The NEW Amazing Race Australia

The new Amazing Race Australia premiered last month and I thought I would share some of my thoughts on this season.

As you know, I am a fan of the American Amazing Race. I love the travel around different countries in the world- seeing places I have been to and places I would like to go. I also like watching the silly contestants not even knowing how to pronounce the name of a country, let alone where it is.

I actually wanted to enter in the Amazing Race Australia myself, but was told by my peers that they would never let me in as I had travelled too much. It’s true that naïve travellers make the show.

This season on Amazing Race Australia, they are pitting Australian teams against New Zealand teams in an age old grudge match between us and them. The series even opened with a tug of war between the two countries. I wonder if the rest of the world is aware of this country rivalry?

I thought it was good that they went to Christchurch in New Zealand as the city has been devastated by earthquakes and is going through recovery and revitalisation. Thay are also going to really cool places like Africa and Russia.

But I thought that the sheep challenge in New Zealand, the Thai massage in Thailand and the Russian dancing in Russia were all a bit cliché. And making a fire as one of the challenges is very Survivor.

I like the funny Australian colloquialisms like “shot at the title”, “aura faffery” and “team Lorna Jane”. I wonder if watchers around the rest of the world will get them?

We are half way through, and the teams are continuing to make several rookie mistakes:

  • Checking in luggage
  • Not reading the whole clue
  • Giving up too early
  • Not buying a map
  • Helping other teams
  • Not waking up on time
  • Using an express pass too early and before giving away your second express pass
  • Being at the wrong bus terminal
  • Running past the clue box
  • Fighting with your team mate
  • Not finding the clue, not reading the clue, missing something really simple and then not back tracking straight away to fix it.

Tiredness also seemed to be getting to the contestants in the very early days by episode two.

My wish pick  just for pure niceness alone are the Foster Parents- Cat and Jesse. I don’t think anyone deserves to win more.

However, I suspect the winners will be Team Jesus- Dan and Ryan- they may not be the physically strongest team like Best Mates- John and Murray- but they are definitely smarter. Team Jesus are also cool under pressure making them the team to beat, but it could be a close battle towards the end as Best Mates are very competitive.

A final thought- you can never pick your cab drivers and sometimes, that’s all the difference between winning and losing in the final leg.

Stay tuned…

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Italy, 1997, Part 2: Bella Italia

Sarah and I decided to use Verona as a base for day trips to explore some of Italy’s other cities- each of which would prove to be unique, making Italy a vibrant and impressionable country.

Verona is best known as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. We went to Juliet’s tomb, Juliet’s “house” and Castelvecchio which is more likely to be Juliet’s actual residence if she existed.

We walked through Piazza Dei Signori to San Zeno’s church which made a striking picture of red and white bricks against black trees with yellow leaves. It was here that we also discovered the Italian speciality of calzone and the Italian male penchant for hissing to get young ladies attention.

In Milan, I was more impressed by the huge Duomo than The Teatro alla Scala. We had lunch in Sempione Park where the Arco Della Pace looked just like the one outside the Lourve in Paris. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II reminded me of the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney.

The average cost to see famous paintings such as The Last Supper in Milan was 1,000 lire- too expensive for a backpacker- so we often settled for buying postcards of the famous art work or seeking out replica statues in the city instead. In Milan, we saw the statue of Leonardo Da Vinci in Piazza Della Scala instead of The Last Supper.

In Venice, there was a photo opportunity at every turn as we walked along the east bank. We saw the leaning Scala Del Bovolo and the marble Ca D Oro house on the water. We stood on the simple C. Corner Bridge over Rio de la Madalena and in the middle of the pigeon filled Piazza San Marco in front of the Palazzo Ducale.

We wandered along the Grand Canal to the Bridge of Sighs which is actually smaller than you think in real life. In contrast, the Rialto Bridge was larger than life and St Mark’s Basilica was beautifully decorated on the outside which I did not expect.

Catching a lift to the top of the Campanile we could see across to San Giorgio Maggiore Island and were deafened by the bells ringing while we were up there.

