Archive for February, 2012

February 29, 2012

Chef Sherwood

by Anna

As Johnny mentioned in a previous post, we lucked out timing-wise on the New Zealand portion of our trip to see his brother Jay! Having just returned home from a three month cooking stint in Northern Italy, Jay was only in California for a couple of weeks when his fellow chef and friend Vaughan, a Kiwi whom he had met while cooking in San Sebastian, Spain, called him to see if he’d be interested in moving to New Zealand to work at Amisfield, a winery just outside of Queenstown. And with that Jay became a temporary New Zealand resident three weeks ago!

Since we had just missed Jay’s move to Italy by a couple of weeks on the European leg of our trip back in October, we were ecstatic that we’d finally have the chance to see him…and in New Zealand to boot! We were looking forward to lots of quality time with Jay once we got to Queenstown, but upon realizing that our drive from Lake Tekapo to Te Anau would take us right past Amisfield, we decided we had to make a surprise visit.

It was a rainy day, and Amisfield was packed. Once the friendly host, Tom, discovered that we were related to Jay, he gave us a wink and nod and told us he’d finagle a table for us just as soon as we’d tasted some wine. After 10 months, we couldn’t have been happier to see Jay’s face, and it was especially cool to get to see him in his element – the kitchen! He took us on a quick tour through the kitchen, garden and vines, and then used his employee perks to get us six bottles of the delicious wine that we had just tasted. We then proceeded to have the most delicious lunch of all time with a fabulous bottle of Pinot Noir. Everything was amazing, but the best part was obviously getting to see Jay!

It wasn’t too sad to have to say goodbye, because we knew we’d be seeing much more of Jay once we got to Queenstown after a few days at Te Anau and Milford Sound.

Chef Jay!
Hungry men Ladies who lunch
Zucchini bruschetta
New Zealand lamb is simply the best!
Before After
Johnny and Jay post-lunch with our bounty of wine
February 28, 2012

Mackenzie Country

by Johnny

After a great couple of days in Kaikoura we packed up Big Red for our longest driving day of our South Island tour.  One thing we’ve quickly realized, though, is that travel days in New Zealand are kinda awesome.  The scenery everywhere is just stunning.  It’s definitely one of those “the journey is the destination” type places.  After driving south for about an hour we cut inland via the Inland Scenic Route 72, a beautiful drive through the region where the Canterbury Plains meet the Southern Alps.  We passed friendly farming town after friendly farming town, stopped for a great lunch in Oxford, and finally arrived at our next home base at Lake Tekapo in the heart of Mackenzie Country.

The town of Lake Tekapo is basically a gas station, a tourist information office and a couple cafes…in fact, we brought the town’s population up from 315 to a whopping 319 during our three nights there.  But whatever Lake Tekapo lacked on the cultural front it made up for tenfold with its natural beauty (are you noticing a theme, here?).  We rented an awesome cabin located a couple steps from the lake and just around the corner from the town’s famed Church of the Good Shepard and collie dog statue.

The sediment left behind by the stony-bottomed glacier that formed Lake Tekapo causes it and other lakes in the region to display an incredible icy-blue, turquoise color.  It’s like no lake I’ve ever seen before.  We spent our first afternoon admiring our new surroundings and BBQing some burgers in our cabin.  On our second day we hiked up to Mt. John for some lunch at the Astro Café, where we took in views of the entire Mackenzie Basin before coming back to our cabin and running into some serious New Zealand “traffic” on the one-lane bridge.  Later that night the clouds parted, and we were treated to some of the clearest skies and brightest stars we’d ever seen.  The entire Milky Way was visible…pretty awesome.  I’ll run out of adjectives if I keep talking about how beautiful the area is, so here are some pics.

On our last day in the area we drove an hour to Mt. Cook National Park.  At 3,755 meters Mt. Cook is New Zealand’s tallest peak, and it’s where local legend Sir Edmund Hillary would prepare for his summits of Everest.  We hiked into the nearby Hooker Valley, which took us across a couple swing bridges and up to the end of the Hooker Glacier.  Unfortunately it was a little cloudy that day, and we weren’t able to see Mt. Cook in all its glory, but it was cool to see it jutting up into the sky and living up to its Maori name, Aoraki, meaning “Cloud Piercer”.

