Mid week Middle Harbor Paddle


Took advantage of the fact that while I still have odd working hours that leaves my day free, I joined a meetup group for a bit of a paddle around Middle Harbor.

Another brilliant fall day. It was a bit nippy on the water, with persistent winds. I was lucky to snag one of the two sit-in kayaks though, and could shelter my legs from the cold.

It was fun to explore a new lagoon. Maybe next time, we would be able to paddle further out beyond Spit Bridge!

Bondi to Maroubra Walk


Cloudless blue sky sort of day on Saturday. The sort of day where you don’t want to coop yourself indoors; shouldn’t. We had a plethora of enticing activities to choose from the various meetup groups we’re on the listhost of. Urban photography downtown? Kayaking? Or one of the many walking options? In the end, we decided to go on the Bondi to Maroubra walk, since I actually haven’t been when conditions are so perfect.


Great day for a walk – the temperatures was cool, but the sun warming on the skin, so much so that we stared longingly at the rock pools and beaches, wishing we could go for a bit of a dip. The company was fun too. We had maybe 20 walkers, and we had the opportunity to chat to a number of them as we strolled along the coast, from crowded Bondi to the relatively quiet Maroubra.

Streaming of Met’s awesome double bill: Iolanta and Bluebeard

The Metropolitan Opera’s streaming of the double bill Iolanta / Bluebeard finally came to Sydney, about 3 months after the Feb 14 live stream. Better later than never :). It was with a happy bounce that I made my way to the theatre on an overcast Saturday late morning. I’ve missed that.

We started off with Tchaikovsky’s happy fairy tale of an opera, Iolanta, about a blind princess who has been kept literally kept in the dark by her protective father about her blindness. That is, until she meets a knight who “shows” her what she’s been missing in life and convinces her to desire light enough for a Moorish doctor to cure her. Bit of a clumsy story if you ask me, but I was still oddly moved. I loved the lyrical score, and the standout cast delivered. As always, Anna Netrebko and Piotr Biotr Beczala had plenty of electricity on stage, given their chemistry offstage. I wasn’t so much of a fan of some of the directing and staging however, and felt that it seemed visually staid with the bulk of the action set in a mostly bare rotating box.

That first opera had a happy ending. Which was quite jarring that we followed up with a super dark one. According to the director Mariusz Trelinski though, the order decision was based on the theme of exploring the growing life experience of a single female meta-character, and vision and knowledge can bring.

But Bluebeard. Oh my god. If there’s one opera I’d recommend to an opera neophyte, now, this would be it. Which might be an odd choice, since it’s hardly common repertoire. But it’s a digestible hour long performance, and especially with director Trelinski’s film-noir treatment that perfectly complements the dramatic tension of Bartok’s psychological-thriller of an opera. I was kept on edge the entire performance, drawn in by Nadja Michael’s intense physicality as obsessed Judith and Mikhail Petrenko’s creepy Bluebeard. I’m not sure how the Trelinski’s cinematic staging looks in real life with the singers sometimes shafted off to the side with computer imagery given center stage. But on the screen, we were able to lock in on the palpable tension of the singers with each other as well as appreciate the sinister details of Bluebeard’s castle. I think it may have been the most exciting opera staging I’ve seen.

No longer homeowners

It’s done. We closed on the sale of our condo in Chicago last week. The price was lower than we’d liked, but we no longer have to worry about it. The only “assets” we have left in Chicago is our wine collection. Haha.

Speaking of Chicago, the place we called home for so many years, people have asked, do you miss it? We miss our friends, certainly, but otherwise, not particularly. Food-wise, I still miss Singapore food, but as tasty as Chicago cuisine is, it doesn’t seem particularly distinctive.

Oh, the one thing I really do miss though, is Amazon Prime. I loved being able to shop online without having to step foot into stores – and getting my purchases shipped right to my doorstep the very next day!

We also do miss the heating in Chicago. As we enter winter here, mild as it is, our apartment gets pretty chilly. Our landlord has loaned us her spare gas heater, but we live in a two-storey townhouse; I’m skeptical the little thing can warm up the entire place!

Otherwise, I think we’ve fallen into a pretty comfortable routine. Tennis a couple times a week (if it doesn’t rain; for the nth time, why is it so wet here!?!?), and somewhere to explore on the weekends.

Last weekend, we joined a meetup photography meetup group at Mt Wilson in the Blue Mountains. Well, we were with the group for just a bit, but were taken aback how crowded Mt Wilson was with tourists visiting the myriad gardens, and so broke off from the group along with two others and went for a short stroll on our own.


