Feeds:
Posts
Comments

I spent my first year of university studying at a castle in England.  Along with 150 other Canadian students, I travelled around the country for school-organised field trips and spent a great deal of time soaking up everything London had to offer.  In February of that school year, my friend Erin and I decided it was time to spread our wings a little and travel independently.  Flights to Europe were dead cheap and it was not uncommon for the castle’s population to diminish significantly on weekends when groups and pairs of students would take off on adventures.

When it came time to select our destination, did we decide on somewhere exotic and take off to Barcelona?  No.  Did we consult our bucket lists and fly to Roma to see the Colosseum?  No.  We went to Ryanair’s website, sought out the cheapest flight and booked ourselves a weekend in Frankfurt with a day trip to Köln.

Years later, I can’t tell you exactly what was on our minds when we planned that trip.  I can recall vividly, however, the looks on our friends’ faces when we announced our grand destination.  There was more than a little confusion from the masses and I couldn’t blame them, I was uncertain myself.

Never ones to pass up on the adventures in even the most obscure locations, Erin and I did our homework and prepped for our trip, researching walking tours and hidden gems.  We booked ourselves into a hostel (our first!) on the river Main and set off to conquer the city with confidence.  And we did!  It wasn’t the most glamorous holiday we’d ever take but I remember it fondly because Frankfurt am Main was a lovely surprise.

With Erin and the Frankfurt skyline in 2004

For the most part, Frankfurt is a modern city.  It was bombed heavily in the second World War and we found great post cards showing us pre-war images of a once beautiful medieval city centre. While effort was made in some cases to recreate the city’s splendour, reconstruction was often simple and modern; this resulted in severe architectural contrast in some parts of the city.

These homes in the Römerberg were reconstructed between 1981-1984

Destroyed in WWII, Frankfurt's old opera house was a ruin until 1981

We found great art galleries to tour and had a lot of fun at a film museum.  We visited Goethe’s house, stumbled upon an outdoor market and took ourselves on walking tours of the city.  On our last day we rode the train not to Köln but to Mainz where we walked until our feet ached.  The people were friendly, the food and drink excellent and I fell in love with Germany.

Mainz Cathedral suffered damage in several battles between 1792 and 1942

Maybe it’s the line of German blood running through my veins, but after living abroad or travelling for some time there is something about Germany that feels to me like coming home.  Several years after our first trip to Germany, Erin and I stopped in Köln (we got there eventually!) and Berlin while backpacking through Europe.  We remarked then that Germany felt more like Canada than any other European country: streets and crossings are familiar; food is hearty and simple; people seem down to earth and even the weather is pretty well matched.  We didn’t have to think about too much when we were in Germany and when you’re travelling a lot, this can be an unexpected relief.

So, if you know anything about my travel history, you know how fond I am of Germany.  And if you’ve read a bit of this blog, you know how much I enjoyed the drive through the Adelaide Hills.  Imagine my delight, then, to discover a German community in the Hills.

When European settlers came to South Australia, many found land to settle in the hillside.  As in any city or region, cultural groups stuck together and a number of towns in the Hills remain German communities to this day.  This is pretty clear when you’re visiting the area as there are many Lutheran churches and schools; German shops and restaurants are plenty.

Our first stop on a cloudy, gloomy Saturday was Lobethal. When we discovered that the market we’d set as our destination closed in the fall, we wandered over to Lobethal Bierhaus: a micro brewery with excellent beer (Andrew strongly recommends the Red Truck Porter) and a to-die-for menu.  We intended to find a German pub for schnitzel later and didn’t want to ruin dinner so we limited ourselves to a sampling of Bierhaus’ home made dips and watched enviously as our neighbours’ tables filled up with delicious looking fare.

We spent a couple of hours people watching and enjoying our wine and beer while we sat by the Bierhaus fireplace.   Thanks to my days working in seasonal resorts, I recognised a group of weather-worn and weary cycle tourists when they trickled in to warm up, rest their bodies and sample the local beer.  They’d ridden from Adelaide all the way up to Lobethal in their first and toughest day of the tour  and we spoke them for a while before a bus load of rowdy cricketers arrived and we made are good-byes.

Inside Lobethal Bierhaus

It’s a short but pretty drive from Lobethal to Hahndorf, the more touristy German village in the Hills.  I’d was prepared for a bit of camp and was pleased to find a sleepy little town with local food shops and galleries.  As we walked up and down the main street, window shopping and admiring art, I was reminded of St. Jacobs, Ontario.

