Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In Australia, Smart Regs Mean Great Eats

As dusk fell my dearest and I wandered out to a restaurant, the Jaipur Masala (188 Elizabeth St., Sydney), I had discovered during an exploratory walk. It turned into a memorable evening for two reasons. First, the food was outstanding. We had freshly baked naan, Tandoori Tikka with mint sauce as a starter and for mains a Butter Chicken with thick creamy sauce and a Vindaloo Lamb with spicy, hot curry sauce. The spices and sauces were exotic and super tasty, the servings generous. The restaurant was attractive with many Indian decorations but also, strangely, an electric guitar, scooter and motor bike!

The second reason was the incredibly cheap prices. Did I mention this was a bring-your-own place? We purchased a chilled bottle of Long Flat semillon sauvignon blanc from a nearby bottle shop. The grand total for the meal was $40 (about $34 Cdn) including wine and all taxes and tips!! Prices are kept low by having self service. We placed the order at the counter where we received two wine glasses (no corkage fee!) and a little mast with #17 on it. We helped ourselves to napkins and cutlery at a central station and sat at a large wooden table. We sipped our wine and soon a waitress delivered the food to our table, marked by the numbered mast. We gorged ourselves on one of the best Indian meals in many years, and watched as the place filled up. And, yes, most of the other groups pulled out their own bottles of wine from knapsacks or carry bags. By the time we left, the Jaipur Masala was full of happy diners drawn in by the aromas of exotic spices that wafted far down the street.

I thought about our meal for days after. It was such a unique Australian experience. In Canada this meal would have cost about triple; with the wine alone exceeding the cost of this meal. With such low prices, Aussies eat out frequently, and because they do, restaurants, especially Thai, Chinese and Indian eateries flourish. I am ashamed of Canada’s ludicrous liquor laws, red tape and political correctness.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Life is a Beach

In Sydney it’s all about beaches. A surf-rescue competition was taking place at Coogee, so we jumped on a #374 bus and were soon watching perfect waves curl in from far out in the Pacific to crash and swirl onto a perfect golden beach.

Coogee is but one of Sydney’s many fabulous surf beaches that include Bondi, Manley, Bronte, Maroubra and Clovelly. Each beach has its own life-saving team, and the competitions between them are serious matters. Crowds roared and TV cameras rolled as lithe athletes paddled kayaks and surf boards and swam around a series of buoys in the tossing waves. The whole time the sun glared down like a giant cyclops from a big blue sky

Next day we caught the ferry to Watsons Bay, near the entrance to Sydney's immense, convoluted harbour, and enjoyed a fresh seafood lunch at the famous Doyle’s Restaurant. Our tummies full, a short walk took us to a small, secluded beach. Uncrowded and with turquoise water lapping onto crunchy golden sand, it epitomized everything that makes Sydney a paradise.

We caught the ferry back to Circular Quay passing sail boats, big lumbering yellow and green ferries, a jet boat and even a submarine. Then the gleaming Opera House and the looming Sydney Harbour Bridge greeted us. Soon we were ensconced in a pub with cool schooners of Victoria Bitter in front of us and our skin tingling from sunburn.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sydney, Australia: One hot town

I’ve always loved Sydney. My dearest and I flew in yesterday, pale from a Canadian winter, and were soon immersed in the sultry, humid, vibrancy of this iconic city.

We went for a long walk from our hotel at the south end of Hyde Park, passing Chinatown and wandering the crowded booths of Paddy’s Market. Next was Darling Harbour with its monorail and ultramodern shops and trendy restaurants lining the water front. Soon after we entered The Rocks, one of the first settled areas in Australia. The modern city transformed to small sandstone terrace houses, brightly painted and decorated with wrought iron. At the Lord Nelson, the oldest pub in Australia, we sipped chilled pints of Nelson’s Blood and Quayle Ale, the glasses slippery with beads of condensation.

Next was Circular Quay, the throbbing transportation heart of the city. Ferries skittered here and there under the elegant sails of the Opera House. The Sydney Harbour Bridge (aka the Coat Hanger) punctuated the skyline with tiny dots (humans who have shelled out $200 each!) climbing slowly up and over. Aboriginals with didgeridoos, mimes and fire eaters entertained the happy crowds. And right beside us, towering into the sky was the Queen Victoria, one of the biggest cruise ships I’ve ever seen.

The Botanical Gardens drew us, green, verdant and lush. Birds cawed and sang, the air was heavy and it felt as though we had descended into the Jurassic era. We wandered around Government House and its gardens, then headed south past the historic, sandstone Parliament House -- its flags flying at half mast for the victims of the devastating Victoria fires -- Sydney Hospital and the Barracks.

We ambled through Hyde Park with its glorious avenue of large Hills fig trees forming a cool, shady canopy. Nearing our hotel, we were forced to sit and rest our feet at the Crown Hotel while cradling a cool glass of Toohey’s New.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I must confess: I suffer from incurable islomania. Islands attract me and hold an immense power over me. They are addictive. I am in their thrall.

Off the west coast of British Columbia is an archipelago that is largely undiscovered, although it is near major centres of population. The Gulf Islands, seldom crowded with tourists and a refuge for wildlife, draw me like a magnet. Seals, killer whales, eagles, deer, giant pileated woodpeckers and much more live here in harmony.

There is no better place to launch a kayak and laze on the water, letting the tidal currents gently carry you along. Here is photographic proof of paradise.