Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wine Country Adventures- Sonoma and Healdsburg

After the success of last year's sparkling wine tasting tour Leilani and I decided to hit the road again to try out some new places.  Our first stop was Cornerstone Sonoma which is a bit of a one stop shop for artisan shops, wine tasting, sculptures and food.  We began with a walk around the grounds and through the Cornerstone Gardens, which feature designs from landscape architects and artists.  Some of the sculptures and installations were fantastic, and there was a lot to explore.  Here are some of my favorite pieces:

We stopped for our first wine tasting at Keating Wines.  Their tasting menu included 5 wines:
- 2009 Merlot
- 2011 'Montecillo' Zinfandel
- 2011 'Buchignani' Zinfandel
- 2010 'Montecillo' Cabernet
- 2010 'Georges III' Cabernet
Of the five I liked the Montecillo Zinfandel the best.  It was also good to compare different versions of the same wine in the tasting.

Next we went to Tricycle Wine Partners, which has a really nice tasting room and deck area.  Our server was fantastic and he let us sample all the wines on the tasting menu as well as an additional one:
- 2012 Poseidon Vineyard Chardonnay
- 2010 Kazmer & Blaise 'Boon Fly's Hill' Chardonnay
- 2012 Poseidon Vineyard Pinot Noir
- 2010 Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2010 Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 'The Slope'
- 2011 Obsidian Ridge Syrah
- 2010 Obsidian Ridge Half Mile
The Poseidon Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were quite good, as well as the Syrah.  They have photos in the tasting room of the different vineyards the wine comes from, as well as the region in Hungary where they get the oak for their barrels.

After all that wine tasting I needed some food so we went to have lunch at Park 121.  We shared a kale salad, with Lei ordering a burger while I got the salumi sandwich with mozzarella and roasted bell peppers.  It was just what I needed to absorb all that wine I had already drunk!

Our last wine tasting stop at Cornerstone was Meadowcroft Wines.  We again had a friendly server and tasted 6 different wines:
- 2011 Chardonnay
- 2011 Riesling
- 2011 Pinot Noir
- 2011 Zinfandel
- 2010 Oak Knoll Cabernet, Napa
- 2010 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, Estate Grown
The Pinot Noir and Zinfandel were my favorites here.  Lei also tried the 2010 Sangiovese as part of her 6 choices.

We then hit the freeway for our final stop of the day in Healdsburg at the new tasting room for Cartograph.  Lei had met our server previously as they have mutual friends.  We sampled 5 wines here:
- 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir: Russian River Valley
- 2012 Floodgate Vineyard Gewürztraminer, Russian River Valley
- 2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
- 2011 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
- 2011 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
The Gewürztraminer was quite an interesting wine as it didn't taste too sweet. Of the Pinot Noirs I liked the Anderson Valley one the best.  After we finished tasting we took a bit of a walk around the square in downtown Healdsburg before heading for home.  It was great to be able to sample a wide variety of wines throughout the day, especially reds as I usually don't drink them.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Indie Australia Sampler Vol. 4

Once again I made an indie Australia sampler CD for my cousins as a Christmas gift.  This year's mix is fairly upbeat and features a few 2012 songs but mostly ones from 2013.  There are some old favorites as well as bands I discovered this year at live shows.  Happy listening!