We crossed at Ponte Academia to Giudecca Island- the mostly residential west side of Venice- and encountered a marketplace and an industrial area. It felt like this was where the people of Venice actually lived.

On our second day in Venice we caught the water bus number 82 along Canale Della Giudecca, San Eufernia to get a cheaper boat ride than a gondola and get a closer look at the Bridge of Sighs.

Arriving in Pisa at dusk, we had just enough time to see the Field of Miracles before it got dark. The Leaning Tower peaked out from behind the Duomo.

Pompeii was very atmospheric. We walked the main cobblestone streets- Via dell Abbondanza and Via Stabiana which has bizarre raised stones for pedestrian crossings. We saw the white marble altar in the Temple of Vespasian and the mills at the bakery of Modesto.

We saw the House of the Faun, so named due to the bronze faun statue found inside; and red coloured frescoes of cupids intent on various activities on a wall inside the House of the Vettii. The brothel in the red light district is distinguished by being a room hanging over the road- quite an oddity. Inside there were pornographic fresco’s on the wall.

Most striking for me was the body impressions in the Garden of Fugitives- a girl sitting cupping her mouth and nose and a man face down on ground covering his eyes and nose. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror that these people faced and did not survive.

In Naples, we took the funicular up Volmero Hill. Back down the hill, we saw the famous Castel Nuovo with is white archway between two brown towers and the pretty Teatre San Carlo. We visited Galleria Umberto 1 shopping centre and sampled the speciality of Naples- pizza.

From here, we caught the train to Brindisi in order to catch the ferry to Greece.

If you like what you just read- please vote for me on the Big Blog Exchange Competition 2014!

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What’s Inspiring about your Event?

Inspire EX is an exhibition and showcase for events professionals held in Sydney. I went to the event two years ago to attend some educational seminars and found out that “What’s hot right now” in events was Mexican. Mexican, I thought, what are they on about? Nobody does Mexican.

And then the whole world exploded with a love of Mexico. You couldn’t open an airline magazine without seeing another article on Tulum and Sydney became inundated with Mexican restaurants selling authentic fish tacos.

So, I came to InspireEX 2014 to be updated on what was hot, attend the keynote presentation by John Daly and find out the best use of Social Media for Events from Yvonne Adele.

John Daly’s keynote presentation, “What’s so great about face to face,” was inspiring and made me wish I could go and work with him in Santa Barbara on all his fun and exciting events. His concepts of teamwork, site inspections and working with timelines were illustrated by lovely examples of events he had worked on like the restoration of a garden at a French chateau, transforming a generic hotel foyer with a Japanese theme and being serenaded by the Vienna boys’ choir while fixing flowers to an altar for the Pope.

The new trend of hybrid events was also discussed- that is the use of social media for low budget events. The example given was of a surfer who tweeted 25 of his friends which translated in 1 million followers of 100 mini coopers shining headlights on the ocean at midnight while the surfers rode their waves.

And one final tip- never marry a divorce attorney.

Yvonne’s presentation on the best use of social media for events was very practical and useful with lots of ideas on things that a business can implement in social media to increase their event reach. The key is planning activities for before, during and after the event itself and finding the remarkable that can be re-marketed. Yvonne’s top two pieces of advice were to create content which is compelling to share and use the next level of social media platform tools. Smart stuff.

So, what’s hot right now? Tell me already, you say!

Well, according to a panel of top event professionals- Mexican is OUT and Simple and Rustic is IN.

And it’s also called on trend now.

People are looking for:

  • Extraordinary events
  • Unique venues
  • Visual memories
  • Colour
  • Statement pieces
  • Stand up dining
  • Interactive meals
  • East meets East cuisine e.g. Korean and US
  • Green screen entertainment e.g. hologram of performer who is not actually present at the event
  • The latest technology
  • Engagement in events
  • Volume

Watch the world around you for simple and rustic stand up restaurants with East meets East cuisine popping up everywhere and articles about rustic and simple extraordinary colourful events appearing in your airline magazines. And remember you heard it from me first!

