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We've been planning to go to an AFL game since we got here. We arrived just as the finals series was ramping up, and by the time we'd caught our breath you couldn't get a ticket. The new season is just kicking off with a knock-out competition, the NAB cup. This afternoon, Melbourne played Hawthorn. We ponied up $18 each and strolled the 200m to the Telstra Dome for the match.
The playing area for Aussie Rules is about the size of Europe. 18 players a side and about ten officials are lost on the pitch. The game is physical to the point of violence. That's not true, actually. The violence well exceeds what is necessary. It's fast, confusing and spectacular. A new rule for this season has introduced a 'Super Goal', worth 9 points. This requires a player to kick a goal from 50m out during the open warfare that constitutes run of play. These are kicks that a Rugby Union player would line up for minutes, then miss 2/3 of the time. We saw three.
Owing to a pressing need for decent beer, we left after the third quarter. Melbourne had the game well in hand, and there was little chance of a Hawthorn comeback.
Ten minutes later, we were in the pub. Hawthorn had slammed in two supergoals and a normal one, and proceeded to run away to a 110-86 victory. This always happens when I leave a sports event early. Our equilibrium was restored by a few decent beers.
A coolish sunny day with the usual howling gale. We went shopping together. When I'd outlived my usefulness (chocolates bought -check), I was encouraged to leave The Shopper doing her thing. So I took the bike out.
Out along Victoria Parade to Ikea, then into Studley Park. The banks of the Yarra this far east actually have some hill-like qualities, so I climbed a lot. Fun.
The river loops erratically around eastern Melbourne, giving some interesting views of the city.
Now we're off to watch the footy.
I have been neglecting you, dear readers. Not since Monday have you been exposed to my pointless blathering drivel. There is no abnormal cause for my inexcusable procrastination - I'm just extraordinarily lazy.
To make amends, I shall show you some pictures. We start with a river that's barely there. On Tuesday (I think) I took the velocipede on a journey up past Moonee Ponds and towards the airport. It's mostly concrete and not very pretty. The cycle path winds under the flyovers and over the canalized rivers, and has intermittent children playing with dogs. High speed is essential, to avoid prolonged accusations from distraught owners of flat chihuahuas.
We went for a gentle potter along the Maribyrnong today. Once you get past the container port and racecourse, the river starts to look quite pretty. We saw a couple of herons, and The Observant Cyclist spotted some young cormorants. About twenty of them were swimming downstream in a pack, diving every few moments, then resting for a minute before flying to the front of the pack again. I doubt many small fish got past them.
Next, an observational capability test: Which of these is a tram, and which is only pretending? (Clue - trams don't float. For long.)
This is just a damn good picture.
Since we came back from Adelaide, it's been too hot for much physical exertion. After a few days of forced inactivity, I start to moan and whinge. Or so I'm told. Today, after work the temperature was about 25, the sun was shining and the winds were light. I grabbed my bike and headed east through the city looking for hills.
Melbourne is on the alluvial plain of the Yarra. You have to go 35kms to find anything really worth climbing. However, a few kilometers out there are some bits that aren't totally flat. The journey through the city is a bit frustrating on a bike. The lights are timed for cars doing 50kph. Doing 25-30 you get caught. By. Every. Sodding. One.
Out to Ikea, and the hills in Studley Park. Happiness. Then I came home along the Yarra River Trail in the setting sun.
By 10:00 am the temperature was over 30. Sensible today, we lurked inside until the temperature reached 36. Then we went to the pub.
There was some sort of soccer national grand final on, but the heat was calming the hooligans, so we sipped a couple of cool ones in peace before raiding the cheese and wine shop. Caprinelle and a 2002 Grenache, for those paying attention.
Back home, and the heat was sufficient to cause silliness. That or the beer. Whatever the cause, the swimming pool was too tempting. We were happily splashing around when the cool change came through, bringing a thunderstorm with it. The temperature plummeted to a manageable 29, and the rain hammered down amid sheets of lightning. We got out when the rain stopped.
Summer may be late, but it's very welcome.