1. Boy & Bear - "Southern Sun"

2. Cloud Control - "The Smoke, The Feeling"

3. The Good China - "You Looked Better A Brunette"

4. Hungry Kids Of Hungary - "Twin Cities"

5. Millions - "Champagne"

6. San Cisco - "Fred Astaire"

7. The Royal Jellies - "Shoot You Down"

8. Jinja Safari - "Plagiarist"

9. Vance Joy - "Riptide"

10. The Basics - "So Hard For You"

11. Bloods - "No Fun"

12. Major Tom And The Atoms - "Confusion"

13. Way Of The Eagle (feat. Dan Sultan) - "Rattlesnake"

14. Oh Mercy - "My Man"

15. Georgia Fair - "Are We Not Alive"

16. The Preatures - "Is This How You Feel?"

17. The Ocean Party - "Found Out"

18. Slow Dancer - "Leave It To Me"

19. Big Scary - "Twin Rivers"

20. Neil Finn and Paul Kelly - "You Can Put Your Shoes Under My Bed"

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy Holidays

Last night my parents hosted their annual Christmas dinner at the house.  My aunt and cousin Leilani came, as well as my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew.  This is the first time James has made it to a Christmas dinner in years since he's usually working, so it was extra special.  We had a bit of an antipasto platter for hors d'oeuvres as well as my favorite drink- mulled cider.  It was good to catch up with Chris and Lei and celebrate my aunt's retirement.  When the kids arrived we had the fun task of wrangling Kylie away from the Christmas tree as she was going after the ornaments (my Mom was smart to put the soft ones at the bottom of the tree).  Logan was very silly and running around but settled once we all headed into the dining room for dinner.

This year my Mom made a Christmas version of her Jell-O salad with a layer of lime Jell-O and pineapple on the bottom, sour cream, then a top layer of raspberry Jell-O with raspberries.  For the main course we had biscuits, roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and a cranberry and apricot chutney.  It was all very delicious.  Lei brought us a red and white wine for dinner as well.  The kids were very well behaved as we ate our meal.  After finishing we headed back into the living room to open presents (I was impressed by Logan's patience in waiting so long) and then it was time for dessert.  I made pumpkin pie and snowball cookies and Mom made these lemon and cranberry pie bars.  We were well beyond full by this point but that's always part of the family gathering- good conversation and lots of food!  I'm glad I was able to be home this year to celebrate with everyone.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bulgari and Hockney

For a bit of art and culture today my Mom and I headed into San Francisco to see two exhibitions that are currently on at the de Young Museum.  The first was The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond: 1950 - 1990.  Showcasing around 150 pieces and various sketches from the Italian jeweler Bulgari, it is interesting to see the evolution in design of the jewelry as it matches the fashions and trends of the decade they were made in.  They used diamonds, semiprecious stones and even coins at one point to create some colorful necklaces, earrings and brooches.  The snake designs from the 1960s were quite interesting, as well as the pieces that used to be in Elizabeth Taylor's collection.  If you are a fan of jewelry, you should definitely check out the exhibition before it closes in mid-February 2014.

Next we went to see David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition, which is spread across two floors of the de Young Museum.  This exhibition showcases the British artist's prolific amount of work since 2002, including nearly 400 portraits and landscapes done on a wide range of media such as watercolor, oil paintings, charcoal drawings, iPad drawings and digital movies.  His landscape work is particularly impressive as he visits places in different seasons throughout a year to record the transitions of what they look like, often using multiple pieces of paper/canvas and aligning these parts together to form the whole picture.  His multi-camera digital movies of the four seasons at Woldgate were quite striking to look at as they surround and engulf you on the assembled screens on four walls in the exhibition.  I was also quite interested in his use of the iPad for drawing, and that process is shown as well and fascinating to watch.  The exhibition is only on for another month, so get down to the de Young to see it if you are in San Francisco (or at least watch this report from PBS Newshour about the exhibition, which includes an interview with Hockney).

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Word Of The Day Is Delay

After only being back from Africa for two months I wasn't exactly looking forward to another day of travel and long haul flights.  However, how could I say no when my parents asked if I would come home for the holidays (and that they would pay for my airline ticket)?  I began my journey on Air New Zealand with a Melbourne to Auckland flight.  Since last year they have installed self check-in for international flights which meant I wasn't standing in a line for an hour and got through fairly quickly.  Unfortunately the flight was delayed for around 45 minutes due to the knock-on effects of an earlier power outage to the control tower in Melbourne.

As we arrived in Auckland I learned that there would be a 3+ hour delay to the Auckland to San Francisco flight due to mechanical issues with our original plane, which they were replacing.  This isn't what you really want to hear when you are about to embark on a 12 hour flight.  In any case, I killed time in Auckland airport and Air New Zealand did give us food vouchers, so at least I didn't go hungry.  We finally left Auckland at 10:45 pm and made up a half an hour in the air.  I entertained myself on both flights with my usual eclectic choices in movies to watch: "We're The Millers," "The Way Way Back," "The Internship," "Frances Ha" and "Mr. Pip."