Well, after all the other InspireEX event reporters and twitterers anyway.

If you like what you just read- please vote for me on the Big Blog Exchange Competition 2014!

Related posts: Kicking Goals, The Seven Year Itch, By Special Request, All Creatures Great and Small, I first started writing

 

Italy, 1997, Part 1: From Rome to Florence

In Rome, Sarah and I stayed with Seneka, a Sri Lankan relation of sorts. He drove us to modern Rome and the beautifully floodlit Ancient Rome by night where we saw the statue of Romulus and Remus and threw a coin into the Trevi Fountain to ensure our return to the city. The fountain itself seemed too big to fit in the narrow square and was quite overwhelming.

On our first day, we went to the Colosseum which was in the process of being rebuilt, so it was easy to see through the non-existent floor to the underground tunnels that led to entrances to the ring and imagine what it looked like when it was still in use. We climbed to the top for a fantastic daytime view of Ancient Rome and its ruins.

Back on the ground, we went to the Roman Forum where we saw the third triumphal arch Septimius Severus next to the Rostrum Forum and the House of the Vestal Virgins. We walked through Caesar’s Forum, the Imperial Forum, past Trajan’s column and the market.

I liked the Pantheon with its hole in the roof for light and the cute elephant statue by Bernini in the nearby Piazza Minerva; but was a little disappointed with Circus Maximus which just looked like an ordinary park overlooked by the ruined Palace of Augustus.

We visited a few Piazza’s and saw lots of fountains: the Piazza del Campidoglio with long wide steps designed for horses; the Piazza Venezia with the new style Monument to Victor Emmanuel 2 also known at the wedding cake- so big it can be seen from miles away; the Piazza di Spagna which had amusing statues posed on park benches and the Piazza Navona which I loved even though the Fountain of Four Rivers was covered by scaffolding.

My favourite place was the Spanish steps. I had a gelato, soaked up the atmosphere and watched the locals pass by.

The Vatican museum was closed when we went to The Vatican City, but we went into St Peter’s church and the square. I still remember the huge angels on the bowl of holy water and the Pope appearing in the window- so small that it could have been anyone.

We met up with my friend Kim- an Australian born model who now lived in one of the three hills overlooking the Vatican City and had a job translating Italian books. She took us to Castel Sant Angelo where the view of the River Tiber and to Rome beyond was a sight to see.

Kim drove us out of the city down Via Appia and took us to a restaurant in the olive groved countryside where I had pasta with truffles for the first time. We drank too much wine that day and never made it to see the Catacombs. On a more sober day, she took us to Hadrian’s Villa who added a wing to his house after each of his travels- my kind of guy! Real swans were in the Poikile water lily lake and the Canopus pond was lined with alligator statues.

On his day off, Seneka drove us to Florence where we saw the strange multi coloured Duomo of Santa Maria patterned green, red and white and the imitation statue of David in the square outside Palazzo Vecchio.

We visited San Marco monastery for some peace and quiet and had a gelato in Piazza San Marco from the biggest gelato bar I had ever seen. I had to go back for seconds.

Crossing the interesting Ponte Vecchio over the River Arno, we wandered through the lovely Giardino di Boboli. On a hill behind Palazzo Pitti we took in the views of Florence and the hills of Tuscany with their freshly harvested vineyards.

If you like what you just read- please vote for me on the Big Blog Exchange Competition 2014!

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Degustation Delights

In 2011, my husband and I went through a spell of being addicted to degustation menu’s at Sydney’s top restaurants, always with matched wines of course. It became a bit of a problem when after a year of visiting a different restaurant each month, we became blasé, non-appreciative and had to cut ourselves off. Now we try to only go for special occasions.

My favourite restaurant that sticks in my memory is Oscillate Wildly in Newtown. We went on the recommendation of a friend and were not disappointed. The menu is seasonal, so I can’t recount any of the dishes here, but the place was what made the degustation. The restaurant was small with only a few tables available which lent to the neighbourhood feel. I even remember the couple who arrived late as the babysitter was late, the lesbian couple and the younger couple who left after a couple of courses- I don’t think they quite knew what they were getting into!

