24 December 2009

Christmas 2009

We're in Sydney, Australia at my brother's place in Darling Harbor. Gorgeous views from his place of harbor and the Harbor Bridge. When it comes to being trendy Max and Julia have it down to a science. Two nephews and a niece - ages 3, 6, and 9 are jumping around with excitement. Santa gave them exactly what they wanted - some weird electronic toys that I've never heard off. A huge platter of fresh fruit, toast, marmalade, mango juice and coffee was spread out for us. We'll be having lunch at the home of our cousin Sylvie who lives near the Blue Mountains. She's preparing biryani which will be served with an assortment of salads. For dessert - trifle with fresh tropical fruit soaked in port.
We've been having a fab time in Australia. The drive down from Brisbane was a great way to see a bit of Australia. Beautiful coast and beaches along the way. We spent a couple of nights in Coffs Harbor which is small and quaint. It's surrounded by tiny beach towns. Paths parallel to the beach provide excellent views. Nearby, in Dorrigo, we hiked through a rainforest. Amazing vegetation and birdlife. There are large banana plantations in Coffs and many farmstands along the highway from where to buy them. So many varieties to choose from - and all of them freshly harvested and full of flavor.

After Coffs we drove on to Nelson Bay - another quaint coastal town. The beaches here are picture perfect because of the protected bay. Excellent swimming - very reminiscent of the French Riviera without the crowds and traffic.
The weather the whole time was perfect. Well, I lie. The day we left Brisbane it rained and rained. Luckily we spent most of the day driving so it was fine. Much preferable to driving with the sun high in the sky.

We arrived in Sydney two days before Christmas and we went into a bit of culture shock. Big city and Christmas festivities in full blast. Some frantic food shopping and last minute purchase of gifts. The kids tracking Santa's route on Google map, etc. We had a fab meal on Christmas Eve. Mum went to the fish market where she bought prawns and salmon. So she prepared a fine prawn dish. I made a pasta sauce with fresh basil tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. Max served French Champagne for an aperitif and a robust red with our main meal. We had mince pies and Christmas pudding served with cistard for dessert washed down with a smooth port.

There was a live concert at the domain in Sydney which we watched on telly. Silly us. We should have carried a picnic and sat on the grass and watched it live. Well, you can't do it all.

So, everyone, all the best for the last days of 2009.

16 December 2009


They say Brisbane is subtropical, but everywhere you look you're reminded of the tropics - fragrant plumeria, palms swaying among jacarandas (in full bloom right now) and gum trees, the fruit - mangoes, numerous types of bananas, pineapples, passion fruit, and the exotic birds - ibis, parrots, and of course, kookaburras. It's warm and humid and the atmosphere is full of summertime stuff. Hard to believe Christmas is a week from today. The festive spirit is so subdued - I love it. Even when you walk into shops you don't hear those annoying Christmas songs. I haven't seen a huge amount of decorations and lights and things. But there is a large Christmas tree in the square in front of the City Hall. It's beautifully trimmed and the lights are solar powered.

The Brisbane River meanders through the city center and on either side there are beautiful gardens, cafes, etc. Walking and cycling paths allow you to stroll alongside for miles and miles. Ferries get people to the suburbs lining the river.

Yesterday evening Daryl and I strolled along the river, starting at Riverside. This is an area of enormous, shiny skyscrapers. Gourmet restuarants and atmospheric bars out here provide gorgeous views of the river and its bridges. We walked to the Botanical Gardens which has some amazing trees and a few unusual pines and came to a very interesting mangrove swamp. There's a walkway that allows you to cross this swamp. We then went across a pedestrian bridge to the south side of the river. Here there are stunning landscaped gardens which lead to a beach area. An artificial lagoon filled with turquoise water and around it, fine beach sand, makes for a terrific place to cool down and hang out. Kids splash about in the water and adults relax on the beaches. What a concept - right in the city center.
We then strolled along a road running parallel to the river - Little Stanley Road - in search of beer. Didn't have to work very hard to find a place that suited out mood, of course.

We went back to our apartment for dinner. There was a fantastic farmer's market earlier in the day where I bought fruit and veggies, excellent multigrain bread, and some tapenades. So we ate well.

Tonight we'll be at the math conference dinner at the University of Queensland. So, I'm off to catch the train.

14 December 2009

December in Oz

After a frantic week (icy cold weather didn't help!) I'm finally sitting back and absorbing the charms of tropical Brisbane. Flew V-Australia - a new airline of the Virgin family - and what a smooth flight it was. Landed in Brisbane early in the morning and stepped out of the airport to humid, sultry weather. Our dear friend Stefan was there to fetch me, and take me to his lovely, spacious apartment where I peeled off my winter clothes and showered. Then I got into shorts and sandals and sat down to a sumptuous breakfast. Strong coffee, pain au chocolate from a French bakery, and sweet, juicy Queensland pineapple. Wow! Later in the morning Stephan, his wife Brangwyn, their one year old, Jasper, another friend Joseph (Daryl was his PhD adviser)and I strolled out to the shops. I was so excited to see heavenly Queensland summer fruit - fat mangoes, papayas, bananas, etc.
By the time Daryl arrived we had a big bowl of fruit salad ready for lunch.
We're staying in South Brisbane near a very lively part of town called South Bank.

In the afternoon we took the train to my cousin's place which is just outside the city in a sort of countryside setting. Here, my mum and my sister, Pam, and her kids were eagerly waiting for us. They had arrived from Sydney the day before.
Daryl got into a bathing suit and joined 7 little kids (from three different continents) in the pool. I sat down with an icy cold beer and chatted with everyone. It felt like midsummer - which, of course, it is, right here in the land down under!
I'm not rubbing it in - sheesh, no need to be so grumpy about huddling by the fire, y'know. I mean warm weather isn't all it's cracked up to be. All that sunscreen and wrinkled skin from being in the pool too long and the need for gelatos in the afternoon and stuff!
Anyway, for dinner everyone had chicken grilled on the barbie and many types of salads (it being summer and all that produce available - ffs, I'm not rubbing it in!). Daryl and I had pasta tossed in a sundried tomato pesto sauce.
For dessert we had the yummiest tiramisu in the entire universe. Claudia, my cousin in law, makes the best desserts ever, and her tiramisu - let me put it this way, it is worth flying half way around the world for a taste of it. I swear to god.

And so our first day came to an end. We went to sleep like contended pigs.

Day 2 was Daryl's big day. He gave a public lecture for a series called BriScience. This was held at Brisbane's very ornate city hall and over two hundred people attended. Daryl gave his dynamite hour long talk on infinity to reg'lar folks and they were a great audience. Afterwards there was a cheese and wine mingle sort of thing and then we were taken out to dinner by the organizers - a pair of dynamic, handsome, intelligent, young scientists.
Earlier in the day I explored Brisbane with my family, so it was a rather, long tiring day.
Today, Day 3, while Daryl is at his math conference, I'm hanging out with my 70 year old mother at my cousin's countryside home. We're alone. Everyone else took off for some amazing beach on some amazing island where the big activities are snorkelling feeding dolphins. I'm happy to be able to just relax and catch up with Mum.