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Posts Tagged ‘Wine’

Kelly and I were fortunate  to meet up with Doug again and have him as our tour guide for the rest of our time in the city.  He grew up in Hong Kong and was in town visiting his parents for a few weeks…we love having a local to show us around!  He and his friend Joseph (randomly, a former Austinite) showed us a great time.  Some of our favorite adventures include:

 -Dim Sum at Luk Yu Teahouse, one of the oldest dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong. 

-A Spanish wine tasting with Doug’s parents at a swanky hotel. His dad accidentally knocked a whole tray of wine glasses onto the floor, which was awesome.

 

-One of the most amazing sushi meals of our lives (Kelly will fill you in later), followed by karaoke, a popular activity here in Hong Kong. We had a private karaoke room and spent the night getting sloshed and butchering Neil Diamond, Madonna, and Michael Jackson tunes. Disappointingly, there were no Rolling Stones songs available, but it was still a kick-ass time. See if this little ditty doesn’t get stuck in your head after about 2 seconds:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4sZ5_ocsgs 

-The Horse Races! Horse racing is a huge spectator sport in Hong Kong, and Doug’s folks scored us some free tickets to the Wednesday night races in Happy Valley. Kelly and I gambled and lost, Doug’s horse actually placed and he won a whopping $45.

The Race Track

The Track

Crossing the Finish Line

-A day trip to Lantau Island where we sort of got to see the Big Buddha statue through a bunch of clouds and stupidly attempted a hike to the summit of Lantau Peak in crap weather. This was not the best idea since the ascent is pretty steep and the rock stairs were wet and slippery…coming down was going to be a problem. It was so cloudy that you couldn’t see anything anyway, so we turned around before reaching the summit and tried not to slip and break our skulls open.

 

The Big Buddah

-Strolling around Tai O, a small fishing village on Lantau, to check out the dried fish market and catch whiffs of fermenting shrimp paste. Yum!

 

Tai O

Dried Fish Anyone?

-A day trip to Macau Island, a former Portuguese colony known for it’s Vegas-style casinos. We didn’t do any gambling, but did cheer on Doug as he weighed in for the highest bungy jump in the world (233 meters) off of the Macau tower. It looked terrifying…even Kelly wouldn’t consider doing the jump. Doug took it like a man though and earned some bragging rights and a ‘free’ t-shirt.

 

Doug v.s. The Macau Tower

View of Macau from the tower

-Going back to the insane seafood restaurant for an incredible dinner and pounding beer bowls with the owner. Pretty convenient that he and Joseph happen to be drinking buddies outside of work.

 -A night ferry ride at the harbor and drinks with city views at the Sheraton Sky Lounge.

Hong Kong at Night

Some things that Kelly and I did without Doug, but wished he could have been there:

-Drinking bloody mary’s and watching the last few minutes of the Superbowl at an Irish bar with 100 or so other Americans.

-A shopping trip to the Wan Chai computer center so that I could purchase a new point and shoot camera. My expensive waterproof, sand-proof, shockproof camera quit working after the Whitsunday sail in OZ. I think some sand got stuck in the lens. ‘Sand-proof’ MY ASS, Olympus!

-Watching Avatar at the IMAX theatre. Totally blah story line, but pretty cool to look at (sort of like The Matrix, Andy).

-A trip up to The Peak for coffee and some cloudy, yet incredible views of Hong Kong.

View of Central from The Peak

Us and Doug on our last night in HK

Now about the FOOD…

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Both Kim and I could have stayed in Sydney for a few more days, but were excited to head to Byron Bay since we had heard so much about it from the Aussie boys we met in Chile. We couldn’t wait to check it out and get some more beach time. Marianne had been there before as well and was able to show us around and point us in the right direction for nightlife (to say the least).

 Byron Bay is a great little beach town, filled with shops, restaurants, bars, and night clubs. We spent our days relaxing on the beach, shopping for some items we had lost along the way and sipping cold beverages. To get some exercise, we did a really nice hike up to the lighthouse, where we passed the most eastern point in Australia!! So cool. It also gives you an incredible view of the entire coast.

 

Byron Bay Main Beach

Yaaaaay!

