Tuesday, February 21, 2017

a pleasant day at Hunter valley...

Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Going on a tour to the Hunter Valley today - it includes a 'wildlife walkabout', three wine tastings, a cheese tasting and a chocolate tasting. I had booked it on the internet about a month ago, paid and had my printout in hand as required. We had to be up early and back downtown to be picked up at 8 am. There were 3 options for pickup and I had googlemapped out the closest/easiest last option on the list. We left early, to make  sure we had enough time for error and took the same bus back downtown and got off at the last stop. I asked the busdriver where was Stand F so we'd know for the way home and he had no idea what I was talking about but asked where we were going just then and he pointed us in the right direction. Googlemaps tells you to head east on York St but who knows where east is when you are surrounded with skyrises! Walk 3 or 4 blocks and find what we think is the address but the supposed 'Hotel Menzies' has been closed for 6 months according to google and the street is full of construction. We are there with plenty of time to spare but there is no indication of a tour meeting. I was expecting some, at least, small signage, but nothing. I spotted a young couple who looked like they were looking for something as well and asked them if they were going to Hunter Valley. They were and felt as confused as we did. A few minutes later a guy came along the street calling their name - they were off with a different company than we had booked with. Almost on the verge of anger/panic, I heard someone calling 'Mary Anne' and see a youngish woman waving her hand. She confirms that she is taking us on the wine tasting and leads us over to a Kia minivan with 4 people inside already. This is not looking too good...I have to sit in the middle of the middle seat with no where to put my backpack and we have a two and a half hour ride like this? Not quite what I had bargained for! I had expected a small tour bus at least with individual seats, not a family car ride! But what's a girl to do? Make the best of it and I introduced us to the rest of the group. A 30-something couple in the back seat, from North Dakota, called themselves almost-Canadians. A 30-ish single girl from London, England, there visiting people who were working that day and another single woman on my left from Atlanta, Georgia rounded out the group. Our driver/guide Vivianne (I think) was from Slovakia and none of us seemed to be able to fully understand her. As the day passed, she was very knowledgeable about viticulture and the Australian wildlife but her accent took some listening to! As Jan has some hearing difficulties at the best of times, she didn't get too much of it and Viv didn't seem to really care if she did or not. Trading stories with the others on the ride filled the time as
there was not a lot to see, especially at first, other than a lot of traffic. It was fun to listen to the different accents and hear their experiences. The wildlife walkabout was ok, interesting but not quite the 'walkabout' I, with Crocodile Dundee in my brain, had in mind. We saw emus, kangaroos (they were much smaller that I thought they'd be), a peacock and wombats that were loose and mingling with themselves and mostly paid us no mind. There were enclosures of birds, wallabies, snakes, a Tasmanian devil which we never saw, and a few other species. It was a pleasant 1 hour stop on the way to the wine country.
The first tasting was at Pleasant Valley and we had a pleasant Australian woman as host. She started off with the white wines; we sampled 4 varieties and then switched to red, ending with a dessert wine. All very pleasant. I guess I should say here, that as a wine drinker, I had never heard of Hunter Valley but it turns out virtually all of the area wines are consumed within the local area, not even the whole of Australia. We could purchase some right then and there but they could not (or would not) ship outside the country. The wines were nice and ranged from $28 to $68 per bottle - well above my pay scale!
Lunch was next.Due to the wine consumption and the fact we had two more to do, I figured I needed something big and heavy to soak it all up, opting for a burger. I was influenced by the girl from ND - she told me she grew up on a beef ranch and wondered what I thought of the beef here - I hadn't tried it and likely wouldn't have, but in support, I caved! The beef burger was handmade, tough, thick and chewy and so laden with Worcestershire I couldn't really identify it as beef. Oh well, all in the interest of being sociable!
At the  next winery, our host was a Brit, from Cardiff, an older man, very knowledgeable who was happy to give us a brief overview of wine making in general and answer any questions. We also got 8 samples there, again I favoured the red selection. Halfway though his spiel and the samples, Viv came in with a plate of local hard cheddar cheese (delish!) and some water crackers which really made the tasting much more palatable and enjoyable. We were then taken to the cheese shop for a tasting of 5-6 local made cheeses, from soft goat and feta to a Brie-style. This was all available for purchase there but as everyone seemed to either have already reached their dollar or weight limit, no purchases were made. The Aussie fellow who gave us the samples was  doing it because he had to and did not engage in any way although this sign on the wall behind him indicated that someone had a sense of humour. The next and last wine stop, we got a fun Aussie guy who had been to Canada and the UK and he was quite fun and showed us that Aussies can be entertaining and personable. The last stop was supposed to be a chocolate tasting and Viv delivered us to a shop that was closing in ten minutes, the lady behind the counter asked, (no, she demanded), if we wanted chocolate, caramel or white, quickly chopped off a half centimetre square of our choice, threw it at us, no seconds! And tried to close up shop. The 'fudge' was like any you could get at the local fair and we wondered at the point of including this and the cheese into the day. On the road home, Viv drove like the proverbial bat out of hell, with me gripping the overhead seatbelt, from   the middle seat back row, to try from being tossed back and forth between Jan on my left and the Atlanta (Sonia) gal on my right. Very quick goodbyes, we get the bus back to our Darling St neighbourhood.
It's almost dark by now (7 pm) as we make our way up the street and choose dinner at 'Phamous kitchen' Vietnamese contemporary, share a bluefin tuna salad and shrimp, chicken GF pad thai, with a drunken banana dessert, $54. Excellent food, pleasant staff, no hurry! No tip.
Fitbit, 9.4 km; MA, 4.5 km

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