My husband’s favourite is Est in the city which we have now been to a few times. The comfortable surroundings and little touches, such as the champagne cart coming around upon arrival, make you feel special. The menu features Australian food with French precision such as the cocoa crusted venison saddle with beetroot, caramelised witlof, pickled blueberries and red leaves.

At the time, Marquee in Surry Hills was the top degustation restaurant. So we went to try the French food with an Australian twist. They serve Kangaroo and Redgate Farm Quail with matched wines from Australia to Spain. I always enjoy tasting the matched wines from different countries and imagining the countryside that the wine came from, or having an Australian wine from a winery that we have been to and remembering it.

Our very first degustation was at Coast in Darling Harbour, so of course we were blown away and returned on numerous occasions for special occasions with friends. It featured lovely décor, a mostly seafood menu including spaghetti with vongole, white wine, chilli and pangrattato, and is now closed.

We went to a French restaurant called Apres a couple of times, which we enjoyed for similar reasons to Oscillate Wildly. It was a neighbourhood restaurant in Potts Point with a nice atmosphere and friendly staff which my husband liked to impress with his French. It had great croquettes, lovely duck and then it closed.

Assiette, another French restaurant in the area that we went to featured dishes such as the white asparagus barigoule with spanner crab, golden beetroot and saffron matched with a 2007 Catrala Savignon Blanc from the Casablanca Valley in Chile. It is now closed.

Becasse in the city, featured delights such as shaved organic Wagyu beef with white asparagus, mushroom and chilled consommé matched with 2009 Spinifex “Luxe”, Barossa Valley, before it closed.

When we went to Bilson’s, the French restaurant that was at the Raddison Blu in the city, my husband found a stone in mushroom starter. Perhaps that’s why it is now also closed.

Maybe the fact that most of the restaurants that we went to degustation’s at in 2011 are now closed is reflective of the fact that fine dining restaurants are struggling to survive in Sydney? Perhaps people are just sick of French food? Or maybe the younger generation don’t want long degustation’s and tasting menu’s are the way forward?

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Spain, 1997, Part 2: Beyond Barcelona

In Madrid, Sarah and I saw the Palacio Real and views of the city from the Campo del Moro. The red buildings in Plaza Mayor reminded me of Place des Voges in Paris.

We went to the pretty enough Parque del Retiro, saw the Monumento a Alfonso 12 in the middle of a big lake and walked down the Paseo le Argentina to find the Crystal Palace.

After Barcelona, I found Madrid disappointing. Perhaps it was the fact that Madrid is an inland city and I preferred the coastal Barcelona. Or maybe it is the people you know that make a place.

In Granada, we went to see the Alhambra. Most impressive fortress/palace EVER!

The Generalife gardens were simply beautiful- especially the three fountains of the Mirador and the interesting Escalera del Agua which are stairs with a water handrail.

We went to the Patio de Los Arrayanes, saw the famous lions of Patio de Los Leones and visited the Torres Bermejast with its majestic views of Granada.

Nearby, we journeyed to the Albaizin white washed Moorish quarter and got lost in the Sacromonte gypsy area with its cute little cave houses built into the mountain.

In Seville, we stayed in the Pension Orense in the Santa Cruz area. We came to see the Los Gallos flamenco dancing show and drink sangria.

The next day, the well known Plaza de Espana was first on our list and did not disappoint. Just magnificent.

We took a guided tour of the Plaza de Torres de la Maestanza, the oldest bull ring in the world, which is still in use. The animal rights activist in me balked at the bull’s heads on the walls with ears cut off as trophies, but the traveller in me respected this cultural traditional of Spain.

We headed back to Barcelona for the Festival of the Dead, fireworks and more drinks in a Mexican bar.

Republished on Travel Spain daily paper.li.

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The NEW Bachelor Australia

The new Bachelor Australia aired this month and I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the franchise.

