I heart you, Australia

Well, I'm back in L.A. after two weeks in Australia. It was quite the whirlwind adventure, with 7 flights in a mere 15 days! Needless to say, I'm a big jet lagged, but it was well-worth it. One might think I'd be bored with AUS by now; this was, after all, my third trip Down Under. But come on, the place is freaking huge--the size of the continental US in fact!

The truth is, I could go back to Australia a bazillion times and never get sick of it. It's become such an integral part of who I am. On my first trip I went as a backpacker, WWOOFing my way around the country, working on wineries, apiaries, and dairies for over a year. That experience led to my first food writing gigs back here in L.A. Some time later, I was sent back by my editor for my first international assignment for the Los Angeles Times to write about the booming truffle business in Western Australia. Each visit the country opens my eyes to so many things, and I always come back inspired by their lust for life and passion for their province.

That said, being able to partake in Australia Day festivities in Sydney was really a special experience, as was attending one of the country's biggest sporting events, the Australian Open. It's hard to pick a favorite though, with all the sailing, squidding, drinking, and eating (and eating, and eating, and eating...) that I did on the trip.

Instead, I'll give you the abridged version in photos. I have hopes of writing some longer features on my adventures, so this general overview will have to do. Here are a few of my favorite snapshots from each stop:

Melbourne, Victoria

My last night in Melbs, I got to check out the Australian Open, where 19-year old Australian Bernard Tomic (serving above) took the victory over Alexandr Dolgopolov. I've never attended a pro tennis match before, so this was pretty special.

The seats were right in front of Bernie's buddies, who had come up with countless choreographed cheers to motivate their mate. They were almost as entertaining as the match itself!

I spent a good portion of my time in Melbs exploring their robust coffee culture. This is a flat white from one of my favorite coffee shops,  St. Ali. This mug size is what they call a "bachelor," which is basically a competition-sized glass. I thought it was pretty cool how the latte art stayed put, even when my flat white was finished.

Another one of the highlights of Melbourne was the Hidden Secrets alley and laneways tour. Duck down any one of these tiny corridors, and you'll find heaps of unique shops, quirky restaurants, and amazing cafes. We popped out of one alleyway and came to the  Royal Arcade, whose mosaic floors you can see here.

Adelaide, South Australia

My first stop after touching down in Adelaide was the Adelaide Central Market. I was insanely jet lagged from being up so late for the tennis, but the sight of this giant rock lobster was enough to wake me up. (Well, that and the dozen local oysters I ordered.)

Instead of doing the typical Barossa Valley trip, I ambled over to the Adelaide Hills and McClaren Vale.  There's a heckuva lot of interesting wines/beers coming out of the region (more on that in those features I was speaking of). These grapes here are cab sauv from a fabulous estate called the Lane.  Really spectacular wines coming off that vineyard. 

The final stop on our wine country adventure was to taste Vale Ale Dry at it's home in McClaren Vale. The beer, which won a gold medal at the International Beer Challenge, was perfectly balanced and an ace to end a warm summer day of touring around.  They also were pouring tastes of their Belgian whit, a limited seasonal release. I wish they could get this stuff in the States! So good...

Kangaroo Island, South Australia

On board the Lady Eugenie, we sailed down to Kangaroo Island. The Vale Ale they had on board really helped with the wicked sunburn I got from laying out on the deck. Being the crazy Yank that I am, I had to take in the sunshine. Bad idea.

The captain and I went squidding, and I caught two! Later that night we cleaned them, fried them up, and had the most delicious calamari ever.

After fishing we ate, and then ate some more. Look at the gorgeous appetizers prepared by the crew on the Lady Eugenie! I want to be back on that boat right...about...now.

Launceston, Tasmania

I spent most of my time in Tasmania near the Tamar Valley in a town called Launceston, This little gal became my best friend. Not only is she the most ADORABLE baby goat in the whole wide world, but she also will one day contribute to the excellent goat's cheese at the husband-and-wife-owned Yandover Dairy.

Driving around the island in my little pink Nissan, I felt like the Tassie's Angeline. I paid a visit to the estate of Edd Carr, who just won the prestigious Australian Winemaker of the Year Award for his Arras sparkling wines. God bless his bubbly.

This is a Tasmanian cheese plate that I noshed on for lunch at Bay of Fires. Seriously, the dairy--like the water--is some of the cleanest, purest product in the world. And that Roaring Forties stuff from King Island is just the beginning...

Somehow I managed to snap a shot of a bumble bee in flight at the Bridestowe Lavendar Farm. Lucky day, I guess.

Sydney, New South Wales

I woke up extra early on Australia Day to check out the harbor. It was pretty darn rainy this year, but there was a break for a good hour or so around mid-day.

Lamingtons are a tradition for Australia Day, as well as for citizenship ceremonies. Maybe one day I'll meet a cute Aussie and get to eat one for the latter purpose. But I digress...

I was only in Sydney for Australia Day (see lede photo for my favorite snapshot of the festivities), and I just had to kick it off with some Vegemite and toast. It's a good thing I got my fix then, because the airport security stole my stash on the way in. Apparently it was over 100 ml, but that stuff is solid as a rock--certainly not a liquid! I'm aware that most people think it tastes like napalm, but seriously, I had no intention of harming anyone with it. What the heck?!?

It was time to say goodbye to Sydney and the rest of AUS, but I did it in style on Qantas. Look at that view! Would you believe that the food was actually good?!? The unlimited Shiraz didn't hurt either. I can't wait to go back!