Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Bright Lights, Big City

A big blow out in the city was always on our list.

Essentially we are not really drawn to the neon of city nightlife but once in a while, going the full hog with a good dose of decadence, is just the best fun!

Throwing caution to the wind along with a few dollar notes too, we decided to embrace the whole experience of staying at the Crown.

The Crown is a phenomenon in Melbourne. It is a huge entertainments, dining, luxury shopping and hotel complex but more significantly it houses the largest casino in the southern hemisphere. It is where all the film premieres, celebrity red carpet gala events and awards ceremonies take place.

On arrival the lobby was buzzing, many of the players competing at the Australian Open Tennis tournament were staying here and all eyes were peeled to catch a glimpse of a big star.

At check in we were told we had been upgraded to a loft  room, we couldn't believe it and didn't question it at all just in case it had been done in error.

It was a huge corner suite with floor to ceiling windows on both sides giving way to fantastic views across the city and the Yarra River.

We wasted no time in getting changed and made our way up to the Sky Bar 28 on floor 28, funnily enough. It was quite a muggy night and a misty haze hung over the skyline but it was still spectacular.

We then took a short taxi drive to the Rialto Tower, the venue for our dining experience that night. We were both very excited at the prospect of finally experiencing the Melbourne icon that is Vue de Monde.

Situated on the 55th Floor, this ridiculously awarded restaurant is owned and run by the ridiculously talented Shannon Bennet.

As you step in the lift, there are no floors to press, this lift goes to the 55th floor and nowhere else. Vue de Monde is more than a restaurant, it is foodie experience, a mystery tour that takes you on a journey with a sense of theatre, a sense of fun and also a sense of irony.

As the lift doors parted, we were greeted immediately and ushered into the Lui Bar for a signature pre-dinner cocktail. Yet another stunning view, this one was over Port Philip Bay where we could clearly make out Brighton and the marina, the place we've called home these past 3 years.

mmm decisions, decisions

Hubster opted for a Campari, Cointreau and Cognac affair, rocket fuel!

A delicious, briny dirty martini for me, happy days. (Vodka not gin)

Just a minute before our 8.30pm booking, we were shown to our table. We were delighted that it was in the corner of the restaurant where we didn't need to look at any other diners, just each other and the view, call us anti social but that was perfect.

There is no menu to choose from, you merely choose how many courses you want between 5 and 10.

Each course however may consist of 2 or 3 plates and each plate is a tasting size portion. So this is where the adventure began as we anticipated what we were going to be served.

We chose 6 courses. It may not all be to your tastes and Shannon clearly likes to use offal, as is very fashionable right now, but that's part of it, take it or leave it. However, on the whole we took it!

Are you ready for the ride? Its not a case of fasten your seat belts, more likely to undo them!

A Nibble.

Homemade Salt n Vinegar Crisps and Macademia Mayo Dip

I'll try and remember them all! Oyster, Ocean trout with a toffee glaze, little lamb heart skewers, little duck tongue skewers, fish roe with and emulsion I forget and a crispy salad.

Fish Course 

Roasted Barramundi Head where the Waiter carefully removed the succulent cheek and served it in a crispy lettuce cup with a burnt butter sauce

Crispy Barramundi collar with a delicious crunchy coating

Main Courses

I didn't take photos of everything! 

The next course was pigeon, which was our least favourite as it is very gamy. 

Pigeon neck terrine served with the head of the pigeon for garnish. (Mmm too confronting!)

Pigeon Breast served in a sauce I don't remember as I decided to pass on this.

Blackmore Wagyu Beef with Smoked Bone Marrow and Saltbush
Palate cleanser of cucumber sorbet with wood sorrel dehydrated at the table with liquid nitrogen

Duck Yolk, Truffle and Radish with a view!
Have you loosened that belt yet?

Marron, pine mushroom cream and a marron wafer.