February 25, 2012

Cray Crazy Kaikoura

by Anna

After a lovely two days in wine country we headed to the coast where the mountains meet the sea on the rocky peninsula of Kaikoura. Crayfish, which resemble small lobster, are a big deal in these parts (Kaikoura is a Maori name which literally translates to ‘meal of crayfish’) so crayfish and another regional specialty, greenlip mussels, were first on our agenda. After stopping to watch some playful seals, we pulled off the side of the beautiful coastal road heading into Kaikoura at Nin’s Bin for some fresh seafood. Johnny had read that Nin’s Bin was a must-stop, and we were not disappointed. The menu and set-up were simple: a bin of crayfish (caught that morning) marked with prices, a couple pans on a stove-top and fresh mussels. We picked out our crayfish, had it prepared with garlic butter, grabbed some mussels in white wine sauce with lemons and settled at a table by the sea. Topped off with some Sauvignon Blanc that we had brought from Marlborough, it couldn’t have been a more perfect lunch.

After our delicious pit-stop we made our way to our cottage in Kaikoura, where we transitioned from chickens and sheep at St. Leonards to a pasture of cows for neighbors. We checked out the small town and the beautiful vistas of mountains and coastline before settling in for dinner and a movie.

We awoke the next day to a torrential downpour…not the most ideal weather for our scenic walk along the peninsula that we had planned. We made the best of the weather with seafood chowder and local brew at the historic Pier Hotel followed by a viewing of National Treasure 2 (always a crowd-pleaser!) at our cottage. Nicholas Cage had just made his final one-liner when we noticed that the rain had started to clear. We grabbed our jackets and set out for the Peninsula Seal Colony and Walkway. This amazing walk took us along the tops of sheer cliffs, past pastures full of the happiest and healthiest looking cows we’d ever seen and down to the shoreline where seals lounged inches away on the rocks. The views along the peninsula were spectacular, and who couldn’t love being up close and personal with basking, barking seals?

February 23, 2012

Marlborough Wine Tasting

by Johnny

We took a windy but beautiful ferry from Wellington across the Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds to Picton, where we picked up Big Red, a 2003 Nissan Wingroad (huh?) and our primary source of transportation as we tour the South Island for the next couple of weeks.

Our first stop was Blenheim, a town that is nothing to write home about but that is located smack dab in the middle of New Zealand’s Marlborough wine region. Marlborough produces about three quarters of the country’s wine and is world famous for its sauvignon blanc, so we had our work cut out for us. We tasted wines at Allan Scott, Bladen (our favorite), Hunter’s, Saint Clair and Wither Hills (great view), and while they were all yummy, our favorite part of Blenheim had to be our accommodation at St. Leonards. St. Leonards was recommended to us by my old SF roommate Kyle who had stayed there while traveling in New Zealand before working a crush at Amisfield (which, coincidentally, is where my brother Jay just took a job as a chef…more on that soon). Anywho, St. Leonards was awesome!  It’s basically an old farm that has been converted into five charming cottages…Anna and I had the Old Dairy and Pete and Susan had the Shearers Quarters…complete with a tennis court, a petanque court, sheep, chickens and friendly hosts Paul and Daphne.  In the morning we would cook some farm fresh eggs and toast with homemade lemon and lime marmalade…so good that we had Daphne write down the recipe for us.  In fact, we liked St. Leonard’s so much that we made all our meals there.  Breakfast, then wine tasting, then a picnic in the garden, then more wine tasting, then a BBQ at night…safe to say our South Island tour has gotten off to an awesome start.

