"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Crikey! Riverfire Rocks!

Saturday, August 30 - Brisbane, Australia and The Australia Zoo in Beerbah, Australia - blogged Sunday, August 31st from the Brisbane hotel What a tremendous Aussie day! We got up (fairly) bright and early and caught the train north out of Brisbane (another great deal - ride all day for about $14 each) around 80 miles to the small town of Beerbah, Australia, and the home of The Australia Zoo that was created by the late Steve Irwin (The Crocidile Hunter from TV fame) and is still solely-owned by his wife and kids. Well worth the long train ride and admission. There were large natural habitats for all the animals with a focus on native creatures of Australia and this surrounding part of the world. Each exhibit was chock full of information on the animals. You can really tell that Irwin put his heart and soul into this place. Our favorite critters we saw in no particular order were: the wombats, the crocs, the lizards roaming free on grounds, the giant tortoises, the snakes (well, maybe not Ashlee's favorite) and the sex kitten (definitely Rob's favorite).
The train ride back was quite eventful because the closer we got to Brisbane the more crowded the train got to the point that there was no room left to even stand. The reason? Riverfire. Brisbane's biggest event of the year is Riverfestival which celebrates the beginning of spring, and the kick-off to it is a huge fireworks display downtown over the river appropriately called Riverfire. The crowds were tremendous. We likened it to New Year's Eve in NYC a few years ago that we attended. Newspaper reports say it was one of the biggest crowds ever and topped 600,000 people. A full half-hour of fireworks being launched from barges on the river and off the top of skyscrapers (bet you can't do that in the U.S.) along with two fly-overs by an F-111 doing an awesome "dump and burn" in the dark night sky over the city was nothing short of spectacular. What a lucky stroke it was for us to be there on the weekend of this great event. Thanks, Brisbane!!

Hello Brisbane!

Friday, August 29th - Brisbane, Australia - blogged from the hotel on Sunday, August 31st Wow, what a beautiful city! Split right down the middle by the Brisbane River, it reminds us both of Chattanooga, TN...only about 3 times as big. Lots of use of the river including walking trails along it, river taxis and ferries shuttling folks back and forth and up and down the river, attractions and restaurants overlooking the river, etc. Our lodging is at the Conrad Treasury Hotel and Casino (sorry, no poker tournies, Rob). The Conrad is a beautiful old building that was originally built as the land surveying offices, then it became an art gallery and finally the hotel that it is today. And we do mean old, the floors creak when you walk on them, it's only five-stories tall dwarfed by the modern high-rises around it, and the rooms are overly large and roomy. The casino is housed in the old treasury building (hence the name) right across a courtyard from the hotel. We spent the afternoon walking around the city and our best (and cheapest) find was the aforementioned river public transportation called The CityCat that gave us a perfect tour of the city from the water for $5.50 each that was good to use all day. We got off about dark on the "Southside" of the river across from our hotel and explored the walkways and parks that surround a couple of small universities there. Preparation was being made for the city's annual spring gala, Riverfestival, which kicks off tomorrow night with Riverfire (more on that in the next blog). Two attractions opening for the festival were Frogforest which allowed you to walk through a beautiful botanical garden and learn about the dozens of different tree and water frogs in the area. Each has a distintive call and you could hear those calls at each info station by stepping on a sensor in front of it. Very cool. The second attraction was not open for business yet, but is already an impressive site is this huge ferris wheel similar to one at Navy Pier in Chicago (we've been on that one) and The London Eye (not yet, but it's on our list). It opens tomorrow night and we hope to catch a ride on it before we leave. Dinner tonight was at our first-ever-to-try Vietnamese restaurant, Viet De Lite, and the food was great...especially the appetizer: prawn spring rolls. The service was brutally slow again. It seems that Australian folks working in the service industry don't really expect tips since most credit card receipts don't even have a tip line and people seem really surprised when you tip even a few cents for a beer (it's just 50 cents, dude, it's not like I made your car payment this month for you), but unfortunately that really seems to affect service somewhat (we encountered that in Italy last year as well). Not sure if it's a good trade-off to give up tipping for prompt service.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Barrossa Valley - Day 5