Cheese Course 

A beautiful cheese trolley was presented and we chose to share this plate, little did we know it would come with an array of accompaniments.

Served with wafers, dried fruits, jellies and a strawberry and rhubarb lollipop of course
I passed on the dessert course and let Hubster wave his valiant flag, what a trouper, but I don't think it was too hard, that Chocolate Souffle went down a treat.

So finally our gastronomic marathon was complete...............well not quite.................

Make way for the Petit Fours!

In total awe of our experience, we took a bow and let the final curtain fall on an incredible evening. Theatre indeed.

Our designs on hitting the black jack tables somewhat waned in direct correlation to our widening waste lines so there was only one thing for it, we decided to retire to our loft room and enjoy the view that we could drink in merrily, without consuming a single calorie more.

The next morning we slumbered and watched the Red Bull Air Race from the comfort of our beds. The only thing that wasn't perfect about our whole stay was that Paul Bonhomme failed to qualify.

Believe it or not, once we'd managed to ply ourselves from our pit and  after a stroll by the Yarra River, I managed to pack this little lot away! What the heck?

Monday, 15 December 2014

Little Sandy Creek was not planned

I have been very excited to tell this story and so pleased I've reached the point chronologically with my blog entries that I can. Its a bit of a long one but I hope you enjoy it, its very special to us.

The Henry Jones had an inner atrium which would have been the production floor for the jam making factory years ago.

It was flanked by little boutique shops, a deli cafe and two art galleries.

Whilst I had a potter around the "girlie" accessories on display, Hubster went into an art shop championing aboriginal works of art, Art Mob it was called.

Quite out of character, he came to find me.

"Hey come and take a look at this?"

I was a little puzzled as Hubster is not an art gallery kind of guy but clearly something had caught his eye. He waved me over to a very large piece on display and I stood in front of it, quite mesmerised.

It was really striking with a bold black and white colour-way and the beautiful dot-work was the best I'd ever seen.

Dot painting is a very specific characteristic of and method used in indigenous art. It is also extremely difficult to do and such a fine example, on such a large scale was really quite a sight to behold.

Euan the Art Director and owner of the gallery sauntered over to us.

"Isn't it an incredible piece?" he said

The three of us just gazed at it for a while, slowly nodding in agreement.

"I am so delighted to have this exhibition here" he continued "the official launch is at 6pm tonight and the artist Sam Juparulla Wickman will be with us, this is his signature piece, why don't you come along? Each painting has a story to tell and Sam is the man to tell it!" he said.

I copped a look at the price tag and even though it was pretty hefty, we both agreed it warranted it, given the months and months of work involved.

It was called Little Sandy Creek or Nunungoodu (given its indigenous name).

We went back to our room and had a good chat.  I couldn't believe how attached we both felt to this piece of art and that we were seriously considering buying it, this was completely left field for us. We had never done anything like this in our lives and yet it seemed to have gripped us both in equal measure, it just felt right.

Hubster got on the computer and shifted some funds around. Just in case.

We pitched up at 6pm and with a nice glass of Tassie red in hand, planted ourselves in front of "our" painting. We already felt it belonged to us.

Euan introduced us to Sam. We warmed to him immediately, he exuded kindness, fun, passion for his work and pride for his heritage. He was was very humble with soulful eyes that also bore a definite twinkle of mischief in them too! He spoke about Little Sandy Creek with the same affection that you would have for an old friend and that's exactly what this labour of love will always be to Sam.

What a character Sam is.

He is 62 years old and up until 11 years ago had never even picked up a paint brush. He is an archaeologist by profession and and a renowned and a highly sought after one too.

At the age of 9 he was drummed out of Alice Springs and away from his aboriginal heartland for being a bit of a delinquent. It would seem Sam was too much for his people to handle and he was sent to a boarding school in Sydney. Even today, Sam doesn't strike you as a conformist. Sam is Sam.

