Winter in the Blue Mountains
After the exhilarating zing of a chilly day spent exploring the lookouts and bushwalking tracks of the magnificent Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area of New South Wales, shopping at charming villages and visiting attractions, sojourners are warmly invited indoors for steaming drinks, fireside dining, festive decorations, music and rousing entertainment.
A regional tradition since 1980, Yulefest is held mid-winter (officially throughout July but often beginning in June and extending into August), with many hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs and restaurants taking part.
Escarpment Group of luxury hotels guest services manager Meagan Iervasi encouraged visitors to immerse themselves in the festive atmosphere by staying at least one night: “Yulefest in the Blue Mountains offers the European-style atmosphere people associate with Christmas – a chilly landscape outside and cosiness inside, but without the stress and frosty relatives. Sometimes there’s even snow.’’
Here’s an early bird Yulefest list to choose from:
Mountain Whispers, Leura and Katoomba
French champagne on ice, handmade chocolates, scattered fresh rose petals, a private chef to cook a three-course festive dinner and a personal waiter to serve it, followed by an in-house massage and/or facial in opulent surrounds. Yulefest equals romance, an escape with the girls or a group of great friends at Mountain Whispers MW Collection, where every minor detail matters.
Owner Lorraine Allanson says: “While Christmas is about family, Yulefest is a great time to take a mid-year break to focus on romance or time with your friends to indulge and escape the daily grind.’’
Each of the multi-award winning self-contained immaculately restored heritage properties – Varenna, Leura Rose and Strawberry Patch in Leura and The Gatsby and Chatelaine in Katoomba – promises a luxurious getaway in total privacy and comfort for couples and small groups.
Details: mountainwhispers.com.au or 1300 721 321.
Hydro Majestic Hotel, Medlow Bath
A Night in Vienna: In the lead-up to Yulefest, relish the romance and nostalgia of Austria’s operatic golden age led by Opera Australia, Oper Köln, Opéra Comique & Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris and English National Opera tenor Brad Cooper against the magnificent backdrop of the Megalong Valley on June 1. The Wintergarden Restaurant performance will be matched with a five-course degustation dinner. Tickets: $135pp. Bookings: (02) 4782 6885.
This is English tenor Brad Cooper (not the other Star is Born Bradley Cooper).
Diesel Live@theHydro: One of Australia’s favourite adopted sons, Mark Lizotte (aka Diesel) will entertain fans on July 20, three decades after he stepped off a bus with his band Johnny Diesel and the Injectors and set off on a chart-topping 15-album career. Cost: $150pp dinner and show, $40pp show only. Bookings: hydromajestic.com.au/events/diesel.
Traditional high tea: This elegant three-tier serving will feature nostalgic flavours such as ginger, cranberry and roast pork in the elegant Wintergarden Restaurant overlooking the Megalong Valley. Accompany your repast with delicate blossom tea, freshly brewed coffee or a glass of sparkling wine.
Lilianfels Resort & Spa, Katoomba
Sink into the refined 5-star surrounds to nibble on delicate finger sandwiches, fluffy scones with homemade jam and fresh clotted cream, and a selection of Yulefest sweet treats beside a cosy fireplace.
Darley’s Restaurant, Katoomba
For the ultimate Yulefest decadence, the hatted restaurant in the historic home of former Chief Justice of NSW Sir Frederick Darley will serve five and seven-course degustation dinners each Friday and Saturday throughout July with special winter flavours.
Nepean Belle river luncheon cruise, Jamisontown
`Tis the season to cruise the tranquil waters of the Nepean River aboard the regional aquatic icon on your way to or from the Blue Mountains.
The heritage-style Nepean Belle paddlewheeler will be festooned with festive decorations and guests will board for luncheon to the strains of popular carols against the picturesque backdrop of the Blue Mountains escarpment.
Tuck into two-course Yulefest fare with all the trimmings, beginning with a shared platter of succulent roast turkey with fruit seasoning and tender roast pork with apple sauce and gravy garnished with honey-roasted vine tomatoes and accompanied by creamy sautéed potato; a selection of hot seasonal vegetables; steamed broccoli, carrots and peas; and a Greek salad with feta.
A dessert platter of festive favourites will follow, with White Christmas, chocolate rum balls, fruit cake, chocolate mud cake and rich butter shortbread biscuits washed down with your choice of freshly brewed tea or coffee.
