Wednesday 2 April 2014

Up, hicc-up and away!

"Up" because this weekend we went "up" to the Hunter Valley to continue our explorations of New South Wales. "Hiccup" because the Hunter Valley is another wine growing region here and I may have made Jan drive again and gotten, ahem, slightly inebriated again (I know this may be starting to seem like a problem, but I promise it's not! I practiced even more SENSIBLE DRINKING by adding food to the wine tasting this time - food in the form of CHOCOLATE!). And "away", because "away" we went, into the sky, for an amazing hot air balloon trip (part of the conditioning I am going through to rid me of my fear of heights, so I can go skydiving. Or so Jan thinks anyway...).

The whole of last week it was raining in Sydney and there were thunderstorms left, right, and, well, upwards, but by the time we set off on Saturday morning, the sun had broken through the clouds and we had a nice drive up the coast and inland to the Hunter Valley and the Wyndham winery for our wine and chocolate tasting experience.  

Jan in contemplation of all the wine
The lady leading the tasting started out by positing that people didn't really put wine and chocolate together as a combination - hah! She obviously has not been to our house on a Friday night! Or a Saturday, or Sunday, or ... well, any night, really. 
I may have finished my wine AND chocolates before everybody else. Alright - maybe I will do a detox this week...
We had different types of chocolate to match with different types of wine. She talked us through the wines and we tried some, and then we went back to try them with the chocolates. It was really interesting - the chocolates did change the wine flavours and vice versa.  Finally there was a light port with white chocolate for "dessert".  The most surprising thing, though, was what happened to the port if you serve it in a heated glass - it strips away that sweet-sickly flavour you sometimes have with port and just gives you a much nicer tasting drink.

Anyway, suffice to say the whole thing is turning into a bit of a pyramid scheme - as we ended up buying a ridiculous amount of wine, which we will now have to buy a bloody wine fridge for - because now we are wine snobs and know about things like cellaring and appropriate storage temperatures - and also because WE LIVE IN FIFTH FLOOR FLAT IN A HOT CLIMATE WITH NOWHERE TO PUT ALL THE DAMN WINE.

On Saturday night we found a lovely restaurant called Shaky Tables at another vineyard nearby (we could have eaten at the vineyard we were staying in, but it looked to be run by Mexican criminals, so we passed...) and had a delicious meal of stuff and things (I feel I have wittered on too long already about foodie experiences, so refer to the pics below for details). 

This is what 15 years' worth of wax looks like. Actually kinda pretty.
Obligatory food shot - beef carpaccio with quail eggs
Yummy reconstructed cranachan type thing... Cranachan being a Scottish dessert that usually looks nothing like this.

What do you mean, more wine?  No, no, I am drinking sparkling wine - that means it's all just air bubbles really...
 Then we tucked ourselves into bed, set the alarm for 6AM (whose idea was the SUNRISE balloon trip again?) and proceeded to spend the entire night listening to one of the loudest and longest thunderstorms we have experienced yet. Needless to say we were not fully confident we would be going anywhere in the morning, but we duly got up at and went to the meeting point. 
Just before sunrise
Hurray!  Not only was it not raining - the weather was perfect for ballooning. And then I realised - I actually have to get into a WICKER BASKET and be suspended thousands of feet above the earth. With a hangover. 

Smile of joy? Or smile of pain? You decide...
Once the balloon is inflated and the basket upright, it's time to get in. This is a feat in itself, as you have to climb over the sides and pray you don't fall a*** over t** as you go. Then it's away you go! It is such a weird feeling, as you literally just start floating upwards - no big engines, no mass acceleration before take off - just one minute you are on the ground and then next minute you are... not. We went up to 5,000ft - I spent the first 20 minutes with a rictus grin and a vice-like grip on the support next to me. But to be honest, the views are so spectacular you just forget to be scared...

Jan - leaning out like a maniac with no fear.  Me - trying to look calm and collected. Also trying not to die by falling out.
I wandered lonely as a cloud... and other such poetics
The morning fog across the valley
A shadow in the fog - does this count as a selfie?
We spent an hour in the air and saw these young natives saying hello, as well as other balloons wending their way across the sky:

I think the man next to me in the balloon started to worry when I began waving at the kangaroos and shouting "hello!"

Fellow sky travellers.
You can't steer a balloon in the strict sense - the wind dictates which direction it will travel in - and as there was no wind when it was time for us to land, it took a while. When we did find a place there was a dicey few seconds of thinking we were about to hit some field water tanks/be toppled by a barbed wire fence, but we made it down very gently (if we had been toppled, guess which muggins would have been on the bottom of the people pile!).  Then it was time to get out and help pack away the balloon.  

Inside the belly of the beast...
Can you spot Jan enveloped in the balloon?  This is slightly bigger to pack up than his skydiving canopy!
We were driven back to the starting place, which conveniently happened to be a champagne house where we were treated to a champagne breakfast (YES, alright, liver! I hear you groaning!).  Jan got a free baseball cap for helping to carry the heavy balloon box up the muddy hill so they could pack it away. We also got a cheesy commemoration picture, but as we both look like squinting idiots on it, I have left it out.
Nom, nom, we were well rewarded.
We spent the rest of the day driving home via some lovely national parks - and one less lovely indoor market (we were looking for plants, and Google threw us a baaaad suggestion).  I have now resumed my position on our BRAND NEW SOFA (yes, the sofa of the infamous shopping trip has finally arrived, and it was all totally worth it!) for the evening, because frankly I don't think it has received enough of my attention in the last 48 hours, and if I have to be out of the clouds and down on the ground, this is definitely my preferred place of landing...
Hello, my name is Cate, and I am in love with a piece of furniture.
It took me two and a half days to write this entry, purely because it has taken that long to pick out which photos to use. Jan has taken some really amazing photos of this trip (including many more beautiful views from the air) so if you want to see some more, CLICK HERE and enjoy!

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