On arrival at SFO I zipped through customs, but then there was an issue at baggage claim with a door that jammed and it took nearly an hour for my luggage to come out.  I really felt for the people who had connecting flights as a bunch had already been rescheduled due to our delay leaving Auckland.  I was expecting bumper to bumper traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge all the way up the 101 considering how the day was going, but thankfully I made it into Marin with little issue.  It's nice to be back home to see family and friends and celebrate the holidays (especially as I wasn't expecting to be home for Christmas this year).

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Basics- My Brain's Off (And I Like It) DVD Launch

Back in September I was privileged to experience three nights in a row with The Basics.  The first show on 27 September at the Northcote Social Club was filmed and recorded and has now been turned into the concert DVD My Brain's Off (And I Like It), which was launched tonight at a screening at ACMI.  As we entered the theater we were treated to a mini Drumstick ice cream cone and a glass of wine.  Kris, Wally and Tim came out and welcomed us to the screening before the film started.  They joked they were going to launch this at Northcote Social Club (as they had done for the previous live album) but we would have all been gathered around an iPad so they decided to use the big screen and sound system of the ACMI cinema.

Mary and I were a bit nervous about how many crowd shots we would feature in considering we were standing in the front row for this show.  Thankfully Mr. Tim Heath blocked us from the camera's view for a lot of shots, which was a relief although you can see us throughout (and Mary has a close up shot of her singing along to one song).  The concert film itself is fantastic and captures the humor, musical talent and fun of a Basics gig.  You also would never know from the way it is edited that Wally was struggling with his drum kit throughout the night.  The hour and a half concert was edited down to 15 songs, and unfortunately none of the new ones made the cut.  However, there are still heaps of musical highlights in there and we were fully engrossed throughout and even clapping after each song by the end.

After the screening the boys and filmmaker Ryan Gaskett took questions from the audience.  They ended up using this show for the DVD because Wally's vocals from the recording on the second night didn't work, and the video from the third night at the Corner Hotel didn't turn out.  There is also interview footage that wasn't used solely due to the time it would have taken to get the film through the Australian Classification Board (they hinted that maybe one day there could be a director's cut).  There were a few people brought along by friends who were blown away by the film having not known anything about The Basics beforehand.  The best question asked though was probably "Why aren't you the biggest band in the world?"  The boys were very coy when asked a few times about the future of the band and any possible recording, which I thought was slightly odd.  They do have some festival shows coming up into the new year, so they are still playing together at least for the short term.  We will have to wait and see what 2014 holds for the band.

Here's the trailer for the DVD (see if you can spot me) and be sure to order your own copy:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Music, Melbourne + Me

This afternoon I had the pleasure of checking out the Music, Melbourne + Me exhibition at the RMIT Gallery.  It not only celebrates 40 years of Mushroom Records but also the Melbourne music scene.  As an added bonus a group of us got a guided tour through the exhibition by Peter Green, who has worked with many Mushroom artists including Skyhooks, Split Enz and Crowded House.

As you enter the lobby you see the Pegasus horse from Kylie Minogue's Aphrodite tour.  The first room we went into had various concert posters on the wall along with a huge Skyhooks stage backdrop and a sculpture hanging in the middle of the room that had assorted videos and album covers projected on it.  Along with some old Crowded House and Split Enz posters was a wooden Crowded House burning building with wings sign, which is one of two in existence.

The next room was dedicated to the Melbourne music scene and lists every single music venue past and present on the walls.  There are posters and live photos from different local gigs throughout the years, including the SLAM rally sign.  Another room in the exhibition is dedicated to Michael Gudinski and Ian "Molly" Meldrum with a wall of gold records, some really rare memorabilia from both their collections and a replica desk so the room looks like Michael's office at Mushroom.

The best space in the exhibition though is the costume room, which has lots of great pieces from Kylie Minogue, Skyhooks, Split Enz and Crowded House.  It was such a privilege to see them up close, especially Nick Seymour's artwork on the Crowded House items.  My favorite was probably the iconic red jacket that Neil Finn wore on the cover of Crowded House's debut album.  The other really amazing item was the original album artwork for Conflicting Emotions by Split Enz, which was painted by Noel Crombie.  I had no idea it was such a big painting.