Nepean Belle owner Carol Bennett says: “We love Christmas so much that we’re holding it again in July – but without the in-laws, expensive pressies and weather that matches the heat of the roast dinner.’’
Cost: Monday to Friday – $59 adults, $53 seniors, $39 teens (13-16 years), $20 children (3-12 years); Weekends – $65 adults, $58 seniors, $39 teens, $25 children. Bookings: nepeanbelle.com.au or 4733 1274.
The Goon Show LIVE! Dinner and show
The cult comedy tour de overacting incorporates loads of sound effects, silly voices and a platoon of crazy characters which promise to have audiences belly laughing all evening.
It regales the stories of Neddie Seagoon, a good-natured and hairy sort, albeit short and rotund and the victim of a terrible weakness – greed. Coupled with his innate gullibility, Neddie’s covetous nature makes him easy prey to confidence schemes courtesy of the conniving cads Grytpype-Thynne and Moriarty.
Peppered with one-liners, the high energy show will feature a plethora of characters including the world’s most famous idiot Eccles (yes, even more infamous than Neddie), the squeaky-voiced boy-scout Bluebottle (who reads his stage-directions out loud), Major Dennis Bloodnok a devout coward, and Miss Minnie Bannister the sexy senior citizen who lives in sin with crumbling, fumbling old man Henry Crun.
The dinner and show will be held in le Salon Grand at the Palais Royale, Katoomba, each Saturday night from June 29 to July 20, with a special afternoon tea on July 14. Tickets: $135 Saturdays, $80 Sunday afternoon tea, seniors and group discounts available. Bookings and details: www.goons.com.au.
Coffee snob? Think that cafe latte is the one and only? When you take a sip of this beautiful beverage it’s about the shot, the kick, the blend, so take a chance and discover other coffee styles.
Australia has one of the most eclectic, thriving food scenes around and a cafe culture to match. So naturally, we don’t mess around when it comes to coffee. But do we know our way around the world’s coffees? Read on.
1 ITALIAN CAPPUCCINO
This splendidly evolved cuppa is named after the Capuchin friars’ cloaks. The word ‘cappuccio’ means ‘hood’ in Italian, and the ‘-ino’ ending makes it what’s called the ‘diminutive’.
In other words, instead of just meaning ‘hood,’ ‘cappuccino’ means ‘little hood’.
It’s because of the hoods worn by a particular order of Franciscan monks which was founded in the early 16th century that they were given this moniker – Capuchin monks, or “Cappuccini” in Italian.
The wonderful beverage is: double espresso with steamed milk creating a lovely ‘crema’. (Italians do not drink cappuccino after midday.)
2 GREEK COFFEE
This is a strong brew, served with foam on the top and the grounds in the bottom of the cup
Strong ground powdered coffee spooned into a briki (Greek coffee pot), water added with a little sugar, boiled and stirred roughly. The ‘crema’ is a shiny foaming surface. Served in tiny cups and downed in two sips. (Order cafe metreo for a little sugar included.)
3 VIENNA COFFEE
An indulgent traditional drink made with two shots of black espresso in a standard size cup and infusing the coffee with a generous amount of whipped cream. Swirl the cream and dust with chocolate sprinkles. Expect this elegant coffee to arrive at your table served on a small silver tray accompanied by a glass of water.
4 NOUS-NOUS, MOROCCO
“Nous-Nous’ is Arabic for ‘half-half’, half coffee, half hot milk. A strong, tasty drink served in a little glass tumbler.
5.VIETNAM’S EGG COFFEE
Everyone at Hanoi’s humble Cafe Giang have come for “cà phê trúng,” or egg coffee, a Hanoi specialty of a creamy soft, meringue-like egg white foam perched on dense Vietnamese coffee. Nguyen Van Giang invented the recipe while working as a bartender at the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel in 1946. There was a shortage of fresh milk then, so whisked egg yolk was used as a substitute.
“All the foreigners and the Vietnamese in the hotel liked it,” says Van Dao. So he decided to leave the hotel to start selling egg coffee and create his own brand.
6 BALI COFFEE
Or ‘Cat Poo’ coffee. Kopi luwak is the world’s most expensive coffee, produced from the coffee beans which have been digested by a civet cat that selects the finest, ripest coffee cherries to eat. It can’t digest the stone (the coffee bean) and poos them out, its anal glands imparting an elusive musky smoothness to the roasted coffee.