Thursday - August 28 -blogged from the airport in Adelaide, Australia So on our bus tour of Australia's version of the Napa Valley, the lovely Barossa Valley, we were asked by our driver if we were on our honeymoon. We were not sure whether to take it as an insult or a compliment, but the reason is pretty clear: We were the youngest, loudest and happiest people on this tour!! We should have known when we booked a Gray(hair)Line Tour that it would be a bit of a snooze designed for the elderly in body and spirit. But we made the most of it and the area was lovely. Our first of only two wine-tasting (what the ?? it's a WINE-TASTING tour) was Wolf Blass which had excellent wine and a fancy tasting shop. This is big business wine-making in the Barossa Valley for sure. Much different than the boutique-style wineries of the Hunter Valley that we visited while in Sydney a few days ago. Our time at Wolf Blass was too quick (as were all stops on this tour), but we made the most of it including trying a half-glass of their "Platinum" series that runs well over $150 a bottle....smooooooth stuff. Lunch was actually the highlight of the trip as we both finally got to try kangaroo. It was pretty darn good and can best be described as tasting like pot roast. Less gamey than venison and very lean. Lunch was served at another smaller winery called Kaesler's. Their wines were available for tasting after lunch and were very impressive. We bought two bottles of their Semillon and unfortunately one did not make it home....in fact, it didn't make it back to Adelaide...but don't tell our driver, Martin, who told us it was illegal to drink on the bus...oops. Our afternoon stop was in a little German-settled village of Hahndorf which was quaint and again could have used more time to explore than the 50 minutes we were given. Dinner back in Adelaide was served up in Chinatown and it was very good despite a bit of slow service and a less than aesthetic ambiance (i.e. the place was kind of a dump). We are off tomorrow back to the east coast and the city of Brisbane for our last leg of this memorable journey down under.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Day 4 - Travel to Adelaide

Wednesday, August 27 - Sydney to Adelaide, Australia - blogged from the Adelaide Hilton Hotel Not a whole lot to report today. It was a travel day for us most of the morning and we got on a flight from Sydney westward to Adelaide in South Australia (state name). The trip was smooth and fairly uneventful. There was a computer glitch that made us about a half hour late taking off and that coincided with Ashlee reading that there had been major delay in air traffic in the U.S. yesterday due to computer problems. That had us a bit concerned that it was going to repeat here in Australia, but "no worries" as the folks down here say when the problem was solved fairly quickly. Another nice flight served up by Qantas including a delicious and bountiful breakfast during the two-hour flight. We spent the afternoon exploring Adelaide and we have to say it's...kind of strange, actually. The cabbie from the airport said 1 million plus lived in the area, but what do they do?? There do seem to be some corporate headquarters downtown, but we have yet to figure out what employs the masses here and what aids them in the cost of living...i.e. stuff in Adelaide is priced HIGH. We looked at Keen and Merrell shoes we could buy in the U.S. and they were the double the price here. Everything has been high in Australia: food is high, drinks are high (bottled water $3 in a convenience store), souvenirs, etc. but Adelaide prices have been the worst so far. Our favorite Australia staple has become their potato "wedges" that have a nice coating of some sort of mild spice and come with a chili/sour cream dip.
Perhaps our bus tour tomorrow or Wikipedia can provide that answer as to what makes Adelaide tick. The city is a large planned layout that looks fairly clean, but honestly is a little bland. Nothing too exciting to gaze upon unless it's through a wine glass or the bottom of a beer mug (finally some good ales for Rob - thanks Cooper Brewing). I guess Sydney spoiled us. They do have a nice beach area a few miles from downtown called Glenelg. We rode a (free to us) trolley to it (we just couldn't figure out how to pay - no ticket booth, no ticket machine, that had ticket vendors but they didn't ask us directly for a ticket?? - as we said the prices are high here, so it was about time we got a price break from Australia - thanks City of Adelaide - we don't mind an honor system, but at least make it easy to understand how to pay. We ended the evening back in the Executive Lounge of the Hilton (thanks to Ashlee's many nights spent alone working in Arkansas, Memphis, etc.) and enjoyed some tasty snacks that were bountiful enough for us to call it dinner and some complimentary beer and wine. Australian TV sucks by the way (they have some odd obsession with "Two and a Half Men" - we've seen it on the plane, on TV in Sydney and now again on TV here in Adelaide - funny show, but not that funny. So we opted for "Oceans 13" on Rob's laptop, but we both fell asleep within a half hour with dreams that our tour to the Grand Barossa Valley will rescue our hopes of an interesting trip to South Australia.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Blue Mountains Majesty