Here Sam was projected into a world so far removed from anything he had ever known and entrenched in this predominantly white, colonial life, with its alien culture and customs, it seemed over time that his own roots had became diluted.

Without needing too much elaboration we were left without any doubt that Sam went on to lead a very colourful and at times, wayward life.

However, at the age of 51 something quite extraordinary happened to Sam. His heart began to beat in a way it had never done before and it longed to dance to the tune of his aboriginal roots. Once buried deep, these roots resurfaced strong once more and Sam couldn't ignore the call.

Sam returned to his people and went through the Male Initiation that all Aboriginal boys go through. This is the passage from boyhood to manhood except Sam was 51 now and his contemporaries were wily, testosterone fuelled young men. What a thing to commit to!

The men are forbidden to ever discuss what actually happens during the months that they are out living in the wild together but the intimation was that this was no tea party! Instead, you concluded that this was a punishing and gruelling test that pushed each man to the limits of his physical and mental endurance. Sam says he still bears the physical scars.

From all of this however, something quite remarkable happened. Sam in a way was re-born and became reconnected to his Aboriginal soul, his life blood and his spirit and from absolutely nowhere, he began to paint. Without any formal training whatsoever, an incredible surge of creativity flowed from Sam, which could only have been borne from the imprint of thousands of years of his heritage.

Sam working on Little Sandy Creek

We were quite in awe of his story.

He spoke eloquently and affectionately about all 6 exhibits but it was clear that Little Sandy Creek had a special place for him. However, through the process of it's creation I think he loved and utterly loathed it too at times!

All aboriginal art tells a story, often they depict a landscape with a significant meaning that is not at all obvious by just looking at it. The accompanying story is as big a part of the picture as the actual painting itself. Its important to find out what that is.

Little Sandy Creek is situated in the Red Centre of Australia, a very arid, unforgiving and harsh environment. It is a very valuable source of water to the people and it is highly revered. There are three main pools in the creek which Sam has depicted in the painting, what is remarkable about them is that they never appear to dry up completely and are a constant source of life giving water.

I think the importance of this creek is also depicted in the scale and size of the painting. Sam also mentioned that the smaller less prominent circles are nods to his time of male initiation but given his vow of silence, we can only wonder what this might be. To be honest I think its quite enchanting that only Sam and his circle of brothers, his Bunji (means brother), will ever know. Who knows, maybe over time if we listen with our hearts, Little Sandy Creek will reveal more to us.

So it was, we bought that painting but in reality it means so much more to us than just a painting.

Little Sandy Creek has already taken its long trip over the ocean and now resides in safe keeping at the home of our dear friends back in the UK.

Sam told us that he and his family, especially his children, were so excited that it would eventually adorn the wall of our home so far away from where it was conceived. We cant wait to send them that photo.

It was such an honour to meet Sam and he will always be "Bunji" to us.

Sometimes some of the best experiences in life are just never planned.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Last stop - Hobart

Our Tassie trip drew to a close in the capital city of Hobart.

We stayed at the Henry Jones Art Hotel, Australia’s first dedicated art hotel, and only one of a handful of such hotels in the world. 

It was perfectly located on Hobart’s waterfront and the building dates back to 1804 where it was known as H. Jones and Co. Pty. Ltd. IXL, a jam making factory and one of Australia's most successful businesses back then.

The former jam factory has bee  transformed into a sensitively restored and distinctive, five-star hotel, warm and welcoming but warehouse/industrial too, it was very cleverly done.

We loved it, sometimes these places can be a bit "style over substance" but it wasn't, it all worked just as it should with out being pretentious.

With only a few days in the city we did of course plump for the two main tourist attractions there.

1. MONA - (the Museum of Old and New Art

2. The Salamanca Market.

MONA is the largest privately owned art gallery in the world and anyone who has been there will understand when I say that it is just a bit, bonkers!

It is the creation of David Walsh, an extremely successful profession gambler, who sank $75 million of his own money in creating his dream.