And for coffee fiends there’s so much more . . .the heady Turkish coffee, Kahve; the Ethiopian Ceremonial coffee; the Ipoh white coffee of Malaysia . . .and the all-time great Australian flat white. A shot of espresso and hot milk, no adornment. Drink up!
Writer, Bev Malzard could not find a picture of Morocco’s nous-nous nor has she ever tasted it . . . but . . . next month she’ll be in Morocco and will hunt this coffee down. Watch this space.
All images from @unsplash http://www.unsplash.com
www.sofitel-legend-metropole-hanoi.comA quick fix blog this week as I am away on a yoga retreat in the Blue Mountains, a couple of hours west of Sydney (I knoooow, what was I thinking) and am short on blogging time this week. A post on the yoga experience might even make its way here if I survive bending, stretching and being ‘mindful’. Maybe yes, maybe no, maybe maybe.
One of my fave shots: there’s always a bride waiting to be photographed.
So, following on from last week’s Vietnam cruise story here are a few images I snapped in Hanoi pre and post the cruise. What an amazing city is it; brim to overflowing with personality, pragmatism and sassiness. The French colonial theme still stands in some quarters with rather lovely buildings, parks and he aroma of freshly baked bread . . .which is the legacy the Vietnamese were happy to retain once the colonialists had departed.
Spot the tourist.
Writer, Bev Malzard has visited Hanoi several times and the last visit she stayed at super posh Hanoi Metropole Hotel, a divine establishment breathing history and charm. Here she cosies up to one of the doormen who gave her cheek every day, and she gave back as good as she got.
An up-close and authentic view of real life in Vietnam is happily experienced while cruising the rivers with stops along the way in villages and hit of the big smoke – Hanoi. Take it slow . . .
Torrential! And that’s the perfect word for the monsoon rains that lashed our ship for 20 minutes, and then, like all good monsoon downpours, the air stilled and regained its hot and steamy attitude and the wide Red River became a silky, calm spread of chicken gravy coloured water.
Welcome to north Vietnam. We were sailing on a ten-day cruise on the Angkor Pandaw, a beautiful ship designed to mirror the ships of the Irrawaddy Flotilla that plied the waters of colonial Burma. The vessel is pretty special, and the decks gleam with the rich timber patina walked on by many barefoot passengers. The brass is polished daily and all detail on the ship is ship shape and immaculate.
I was a little concerned at the thought of a ten-day cruise as I’d only sailed for five consecutive days in the past. I had nothing to worry about except at the end of the cruise when I just wanted a few more days on board.
Our ship left Hanoi and we sailed to the glorious heritage-listed Halong Bay, where we gently sailed in sight of extravagant limestone islands and towering, craggy kasts. We visited water-limestone caves by kayaking and row boats.
Off the ship for an afternoon as we were taken to a deserted beach, where we had an entire bay to ourselves for a cooling dip. Bliss.
As the sun set and lights from the bay’s scattered fishing boats twinkled we sat down for our first of many abundant and creative dinners.
The ship sails west and after the Red River, it hits the Lo River the Red River delta and then the Black River. The sights along the river don’t display quaint and pretty castles and rolling hills. I hesitate to use the word ‘authentic’ but we were immersed in the real life of north Vietnam and the progress and industry that keeps the country ticking along. There are concrete factories, sand mountains shoring up the banks against flooding, amazing fish farm floating villages, banana plantations and often in the distance, the soaring spires of catholic churches and terraced steps of Buddhist temples.
The startling contrast of the rural tranquility and the brick kilns and facades of heavy industry, neat patches of corn fields and passionfruit vine mounds were sights that juxtaposed the life of the rivers.
Almost every day there is an excursion (all included in the price) and to places where few other westerners are. As well as the ship being the only pleasure craft among gliding barges on the rivers, the villagers are laid back, welcoming and eager to show their talents. Bemused barge captains waived and I imagine they thought that our beautiful ship looked like it had wandered in to the wrong neighbourhood.
In one tiny village, three generations of women from 18 to 90 years of age showed us the skill behind the ubiquitous conical hat – the most practical chapeau for tropical weather countries. Such an endearing experience and we were welcomed in a friendly and understated way – cups of tea were offered and bananas and peanuts put out for us.
Between excursions we came back to cold towels and a cooling drink before a tasty lunch (don’t fight it, just enjoy the banquet!).