With the temperature nudging forty, we decided to cycle along a newly-discovered path to Moonee Ponds. Mad dogs and Englishmen, etc. Common sense prevailed shortly before heat stroke, and we came home slowly. The cormorants were far more sensible.
Because you've all been so good, here's another sunset. February 9th, I think.
It is hard to explain the stunning majesty of the southern night sky, seen from a dark place. Here in Melbourne we rarely see more than a handful of stars. It took us an hour to find the brightest comet in decades. In the Barossa Valley, you'd think you were on a different planet. We waited until well after sunset, when the last glow of the dying day had long faded, and sat on our balcony. Initially, all the major stars are visible - thousands of them. The major asterisms are almost swamped by the sheer number of bright stars. As your eyes become dark-adapted, more stars gently drift into perception. Gradually, you start to see the vast, nebulous arc of the entire galactic disk viewed from the edge. It is completely astounding to realise that the whole diffuse glow is caused by the light from far suns, too many to comprehend.
You can't get a taxi for love nor money, though.
We're just back from a short break in the Barossa Valley. We stayed at the Barossa Novotel. It's a resort-style hotel just on the banks of Jacob's Creek (honestly -it really exists - not just a marketing thing).
We took the tourist route from Adelaide, up through the hills. The scenery is stunning, with each turn in the road revealing the next part of a panorama across the plains. t's clear that there's a vicious drought. The land that isn't irrigated is bone-dry and brown.
The hotel is less than 60kms from Adelaide, and even taking the long way we were there in about an hour.
We dined in the hotel's restaurant for the first couple of nights. the food was excellent, and the range of wines available was extensive and challenging. Fun.
They had a tasting every afternoon, each one presented by a different winemaker. We were particularly impressed by the Ross Estate.
On Wednesday morning, we took the hire car (Hyundai Getz - a triumph of blandness over engineering) for a bimble around the area. We went ti the Whispering Wall, near Gawler. It's a concrete wall dam, built in 1902. The reservoir (4500 ML) is a significant chunk of Adelaide's supply. The dam describes a graceful ard across the valley, and there is a stage at each end where you can stand and talk to a person at the other ent. Because the dam is an almost perfect ellipse, sound reflects from one end to the other 144m away with remarkably little loss. All reflecded paths are the same length, so most of the sound from one end reaches the other. High coolness factor.
In other news, KANGAROOS! For the first time, wild kangaroos have been captured by us on camera. Over to the usual place. I'll wait for you here.
As we navigated back, The Observant One noticed one of our favourite winemakers was marked on the map, so we pottered through Lyndoch, Tanunda, Nuriootpa and Angeston (without knowing how to pronounce any of them) to Henschke. Because I am a decent chap, I retained the car keys while the Oenophile gubbled through the tasting selection. We were sensible, and only bought four bottles.
Back down to Lyndoch, and we stopped at the Ross Estate to pick up some of their excellent Grenache, and a few bottles of a truly astounding Temperanillo - the only one I've seen in the Barossa, then back to the hotel for the next tasting...
Today, we escaped. A quick blast down the motorway, and Qantas were able to get us on an earlier flight. Tomorrow, the wine should turn up. Tasting notes will be provided, if we remember.
We'll be going back to the Barossa.
To Lysterfield again this afternoon. A gale was howling through the forest. Statistics are as follows:
We're on holiday this week. Tomorrow morning we're hopping on a plane to Adelaide, then pottering up to the Barossa Valley. Wine will be consumed. The intention is for quality over quantity, but such plans are tentative.
Australia has hosted a huge festival of cricket this summer. I started out with high hopes, but as England plummeted to a historic 5-0 trouncing in the Ashes series, my spirit broke. I began working on a nasal twang and saying 'G'day'. I can cope with derision and contempt. It was the pity I couldn't handle.
The triangular series with England, Australia and New Zealand deepened the depression. When England lost to New Zealand, I gave up completely.
Then, by a triumph of arithmetic over talent, England won a match. Or failed to lose it in a timely manner. Whatever the reason, the sporting accountants decided that England deserved another chance
How this translated into England reaching the final is beyond my understanding. I was so depressed with the England team's performance so far this summer, that I had no desire to witness any further humiliation. Fortunately, I am married to the Best Wife Possible. She bought two tickets for the match and dragged me there after work today.