A little windy on the ferry over… …but the views were worth it
Big Red off to a rocky start Big Red made it!
Wine tasting at Wither Hills
The view from Wither Hills
Lunch at Allan Scott Wine tasting at Bladen
Our front yard at St. Leonards
The Woolshed

The Shearers Quarters

The Old Dairy
Our neighbors
Farm fresh eggs for breakfast Breakfast in the garden
Big Pete BBQing in the garden Weeeeeee!
Anyone for tennis? Check out that form
Big Pete; Hen Whisperer Just hangin’ out
Picnic at St. Leonards
February 15, 2012

Happy Valentines Day from Wellington!

by Anna

♥ I couldn’t think of a better Valentine’s Day present than my parents ♥

Lambton Harbour, Wellington

After saying goodbye to my mom and dad at the train station in Avignon nearly nine months ago, we were finally reunited two days ago in Wellington, New Zealand! Since then we’ve been enjoying our cute apartment on Mt. Victoria, with Johnny and I especially loving the opportunity to make some home-cooked dinners, and exploring our first New Zealand destination, with the very cool and interactive Te Papa Museum and the Wellington Cable Car being the top attractions. We’ve also been feasting on long delicious lunches and then working them off on treks up to view points of the city and the uphill climb to our apartment.

Tomorrow we’ll bid the North Island ado as we make our way to the South Island via a three-hour ferry ride. First stop: Marlborough wine country!

The ‘Colossal Squid’ was my favorite exhibit at Te Papa
Johnny’s brew sampler at Mac’s Brewbar Mac’s was conveniently next door to the museum
En route to Mt. Victoria Lookout
Looking left from the Lookout Looking right from the Lookout
We made it to the top!
A fun ride on the Wellington Cable Car
Enjoying another great view of Wellington
Mt. Victoria Getting a glute workout walking home
February 12, 2012


by Anna

Where Melbourne charmed us with its eclectic neighborhoods, fashion and culture, Sydney wowed us with its stunning harbor and surrounding beaches. We also couldn’t help but be especially excited for Sydney, as we were staying at the Westin for five nights free with our fabulous Starwood points! We knew that any hotel would be a luxury, but the Westin really delivered with its amazing location downtown, a couple blocks from Hyde Park and St. Mary’s Cathedral, and its unique architecture, housed partially in the beautifully grand old General Post Office (GPO) building. We also lucked out with a cool view of the historic GPO clock tower.

The GPO/Westin lobby The view from our room
St. Mary’s Cathedral Hyde Park

Our first priority in Sydney was, of course, to head down to the water to see the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. After seeing these landmarks (especially the Opera House) on so many postcards, travel shows and basically all tourism advertisements for Australia, I for some reason wasn’t expecting to be that blown away by seeing it firsthand. However, Johnny and I were pleasantly surprised with how wowed we were by the site of the Opera House and harbor. It is truly a stunning structure and really does mimic the movement and shapes of the hundreds of sailboats flying past. After spending some quality time with the Opera House, we took a beautiful walk along the water, past the Royal Botanic Gardens and Finger Wharf to Woolloomooloo (maybe even more fun to spell than Mississippi!), where we stopped at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels for one of its famous “pies n peas.” After another stop at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and some more wandering through the city, we returned to the Opera House for a sundowner at the Opera Bar, where the after-work happy hour goers mixed with opera attendees and tourists along the water’s edge with fantastic views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

Looking back at the city from the Opera House
Sydney Opera House Sydney Harbour Bridge
The view from Mrs. Macquaries Point
Harry’s Cafe de Wheels “Tiger Pies” with peas and mash
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Opera Bar
Not a bad spot for a sundowner Sitting along the wall at the Opera Bar

Aside from the sights in Sydney we were also really excited to be seeing some friends while in town. Our first rendezvous was a reunion with our crew from Lake Como – Robyn and Dennis, our friends from San Francisco, and their friends Linda and Philippe, Sydney natives. All four of them recently moved back home from London and took advantage of some time off to travel. We were lucky enough to bump into them in Lake Como, and while Dennis and Robyn are wrapping up a couple more months of travel before returning to Northern California (check out their travel blog here), Philippe and Linda have settled back into a great apartment in Manly and are getting married this coming Saturday, February 18th! We had so much fun checking out Manly, sampling beers at 4 Pines Brewing Company and downing a tasty array of pizzas at Beaches – a great spot that Linda’s brother Simon suggested. What a treat to be able to spend another memorable evening with this group in yet another beautiful part of the world!