On the streets of Hahndorf

The White House

It was a bit early for dinner and the German Arms Hotel was empty and less than inviting so we wandered over to The White House for a drink.  Not at all German-like, The White House is after a French café feel and while they’re not quite there yet, it was a comfortable spot.  I ordered a mojito that was almost too strong to drink  and we lounged about until finally deciding it was time for that schnitzel.

We’d parked outside the German Arms but while we were walking around the town we passed the Hahndorf Inn and decided its atmosphere was more appealing.  It reminded me of some of the beer halls I visited in Germany.   Servers brought around platters of meat and steins full of beer and the restaurant was full of laughter with friends and family talking over each other.  We took our time soaking up our surroundings and dining on traditional German fare.  Metre-long bratwurst, anyone?  It was a lot of fun and a lovely end to another wonderful afternoon in the Hills.  It didn’t feel at all touristy and, true to form, I felt right at home.

I like birds.  I really do.  I love to watch them in their natural environment and I especially love spotting unusual-to-me birds.  As spring hits Canada, I know that the sounds of chirping birds must be back in full force.  I saw a robin before I left Toronto last month and for many that first robin sighting truly marks the beginning of the season.

Well, there are no robins in Australia and, as I’ve already lamented, we won’t have an Australian spring for some time.  But there are birds!  Lots and lots of interesting birds.

I tend to look up as I walk through the city.  There’s some incredible architecture in Adelaide and around every corner is a beautiful tree.  Andrew is not the most helpful when it comes to identifying species, though he seems to always know whether it’s a native or introduced tree, but I am happy to admire ignorantly.  Plus, these interesting trees are full of bird calls I’ve never heard before and I like to put a face to the voice, so to speak.

As we were finishing a walk this weekend, we turned a corner and were nearly home when from down a side street came a call I recognised but had never heard in the wild before.

Sure enough, when we adjusted our eyes to the tree’s darkness, we found that it was full of rainbow lorikeets.  Parrots!  That’s something you just don’t see in Canada and I could have watched them for hours.  They were eating berries and flitting from branch to branch and tree to tree.  I can’t tell you what kind of berries because, as previously mentioned, my tour guide is not an expert in Australian flora. 

Many things about Adelaide feel Canadian to me.  Many, many things feel different, of course, but there are so many similarities that if I don’t concentrate too hard I can forget for a while that I am somewhere completely foreign. Peugeots;  parrots; trips to the supermarket: these things serve to remind me that I’m not in Canada any more.

Imagine… parrots!

In university, my friend Ashley was the envy of us all when she left for Canberra to study at Australian National University for a term.  We were freezing to death in Kingston, Ontario, while she was sending us pictures of the surf and kangaroos.

The year she returned, Ashley and I shared an apartment and she tried her hardest to convince me that Vegemite was not only an acceptable food substance but also that it was tasty.  “You’ll like it!” she claimed.

I never did open the package of Vegemite she’d brought home with her just for me and I’ve yet to be offered any Vegemite here but I suppose when I do I’ll give it a go.  Afterall, when in Rome!  And hey, if it’s good enough for infants:

In the last year, I have developed a serious appreciation for wine.  It’s grown substantially from a preference for white and an affinity for sweet German wine to a real interest and growing understanding of grapes and regions and vintages.

In the fall, on a day trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake as we drove past beautiful lakeside vineyards, it occurred to me that while I lived so close to some of the best wineries in Canada, I didn’t know a whole lot about them.  I’d never been to one except by driving by and wasn’t even sure how to go about visiting a winery!  A shame, really.

Fortunately for me, and for lots of South Australians, some of the best wineries in the country are located only a short drive from Adelaide.  On Easter Sunday, Andrew and I headed out for a cellar door tour and a drive through McLaren Vale, one of Australia’s renowned wine regions.

If you’re like I was a year and a half ago, you’re thinking, “that isn’t saying a whole lot, Heather!”  Prior to dating an Australian wine aficionado, I too was under the impression that Australian wine = oaky chardonnay from a bottle with a kangaroo on the label.  Not so.  The vast majority of Australian wine that’s available in Canada and the United States is produced for export only.  And it’s pretty crap.  

If you know what you’re looking for, a good restaurant’s wine list may feature some excellent Australian bottles.  Andrew was able to spot some gems at different restaurants in Toronto and it became pretty clear that the better wineries send wine through trade only.  We couldn’t find anything half-way decent at the LCBO.

Every bottle of Australian wine I’ve had since coming to Australia has been excellent.  Yes, I’ve had a bottle or twelve.  So sue me.  It’s all in the name of blogging!  The wine we sampled as we drove from cellar door to cellar door did not disappoint.

