25.4.2017 Anzac Day

Anzac day is a pretty special occasion here, all shops are closed, at least for half a day, on this day that 2779 New Zealanders died at Gallipoli. There are dawn services in some towns around the country, which is the time that most lives were lost in this bloody campaign.

Blenheim doesn’t have a dawn service so we were in town for the 10.30am parade of veterans, serving members of the air force, navy, army and families of those who have lost their loved ones, to the cenetaph. The bag pipes were screeching, the bugles were calling and a beautiful brass band accompanied them on their short journey to the town square. It was wonderful to see so many young families with kids and babies attending. Everyone was on the streets, coming together, to remember the sacrifices made in the past, and the commitment and courage still shown today by the serving members of the NZ forces. We were really moved by it. 

Even when we went for coffee afterwards the cafe was playing songs from that era or about the war, when we walked in they were playing The Pogues ‘Waltzing Matilda’ which has me in tears anytime of day or night, coffee was quickly drunk before too much eye leakage happened.

As we were missing our usual 20 mile bike ride around vineyards we got the bikes and went for a ride around town and onto the easy mountain bike track. It was ace fun, we loved it although my disc brakes were well used in a couple of steep descents!!! We might have to try more mountain biking when we get back.

Guy’s Marlborough wine bottle mountain

After ham butties on our terrace we spent the afternoon blogging, drinking wine and playing with Instagram apps.

Guy spent more time photographing his diary than writing it.

Procrastination

We had a kebab for tea and the evening was spent chatting to our hosts and watching MKR….. Addictive stuff.

There is some chicken and rice under that mountain of sauce

19.3.2017 Tour d’Yarra Valley

The beauty of having no car is that we can both drink wine together instead of one of us having to drive. The pain of this is that vineyards are on an incline, meaning hills, meaning hard work on a bike, for me at least.

We were up and out the house by 8.30am, which is some miracle for us at the moment!!!

By 10.30am we were in Lilydale at Yarra Valley Bike hire, being served by a chap from Nottingham (he left that great city aged 6 years old). We had the most expensive hire bikes on the trip, but there were by far the best, Kona Hybrid’s, we had disc brakes and lots of gears but were missing our usual wicker basket on the front to store our wine bottle collection 😂.

We set off on what was going to be a 34 degree day of sunshine. Suncream had been liberally applied and bike helmets provided some shade. We started a slow slog up 6km of Mount Evelyn under the canopy of eucalyptus,willow and other indigenous trees.

Mount Evelyn (on the way down)
It was stunning scenery​ and we were enjoying the exercise, Guy more than me! 

Our first vineyard was up a high, curved, steep driveway, called Payne’s Rise, and it lived up to its name, I decided to dismount to get a closer look at the shiraz grapes and scenery……phew!!!

We were welcomed by a stunning panoramic view and a girl from Colchester who was manning the tastings. We tried their tasting menu and purchased the 2014 Shiraz which was light and fruity, the comment ‘a good session Shiraz’ was made, we bought a bottle of it.

A 2 min walk across the fields and we were in Seville Hills vineyard which had white tableclothed tressel tables set out outside underneath the orchard. It was packed with Victorians (the Aussie state, not Queen Victorians!) enjoying great food, amazing wines on a hot autumn Sunday afternoon, music was provide by a local group. These Aussies have a great outdoors lifestyle. 

We were interested to see that this vineyard was growing, along with the usual Shiraz and Chardonnay, some more southern European grapes, tempranillo, barbera, sangiovese all influenced by their part Italian owner and climate change. They were really good wines but the place was packed so we got out after a few swigs, mounted our bikes and freewheeled down the hill to the last vineyard, Whispering Hills.

Again, this place had a small restaurant onsite, with seats next to the vines. A group of 20 yr olds were celebrating a birthday with wine tasting and gourmet pizza’s, wood fired breads and freshly made dips. How simple and wonderful is that? 

We had a few wines tastings with the Chardonnay being standout, I have never had such a buttery, creamy Chardonney. This is definitely not a session Chardonnay. 

We bought a bottle to accompany our gourmet pizza of peppery salami, roasted red peppers and stringy mozzarella, delicious. I only had one glass of wine as I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back on the bike if I had any more. 

As it was it was a big old slog getting up the hills on the way back. We broke for a rest on the way back for a water break and to record a film.

We went back to our Air BnB via the chicken n chip shop in Fairfield, we had earned it. We were planning on having a Chip Taste Test between the chicken place and fish shop, but the half chicken and chip portion with coleslaw was so huge we didn’t manage to get to the fish shop.