On the walk to the lighthouse

 

Another view

The eastern most point of Australia

Our hostel was quite large but also very accommodating for the amount of people staying there. We spent many a night just drinking on the patio after cooking and then heading out to one of the bars to do some dancing. One night I almost won a $20 bar tab by winning a game of flip cup (which I’m phenomenal at by the way), but I was screwed. Missed out by one game!! Later that night we went out with a group of Irish boys to a couple clubs and then tried to go to the infamous Cheeky Monkey’s. Marianne had been telling us about the $8 “jugs” (pitchers from where we come from) and dancing on the tables for months. She said it was a MUST in Byron Bay. Well, too bad that Marianne was kicked out before she or any of us even got in because the bouncer said we were all too intoxicated. What?? Nah….not us:)

 Soon the Jeff’s arrived and the debauchery continued. More beach time, more deliciously prepared backpacker dinners at the hostel, and of course more beer and wine. Gotta love that cheap box wine, which tastes awful and is known here as “goon”. ‘Goon’ is the aboriginal word for “pillow” so it includes any wine in a bag that is then put in a box, including our slightly more expensive and better tasting wine. But hey, when you are on a budget….

Hostel dinners and boxed wine...can't beat it!

 On Marianne’s last night in town, we decided to try our luck again at Cheeky Monkey. I just had to shake my booty on the tables with her before she left! We headed over early since they only served the cheap ‘jugs’ until 9pm. It was ladies night, so we all got a free, huge glass of champagne to start, and then proceeded to take back a good 12 or so pitchers within the hour! After a couple of hours of dancing on the tables (covered in sheet metal, obviously dancing on them is encouraged) we sent Marianne off in style by shouting “We love Marianne!!” in our horrible Norwegian accents for a good 5-10 minutes before her bus departed. I’m sure the other passengers loved us. We will be meeting up with her again in Montenegro this summer. I can’t wait!

 

Us at Cheeky Monkey's

Marianne and Jeff L. gettin' tipsy

Going to miss you...see you this summer!

The following morning, the rest of us booked a day trip to the hippie town of Nimbin. Not much to see there other than a bunch of head shops, druggies, and a quirky museum. However, we did stop at some cool markets along the way and a few scenic spots on the drive back.

 

The Nimbin Museum

Our last night in Byron Bay, the Jeff’s and I camped out on the beach so we could catch the sunrise the next morning. It was breathtaking. Though quite uncomfortable, it was totally worth it. Check out these pictures.

 

It was time to work our way north up to Brisbane for our one day tour of Fraser Island and then it was up to the Whitsunday Island for our sailing trip!! We said our good-byes to the Jeff’s and promised to see them again in Thailand. Byron Bay was definitely one of my favorite spots on this trip. I WILL make it back here one day.

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After four days of holiday gluttony with the Brinches, Mary, Nicole, and Andy (a few of my awesome friends from home) flew into Christchurch to join Kelly and me on a whirlwind tour of the south island. With only twelve or so days to see the sights, we all piled into a rental car and and started to make our way north. Figuring out how to drive on the other side of the road AND the car is always interesting…

Day 1 – Kaikora
Kaikora is a small backpacker town on the east coast and is known mainly for its whale-watching tours. Kelly and I are ruined on whale-watching after Argentina, so we all decided to have a fancy seafood meal instead. We splurged on curried mussels, scallops, steak, and New Zealand crayfish. The rest of the evening was spent drinking and dancing at a reggae club across the street from the hostel. Before heading out the next morning, we hung out on the extremely windy (yet lovely) beach and checked out the nearby seal colony.

On the beach

Day 2 – More Wine Tasting (We Missed You, Leticia)
Driving through the Marlborough wine country on our way to Nelson, we would be stupid not to stop at the local wineries along the way for some tastings. Alan Scott and Cloudy Bay Wineries were not only recommended to us, but were located right next to each other. Score! We sampled some nice bubbly, a few reds, and sauvignon blancs for which New Zealand wineries are well known for.

Me, Nicole, and Mary at the Alan Scott Vineyard

We arrived in Nelson during the late afternoon, had a quick nap and then headed into town to meet my friend Julia for drinks. Julia is another Kiwi I met when I previously lived here…I hadn’t seen her in eight years and it was so great to catch up.

Days 3 and 4 – Abel Tasman National Park
The girls did some shopping around Nelson the following morning and after stocking up on booze and food at the grocery store, we made the short drive to Abel Tasman National Park, popular for its golden beaches. Our hostel was an awesome place called ‘The Barn’ where we had a couple of private cabins and lots of outdoor common areas with fire pits…it sort of felt like we were camping.