McLaren Vale is beautiful with its rolling hills and never-ending sky.  Grape vines blanket the region and in autumn their colours range from pumpkin orange to gold.   I loved how different wineries posted signs along the road beside their vines.  Some even noted the type of grape.  Having just finished a bottle of Scrubby Rise sauvignon blanc the night before, driving past Wirra Wirra’s Scrubby Rise vines was pretty cool.

After sampling the wine at a couple of cellar doors we went back into the town of McLaren Vale and stopped at a cheese shop.  A few wineries had restaurants or a bit of a mezze to enjoy but as it was Easter they were pretty booked.  I never consider cheese a compromise, however, and two delicious selections later we were back on the road. 

Wirra Wirra’s winery is not too far from the town and we took our cheese to their cellar door to find an appropriate companion.  We tried a few options and in the end picked a sparkling moscato called “Mrs. Wigley”.  Quite delicious, the Mrs. Wigley Moscato comes in a 500ml bottle and it isn’t exactly a bargain at $18.  When we saw that it’s alcohol content was only 4.5%, Andrew pondered value for money but I was pretty sure I didn’t care.

We enjoyed our cheese and moscato on the patio where there was prime people-watching.  It was a lovely end to a really excellent day.  The more I see of South Australia the more I love it and sitting under the sun with a sampling of local cheeses and wine practically poured from the barrel, I felt very fortunate.  

“After two glasses, wine is wine.”  Several years ago, my grandmother rather infamously made this statement over Thanksgiving dinner.  It stuck in our family and while  I’m still inclined to believe her I’ve become much more interested in those first two glasses.  As we drank our moscato and surveyed our surroundings, a large piece of carved stone sat next to us.  It read:

Never give misery an even break, nor bad wine a second sip.
You must be serious about quality, dedicated to your task in life,
especially winemaking, but this should all be fun.
  
- Greg Trott

Into the Hills

 As it turns out, Adelaide is a beautiful city…what a relief! just as I knew it would be.  I haven’t yet decided which Canadian city it most closely resembles but I am enjoying discovering the highlights in my quest to pin one down!

On Good Friday, we awoke to a beautiful sunny day.  I’m sure that my readers in Ontario will have little sympathy for me given the miserable spring they’re enjoying at the moment, but I have been having a hard time coming to terms with winter approaching here in Australia.  It’s very odd to be stepping through crunchy leaves in April.  So, I’m taking every spring-like opportunity I can and last Friday we ventured into the Adelaide Hills for a picnic with a view.

A twenty minute drive East of Adelaide takes you to the hills – a completely charming, rustic collection of hillside villages and country properties.  Once you’re through the tunnels and off the freeway, the windy roads are an awful lot of fun to drive and the views are spectacular.

Mount Lofty marks the hill’s summit with a lookout area and restaurant, a fire-spotting tower and Adelaide’s television transmission towers, of course.  I took exactly two photos of the view as it wasn’t the clearest day for pictures but in person it did give a sense of the area, Adelaide and the coast in the not so distant distance.

There are several parks and sights to see but we ventured into the botanical gardens to find a spot to enjoy our picnic lunch.  By now, the wind was picking up a bit and we’d felt a few rain drops but I was determined to eat outside in the open air. 

So we did.

We settled in the shrub garden and while the grass was a little damp it was beautiful.  I’ve had some fairly spectacular picnics in my life (inside the Colosseum, for example) but I’ve never picnicked surrounded by gum trees full of laughing kookaburra. I couldn’t help but sing the “Kookaburra” nursery song as they laughed around us.  

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Merry merry king of the bush is he.
Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh, Kookaburra,
Gay your life must be!

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Eating all the gum drops he can see.
Stop, Kookaburra! Stop, Kookaburra!
Leave some there for me.

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Counting all the monkeys he can see.
Stop, Kookaburra! Stop, Kookaburra!
That’s not a monkey, that’s me!

- Marion Sinclair, 1936

Andrew was surprised this summer when he discovered that the entire Poole family was quite familar with this tune.  An Australian song, “Kookaburra” made its way to Canada and the United States through the Girl Guide movement.  Marion Sinclair was a teacher who worked with her school’s Girl Guide company and “Kookaburra” was first performed in 1934 at an annual Jamboree in Frankston, Victoria.  The Baden-Powells, founders of the Scouting and Guiding movements, were present.

In recent years, “Kookaburra” has been the subject of much controversy in Australia.  Questions about its copyright status and infringement resulted in lawsuits in 2009 and in 2010 Australian primary school director, Garry Martin, asked school children to replace the line “gay your life must be” with “fun your life must be”.  After an outcry that Martin was banning the word “gay” from his school, he stated: “All I was doing, relatively innocently, was substituting one word because I knew if we sing ‘Gay your life must be’ the kids will roll around the floor in fits of laughter.” Right.