Overall it was a great tour and entertaining to hear all of Peter's stories around working with the artists and the history behind some of the pieces in the exhibition.  If you are in Melbourne check it out (especially if you are a Split Enz or Crowded House fan).  Music, Melbourne + Me runs until 22 February 2014 and it's free!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Gotye and the Night Noodle Market

Today I escaped work early and headed down to ACMI in Fed Square to meet up with Tash and Mary for the Gotye and His Collaborators event as part of Spectacle: The Music Video Exhibition and Melbourne Music Week.  It was a nearly hour and a half conversation with Wally De Backer (aka Gotye) and some of the people he has worked with on his videos hosted by film and music critic Megan Spencer.  After a short intro of the panel they discussed the ideas behind the videos done for songs off the album Making Mirrors and the processes they went through to make them, including some amusing behind the scenes "making of" clips.

First up was director Natasha Pincus of Starkraving Productions, who made the video for the worldwide smash hit "Somebody That I Used To Know."  She discussed the importance of giving your full attention to those first couple of listens of a song in order to get inspiration for a concept for the video.  Wally talked about his admiration for her previous work with Paul Kelly and Sarah Blasko and the emotive performances she gets from artists she works with.  The video was shot over a couple of very long days with Emma Hack doing all the body painting of both Wally and Kimbra.

Next up was Andrew Goldsmith from Oh Yeah Wow who did the video for "Easy Way Out."  He spoke about the 9 month process it took to make the video, which included building the sets and stop motion animation.  Wally felt he got off light in this video, only being on set for a total of four days compared to the rest of the crew.  His bits were recorded to the song being played at a quarter of the speed, which it gives it that jerky motion look.

The last of the collaborators were Ivan Dixon and Greg Sharp from the animation studio Rubber House.  They worked with Wally on the videos for "State Of The Art," "Don't Worry, We'll Be Watching You" and "Seven Hours With A Backseat Driver" off the album Like Drawing Blood.  Wally spoke about his love of animation and puppets stemming from a childhood watching cartoons and Sesame Street, as well as the freedoms you have due to the limitless story possibilities with animation.  Wally also really admired the amount of work that was put in considering some of the tight timelines he gave for these clips, which have been used as visuals for live shows as well as official videos.  Both Ivan and Greg talked about the constraints of animating a song within the parameters of what is requested.  They will often try to fit in traditional story arcs while at the same time trying to ensure they hit the beat at certain points in a song.

Overall it was quite an interesting conversation with the panel and very informative about the creative process behind making a music video.  All of them really enjoyed working with Wally and it has given them more exposure for their work and led to other projects over the last couple of years (especially with the success of "Somebody That I Used To Know").  Wally was asked about how he goes about picking people to do clips and most of the time he will have someone in mind for a song.  He has found that asking for pitches doesn't really give him the result he desires and he'll often end up approaching and asking someone to do the work instead.

After the event finished we headed out into the glorious sunshine and walked down to Alexandra Gardens to have dinner at the Night Noodle Markets, which is part of Good Food Month.  It seemed as though most of Melbourne had the same idea because the opening night was absolutely packed.  As we did a lap of the grounds to check out what was available all the various food booths had massively long lines.  Considering most of them were restaurants you would have been better off going to the place itself!  Not wanting to wait for over an hour for food that may run out by the time we got to the front, we headed back to the entrance where the food trucks were parked and lined up for Lil' Nom Noms who I have been wanting to try out.  I had the steamed pulled pork bao and lemongrass chicken bun cha, which were both very good.  The Night Noodle Markets runs nightly until the end of November, so check it out if the weather is nice (and hopefully the crowds will calm down a bit).

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Major Tom And The Atoms- Heroes, Villains, Boom Boom Boom! Album Launch

It was busier than normal on Brunswick Street last night as Mary and I drove around trying to find a park (we later realized it was because the Johnston Street Fiesta was on).  We finally made it to The Evelyn Hotel for Major Tom and The Atoms' album launch just as The Dyson Wyatt Polyamorous Tryst were finishing up their set.  The second act of the night was dixieland/jazz 8-piece band The Royal Jellies, who I really liked.  They were very impressive and reminded me of Squirrel Nut Zippers.  Featuring songs off their debut album Burrows St. Poolside, the highlights of their set were "Place In My Head," "Sweet Papa Joe & Maestro Julio" and "Shoot You Down."