Tuesday - August 26th, 2008 - Sydney to the Blue Mountains, Australia - blogged from the Sydney hotel room Another day down under and another very good day-long tour under our belts. Our tour guide today was Johnny, our head-count was still small at 11 (still not a full bus which would have been 14) and our destination was The Blue Mountains which lie a couple hours west of Sydney. Johnny was an excellent guide full of great information about Sydney, The Blue Mountains and Australia in general. Our first stop about an hour out of town was the Featherdale Wildlife Park where we had breakfast with a beatiful young koala named "Maddie." Maddie's fur was very soft and she was a bit shy, but she was an amazing little thing. Featherdale is a wonderful little zoo/wild animal recovery station right in the middle of the suburban sprawl of Sydney. The park was there first, but now it sits amid a bustling neighborhood. This little santuary had an amazing array of native animals, birds and reptiles. Everything from colorful parrots, kangaroos you could hand feed and a big sleepy saltwater croc that I am sure would like to have been hand-fed...or fed a hand. Moving on to The Blue Mountains was next on the agenda and the views were outstanding.
Rising 3,000 feet above sea level at their highest point, these sandstone beauties are where Sydneysiders (that's what the natives call themselves) "go for some mountain time." Quaint little villages, acres of orchards and pristine national park land surround you instantly. Despite being in drought conditions we were able to see two nice tall waterfalls. The highlight of The Blue Moutains (and the whole day) was a walk through and above a real rainforest via a boarded trail. This area is a World Heritage Site and we could have definitely spent a lot more time here. The day concluded with Johnny promising and (finally) delivering kangaroos in the wild (we had to hunt for them a bit). These young males are protected in the national park lands and tolerate humans pretty well. Gentle natures with powerful potential strength in claws and strong muscles make these animals quite interesting to observe. Johnny did a good job of not doubling-back over areas we had already seen and gave us glimpses of Sydney's Olympic venues on the way back into town as well as great views of Darling Harbor and other areas on the far end of Sydney from where we were staying. What a magnificent city. We are gonna miss you, Sydney! We concluded the evening with a superb seafood dinner at "Fish at the Rocks" near our hotel (a Johnny suggestion - thanks, mate!). Ashlee had the Atlantic trout (similar to salmon in color and taste) and Rob had baked barramundi (first time ever) which is a meaty white fish with excellent flavor. It's off to the west early tomorrow morning to spend a couple of days in Adelaide.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hunter Valley PTA (perfect tour acquired)

