters behind us, ready to start their journey, Tony and I begin with a mini panic while we try to determine what the exclamation mark in parenthesis means. (“I had this on my Jetta when the brakes were whacked” – I think to myself. “Or maybe that was when the oil pressure was shot?” I tried to remember). I leaped out of the car while Tony had to irritate some other car renters by turning around just before the gate. I got one of the attendants to come help, and his very serious, worried face brightened up when he looked at the dash and sighed, “yeah – that’s the emergency brake”…. Did I mention we were anxious?

So essentially, no one in our little Holden took a breath for about 45 minutes. I was in charge of navigation. Me. (For those of you who don’t know, I have the most terrible sense of direction on earth. It is horrendous). Poor Tony was trying to respond to my queues to “merge left”… stay in this lane…. No! Shit! Get over to the right!” And all the while we chanted, “stay to the left… STAY TO THE LEFT!!!!”

Tony was a rock star, and after a few missed turns, a few tunnels with very narrow lanes, and more than a few close calls, we were north of the city and kickin’ it at 100km/hr through some mountains and into the valley!

Did you know I love wine?

I’m a novice, but I love to learn about it – terroir, grapes, the winemaking processes; and I love to try new wines. Tony, on the other hand, has nothing to do with wine. He does not like the taste or even the smell. He cannot even have a glass to humor me.

I mention it here because this part of the trip was 100% for me. The scary driving, the winery visits, and some of the discomforts I’m about to describe – it was all for me. Please, let’s pause here for a little round of applause, just for my wonderful fiancé who signed right on for all of the following just to make me happy J.

Note from Tony: Yeah, I’m pretty much the shit.

The Hunter Valley reminds me of a more relaxed, more remote, less polished and more bohemian version of Sonoma Valley.

It’s not no frills, but it’s mostly no frills. Also, it’s freakin’ hot! I love it, but Tony forgot to pack any flip-flops, so we needed to fix that. We stayed at the Tuscany Wine Resort, which is supposed to feel Tuscan. It did have the stucco, the heat, and some of the plants to approach the look of Tuscany, but this estate was tired and non-fabulous. We had a lovely concierge, Mady, who helped us to get to our room. Here it is!

Upon entering our mini-villa, Tony and I spotted a spider. I don’t think spider is actually the best word to describe the creature. I think Transformer-Wooly Mammoth that looks-like-a-spider is more accurate:

Inside, there were many mosquitos in the bathroom. I had flashbacks of a trip my best friend Susie and I took to Mexico years ago, when we were eaten alive every night while we slept. I started to get nervous about the bugs, and that Transformer-Wooly-Mammoth-Spider.

We dropped off our stuff and set out for lunch. I checked back in with Mady at the front desk, and she was nervous about the Transformer-Woolly-Mammoth-spider too!

A manager came out from the back to ask if its, “Bottom is really big?” Indeed it was. So I guess it is a Transformer-Kardashian-Wooly-Mammoth Spider. The ladies said they would take care of it, and so I took Tony to get some food.

Tony was hungry. Hours of driving (on the left), after flying, after waking up around 4:00am. It was almost 3:00pm and we needed sustenance! We went to the restaurant up the hill from our B&B, and were happy to meet Kylie, who was friendly, knowledgeable, and ready to talk to us about the area. In sticking with the Tuscan theme, we had the antipasti platter, and BAM! It was super delicious and hit the spot:

I have to say, the #1 best mushrooms I have ever had. The meal reminded me of my favorite Tuscan meal, which my friend Leslie and I shared in Sienna. We devoured our meal! Or, to speak Australian, and to quote Kylie, “You smashed it!”

Then we were off to try and find some flip-flops for Tony. There were none to be found, but we did make it to the Hunter Valley’s Smelly Cheese Shop, where Tony got a personalized cheese sampling!! I felt happy that he could have his very own tasting. Then we made it to Sobels Winery:

Audrey Wilkinson Winery (recommended by Kylie):

And Tulluch Winery, which was nice enough to let me taste some wines just a few minutes before closing at 5:00pm

I was focused on trying the Semillon and Shiraz, since that what the region is known for. However, I discovered Vehrdelo! A Portuguese grape with fruit in the front and easy finish on the back.

We came back to the mini-villa, and I’m happy to say the Transformer-Kardashian-Wooly-Mammoth Spider was gone! Inside, our room was like new. The mosquitos were gone, the daddy long legs in the corner had been removed, and the once mosquito-guts-marked walls were white and flawless. Thanks to Mady and Jayne for fixing it up!

We tried not to fall asleep before heading out to dinner. We weren’t that hungry, thanks to our Tuscan lunch, so we headed to the nearby Harrigans, an Irish spot, where we had a few salads, and I had a Magners.

Kylie said she could “almost guarantee” we would see some kangaroos and wallabies, but so far, nothing! We had our eyes peeled all day and night. We better see one tomorrow! They apparently like to hang out by the tennis court… se we’ll see what we can see on the way to breakfast in the morning.

It’s just a few minutes to 9:00pm, and I’m sure we’ll be asleep by 9:03. I’m also sure I’ll be dreaming of Transformer-Kardashian-Wooly-Mammoth Spiders.

Somewhere on the other side of the world, my dad and brother are reading this and shaking their heads, feeling sorry for Tony that he’ll have to stalk and sleigh any imaginary spiders I may be yelling about in the middle of the night…. Spiders were never my strength.

There’s no Internet here, so you won’t get to read this until we get back to Sydney tomorrow evening… But tomorrow, it’s breakfast, the Hunter Valley Gardens, more wineries, maybe a kangaroo or wallaby, and then back (on the left) to Sydney! Wish us luck J. Love and hugs to all of our friends and family,

Lisa and Tony.

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  • Ben Cameron

    You might be interested to know that our fair city of Melbourne was originally called Batmania (in which there is a suburb called Robinville).

    • TonyGentilcore

      hahaha. No way!

      • Ben Cameron

        Yup, named for founder John Batman and he and his colleague John Pascoe Fawkner got around the place on a ship called the Enterprise.
        Look it up. There’s Batman streets and parks everywhere in Melbourne 🙂

        • TonyGentilcore

          I had a ton of people asking me if I’d be making my way down to Melbourne, and unfortunately I just didn’t have time this time. I’ve heard it’s an AMAZING city. Many people down here have told me it’s their favorite.

          Thanks for the history lesson, and i hope to make it down there soon!