It's been a long time coming but I'm so glad Major Tom and The Atoms have finally released their debut album Heroes, Villains, Boom Boom Boom!  Tom Hartney came out onto the stage in a black and white striped jacket and launched into "Merri Creek (Dead & Gone)."  They played the majority of the new album throughout the night and Tom added theatricality to the set with his costume changes.  He donned a red robe for "Confusion" and later changed into a plaid suit and hat for "Sherlock Holmes."  The band were on fire with "Boom Boom Boom," "Wishing Well," "Evil Angel" and "The House That Love Built," which had Sean playing the saxophone from the floor.  The band finished up the night with "Mockingbird" and had the whole crowd dancing and clapping along.

Here's the video for the first single off the album "Confusion," which was shot in Chinatown in Melbourne

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New Music From Neil Finn

On 1 November Neil Finn did a webcast from his studio previewing some new songs from his upcoming solo album Dizzy Heights, as well as playing some old favorites such as "Private Universe" and "Kare Kare."  It was great to get a first listen of "Dizzy Heights," "Impressions" (which has a hint of the Finn Brothers' "Gentle Hum" in it), "White Lies and Alibis" and "In My Blood" complete with a nine piece string section.  This album should be amazing if the webcast is any indication.

Neil has also released a couple songs from Dizzy Heights to preview the album.  The first was a video for "Divebomber," a song which is proving to be a bit polarizing among fans.  I think it fits in alongside his work on the Rain soundtrack and Pajama Club.  Personally I love the cinematic quality of the video and song and find it quite evocative.  It was inspired by the 1941 Errol Flynn film of the same name and was shot by Neil on his recent holiday in Greece.

The second song, which he premiered this week, is "Flying In The Face Of Love" which sounds much more like a traditional Neil Finn song.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Melbourne Cup 2013

Photo: The Age
It's Spring Racing Carnival time again and today is the Emirates Melbourne Cup horse race.  The field was wide open this year but the favorite with the punters actually ended up being the winner- Fiorente, trained by Gai Waterhouse and ridden by jockey Damien Oliver.  Red Cadeaux came in second, with Mount Athos finishing in third place.  After all of Gai Waterhouse's years in racing this was her first Melbourne Cup win, and Fiorente made up for last year's second place finish.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Boy & Bear- 16 Days Under A Southern Sun Tour

It's been over a year since I last saw Boy & Bear play live.  Last night was the first show of their three night stand at The Forum in support of their latest album Harlequin DreamTash and I got there in time for the opening acts Dustin Tebbutt and Battleships, both from Sydney.  I really liked Battleships as they had a bit of a dark and industrial sound with hints of Interpol, and the drummer was an absolute machine.

Boy & Bear came onstage to the sound of ELO's "Evil Woman" before launching into their current single "Three Headed Woman."  The mix of songs throughout their hour and a half set was equal parts old and new.  It was great to hear "Rabbit Song" and "Mexican Mavis" off the first EP although I was a bit surprised quite a few people in the crowd didn't seem to know them.  "Lordy May" and "Big Man" off of Moonfire were lovely, and "Milk & Sticks" got a huge reaction from the sold out crowd.  The songs from the new album were also great and often included the backing of two violinists.  The stand out tracks for me were "Southern Sun," "Old Town Blues," "A Moment's Grace," "Back Down The Black" and "Real Estate."

The guys were grateful and appreciative of the Melbourne audiences that keep coming back to see them play.  There was also a running gag throughout the night about Killian's alter ego Neil Moon, named after his moon boot as he broke a toe right before the tour started.  "Harlequin Dream" featured a saxophone solo and the guys joked that it was a lot of pressure on the guy for those 20 seconds of work each night.  Dave warned the crowd about band's policy of not doing encores before launching into "Golden Jubilee" and the closing song "Feeding Line" which had everyone singing and dancing along.  It's always great to be able to see Boy & Bear live and watch as they become more popular each time they return to Melbourne.

Here's the video for the fabulous "Southern Sun"

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Steichen, Disarm and GAZI

Today is Tash's birthday so I met up with her this afternoon to celebrate her special day.  We started off at the NGV for the newly opened exhibition Edward Steichen and Art Deco Fashion.  Steichen was the chief photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair from 1923-1938, and photographed models, Hollywood actors and other important people of the time.  The photos were pretty amazing, especially the portrait shots of Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson.  The exhibition also includes Art Deco dresses, coats and shoes from the 1920s and 1930s.  The beading and sequins on these pieces is very intricate and beautiful.  It's great to be able to look at the clothes up close and see the detail of the work.  I highly recommend the exhibition, which is on until March 2014.  Check it out if you are in Melbourne.