As you know, I am a fan of the American Bachelor and I also enjoy watching The Bachelorette. The show itself has a shocking success rate for long term relationships- after a combined 28 seasons of the two shows, the result has been three marriages and a five year relationship which is now over.

The Bachelors tend to go for the easy girl over the challenging one, so perhaps that’s why these matches don’t last. The Bachelorettes are easily fooled and distracted by the players. The Bachelor Pad spin off was also short lived, only lasting three seasons, when shock horror- people chose money over love and were quite happy to lie about it in the process.

Sometimes it seems that the women don’t care who they marry, they just want to get hitched and have children. Just once, I would like to see one of them say, “Actually I won’t accept your rose because I’m just not attracted to you.” Inevitably, in a house of 25 women, not everyone’s personalities are going to mesh and they become masters of confrontation and isolation of the threatener.

Most of the contestants seem to have more luck finding love with other jilted potentials outside of the show at social events connected to the show.

The Bachelor Australia franchise is not nearly as entertaining as the American version. Perhaps because America has a larger population of desperate women whose one mission in life appears to be married with children by the age of 22? Or maybe Australian women are just not as competitive with each other and therefore not as entertaining to watch?

So why do I keep watching this show? It is pure cringe-worthy entertainment. Coming from a place of someone who is married, it is easy to criticise what the girls and guys do. But if truth be told, I have a dating past as well, so can also relate to what the contestants go through.

For what, it’s worth, here are my notes on the new Bachelor Australia:

  • A white rose- good on ya Channel Ten- so not at interesting as you think
  • “I don’t need a man”- so why are you on the show?
  • I have never seen so many high splits on dresses in one room
  • Most overused expressions by the women- “Game on” and by Blake- “Likewise”
  • Talk about manufactured dates. Anyone can fall in lust when you have a dream date with the dream dress and they ply you with so much alcohol that you are absolutely hammered before desert. P.S Being a front runner at the start means you usually lose
  • A wedding photo shoot as the first group date- how original and not obvious at all (insert sarcasm here)
  • At least the losers had enough self-respect not to cry
  • Laurina is playing it perfectly- high maintenance and hard to get and the other girls are so clueless that they don’t even get that is what she is doing. She was obviously picked to create controversy and how good is calling yourself an entrepreneur when you’re actually a model? (Yes I am jealous that she is in the one profession where women earn more than men and get paid to look beautiful)
  • I like Chantal, closely followed by Lisa- they seem nice and normal. Will Blake see the light and chose one of them? Will one of them fall in love with him? And more importantly, will their love last in the real world? Only time will tell.

And that’s a wrap!

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Spain, 1997, Part 1: Barcelona

Sarah and I arrived in Barcelona train station to lots of paraphernalia about the 1992 Olympics which still remained on the walls.

We walked through the famous Las Ramblas (not knowing what it was at the time) to meet one of my Dad’s friend’s from Weymouth- Leigh- who had a flat right in the middle of the city and was letting us stay with him.

Leigh took us to Sagrat Cour at Mount Tibidabo for a view of Barcelona. We also went to the monastery at Sant Cugat and ate patas bravas in the town square.

The real life in Barcelona begins at night and Spain is the home of the free pour.

So, that night we went to 4 Cats– the bar that Picasso used to go to, Barri Gotic at night and the Dipuctacion Provincial with the balcony where the football team stand when they win a game which a very important landmark to Leigh and most of the locals who are lovers of football, but not to me who didn’t know the first thing about soccer.

I was much more interested in the French bar that we went to next that was called Pastis and sold wine out a barrel. Leigh took us past the Columbus monument and to the newly renovated port area with modern architecture and neon lighting.

Finally, we went to dinner at midnight. This seemed ridiculous to me who is used to eating dinner at 6pm, but in Barcelona, to have dinner at 11pm is normal and to go home at 4am is an early night.

The next day, Leigh took us to the small town of Vic and Ponta de Sau which is a village flooded to make a dam. You can still see church steeple sticking out of the dam lake. Very eerie.