At each stop along the river we were looked at as a novelty as there weren’t many westerners in this neck of the woods. Other trips to villages include a walk through a pretty town, Thanh Ha, to watch a water puppet show, an inspection of a small village that has the noble tradition of producing fine ceramic items with the skills passed down through the generations. This was in the province of Hanoi and a local Lion Dance troupe, welcomed us to the region with a raucous drumming performance and dancing lions.
We were treated to an extraordinary concert in the village of Hung Lo temple to hear a choir, yet again, women from seven years to their 80s carrying on the tradition of singing ‘Hat Xoan’. And we danced with the singers to a fishing song, without the usual embarrassment of looking like bulls in a China shop – a testament to the generosity of spirit of these local people.
In this village there is the Thay and Tay Phuong pagodas, both built around enormous pillars of jackfruit, decorated with hundreds of statues, and surmounted by sweeping upturned eaves.
Another village introduced us to the knife makers – families that for generations have been pounding red hot steel into machetes and chopping knives.
A walk around Duong Lam village exposes us to the elegance and grandeur of the UNESCO designated village. Duong Lam has a history that dates back to around 1200 years with many of the houses almost 400 years old. Apart from its historical and touristic values, the ancient village is a significant place for scientists to study resident communities in ancient agriculture.
Our last meet and greet was in an H’mong village sitting among glowing green, lush rice fields. The village is in an idyllic valley with stilt houses dotting the landscape. A shared cup of tea and some locally made banana wine, peanuts and bananas – and all traditional social mores had been adhered to.
What a cruise, what an experience and what about Vietnam for another cruise? Don’t mind if I do.
Friend or pho?
- Around and beyond World Heritage listed Halong Bay, there are 1,969 dramatic limestone islands and rock formations dating back 20 million years.
- The lotus is the national flower of Vietnam. All parts of this sustainable plant can be used or consumed and as most homes don’t have foil, the leaves are used for wrapping food for cooking or storing.
- Pho is an aromatic stock-based soup with noodles, and beef, chicken or tofu – eat for breakfast lunch or dinner!
- The durable conical hat worn by farmers is called ‘Non La’.
- Be flexible – monsoon rains could change the river levels and perhaps change the itinerary – enjoy the adventure.
Writer, Bev Malzard enjoyed extra time in Hanoi before and after the cruise and will cobble a few city images together for another blog in a couple of weeks. Here’s the writer with a lion, not quite extinct in Vietnam yet.
This article was previously published in www.mydiscoveries.com.au
And below, a reminder to do our bit while travelling, start small and don’t accept the plastic bags and take your own water bottle.
As a regular traveller, packing is still not a smooth task. I think I have it all together: duffel bag for safari trips where a bag has to be thrown on top of a truck; large suitcase for a cruise more than six days because I can pack lots and only have to unpack once; a neat carry-on for a weekend or a three-dayer. My fave is a medium-size suitcase, packed carefully to manage all garments and hope they last the distance. (Without getting into packing, has anyone else had the experience of trying to repack after wearing clothes and notice that they have doubled in size? What’s that all about?)
Aside from the appropriate piece of luggage I find a backpack an essential these days. I have invested in a classy backpack, just big enough to carry the essentials onboard: iPad or laptop, camera, extra wrap and stuff. Also a small shoulder bag that holds the minimum that can carry over to be an evening bag if needed.
All that is essential but also necessary, what are the things that I can’t leave behind and why?
For years I have carried my Swiss Army knife, the big daddy one with every tool imaginable. (Pre the Swiss Army knife I had a Chinese Army knife – a copy – because it was cheaper). These days it has to be carried in my suitcase as I have had a couple confiscated – I forgot and left them in my handbag . . . my bad.
As well as having a handy nail file, scissors, bottle opener and knife and screwdriver it was the Phillips head that gave me some status as wonder woman a few years back.
I was waiting in the office of the Thai Tourism office in Bangkok and was watching four staff members trying to fix the photo copier – light bulb! I jumped into action, drew out my trusty Swiss Army Phillips head saviour and proceeded to take all the screws out of the back of the copier. A winning moment.
And there are the usuals to carry: basic toiletries, conditioner (some hotels in Europe don’t supply conditioner), my own water bottle, a keep-it cup, and a few little treats to give away – pens and pencils for the Pacific islands and PNG, and India; macadamia nuts in gift boxes for Middle Eastern visits – and I always carry a couple of packets of jelly snakes to share with kids along the way.