Monday afternoon, I went up to one of the lower north beaches, Long Reef Beach, to practice my wave photography. Not much luck in that department. But the wind was nice and stiff, and there were a half dozen kite surfers out on the water. I watched them instead. They seemed a pretty friendly bunch, grinning for my camera whenever they washed up to shore. One guy asked if I could send him shots of him; more than happy to oblige especially since they happily let me practice on them! Got to chatting with another guy as he packed up for the day – he gave me some tips on how to kite surf (learn to fly a kite for at least 6 months first), and what wind and wave conditions to look out for.


Day at Royal National Park

Garie Beach at Royal National Park (1 of 8)
We made it down to Royal National Park yesterday. Initially, I’d wanted to make a weekend out of it, go camping. But the forecast for Sunday was 90% rain (Sunday morning 730am, and it’s now down to a 20% likelihood, go figure). But I’m glad we got to spend some time outside regardless. Parked at Wattamolla Beach in Royal National Park, and we took a short walk to Little Marley Beach from there.

Garie Beach at Royal National Park (2 of 8)
The trail started off in the forest, and given the recent rains, was fairly muddy. But then it opened up to the coastline, and what stunning vistas!

Garie Beach at Royal National Park (3 of 8)


Afterwards, we checked out Garie Beach. It’s supposed to be an intermediate / advanced surf spot known for the occasional shark. The waves didn’t look that intimidating while we were there though, at least to our inexperienced eyes. The surf really only hit about 10m from shore. Nonetheless, there were 3 guys out on the water, having fun catching surf.

Garie Beach at Royal National Park (4 of 8)


There were also the occasional fishermen, and spearfishers.

Garie Beach at Royal National Park (5 of 8)


Lucky guy caught a an unlucky fish

Garie Beach at Royal National Park (6 of 8)


I wanted to try my hand at taking some wave photography, following my chance meeting with this surfer/photographer at Mahon Pool last Monday. One of his favorite techniques, he said, was to slow the shutter speed down and pan. I like the Impressionist sort of feel to these series of pictures. Haha, it’s way easier to get an artistic blurry shot than a tack-sharp shot of a wave cresting at any rate. Next thing to practice!Garie Beach at Royal National Park (7 of 8)

Garie Beach at Royal National Park (8 of 8)


So happy we made it outdoors. And goodness, the sun is positively shining now. Time to go back outside again.

Another dawn, Mahon Pool

April 2015 Mahon Pool Sunrise BW

We’ve moved to Sydney for 3 months now. In many ways, we’re loving it. Loving the plethora of outdoor opportunities, especially snorkeling and kayaking, activities we don’t get much of a chance to indulge in Chicago. While we haven’t made many new friends, we’re lucky to have friends and family in the city, and they’ve helped ease us in.

I won’t lie – last week was hard. Jeff’s been working crazy long hours at work, a situation we thought would improve now that he’s moved to the Asia office and can keep their hours. Meanwhile, I’ve been cooped up at home. I’m still working remotely for Chicago, but that will end this April. In the meantime, I’ve sent out countless of resumes. Job hunting has been a demoralizing experience so far, and it’s exhausting trying to keep my spirits up in the search.

So it was good that we got to go out this weekend. On Saturday, we visited the Pyrmont Fish Market, and on Sunday, we finally went down to La Perouse for a spot of snorkeling. Even with wetsuits on, the water’s cold! Visibility wasn’t the greatest, maybe 10 feet if that. But hey, I was glad to be outside.

This morning, I got up early for the sunrise, and drove to Mahon Pool. Alas, it was a little too cloudy. Nonetheless, I had fun watching the waves crash over the rocks; it’s hypnotizing. Although it was a brisk morning, there were several hardy souls doing laps in the rock pool – and in just their swimmers, sans wetsuits! I met a couple other photographers who were clambering over the rocks too, and we fell into conversation. One, a lady who is studying Chinese medicine, lives right by the water, and has a fantastic view of the coast from her apartment. Nonetheless, she’s out along the water’s edge every single sunrise. We exchanged numbers; she said to give her a ring the next time I was in the area. Another is an older man, a surfer type who walked around barefoot and with a woolen cap pulled low over his grizzly face. He showed me his surf and wave photography, and they are an inspiration.

April 2015 Mahon Pool Sunrise 1

And the sun did peek through the clouds, eventually.

Wine tasting in Barossa and McLaren Vale


Over the Easter holidays, we took a short trip down to Adelaide down in South Australia, with the primary aim to check out the different wine regions. We’d planned the itinerary such that we visited Barossa on Thursday, hiked over Good Friday, and visited McLaren Vale on Saturday. Fortuitously so, because when we arrived we learnt that most places shuts down completely on Good Fridays!

Anyway, the point of this post is create a repository of sorts of the wineries we visited, and the standout wines for us. We barely scratched the surface on our exploratory trip. There’s still the whole of Clare Valley, Eden Valley, Adelaide Hills, Coonawarra! But it was a good teaser. While we found Adelaide itself a pretty unremarkable sleepy but green town and its nearby seaside town of Glenelg little more than a tourist trap, the wine regions are world class. The restaurants we hit were all really good as well.