Chillin at the campground

For New Year’s Eve, Andy whipped up a batch of his glorious marinara sauce and we basically got sloshed on champagne and laughed all night at god-knows-what before the obligatory countdown to midnight. It was so amazing to have three of my best friends there with us to celebrate. Since we’re all getting old, we were in bed before 1 a.m….we had to get up at seven to catch our water taxi into the park to do part of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track.

Andy and Nicole ready to celebrate NYE in Abel Tasman

New Year's Eve is hilarious

I hiked in Abel Tasman years before and it was still as beautiful as I remembered it. After our informative and scenic boat ride, our water taxi dropped us off at Tonga Bay where we would start our hike along the coastline and through rainforest down to Torrent Bay. Parts of the trail were tough, but the views and beaches were spectacular. The hike took about 5 hours (including our stop for lunch) and we arrived at the beach to relax in the sun until our water taxi home arrived. What a fantastic way to spend the first day of a new year!

In the park

 

Day 5 – Long Ass Day of Driving to Franz Josef Glacier
The next day was spent mainly in the car driving down the west coast with a stop at the Punakaki ‘Pancake’ Rocks and the ‘greenstone’ capital of Hokitika to do some shopping.

We arrived in Franz Josef just in time to check into our hostel, catch a view of the mountains, and grab some dinner and wine at a local restaurant.

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City of Sails

Wow.  South America was fantastic. Kim and I can’t wait to make it back there one day and see more.  We were sad to leave and I will definitely miss speaking Spanish all the time, but both of us were very excited to move on to New Zealand!  Familiar faces for Kim and new and amazing scenery and fun for me!

We knocked out our longest flight of the trip with ease and made it into Auckland bright and early.  One of Kim’s old flatmates, Ben, was there to pick us up and take us to his and his wife‘s Jo’s place for the next couple of nights.  It was so nice to be out of the hostels for a bit!  A nice comfy bed, cleanliness, privacy…awesome.

We rested up for a couple of hours and then Ben took us for a drive around town.  Our first stop was at the “biggest supermarket in the Southern Hemisphere”, Pak n’ Save, for Tim Tam’s, a local treat.  Kim has not shut up about these cookies since she returned from here in 2002, and I totally understand why!  They are phenomenal. T wo delicious cookies with cream in the middle then covered in chocolate.  Milk chocolate, dark, white, whatever you prefer. Wonderful.

Then we went to a beautiful lookout point near his house called the Te Atatu Pennisula, drove over the Harbour Bridge, and then headed into downtown. We went to Doug Robinson MeyerPark, drove down Paratai Drive, home to the most expensive real estate in the city because of the ocean views, and went to Mount Eden, which had a great view of Auckland.

Kim and Ben with city view in the background

Auckland

We then went to meet Jo for a drink after she got off work at a great little bar called Sales Street Bar and then checked out the biggest Les Mills gym in New Zealand.  For those of you that aren’t familiar with who/what that is, all of the programs Kim and I have been doing at Gold’s Gym in Austin for the past few years are choreographed and originated here. Afterwards, we took a drive down by the pier and then headed home for some Thai take away and TV.

Jo and me at the bar

Since Ben and Jo were both on holiday for Christmas, they took us around town again the next day.  We went to Soljans Winery for a quick drink and then to Muriwai Beach to check out the gannet nests and black sand.  After stopping for some ice cream, we headed over to Mission Beach for some beers and delicious green lipped mussels, one of the things New Zealand is known for.  Then they took us to the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial for an amazing view of the entire city. Auckland is definitely one of the most beautiful big cities I have ever seen.  It is known as the City of Sails because the it has the highest number of sailboats per capita than any other place in the world.  The water is the most incredible shades of blue.  It’s breathtaking.

The girls at the winery

Muriwai Beach

Gannets

 

Fooling around on the beach

Black Sand!

On the way to Mission Bay

After a nice day around town, we rested for a bit at the house and then went out for Indian food. Kim has bragged on the amount and quality of the Indian restaurants here due to the large number of immigrants in New Zealand.  I was finally getting my chance to see what she was talking about. Ben and Jo took us to their favorite place in town, Chapati. It was unbelievable.  The lamb korma literally melted in my mouth.  We finished the night off with a few bottles of wine and headed to bed.