The obvious, travel insurance (if you don’t have it you’re crazy); charger and universal adapter, sunnies and a laundry bag. And if you wear glasses, carry a spare pair – I once had a prescription pair snatched off me by a thieving monkey and had to spend the rest of my holiday wearing prescription sunglasses at night.
But as well as the usual suspects, everyone has a little something, either practical or sentimental that they travel with – what’s yours?
Writer, Bev Malzard passed on a handy tip a few years back on the subject of jelly snakes. She was ensconced in a rather nice cabin on a ship with a TV on a stand sitting on a cabinet. With the motion of the ship and the sea, the damn TV rattled constantly. So, out came a jelly snake, warmed it in her hands, and rolled it into sleeping snake position and gently squeezed it between the TV stand and the surface it was rattling on. Problem solved. You’re welcome!
Dating back to the Old West era, Denver is definitely oh, so 21st century.
Denver, the capital of Colorado, features landmark 19th-century buildings, museums that include the Denver Art Museum, an ultramodern complex known for its collection of indigenous works, and the mansion of famed Titanic survivor Molly Brown.
Denver is also a jumping-off point for ski resorts in the nearby Rocky Mountains. It’s a university town and there’s a lot of sporty stuff going on here. And in Denver you will find the highest concentration of recreational marijuana stores in Colorado, with a large number of select stores selling recreational and medical marijuana. Marijuana stores in Denver are required to close by 10pm. See https://www.coloradopotguide.com/where-to-buy-marijuana/colorado/denver/ just sayin’ (it is legal).
It’s called the Mile High City because it is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level (1.6km).
I believe that as the cowboys galloped into town all those years ago and helped grow this city, it was today’s hipsters who moseyed into town in their electric cars, swishing their pony tails that have put the edge on Denver.
It’s always been known as a friendly, easygoing place but the hospitality bar has been raised up and up.
The local Beer Trail boasts an extraordinary craft beer culture – home to Colorado’s oldest and largest beer pubs, and if the beery brew isn’t to your taste there’s a slew of cafes serving coffee that even Aussie coffee snobs approve of.
If you are a Super Bowl fan this is the home of the Denver Broncos and their home is the Mile High Stadium which is open for a walking tour through the hallowed halls.
The main drag is the 16th Street Mall, a pedestrian and transit mall is 1.25 miles long, runs along 16th Street in downtown Denver. Stroll it and shop, stop and eat or drink or catch the free tram from one end to the other.
And at the end, cross the road to visit the Union Station, a splendid example of 19th century architecture. Once a bustling transit institution and as roads and flight took goods across the nation, the station’s use declined. But it’s now back in business as a bus and rail terminal and a lovely hotel is inside the original building as Crawford Hotel. The main hall is now a café, bar, lounge area full of gentle buzzing conversation and good vibes. Everyone welcome as long as you ‘be nice’. Union Station is located in LoDo (Lower Downtown), Denver’s vibrant oldest neighbourhood – check out the city’s best known restaurants, galleries, shops, and boutiques.
Just outside of town is the amazing natural amphitheatre Red Rocks where everyone from Bruce Springsteen to U2 have performed. To see a concert here is an out of body experience. The sun goes down, the rocks surrounding you are in sharp contrast to the blackening sky, the lights go up and the music begins!
Culture rules in Denver from high to low – rock to symphony, traditional art to an outdoor gallery of topical wall art, fast food to high table cuisine.
Denver has been the subject of many songs by famous artists especially native son the late John Denver, but my fave is by Jimmy Buffet:
I’m about a mile high in Denver
Where the rock meets timberline
I’ve walked this ground from town to town
Just to finally call it mine
Writer, Bev Malzard squealed when she found out she was going to a concert at Red Rocks to see local boys made good – One Republic (Shooting Stars) . . . oh what a night. And would recommend anyone who enjoys music of any sort to do some research before you travel anywhere and book seats for a concert so you can immerse yourself totally in the music, the scene and with the locals.
AVERAGE FLIGHT TIME LAX-DEN 2hrs 20 mins
BEST TIME TO VISIT April through May and September through October. The city’s shoulder seasons are characterized by comfortable temperatures,
Plenty of street art around town, this bold pour of milk splash is coming from the Dairy Market building.