We walked the mile from our office to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, then another two picking up tickets and finding our gate. The first seats we picked were in line with the wicket in the South Stand. Because the TV cameras dwell on this area a lot, the rowdies tend to congregate there. After a few minutes, we moved to seating around mid-on for a right-handed batsmen facing from the South Stand end. Ahem.
There were about six overs left of Australia's innings, and they had four wickets in hand. Whoops! Three wickets. 245 on the board. England's fielding was sharp and accurate. A couple more runs, and down goes the next wicket. The next batsman walks out, takes the crease, gets clean bowled and walks back again. The hat-trick is missed by a whisker, and Glen McGrath scores a run or two before getting bowled. All out for 252. A big target, but not incomprehensible. I mean, they did it. How hard can it be?
After a totally unneccesary 30-minute break, the game starts again. Australia, having started the game at a run-rate of 8 an over and reaching 148 for 1, put their strike bowlers in first. Five minutes later, England were at 15 for 3, and I was attempting to gnaw through my wrists. Having given up any hope of reaching 50 overs, England started blocking. When you need a run a ball, why not give a maiden or two away? Spiffing. It was getting a bit cool, so we left the ground. Yes, that's it. Cold. That's why we didn't stay. Cold. Not crap cricket at all.
Due to problems with the trams, we accidentally turned up at the pub before reaching home. Nil desperandum. As we walked across Waterfront City, we saw the match on the big screen. England were at 99-3. They had failed to lose a wicket since we left the ground. In the pub, I became increasingly transfixed, as the required run-rate was battered down from eight towards seven and on down. By the time sufficient beer had been taken (I am told it was sufficient, anyway), fifty runs were needed from 45 balls.
Uncharacteristically, England failed to abandon this opportunity. The middle-order collapse never materialised. With four balls remaining, and one run needed, Paul Collingwood deftly slid a tricky yorker towards mid-on and dashed the fast pair needed. England 1, Australia 0.
The Other Cyclist has yet to regain enough confidence to resume hurtling down obstacle-strewn tracks. Today, she was kind enough to let me have a play, though. We pootled over to Lysterfield Lake Park, and she took her camera, iPod and book to a secluded spot by the water's edge. I pointed the front end in an upward direction and started climbing. Happiness.
For reasons neither of us could comprehend, the park was heaving. The car parks were full and the beach was obliterated by towels. We've been there on nicer days, on bank holidays, and during major events and it's never been this busy. Puzzling.
I reset my computer at the start of the Commonwealth Games Trail, and hurtled off. The downhill bits went quickly. Uphill was an exercise in temperature management. It was over 30 degrees, so I took it a bit easy and gubbled three litres of water. I cleaned the entire trail, event the really technical climbs. I made it back to the starting point in 26'07", at an average of almost 9mph. Not very impressive, really. At the Commonwealth Games, the average lap time for the winner was 16'35". And they did eight laps. Room for improvement, then.
We took the short-cut to Williamstown today. By following the south bank of the Yarra and taking the punt across we saved about a mile. The ten-minute wait for the punt meant we didn't save any time, and the obnoxious troll driving the boat significantly reduced the fun factor. He had a nice dog, though.
We rode home along the north bank. It's a bit further, but we didn't have to deal with the punt troll.
After a long ride like that, comfort food is called for. So we had sausage and mash.
Organic sausages, obviously. Gently sauted in olive oil, while the potatoes simmered. Once the potatoes reached the perfect friable consistency, we crushed them gently with finely-chopped garlic, grated New Zealand Colby (like a subtle Cheddar) and a sufficiency of olive oil and butter.
Fine hand-tipped florets of broccoli were lovingly exposed to high-intensity electromagnetic radiation in a confined chamber, while a small amount of Verdelho was seethed down over finely-chopped shallots. After filtering, the reduced wine was gently warmed over a bain-marie, and cold butter was introduced by whisk. This beurre blanc was drizzled over the irradiated broccoli, and served.
Sausage and mash, with broccoli. It's good for you.