Wine tasted:

Whispering Hills Chardonnay 2016

McClaren Vale Chardonnay 2016 (mixed vineyards)

17 January – Nyaung Shwe bike ride

Breakfast at Minglarbar inn is a good one, we have a fried pastry product to start – good to soak up the wine and cocktails from the night before – then a pancake, then omelette or scrambled eggs, bowl of fruit, toast, jam and a cup of tea or coffee with a small glass of squash. All coffee and tea is in individual sachets, and you rehydrate them with the hot water that is on your table in a Thermos flask, unless you are me and you want a green tea and it comes in a half pint mug, just like the shots of whisky and rum! Burmese tea is a bit like builders tea but with evaporated milk.

Today’s plan was to follow the cycling route on the back of the hotel map for a 22km bike ride, that includes hot springs, boat trip, and vineyard…..again! So we set off on our excellent bikes, down the main road waving and smiling!

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We quickly got to the end of the tarmaced road and were on sandy, rocky paths, it was just like off roading! We followed that for about 9 km, and met a few other tourists doing the same thing, thankfully Guy’s competitive side kicked in and we were the ones in the lead, no one overtook us!! As we were cycling along we were still not immune to hawkers, a local on a motor bike rode up besides a speeding Guy and started with the usual question ‘where you from?’ He ended up saying he had a mate who had a boat and would could take us across the river for the market price of 8000 Kyats. That is the lovely thing here, everything is set price, even the taxis with no meters, so you never feel that you are being ripped off India style. Well, part from the fact the government make you pay tourist price (5 times local price) for everything!

So we rocked up at the natural spa, sweating, needing a scub down! The place was lovely, 3 pools of varying heat, the hottest was bearable for about 2 mins! We got there early, so had the place almost to ourselves. By the end of it we had go to know a couple of isrealies who lived in USA, and a Japanese guy, who was no doubt horrified at the cleanliness levels of the spa (it was a thin bug consommé), and like us, was remembering the Japanese onsens where the men bathe naked with a flannel on their heads. Swimsuits on we managed to clean and scrub up, have a chilled beer in the spa and get back on our bikes.

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We were immediately picked up by a boatman who led us to the his boat, and handed us over to 2 young lads to ferry across the lake. We navigated our way through the water hyacinths, rubbish, and peoples houses for a boat ride across the lake. It was beautiful, as the photos below show.

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We had a walk off the jetty, then another few km cycle to the vineyard, where we passed everyone that we had met that morning or in the last few days in Inle, it is a real circuit, so you keep seeing the same people around.

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We stopped for a sugar drink / shandy and then made it to the vinyard, hooray! Bottle of red was duelly ordered and drunk. And we were just contemplating the cycle ride down hill when we got talking to 3 English people, 2 of which we had already met in Mandalay! Well, it would be rude to just walk off, so we chatted away, had another bottle of red to share with them and feeling quite pissed freewheeled down the hill after sunset, obviously with no bike lights on or helmets, as is the norm here.

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We made it back into town and tried out another cocktail bar, it served decent cocktails thank goodness.

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We then wobbled off down the steet, I only cycled into one person, to go to a dim sum restaurant that we had been told about.  Again we met people we had seen biking and vineyarding today, and had some delicious dim sum, a couple more beers for the road! We made it home with no further incidents, or drinks!!!

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16 January – Mum’s birthday!

As our place was fab, we were able to Skype home to Mum to say happy birthday from the comfort of our room/suite, which was nice to do!
In the afternoon we hired bikes, better ones than last time and cheaper, and cycled out to the sunset point, which fortunately was situated in a vineyard!

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Cycling out there was fabulous, lots of smiling, waving and cheering with the locals, avoiding pot holes and other random animals on the road. Cycling up the hill to the vineyard was hard work, I got off and walked, Mr Ventoux managed it without getting off his trusty steed. I staggered up to the vineyard, desperate for a drink and a lie down. We got a drink, well, several in fact as we had a tasting menu. The results of which are below:

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Savignon blanc was grassy, with overtones of grapefruit, quite dry and a little short on the finish.
Rose was astringent with a slight strawberry flavour.
Cabernet savignon was fruity, dark fruit flavours and smokey with plenty of tannins.
Late harvest was apricot on the nose with a sweet fruit finish!

We had a bottle of late harvest white, accompanied by a cheese and bread, photo below!! You will be amazed to know that the cheese did not induce cheese face in Guy, not even a tingle.

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A quick cycle down the hill and back into town, we got waylaid by another cocktail bar, they seem to be the new thing nowadays, and I had a lychee Martini which included 5 lychees on a stick, and Guy had a mojito, it was quite special!

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As we are still avoiding local food we had wood fired pizza and French fried for tea, delicious (with a slightly guilty feeling).