In total, we visited 9 wineries. A few standouts: Greenock Creek, Torbreck, and D’Arenberg. The others had a couple wines that we loved too, but those three had a wide range of well made wines.

The one place whose wines we were quite disappointed with, Kaesler, also happened to be the one place that actually charged us for tasting. They charged us $30 for two people, even though we had elected to share a single glass. Unfortunately, their wines mostly seemed unbalanced, either too hot in the nose or in the mouth, with a bitter sort of finish. It was a letdown, particularly since the wines had come at the recommendation of a wine broker who was the boyfriend of one of Jeff’s acquaintances.

First stop of the trip was Two Hands. We’ve been a fan of their Garden series, but had never tasted the rest of their line up, so we were excited for the opportunity. But although we were the first ones in the cellar door, our host seemed most distracted, pouring our tastings then disappearing into the next room for long minutes before he popped back out to refill our glasses. That kind of put a damper on the experience. In all, we tasted 7 bottles there, with the favorites being:

1. 2013 Samantha’s Garden $60 – velvety tannins, quite restrained

2. 2013 Bella’s Garden $60 – brighter, more fruit that Sam’s. Bigger tannins

3. 2012 Secret Block Moppa Hills Barossa Valley Shiraz $100 – delicious. HUGE nose with silky, silky tannins

We didn’t buy any wines though, in part due to our lukewarm tasting experience.

We stopped at Greenock Creek next, where again we were the first tasters in the cosy cellar. Our host there was much more affable, and enthusiastically talked us through his lineup of 6 wines. Favorites:

1. 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon $38 – capsicum, beautiful tannins, smooth

2. 2012 Apricot Block $38 – the wine was so named because the parcel of land on which it came from used to be an apricot plantation. Anyway, beautiful wine, with smooth tannins and bright fruit. Granite soil

3. Seven Acre Shiraz $48 – really elegant!

4. 2005 Roennfeldt Road Shiraz $200 – HUGE! Big nose of spice. Big body, with a bit of port/prune because of the high alky (17.5%). Looooong finish

It’s interesting to note that Greenock, going forward this year, has decided to revert all their closures back to cork. Previously, they had used stelvin closures for most of their wines intended for domestic consumption, but have since decided that cork is the way to go. We left with their Cab and the Seven Acre. Would have bought more but we wanted to play it safe since we still had a bunch of wineries to visit.

Torbreck was next on our list, where, from their extensive wine list, we picked 12 to taste. We were really taken with 3 bottles in particular:

1. 2011 The Steading (56 Grenache, 23 Shiraz, 21 Mataro) $37.50 – French style, light bodied, smooth tannins

2. 2012 The Pict (100% Mataro, single vineyard, Greenock) $75 – loved the nose. Spicy. Beautiful structure

3. 2012 The Gask (100% Shiraz) – very elegant!!!

At Torbreck, we were also given the opportunity to taste some of their more premium wines alongside their museum collection. :) We are always so appreciative of cellar doors that do so, because we aren’t likely to shell out good money for something we aren’t sure how it tastes! Anyway, we tasted the $125 2012 and 2002 The Factor Shiraz side by side. Both were quite yummy, with notes of blueberries. The 2002 felt like it could still stand a few more years in the bottle! We also tried the $125 2012 Descendant (92 Shiraz, 8 Viognier, co-fermented) – soooo smooth. And the $235 2006 and 2012 Run Rig (97 Shiraz 3 Viognier). While the 2006 had mellowed out to yield notes of blueberries, the still-to-be-released 2012 was still very young and close, albeit with smooth tannins. These were well made wines, but The Pict stood out for us the most, in part because we found it the best bang for the buck. Departed with a bottle of that; would have bought The Steading and The Gask as well, but we were still cautious of how many bottles we wanted to hand carry back.

A brief stop for lunch at FermentAsian to refuel, then we hit up the aforementioned Kaesler. We did like their $150 Alte Reben Shiraz, and found it to be beautifully balanced, especially in comparison with their other wines heh.

Maybe because we were feeling quite sleepy after a full and delicious meal at FermentAsian, but we didn’t feel quite inspired by the wines at Rockford. I mean, we couldn’t find any fault with them, but my notes were mostly scribbled of “nice”. That’s well, pretty sedate as far as recommendations go. But I’d like to think though, they should be in fact quite lovely, especially the $59 2011 Basket Press Shiraz, with its notes of white pepper and spice.

Our last stop in Barossa was at Grant Burge. They didn’t give free tastings of the Meshach (of which we have, and love, the 2002), but we did taste a bunch of their other wines, my favorite of the lot being the $75 2012 1887 Shiraz – smooth tannins and beautiful structure.