We had a scenic 10 hour train ride to Wellington the next morning. Ben and Jo gave us a proper farewell and saw us off at the train station. The were so nice and hospitable.  Thanks so much guys!  We’ll see you again for a drink our last night in New Zealand!

Jo and Ben, our fabulous Auckland hosts!

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After our short stint in Colonia, we hopped on a bus and headed over to the small beach town of Punta del Diablo. We originally were going to make a stop in Punta del Este; however, we heard it was a lot more touristy and a bit of a party spot. Our friend Marianne that we met in Mendoza had gone to Punta del Diablo a month or so before and suggested that the slow-paced and less visited beach would be more our style.  And boy was she right…

Punta Del Diablo

We took her recommendation on the hostel as well, El Diablo Tranquilo. The hostel itself was decent, but quite crowded. It was also run by all Americans from Chicago, who were all very nice, but obviously lacking in culture.  The hostel also ran a bar on the beach that had mediocre food but a great drink selection.  And the bar did draw a nice local crowd as well.

During the low season, the town only has about 300 inhabitants.  But they do get up to 20,000 visitors at a time from all over Uruguay and other countries.  We spent our days lounging around on the beautiful, almost deserted beach (save for a handful of surfers), strolling down the unpaved, sandy roads, consuming our fair share of alcohol, and hanging with our new friends at the hostel.  There are a ton of little cabanas lining the beach and had we had known, we would have rented one of them for the week and definitely suggest that option to anyone who travels here. You can get a pretty decent price if you have 3 people or more.

The main road

We also went horseback riding with a local named Fabian and two girls from Sweden. It was such a great day! Kim and I hadn’t been on a horse in over 17 years so we were a little nervous. Especially because my few experiences riding ended in me either falling off or my horse laying down in the mud with me still on it. Yeah. And of course, Fabian gave me the slightly unruly horse, Imilio, but was great once you show him you’re in control. Kim’s horse Borracha (“drunk girl” in Spanish), was awesome. They named her that because she weaves back and forth down the road and always stops to munch a bit on the way. It was hilarious. Fabian led us through the local national park and we stopped for some cookies and wine before doing some galloping down the beach. It really was a nice combo:)

Cowgirls!

Wine break

I also made friends with one of the only Uruguayan guys that worked at the hostel, Matias. He offered to make us an authentic Uruguayan meal at his place our last night in town. It reminded us a lot of our mother’s stew she used to make us. It consisted of steak, chorizo (a type of sausage), bacon, pasta, potatoes, carrots, yams, and onion in tomato sauce. It was so delicious and really nice to have some good comfort food for a change.

There wasn’t much to do in Punta del Diablo, but that was exactly what we were looking for. We could have actually stayed here another week or so. Kim and I really enjoyed it here. However, it was time to head back toward Buenos Aires so we could get over to Chile. We stayed one night in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo and had lunch at an old port that is now filled with restaurants and small shops, and then went to a local market to have a look. It was crazy big and sold everything from produce to live chickens, ducks, and turkeys. One night was definitely sufficient for Montevideo. The next day we hopped our ferry and cruised back in to Argentina.

We didn’t have much time in Uruguay, but were definitely glad we included it in the trip. Here are some random thoughts and/or highlights about Uruguay.

-It’s much more expensive than Argentina. Boo.

-Chivito’s are awesome. It’s a type of sandwich that is served everywhere consisting of really thin steak, a fried egg, lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Lots of mayo. MMMM.

-The stray dogs are so cute. The same ones hang around the people they like and escort you all over town. A walk to the store, a stroll on the beach, heading home from the bar? “Heck yeah I’ll come!”

-The men are very attractive in this country. Yep.

-The people are extremely laid back and friendly.

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Red Red Wine

Mendoza.  Wine country!  With the friendly people, tree-shaded streets, lovely plazas, huge park, and tons of vineyards 20 minutes away, Kim and I could totally live here.  There are over 1,200 wineries in the Mendoza region, all specializing in Malbec.  We were in heaven!

After our 23 hour bus ride, we arrived in Mendoza on November 1st and checked in to our hostel, The Oasis.  This was another family-run, smaller hostel that offered amazing, cheap asados (BBQ’s) every other night with, hallelujah, unlimited wine!!!  Gaspar, the owner’s son, was not only our grill master, but a fantastic source of information for anything we wanted to do around town.  Not to mention, his English was perfect.  Yay for Kim!