Manly Wharf
The Corso Beer tasting at 4 Pines
View of Manly Beach from Linda and Philippe’s apartment
Pizza party at Beaches Dennis, Robyn, Anna, Johnny, Philippe, Linda & Simon
View from the ferry ride home

We had also really been looking forward to getting together with my friend from high school, Katy, and her husband Doug. They had been living in San Francisco and decided to take an adventure ‘down under’ for a couple of years by way of a work transfer through Doug’s company. After having been in the super cool Darlinghurst neighborhood for the past year and a half, they knew the most awesome, hidden gem of a bar to commence our night out. Down an alley and through an unmarked door in Surry Hills, we entered the low-lit, taxadermied world of Shady Pines Saloon. The atmosphere and drinks were so good (especially the freshly-juiced green apples with vodka) that we went through several rounds and hours until realizing that it was time for dinner. The night only got better with Katy and Doug’s local Indian food haunt. I couldn’t believe it was midnight when we finally made it to the bottom of several delicious curries, a big bowl of Basmati rice and a basket of garlic naan…but I guess that is what happens when you’re having such a good time! Thanks, guys, for all the drinks and such a fun night!

Shady Pines Saloon The entrance…not an easy place to find
Post-Indian feast with Katy and Doug

For our final day in Sydney we took Katy and Doug’s advice to take the bus to Coogee Beach, stop for some toasted banana bread and ‘flat whites’ (coffee culture is a very serious business in Australia), and then follow the ocean side path to Bondi Beach. We lucked out with the best weather we’d seen in a week, and the walk along the cliffs, past sparkling coves and beaches was beautiful. It was the perfect way to spend our last day in Australia, and we even got in a dip at Bondi in the Tasman Sea before the clouds rolled in and the rain came down.

Coogee Beach
Cemetery along the cliffs Perfect beach day
Even the birds were enjoying the weather One of many beautiful coves on the walk
Bondi Beach
February 11, 2012

Much Love For Melbourne

by Johnny

San Francisco is my favorite city on the planet, so having heard from multiple people that “Melbourne is the San Francisco of Australia,” I was super excited for our visit to Australia’s culture capital. With its classic Victorian houses, distinct neighborhoods, live music around every corner, stylish locals, boutique shops, historical buildings juxtaposed with modern street art, and emphasis on sustainable eating and living…there were tons of similarities between Melbourne and my favorite city by the bay. Although it doesn’t have any “must-see” tourist attractions like its big brother Sydney, Melbourne just oozes character and soul everywhere you look, and if I had to live and work in any major city we’ve visited this entire trip, Melbourne could very well  top my list.

Based on the advice of a couple friends, we rented an apartment in the St. Kilda neighborhood. After over two months moving from bungalow to guesthouse to bungalow in Southeast Asia, we were thrilled to finally have our own apartment where we could spread out, buy some groceries and cook our own meals. I think I spent the first couple hours in Melbourne just drinking tap water. The owner of the apartment we rented, Jane, takes great pride in being a Melburnian, and she decorated the entire apartment…from the bedding to the coat rack to the bathroom soap…with products from local artists and designers. Just like the city it’s in, our apartment had tons of character, and it immediately felt like our home for the week. And if we didn’t desperately need our $500 deposit back, I think Anna would have taken some blankets and towels. Anyway, we really enjoyed the St. Kilda area, and its proximity to the water immediately reminded me of the Marina neighborhood in San Francisco, with cafe-lined Acland St. doubling as Union St. or Chestnut St. A typical day for us would be to wake up and have some breakfast in our apartment, walk along the Esplanade past Luna Park and back up Acland St., hop on a tram (super easy and convenient) to explore the city, and come back to St. Kilda in time for another walk along the Esplanade at sunset.

Our living room at the apartment Whipping up some dinner in our apartment
Parrots of St. Kilda One of Acland St.’s many cake shops
Luna Park Moon over Palais Theater
Outside our apartment St. Kilda cafe culture
St. Kilda beach on one of our walks down the Esplanade St. Kilda pier
Just another beautiful St. Kilda sunset

