It’s almost been a year since Ms. HalfEmpty and I packed our tiny duffels and journeyed west around the world. People still ask us, “What was your favorite thing?” As we’ve learned through numerous attempts, it is simply impossible to tell our story of last summer in any reasonable amount of time. These blog posts capture the basics, but still seem to barely skim the surface. That said, for me there was one day of the entire world tour that was probably my favorite.
Like any good story, this one requires a touch of background — in this case, the conclusion of our stay in Nouméa. You see, New Caledonia’s Tontouta International Airport is located 51 km north of Anse Vata beach where we stayed, requiring shuttle transfer from our hotel/casino. Our shuttle van was piloted by a crusty old French woman who drove sans concern for human safety. We found ourselves stuffed into a rickety van, serendipitously sandwicheried behind a lovely Australian girl and her mum. Perhaps to keep her mind off imminent death in a fiery crash, Ms. HalfFull uncharacteristically struck up a conversation with the Aussies squished in front of her. By the time we all checked in for the same flight to Sydney, friends were made and e-mail addresses exchanged. Hopefully we’d cross paths in a few weeks on the outskirts of Melbourne where they lived.
Fast forward through Sydney, a bus safari, and a few tears. We find ourselves stepping on to the platform of gorgeous Flinders Street Station with tickets outbound on the Hurstbridge railway line destined for the northeast suburbs of Melbourne. As luck would have it, the train preparing for immediate departure was an express with a stop in Heidelberg, where Ms. HalfEmpty’s new Aussie friend planned meet us with her boyfriend. We ensued on a drive west into the Yarra Valley for a bit of sight-seeing and wine tasting!
Note to reader: at this point, feel free to quietly play Eels’ “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” in the background whilst reading the remainder of this post.
We hadn’t traveled by private car since New Zealand, so it felt almost luxurious to be chauffeured for the nearly one hour road trip from the ‘burbs into picturesque countryside that oddly reminded me of wine country here in Virginia. In this brief time, I was already smitten with the Aussie boyfriend who reminded me so much of my dear friend who’d married us a few years ago. As a couple, they were brilliant tour guides.
We pulled into a quaint, wooded parking lot that could maybe fit 10 cars or so. They were hoping the sky would clear so we could see Melbourne from one of the Yarra Ranges National Park lookout towers. We learned these towers play an important role in the early detection of fire. Anyhow, I’ll let the image we took up there speak for itself, but it was one of those moments when you feel lucky to be alive.
Next stop, vineyards! We started out at Chandon, probably the most well-known winery in the region. To avoid the throng of tourists at the free tasting bar, I suggested we sample a range of white and sparkling wines at their Greenpoint Tasting Bar. Although the atmosphere was a tad corporate, we had a fun time with our Aussie friends and bartender. For you sparkling wine fans out there, grab a bottle of Chandon Z*D Blanc de Blancs if you stumble across it.
The next stop was our amazing Aussie hosts’ favorite Yarra Valley vineyard: Punt Road Wines. I’m not sure where to start. Suffice it to say I felt like the cosmic tumblers of the universe had all fallen into place. Brilliant new friends. Delicious wines, especially their Pinot Noir. Friendly, yet knowledgeable bartenders. Tasty snacks that perfectly complemented their wines. A few other like-minded strangers up for a fun time filling out the tasting area, giving the room just enough energy. Even solid background music.
Samples turned into glasses. Glasses turned into bottles…leading to one of my most enjoyable conversations of 2011. I learned why you would never want to be nicknamed “FIGJAM” and why Aussies begin their answers to many questions with the words “Yeah, no.” By the time we were done out on Punt Road’s wine garden, our friends had become members of Punt Road Wines’ Punters Club!
During our conversation an epiphany hit me that Ms. HalfEmpty’s personality was Kiwi, while mine was Aussie. Our hosts were interested in our trip and especially what we thought of Australia so far. I said my only regret during our time in Oz was that it didn’t seem likely we were going to be able to taste kangaroo steak. Our friends looked at me like I was crazy, noting that we could stop by the grocery store on the way home and pick up a few!
On top of being amazing hosts, it seems our friends were amateur chefs as well. I didn’t realize how much we missed the simplicity of a home-cooked meal. So my favorite day culminated with a scrumptious meal at our friend’s home back in Heidelberg: fresh steamed veggies, mashed potatoes, and seared kangaroo steak. It was delicious, and apparently benefited the Australian environment.
We settled in to the couch after dessert for a recorded episode of one of our friend’s favorite British television shows. I don’t remember much about it due to wine and kangaroo euphoria.
She graciously offered her guest house. Apparently some people have to work, so we woke up to an empty house. The kitchen was a mess from the previous night, so we gave it a thorough cleaning before letting ourselves out.
I will never forget that beautiful day, and hopefully one day we’ll be able to repay the hospitality when our friends get the opportunity to visit us here in the suburbs of Washington, DC.
- Do you have a hard time picking a favorite day/experience to share with friends after traveling?
- Do you find yourself talking to strangers more easily when death could be imminent?
- Do you enjoy wine tasting?
- Have you learned interesting slang while traveling?
- What exotic food did you try that was commonplace for locals?
- Would you offer your house to people you met on a shuttle in a foreign country during your vacation?
- What would you show foreigners who come to visit you?