Gaspar

Gaspar the Grill Master

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Dinner at the Oasis

We took the first day to get settled in and then headed to El Parque General San Martin.  Along the way, we had lunch with May and checked out the main Plaza Independencia.  The park was the biggest park we’d ever seen. Izzy would have loved it!!!  Tons of trails, open green areas, and a really nice lake equipped with a backdrop of the mountains.  It reminded us a little of Town Lake because there were tons of runners and a few rowers getting their workout on.  We even stumbled upon an awesome outdoor group aerobics class!  Ha!  It took a lot for us to not join in.  It was great hearing all the Spanish commands and super loud techno music.  Awww, we miss you Gold’s Gym!

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One of the trails in San Martin Park

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May and me in the park

The following day, Gaspar hooked us up with Mr. Hugo, a old man that rents out bikes to get to and from of all the vineyards.  What a fantastic day!  One of my favorite of the trip so far.  How can you beat riding around on a beautiful day, surrounded by vineyards and ice-capped mountains, with a group of fellow travelers??  We stopped at 3 wineries and toured the facilities, tasted a few types of their wine, had lunch and shared a few bottles with our new friends.  And to top off that amazing day, after the wineries close at 5pm, we headed back to Mr. Hugo’s for unlimited free wine!!  He and his wife literally just keep filling up your cup the minute you turn your head. Around 8:30 pm, Mr. Hugo personally escorts the entire group of 50 people to the bus and hugs and kisses them goodbye.   Awesome. 

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Cruisin' through the vineyards

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Our biker gang at one of the wineries

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Wine Tasting!

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Classy

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Us at Mr. Hugo's, where the wine flows like water

We spent the next day recovering and chilling at the hostel with our new friends.  The following day, we signed up for an all day trek in the mountains of Vallecitos.  We headed out around 8:30am, took a 2 hour drive into the mountains, and started my first trekking experience!  Kim did Machu Picchu in Peru a few years ago so this wasn’t her first rodeo;).  

It was 3 hours straight up for 3000 feet, that’s right….straight up.  No switchbacks for you experienced trekkers.  Luckily our guide, Rodrigo, walked extremely slow and kept the group on the same pace.  Oh, and we had a couple from Israel in their seventies in our group!  It was so inspiring to see them still keeping up at that age.  That’s going to be us.  For sure. 

It was 2 hours back down, which actually seemed a bit harder due to the pressure on the knees, but still amazing. E very time it gets a little tough, you just look around and it’s all worth it.  Check out these pictures…

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My first trek!

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Us on the mountain

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On the way down

The following day, we rested our sore legs and butts, hung around and went to the park again for some frisbee action. We were supposed to leave the following day for Puerto Madryn for whale watching and penguins!!! However, we had a mishap with the bus company, Andesmar, and ended up letting our bus leave right in front of us. They failed to tell us that the bus’s final destination was a completely different city and it would say that city on the bus and not Puerto Madryn. They wouldn’t allow us to change our tickets, so we had to buy new tickets for the following day and are out $200. Screw them. If any of you plan to travel in Argentina, try to avoid Andesmar at all costs. On a side note, I was pretty impressed on how efficient I was at bitching people out in Spanish. Go me!

We headed back to the hostel and luckily they had two beds left for us to stay an extra night.   We also lucked out because they were having another BBQ that evening!  It was one of the best we had. Great company, some English and Norwegian drinking games, tons of wine….see, things do happen for a reason. Marianne and Carl, we’ll see you in Bariloche.  Mark, James and Dicken, we’ll see you in Manchester, Lisi and William in Austria and Doug from Canada will be in Hong Kong when we go!  Traveling is the best….now on to Puerto Mardryn! 

 

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Argentina is not for vegetarians

One of the things that Kelly and I love about Argentina is all of the red meat and how amazingly cheap and tasty it is.  Our typical meal includes the following:

-1 juicy, perfectly cooked steak as big as your head (Kelly and I share it and we still don’t even finish the whole thing)

-Salad/Veggies

-Mashed potatoes or fries

-Bread basket with dips

-1 Bottle of fantastic wine

All of this for $30…TOTAL, for both of us.  Back home you would spend $30 on the bottle of wine alone!

Steak

More Steak

Let’s hope Kelly and I don’t gain 500 pounds while we’re here. 

 

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