Saturday morning, we drove the 45 minutes from Adelaide to McLaren Vale. Compared to Barossa, McLaren Vale is so much more picturesque, with its gentle rolling hills of golden vines. We were again the first customers in the tasting room, this time at D’Arenberg, and enjoyed the attention we were given, especially since the tasting room filled up a half hour into our tasting.

As we started on the whites – of which the winery has a long list for tasting – our host pointed out a stack of cases in the corner. Those were entry level Stump Jump Shiraz meant for export to Sweden, he told us, but the exporter cancelled the order at the last moment. Because they had already slapped on labels designating export to Sweden, the winery couldn’t sell them to domestic retailers here and was thus offloading them at steep discounts to customers. Haha we snapped up a case. It will make for great everyday wine at fantastic value!

We spent over an hour at D’Arenberg. We started off picking a few to taste, but our host kept enthusiastically recommending more to try; who are we to decline?

Our favorites:
1. NV DADD Sparkling $28 – made in the traditional champagne method, a serious bready wine. Yummy. We may have picked up two bottles

2. 2013 The Witches Berry Chardonnay, cellar door exclusive $18 – we picked up a couple. Very clean, with just a hint of wood, refreshing

3. 2013 The Money Spider Roussanne $20 – good lemony, easy to drink

4. 2006 The Twenty Eight Road Mouvedre $40 and 2010 The Twenty Eight Road Mouvedre $29 – we enjoyed both. Lovely berry nose. Bought two back (no holds barred now, since shipping was free haha)

5. The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon $65 – it is doubly lovely to taste a cab in between all that Shiraz. The backbone and structure that the cab provides is all the more refreshing. Gorgeously balanced. We also tried the 2006 vintage, which would have benefitted from a longer decanting (we opened a new bottle to taste). Still, the tannins were still pretty robust in the 2006, so this is a wine that will keep. Bought a bottle

6. The Blind Tiger Single Vineyard Shiraz $100 – so elegant, so delicious. Floral nose, with notes of blue berries. Super smooth tannins. We tasted this along side The Other Side and The Swinging Malaysian, also single vineyard Shiraz at $100. The other two were more restrained, with grippier tannins, but still quite yummy. Bought a bottle of the Tiger

Popped over to Mollydooker next door after. Their tasting room set up is very different. Instead of a bar that you stand at, we shuffled around long tables set in a rectangle, moving from one bottle to the next. Mollydooker’s Carnival of Love is their signature wine; their 2012 was most recently rated #2 wine of 2014 on WineSpectator. We tasted the 2013 vintages. The Carnival of Love, at $75 a bottle, we found still quite closed. Smooth tannins, but restrained. In comparison, we really liked the Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz ($49). Velvety tannins, lovely dark fruit. Beautifully balanced. Just delicious. Picked up a bottle. Their Gigglepost Cabernet Sauvignon ($49) was a great example of Cab as well.

We decided to take it easy on the wine tasting, and visited one more stop before we drove back into the city for lunch. Coriole was our pick. I’d never heard of the winery before, but chose it after browsing online for suggestions on where to go in McLaren Vale. The winemaker seems partial to Italian grapes. They have wines from Fiano, Barbera, and Sangiovese. Our favorites though, were the 2013 The Dancing Fig Mouvedre Grenache Shiraz ($25 cellar door only wine) and the 2013 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon ($30), both of which we bought. The Dancing Fig was lively and vibrant, with lovely mouthfeel of blueberries. The Cab had a gorgeous smoky and spicy nose. Great structure.

Overall, we were really very impressed with the quality of wines that we tasted – and yes, they were more exciting than the Hunter Valley wines in general. Just have to find another time to visit!

*All prices in AUD btw

Aida on the Sydney Harbor


Photo credit: Hamilton Lund

┬áThere were three things I really enjoyed about Handa Opera’s Aida, set under a starry night sky against the iconic Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge:

1. The gorgeous background. I mean, you see the sun set over the opera house and bridge before the opera begins. And you’ve a great view too of the twinkling lights that come on in the skyscrapers downtown

2. Camels. There were 4 real life camels, including a baby! Radames rode in on one on his triumphant return to Egypt

3. Fireworks in the Second Act. When else, if ever, would you get fireworks during an opera?!?

Unfortunately though, we didn’t really enjoy the musical performance. For one, the orchestra was hidden under the stage and their playing broadcasted – too loudly – over the speakers. For another, given the alfresco staging, the singers were miked. We felt like we were watching a Broadway production of Aida instead of opera, where singers for the most part belted out their arias with no subtlety or beauty of tone. Aida herself put up an impassioned performance. But Radames we felt was too wooden and his voice indistinctive.

Faced with a jammed packed schedule the next morning and a blah musical performance, we decided to leave at intermission. I’ve seen a number of different Aida productions before anyway. Still, we were pleased to have experienced Opera by the Harbor at least once. Now we know what it’s about!