Australia trip - Day 3 - from the hotel in Sydney - Monday, Aug. 25th
We took our first tour today in Australia and it was to the picturesque wine region of Hunter Valley, a couple of hours from Sydney. We had no idea what a large concentration of wineries were in this area - try around 150. We had a nice small group - only nine brave souls and our driver, Neville...or was it Nigel...inside tour joke...it was definitely Nigel and he was superb. He took us on a rather customized tour and got us off the regular beaten path. The morning was spent at two small boutique wineries who only offer cellar-door sales (i.e. you can't run down to the corner liquor store and find these wines, you can only buy them at the winery). The first was Mistletoe. They had a nice array of wines for us to sample (our group was the only one there). We chose to purchase the incredibly different sparkling red, Petillant (an effervescent red served cold like champagne) to bring home with us. Since it's early spring here the vines are, of course, dormant but despite that the beauty of this large valley dotted with vineyards was still evident.
The next stop was just a few doors down the road at Tintilla where the owner herself conducted the private wine-tasting (again, we were the only folks there...well done, Neville). The wines were varied and tasty but our real find here was flavored olive oils from the Pukara Estate in the Upper Hunter Valley region. These dipping oils have been infused with an array of different flavors (we settled on pepper, lime and garlic) creating a savory taste sensation...Hunter Valley, if you haven't guessed is also an olive-growing region.
Lunch was next on the agenda and it was served (with more wine samples of course) at the Hunter Resort which had it's own winery as well as a microbrewery called "Bluetongue" which derives its name from an indigenous lizard in the area with a bright blue tongue thought to be used to fool predators into thinking it is poisonous, evidently it is not, but we did not have an opportunity or a desire to test that theory. Rob had a sample "paddle" of their beers and was just happy to find a somewhat dark, hoppy beer choice in this "land of pilsners and lagers." An excellent meal followed with good camaraderie with our fellow tour-mates - three fun gals from New Zealand on a short "shopping holiday" - a mother and son who reside in Lebanon but she grew up in Australia (Lebanon, the country, of course, what would be the odds of meeting someone from where we live in Lebanon, TN, although we did meet a group of ladies from nearby Murfreesboro when we were in Greece last year) - a well-traveled older lady from Colorado who had ditched her husband who was working back in Sydney, and a fairly quiet but nice young lady from Malaysia.
After lunch we stopped at a amazing chocolate shop for dessert (did I mention there was wine sampling available here too). Ashlee's purchase of the Rocky Road Fudge per Nigel's (OK, enough with the "Neville" stuff already) recommendation has not been sampled yet as of this writing, but will be soon. Penguins and snails have nothing to do with Australia but that did stop Ashlee from purchasing these little chocolate fellas who we can't wait to bite the head off of later.
The next stop was McGuigan's - a much larger winery than the morning boutiques but still not available in the U.S. (yet). Their specialty is ports (wine infused with bourbon or brandy which not only increases the alcohol content, but the body and flavor as well). We settled on purchasing the amazing Tawny Port from the personal reserve of the owner, Brian McGuigan. The selling point on this one was when our excellent pourer, Geoff, served us a second sample of it in a heated glass - now that's a smooth finish for a cold winter's night! It was surprising that we both liked this enough to purchase a bottle since our recent visit to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (see previous blog) did not leave us with great impressions in regard to the taste of whiskey.
Just before the last stop before heading back to Sydney, Nigel made good on his promise that we would see a kangaroo "in the wild." Evidently, kangaroos are as common here as deer are in the U.S. out away from the cities. We saw two different ones (Nigel says there were three) grazing in the valley pastures. They don't bother the grapes or the vines in the region. The last stop was Drayton's. Nigel told us that just a few months before there had been a freak explosion at this winery that had killed one of the brothers/owners. Rebuilding was still under way when we stopped, but it seemed to be business as usual. Strangely enough the single biggest purchase from the group here was Toohey New Beer - another Australian lager - Rob stopped being a beer-snob and joined the Kiwi gals in purchasing a bottle as well. The ride back started off rather boisterous with some singing and hand-clapping to Meat Loaf's "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth" - nice CD choice, Nigel, and then we all just settled back and enjoyed the ride back to Sydney as the sun was setting. Another great Aussie day. We settled in the room early as we prepare for another day-long tour tomorrow to the Blue Mountains.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sydney's grand old "opry" House

Sydney, Australia - Day 2 (blogging from our hotel room)

14 hours, 14 smours...what an easy flight! All our praise goes to Qantas Airlines for a smooth flight, comfy chairs, decent food and great entertainment including plenty of movie choices and the Australian comedy hit soon to be Americanized, Kath and Kim...freaking hilarious. We touched down as the sun was coming up over Aussie-land. Customs was a breeze and the cab ride downtown was quiet in the early Sunday morning hours. We checked our bags at the Four Seasons Hotel. Before all the "well, la tee da"-s begin, it's not as fancy as you think. We are staying on a buy two get one free special and we have stayed in nicer places (I say Bellagio and Ashlee says Ritz Carlton). They promised us we could get in the room around 10 AM. So with a couple hours to kill before we could take a much-anticipated shower, we strolled around Sydney Harbor with very few people around. We met a nice couple from New Zealand who were "weekending" in Sydney and we each took the others' picture with the famous Sydney Opera House in the background. Just as inspiring as the Opera House is the Sydney Harbor Bridge. It's massiveness and architectural beauty are hard to ignore. Sydney is a beautiful city with tons of greenery and amazingly cool buildings and quirky little streets and alleys full of neat stores, eateries and pubs. After our morning stroll, we headed back for our showers and a short nap before venturing out again. This time we headed for the Opera House and stopped for lunch with a view of the Harbor Bridge. We roamed around the Opera House grounds and we were surprised to see it actually is composed of three different buildings and not one large structure as most of the pictures you see seem to indicate. We continued our afternoon walk around the Circular Quay of Sydney Harbor and finished with a stroll through the incredibly beautiful, incredibly large and incredibly FREE Sydney Botanical Gardens. Great first day in Australia ended with a pint of western Australian Pale Ale called Little Creatures and an interesting sparkling Grant Burge Pinot Noir Chardonnay (see our new wine and beer blogs) http://seerobsbeerblog.blogspot.com/ http://robandashleewine.blogspot.com/ consumed in our room with a view of Sydney's grand old "opry" House here on the other side of the world.