When we exited the exhibition we were able to watch a live performance in the NGV's Federation Court of Mexican artist Pedro Reyes' Disarm, which is part of the Melbourne Festival.  Reyes' used parts of weapons confiscated by the Mexican Government to create 47 musical instruments.  The motto of this work is "Make Art Not War!"  The live performance this afternoon was improvised by avant-garde collective Make It Up Club, who played for a bit over an half hour.  It would have been interesting to see what previous performers have done with the instruments over the past few weeks.  Both Tash and I also thought of all the sampling one Wally De Backer (aka Gotye) could do- who knows what music he would come up with?  After the performance we had some afternoon tea in The Tea Room, including macarons and a coffee eclair.  Yummy!

We met up with Tash's friend Melissa for a drink at The Duke before heading to dinner at George Calombaris' Greek restaurant GAZI.   I have been meaning to try this place out for a while, and it did not disappoint.  We had excellent service throughout the evening, and were seated at the bar so we were able to watch the kitchen preparing all the dishes in front of us.  We started with a trio of dips and then shared the vegetable, cheese and eggplant entrees.  We each got our own little souvlakakia (I had the duck) and then sorbet and loukomathes for dessert.  I was so full at the end but it was such a delicious meal.  I look forward to coming back and trying more dishes on the menu.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Zanzibar - Dar es Salaam - Dubai - Melbourne

The last few days have been travel days as we gradually made our way back to Melbourne.  We ate our last breakfast beach side at the Villa Kiva Beach Resort early on 17 October before being picked up around 7:00 am for the hour long drive to the airport in Zanzibar.  The one departure there terminal was packed with three separate flights leaving around the same time, which was entertaining.  Our Precision Air flight to Dar es Salaam was at 10:10 am and we were in the air for around 15 minutes. 

When we arrived at Julius Nyerere International Airport I had hoped that we'd be able to check in our bags for our Emirates flight to Dubai at 4:45 pm and maybe even escape the airport for a bit to go explore Dar es Salaam.  That plan didn't work out though because when we went through security with all our luggage we learned that we wouldn't be able to check in until after 1:30 pm and would be stuck in the small international terminal departure area until then.  With a few hours to kill, no food and no wi-fi all there was to do was sit in the little three row seating area and read my book.  I dubbed the spot Westerner row as everyone with international connections was stuck there unless you wanted to go back out through security with your luggage.  Lesson 1: Catch the noon flight from Zanzibar.  Lesson 2: The airport in Dar es Salaam sucks.

After a few hours we were able to line up to check in at Emirates and then proceeded through customs.  I was very happy to finally have some access to food so I could eat lunch and then walked around checking out some of the shops before boarding.  The 5 1/2 hour flight to Dubai was fairly non-eventful but packed.  I watched the movies Now You See Me and The Heat as the entertainment channels had a predetermined running order.

Arriving at Dubai International Airport was a bit of culture shock as it was clean, luxurious and screamed money- a far cry from our African airports and the past 3 weeks on safari.  We cleared customs quickly as our bags had been checked through to Melbourne and had transfers prearranged to the Admiral Plaza Hotel.  This was my first time in Dubai so I didn't mind the drive around at night before we got dropped off at our hotel around 1:00 am.  The sad thing though was that we would be leaving at 7:15 am, so that meant I got about 4 hours of sleep on a hard trundle bed as the three of us shared a room.  Although we didn't get much sleep, staying the night in Dubai did break up the flights and allowed us to shower and change clothes before the last leg to Melbourne.