We continued our tour of drinking plus a little sight-seeing with lunch in a hotel near the dam lake and onto a bar overlooking Barcelona at night called Bar Tomas.

1am found Sarah and I at the Bikini night club with its pink neon sign and boys telling us that we had beautiful eyes, although I am not sure how they could tell on the strobe lighted dance floor.

Sarah and I met up with one of my Australian friends from high school at cafe in front of Segrada Familia. He had fallen in love with a local and was now living in Barcelona.

We went to Montjuic Olympic park to see the Olympic stadium and the telecommunication tower that was the symbol of the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

On numerous occasions, the locals thought I was a native Catalan, which may have contributed to Barcelona becoming another one of my favourite cities in the world. Perhaps I had found the city where I belonged? If I could keep up with the night owl hours.

Republished on Travel Spain daily paper.li.

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What Thermomix taught me.

Words of Wisdom from an anoymous guest blogger…

You’ve all heard of the Thermomix right? It’s the kitchen appliance of the moment and one that seems to have inundated my Instagram feed. It’s so popular among those that I’m following, that the usual pictures of babies doing things that only their parents think are cute have been replaced by pictures of food. Meals that have been weighed, chopped, cooked, stirred, and served by the Thermomix. All in under 20 minutes! Well, that bit isn’t always true but it’s not far off.

Given its popularity it wasn’t long before I was invited to a Thermomix party. You know the party I’m referring to. Friends and family are invited to view/road-test the products in the comfort of a home. You usually come away with a bunch of stuff you didn’t know you needed, but because of you, the host gets a free cookbook and a set of steak knives. Sounds like the perfect Friday night, right? Well, despite all of this I jumped at the invitation. Secretly I was just itching to get out of the house and catch up with my friends. There was definitely a part of me that wanted to know more about this kitchen appliance though.

Fast forward a few days and I’m in my friends kitchen. It was party night! We were all sitting around this shiny silver machine watching it do its thing. And then something that I had not expected to happen, happened.

“You can make your own mince in just a fraction of the time it used to take”said the host.

Did I just hear right? Make your own mince? Like the stuff I purchase at the butcher or in a wrapper at the supermarket? As the conversation went on it became apparent that people make their own mince. To avoid feeding any nasty’s to their children. Which is great. The best even. But for that split second my mind went to all sorts of dark and desperate places. I was overcome with mother’s guilt. My parenting skills were on the line here. If what I think is mince is not, then what are my children most probably eating right at this very moment!? Am I poisoning my kids? How did I not know this? Could I be the only one who does this? How will I find the time to make my own mince when there are days I barely manage dinner at all!?

In that moment I desperately wanted to call my husband. I wanted to scream down the phone, “Stop the kids from eating right now! I thought it was mince but it isn’t. I bought it from the store!” But I didn’t. Instead, I just sat there feeling like the worst mother in the world hoping they couldn’t notice I was different from them. Do you think they know I’m one of those? Those store-bought-mince mothers.

I didn’t buy a Thermomix that night. Not because I didn’t think it was worthwhile. It’s impressive. I can see why it’s revolutionising kitchens. But the Thermomix actually taught me a lot more about parenthood than it did food that night.

Being a parent is hard. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done. On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s 1000. And of course it’s worth it! But its times like my “mince moment” that make me question my credentials for the job.

Parenting isn’t a popularity contest. I don’t need to be doing the same thing as everyone else for my parenting to be validated. Sure when you’re uncertain, there’s a comfort in being the same. Strength in numbers and all that. But in the wise words of mothers all over the planet, “Just because they’re all doing it, doesn’t mean you have to!” That’s a lecture we’ve all heard twice over. And it ends with something about jumping from a cliff! I don’t suggest you do that! I do suggest that it’s ok to be different. Just like our children. Our shoe sizes, our hair colour or the way we have our coffee. Our approaches may not be alike, but our goals are the same. And that’s what really matters. Instead of focusing on our differences, maybe we should be shinning a light on all the important things that as parents, make us similar. I’ll start…we all love our children.

You like homemade mince, I like store bought mince. Let’s call the whole thing off!