When we were finished lunch we walked through the gardens a little (though not extensively… there looked to be a beautiful gully and lots of surrounding hiking trails) and then headed to the car for warmth and a bit of a tour.  Vineyards decorate the Adelaide Hills and South Australia’s fall colours are lovely.

From A to Oz

I made it!

It’s been nearly a week since landing in Adelaide and I’ve been busy getting settled in; acquainting myself with the time change and convincing myself that yes, I am actually here.  There’s been some concern amongst friends and family that I may have been eaten by Australian wildlife as I’ve dropped off the communicative planet this week but allow me to assure you all that I am alive and well.  

My flights (three of them!) were all excellent and I didn’t have any difficulty navigating four airports with my excessive baggage.  After a bit of schmoozing, I even landed a window seat for each leg and for the two longer flights there were empty seats beside me… airplane bliss.  I think I’d imagined travelling to the other side of the world as somewhat traumatic.  Worst Case Scenario Girl pictured 13 sleepless hours with crying babies surrounding her; tearful fits of boredom and the attendant carts running out of ginger ale.  In actual fact, it was very relaxed. 

Qantas was a delightful surprise and I haven’t a single negative thing to report.  This may be thanks in part to the magic combination cocktail of sleep-inducing pills I self-administered upon locating my seat but I really think that’s neither here nor there.  The flight attendants were all charming (and curiously nearly all male. I wondered about an international flight gender superiority imbalance there) and they came up and down the aisles throughout the night bringing trays of assorted beverages in large plastic glasses – no piddly airplane cups in sight!  I nearly slept through dinner (thank you magic cocktail) but breakfast was very good… considering it was served 11 hours into a flight.  Whenever I have airplane food and especially airplane breakfast food I think about my friend Kristy who just loves it.  At least she did love it, 6 years ago when we last spoke about this.  Still into it Kristy?

The entertainment options on the Qantas international flight were like nothing I’ve ever seen.  I almost wished I didn’t need to sleep because there were so many interesting and varying programs and films available.  In the end, I watched The Fighter and The King’s Speech and one episode of Hoarders that brought me into Melbourne with not a moment to spare. 

I’d packed some extra clothes in my carry-on case and I changed into a new outfit between each flight.  I also brushed my teeth and freshened up as much as I possibly could throughout the journey and as a result I felt quite comfortable while traveling.  In fact, the only discomfort I experienced was a bit of inevitable swelling on the Los Angeles – Melbourne flight.  Because of the open seat, I was able to keep my legs elevated now and then and I joined the conga line of plane walkers when I needed to get up and move about.

In Melbourne I was informed that my bags (all three of them!) had not made the trip with me and were still somewhere in Los Angeles… or Toronto.  I’m not sure.  Given their weight and size I’ll admit that I was a bit relieved and I moved quickly through customs without them.  It was a relief to finally arrive in Adelaide to the warmest welcome I’ve ever received.   

My bags arrived by courier two days after I landed and I’ve been busy unpacking ever since.  Okay, maybe not.  But I have been busy!  It’s a 5 day long weekend here in South Australia and Andrew and I have been making the most of his time off.  Blogging will begin in earnest this week and  I’m looking forward to sharing my Australian discoveries with you.

Tomorrow, I’ll board a flight from Toronto to Los Angeles and approximately six days later I’ll arrive in South Australia.  Okay; no.  It’s more like 28 hours later but with the time difference it will be Tuesday when I land in Adelaide.   I’ll be on the other side of the world in two days.  Now that it’s so close, I’m feeling a range of emotions: excitement; anxiety; elation; fear.  This was the fastest week of my life!

I’ve got a case of my typical pre-trip-blues.  Does this happen to you?  Historically, I’ve felt a lot of anxiety prior to every journey I’ve embarked upon.  I suppose I don’t do well with change and I hate good-byes and even though I know that good-byes today aren’t really good-byes (thank you Mark Zuckerberg!) it can be overwhelming.  If I’m not careful present I can slip into my Worst Case Scenario Girl role with the greatest of ease.  More about her, later.

The mind is a wonderful thing, though.  With time comes the fading away of some memories and for most of us it’s the positive ones that linger and grow.  When I look back at trips I’ve taken and places I’ve lived I can only readily recall those good memories and I have to really dig to find the anxiety and irritants that may have felt more prevalent at the time.  Maybe you’re wondering why I’d dig deep for frustrations, especially as I’m already feeling down; the truth is that by making a conscious choice to reflect on any pre-trip drama that’s come before this current case of cold-feet, I’m reminded of the moments and opportunities in which I’ve felt risk; fear; anxiety and leapt forwards anyway.

So here I go.  I’m jumping!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.