The driver picked us up at the hotel and drove us back to the airport.  I do wish I was able to explore a bit of Dubai but that will have to be on another trip.  We wandered around the duty free shops in the airport before our mid-morning Emirates flight to Melbourne.  Although it was full we were on one of the brand new A380 planes, which are very nice and have wide screen tvs in the headrests, a good selection of entertainment options and legroom.  I kept myself occupied during the 13 1/2 hour flight by watching the movies The Sapphires and The Hangover Part III, as well as the entire third season of the tv show Portlandia and Blur's free concert in London during the Olympics last year (this was fitting since I have been reading Alex James' book "Bit of a Blur" during the trip).  Due to the timing of the flight I didn't sleep at all as it was within my normal awake hours for the past few weeks.  I suspect I will pay for this over the weekend since we arrived in Melbourne at 6:30 am this morning.  The goal for today is to stay up as long as I can to try and get onto Australian time.  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Stone Town- Zanzibar

For our last full day of the trip the alarm clocks were back on as we had to wake up early this morning and head out to the airport to drop off Shevonne for her flights to London (we will be making the same trip tomorrow).  This was our first time leaving Villa Kiva Beach Resort in the daylight and I was not expecting to see a little shanty town right outside the gate.  The roads have been mostly good in Zanzibar and the majority of housing is a mix of cinder blocks or mud and sticks with either thatched or metal roofs.  We drove through little communities and towns along the way to Stone Town, which is the main city on the island.  As today is Eid al-Adha there were many people at or coming from morning prayers at the mosques as we drove past.

After saying goodbye to Shevonne at the airport we headed to Stone Town for our half day excursion by Regional Tours and Safaris.  We started the tour with our guide at the food market and wandered through the fish, meat, vegetable and spice sections.  Then we went to the site of the former slave market, which is now an Anglican church.  The slave market was run to sell East African slaves to Arabs in the Middle East and lasted until 1873 when explorers Dr. David Livingstone and H. M. Stanley helped to persuade the government to stop the slave trade (slaves to the United States and Europe came from West Africa).  The very small rooms where 50-75 slaves were held at a time before going to auction still remain, and there is a slave memorial of statues on the grounds that was done by Clara Sornas in 1997.

Next we wandered around the narrow streets of Stone Town, stopping at various buildings and admiring the ornate carved wooden doors along the way.  Indian style doors have rounded tops, while Arab style doors are rectangular.  Some of the hotels in the area are pretty nice and have interesting histories.  We also passed Mercury House, where Queen singer Freddie Mercury lived with his family until he was 9 years old.  

The Old Fort built by the Omani Arabs in 1700 still stands along with an outdoor music pavilion that was added to its grounds in the 1990s.  We also saw the outside of the House of Wonders, which is the largest and tallest building in Zanzibar and was the first to have electric elevators and piped water.  Unfortunately it is currently under renovation so we couldn't go inside.

The half day tour was quite interesting and I loved all the historic architecture.  As it was hot we bought an ice cream from one of the beach side stands and then headed back to Villa Kiva.  I spent the afternoon staying out of the sun and water since I didn't want to make my sunburn worse and repacked my luggage for the long journey home starting tomorrow.  At dinner the manager of Villa Kiva, Gabriella, gave us each little necklaces as a thank you and memento for staying at the resort, which was really nice of her.  It's hard to believe our African holiday has come to an end, but I've had a wonderful time on this trip.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Villa Kiva Beach Resort- Zanzibar

The past two days have been the first time in a couple weeks that I haven't had to wake up early to an alarm clock.  It's been so nice to be able to stay in one place, relax and not have to sit in a car driving along a dusty and bumpy road.  The Villa Kiva Beach Resort has been a wonderful place to decompress from the safari.  It's great to be staying in a small place with only a few other guests here as well.  We have had breakfast out on the verandah each morning with a lovely view of the beach and the sound of waves in the background.  Days have been spent lounging under thatched umbrellas reading and taking dips in the pool and the ocean.  The beach has the most amazing white, fine sand and the ocean water is warm and clear (although there is a bit of seaweed floating around).

Today we took a walk along the beach to check out the other properties.  Many were private residences (as Villa Kiva used to be) with a couple other resorts dotted along the way.  Since it was so hot and bright out on the sand we didn't end up walking too far.  For the most part I have been slathering on the sunblock and keeping covered, but I got a bit more sun than I bargained for this afternoon so I'm now a bit sunburned.  Moisturiser is my friend at the moment.

We have had some amazing dinners at Villa Kiva- Italian themed food using fresh seafood and other ingredients.  It's almost like having a little degustation each night with the various courses.  Tomorrow we will be heading out for an excursion to Stone Town so that should be fun (although it does mean getting up early).
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