What can I say? Its weird, wonderful and at times downright confronting. The whole place has been carved into the side of a cliff and it really does have a "James Bond film set" feel to it.

We arrived at the the gallery on a camouflaged catamaran where we sat on purple, velvet thrones in an area called the "posh pit" whilst being served complementary canapes and wine by waiters in grey boiler suits! Do you see where we are coming from with this?

David Walsh certainly has a sense of humour and enjoys sharing it! Just look at his parking place

Languishing in the "Posh Pit"
On entering the museum we took a glass lift down into the depths of the cliff. When we stepped out the first thing we came across was a very cool cocktail bar.

The sandstone walls of the cliff were beautifully lit and of course a work of art in themselves.

I said previously that some of the exhibits were confronting. Well there was one that had me somewhat agog. Please pardon my language but it was called "Cunts and Conversations". There on the wall at pretty much eye level, were 75 plaster cast molds of well, lady parts! One after the other all in a row, real life casts of lady parts, leaving nothing to the imagination. Underneath each one was "her name".

I was astounded and dare I say it absolutely fascinated in a slightly uncomfortable way. I honestly never knew they came in so many shapes, sizes, configurations and proportions. I wasn't the only one, all the ladies there said exactly the same thing and yes it certainly did incite conversation.

I refrained from taking any photos, that would've been too weird but feel free to google it if curiosity gets the better of you.

As for the men they were not interested at all, nothing to see here, seen it all before or maybe it wasn't the done thing to show too much interest!

Mind you I did think selling the "lady part soaps" in the gift shop was a bit much, I mean who would you ever give one of those to?

No the boys were far more taken with the bubble shaped Porsche and the "Poo making machine"!

The Poo Making Machine!
Entering the room the stench hit you like a smack in the face. "What the hell is that?"

"Its the poo making machine"said the guide, who clearly had become accustomed to the affront on his olfactory system. 

"Everyday we feed it a meal and on its birthday it gets a glass of wine" he said as if it was the most normal thing in the world to say/

"Then 12 hours later it produces a poo, look over there, there's today's offering on the plate"

So it was too, perfectly formed poos on the plate preceded by all manner of fetid liquids bubbling and gurgling away in glass containers.

The whole thing mechanically replicated the exact workings of the human digestive system. What kind of mind would invent this?

You just couldn't help admire the ingenuity of it all. It was fascinating.

Of course the boys loved it!

So in essence, this was the way of MONA.

Utterly bonkers but absolutely worth the experience. The lady parts still make me chuckle, one of those images that you just can't un-see!

The Salamanca market is held every Saturday at Salamanca Place. The whole street is closed and comes alive with over 300 stalls selling fresh and gourmet produce, arts, crafts and produce from all over Tasmania.

The weather was lovely and all the coffee shops and cafes were brimming with people sat outside enjoying breakfast and people watching. 

We really enjoyed pootling and mooching around all the stalls and soaking up the buzzy atmosphere.

The craziest stall of all, nothing made sense!

The above stall had got the good old Aussie "Sausage Sizzle" off down pat........

....and it was a joy for me to see buckets of lovely cottage style flowers.......

.......not failing to mention the wonderfully striking indigenous Warratahs which I have come to love.

However, I wasn't too impressed with this stall and looking by the lack of customers I don't think I was the only one. Wallaby for breakfast? No thank you, in fact no to Wallaby full stop. 

Our time in Hobart was all too short. We really did love the feel of the place and everyone was so friendly and genuinely interested in who we were and what we thought of Tasmania.

Well from North to South and everything in between we did have the most incredible time, so many diverse and wonderful experiences but before I close the chapter on our Tassie adventure there is just one more story to tell.

I am excited to tell the story, so many of my blogs evoke fabulous memories and spell out unique times for us. Without exception this next one will be up there as a very special experience during our time here in Australia.