Friday, August 22, 2008

R.I.P. --- Saturday, August 23, 2008 --- We never knew ya...

Day 2 - sort of - Thanks to the International Date Line we take off from LA on Friday, August 22 at 10:30 P.M. and land 14 hours later in Sydney where it will be 6 AM on Sunday, August 24. We hope everyone enjoyed their Saturday that we lost. Let us know how it was.

We love LA....sort of...

LA & Hollywood, CA - Friday, August 22nd - Posted from LAX on the way to Australia - Day 1 Los Angeles is smoggy, dirty, busy and not much to look at. Hollywood was less smoggy, less dirty, still busy, but sure had plenty to look at and is definitely worth coming again when we can spend more time here. We found cheap valet parking just around the corner from where our 10 AM Hollywood Blvd. walking tour started which was a surprise since we were expecting to pay out the nose. The Walk of Fame stars were everywhere you looked (photo above). Our tour guide, Mick, was a friendly Brit who was a former Beefeater Guard at the Royal Palace in London. His story of how he got from there to Hollywood was, a little strange and of course, involved a woman who is now his wife. Although the tour was a bit short (or seemed so at one hour), it was very informative and chock full of Hollywood nuggets of history, insider details and the comings and goings of stars and starlets all around this little town in the hills of L.A. Despite all the glitz and glamour that is "Hollywood" it's still business as usual in this town including the fact that such a famous star as the one above would be situated in front of a busy McDonald's. We spent the afternoon down the coast a ways visiting Ashlee's boss, Michelle, and her family. Much thanks to them for showing us a great time in such a brief period including a visit to beautiful Laguna Beach. We have now made it back to LAX and are sitting in the terminal waiting to board that "big old jet airliner."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

"with a 50-cent [Phoenix Hill] lighter and a [Maker's Mark] whiskey buzz"...

The words of Scott Miller & the Commonwealth's "I Made a Mess of This Town" never rang truer [for the most part] than describing our weekend trip to Louisville to see the boys as well as those Texas twangers, The Gougers, who opened the show at the legendary Phoenix Hill Tavern (Happy Birthday PHT - 32 years and going strong).
This was our first visit to this river city icon and we were pretty impressed. The acoustics were good in "The Saloon" part of this multi-level, multi-room, multi-themed nightclub.

Both groups put on great shows. We gave the edge to Scott and the boys (photo above) since his performance seemed to improve when fueled by some of that world-class Kentucky bourbon whiskey. We were up close and personal again with both bands not only during their performances but afterward as well when Jamie from The Gougers sat at our front row table for a couple of songs after her set to see Scott and the boys do their thing. We also both talked to Scott during and after his performance. Well, it was more like we "love-heckled" him during the show when Ashlee implied early on out loud that Scott hated babies and he asked that she please "stop stealing his jokes" and then late in the show when Rob was introduced to the crowd by Scott as "The Human Kazoo" just before he brought out the actual instrument for his great new song, "People Rule."


After the show despite our rude harrassment during his performance, Scott was a big enough person to speak with us cordially as he signed a copy of his new acoustic EP of the upcoming SM&TC album "Appalachian Refugee" for us. It's gonna be a good one! Fire in the hole!! Before arrving in Louisville we also made a stop along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail at the tiny village of Laretto to visit the Maker's Mark Distillery. Beautiful grounds, interesting free tour and a nice tasting room/gift shop (photo above) made for a nice detour. While we both can appreciate the effort and craftmanship it takes to make their bourbon whisky (not a typo - there's no "E" - that's how they spell it - check the bottle), it's just not our "cup of hooch." We will stick with the beer and wine I guess...and that's probably enough.