Besides not having paid for a pair of boardshorts in five years, my favorite perk of Anna working at Quiksilver is getting to meet so many interesting and creative people. Especially coming from the finance world, where I basically talk numbers all day, I find it fascinating to meet somebody who designs t-shirts or creates marketing campaigns. Case in point, Mark and Ed, aka the Urchins. Mark and Ed work at Urchin Associates, a creative and visual design studio in Melbourne who do a ton of work for Quiksilver.  We met Mark and Ed at their studio in the funky Fitzroy neighborhood and headed to lunch at the Standard Hotel with their entire team.  After lunch, a couple of the Urchins gave us a walking tour of Fitzroy down Brunswick St., across Gertrude St. and back up Smith St. Brunswick St., with its numerous cafes, music venues and vintage shops, reminded me a lot of San Francisco’s Fillmore St., while Smith St., which was a little rougher around the edges…or as Ed puts it, “full of lentils and junkies”…could pass for Haight St. We thought Fitzroy was so cool that we basically did the same walk a couple days later, this time stopping for lunch at the tasty Vegie Bar and some yummy brews at Little Creatures.

Brunswick St. Smith St.
Melbourne’s Standard Hotel is a little different than LA’s
Lunch at the Standard Hotel Ed, Anna and Mark
The Urchins’ studio
Street art in Fitzroy Street art and Victorian houses
No shortage of things to do in Melbourne
Pizza from Vegie Bar Little Creatures Dining Hall

On Saturday we headed to Footscray for St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, a small touring festival featuring local bands as well as several international acts, some of which are playing at Coachella in a few months (who’s got an extra ticket?).  The tunes were fantastic and the views of the Melbourne skyline incredible, but I couldn’t help but feeling like we were smack dab in the middle of an Australian hipster fashion show.  Has the retro, high-waisted denim shorts look made it to the States yet?  I hope not.  Some looks went out of style for a reason.  Anyway, despite being surround by Mom Jeans shorts all day, we had a blast.

Laneway Festival lineup
Hip Aussies hanging on the grass Girls at the Eat Your Own Ears stage
Toro Y Moi at the Windish Agency stage Washed Out DJ set
Melbourne skyline from Footscray
M83 at the Dean Turner stage (seriously, who’s got an extra Coachella ticket?)

One of the reasons I was most excited to visit Melbourne was to see my old college roommate and good buddy Chad Bystedt. Chad moved to Melbourne on a one-year contract with Deloitte, came back home to Orange County for a brief stint when his contract was up, but ultimately decided that Melbourne was the place he wanted to be (I think an Aussie girl named Lisa may have had something to do with that).  Chad moved back to Australia to get his MBA at the University of Melbourne, got married to Lisa, and they now have a beautiful three-month old baby boy named Julian.

Despite having to move into a new place all day Saturday, Chad and Lisa (and Julian) picked us up early Sunday morning for a day out in the Yarra Valley, a wine region located about an hour northeast of the city which reminded us a lot of Sonoma County.  Our first stop was the Healesville Sanctuary.  I mean, Anna and I couldn’t come all the way to Australia and not see some kangaroo and koala, right?  They were super cool, as were the echidna, platypus and gigantic pelican.  Next we headed for an amazing lunch at Innocent Bystander before tasting some wines at Balgownie Estates.  Anna’s brother Pete had told us to be on the lookout for some sparkling Shiraz wine in Australia, and we found some at Balgownie.  Unfortunately it was a little pricey for us, but Chad and Lisa treated us to a bottle.  Thanks guys!  Alright, next time you are in Newport Beach, the Balboa Bars are on us.  After wine tasting we headed back to the city for a couple beers and walked all along the Yarra River until Julian’s bedtime…which was well past Anna and Johnny’s normal bedtime.  Such a fun day.

Kangaroo! Koala!
Koala! Eagle!
Proud papa Some wookie creeping out Julian
Yarra Valley
Some delicious wine tasting at Balgownie (and one cheesy backdrop)
Two pints and a pot Cheers, mate!

After a whirlwind first few days in Melbourne, we spent our final couple of days leisurely exploring the some of the city’s other areas.  A couple of highlights were Federation Square, the Prahran Market and all the seemingly hidden laneways full of street art.  Next stop…Sydney!

St. Paul’s Cathedral
Flinders Street Station from Federation Square Federation Square playing the Super Bowl
Parliament House Yarra River
Walking in Southbank along the Yarra River
Prahran Market Queen Victoria Market
More laneway street art