Posted on 30th Jun 2013 by ian under Travel Tales | 1 Comment »

What a great week!  Bit of a holiday, part work/part research. 

Melbourne LanewayThe work side included staying at Rydges hotels (Melbourne, Albury, Canberra two nights each).  The research was mainly travelling within Australia for the first time using a wheelchair to get around. 

Flew to Melbourne Saturday afternoon – had a superb eye fillet at Locanda Italian Steakhouse and a quiet night in to watch the rugby – the Wallabies lost by two points to the British & Irish Lions. 

Sunday – a little retail therapy in the country’s best city for shopping and browsing… went to the historic Block Arcade and explored the lanes with their signature coffee shops where people actually converse rather than text absent contacts. 

King Kong the MusicalHad a sensational seafood platter at Box on Collins restaurant.  Owners Liza and Adrian were delightful.  The restaurant is next door to the Box Office of the Regent Theatre and, while a separate entity, the restaurant provides the elevator access for theatre patrons in a wheelchair.  So glad we decided on a leisurely lunch pre-show.

King Kong the Musical is fabulous.  50 in the cast and 72 crew including 40+ puppeteers to bring the gorilla to life.  Five years in the making, the six metre King Kong steals the show – totally convincing – and they even pull off climbing to the top of the Empire State Building.

Monet's GardenMonday morning went to the National Gallery of Victoria for the Monet’s Garden exhibition – a collection of masterpieces painted in Monet’s garden in Giverny.  Both the garden and the paintings rewarding and inspiring.

Picked up a hire car and headed north for close to a 1000km road trip.  Went through Ned Kelly country to the charming town of Beechworth where the bushranger spent some time in prison.  Beechworth was built during the gold rush (1852) and has preserved the old buildings beautifully.  It looks like a great place to live as well as visit.  It is the centre of a wine-growing region and has banned poker machines (slot machines) from the town.

BeechworthDrove on to Albury-Wodonga.  Wodonga sits on the Victoria side of the Murray River and Albury on the New South Wales side.  Population of over 100,000 so lots of facilities/amenities.  Had some home-style cooked lamb shanks for dinner.  Delicious.

Up for a day of exploring the region.  To Rutherglen (another atmospheric town from gold rush times and also in the heart of wine country) – went for a wine and cheese tasting at All Saints Winery.  This was the first Australian winery to win Gold Medals in London and Paris (1873) so the vines have been around a while.  Bought a couple of bottles of the Pinot Grigio and local quince paste that goes well with all cheeses. 

All Saints WineryThe main building looks like a castle because the original owners were Scottish and homesick.

They have preserved a ‘Chinese dormitory’ from the 1860’s on the property.  A lot of Chinese immigrants arrived to make their fortunes in the gold rush – many didn’t and found themselves a long way from home so they looked for work.  Some found a job picking grapes.  This particular group also planted opium poppies among the vines for their preferred recreational substance.  The ladies in the Rutheglen tourist information office were friendly and full of info on where to visit… and that’s why we moved on…

Corowa Flour MillTo nearby Corowa for a hearty minestrone at the Chocolate and Whiskey Factory followed by a chocolate tasting with Mitch, son of the owner. 

The building is an old flour mill that closed in 1970.  Mitch’s father, Neil, bought the run-down factory in 2009 for the princely sum of $1.  How good is that?!

Next morning a couple of hours driving to Gundagai – and other gold rush town and the one I grew up in.  Visited the cemetery to say hello to my mother and father (and a few other now deceased memories from my youth). 

Interior Niagara CafeHad a coffee in the Niagara Café, a time capsule from circa 1938 then went  to check out the memorial to my father in a park named after him.  The memorial was no more. And the park was named Yarri Park.  Yarri was the Aboriginal hero of the 1852 flood that wiped out the original township with around 80 people drowning.  Yarri rescued 40 people in a bark dugout canoe.  It is fitting that he has finally been given a tribute.   

Out of curiosity went to the council chambers to ask what had happened to the Heydon Park memorial – turns out it was wiped out in the 2012 flood – the worst flood since 1853.  They had, however, retrieved the plaque and had it in storage.  The guy with the key to the storage is back from holidays on Monday and we will chat then. 

Ahhh, the serendipity of travel.

Cafe DolcettoHad a terrific lunch in Café Dolcetto in Yass, another lovely historic town, before moving on to the national capital, Canberra.  What an amazing couple of days for a political groupie – to be staying in Rydges Capital Hill just a few streets from Parliament House for the overthrow of a Prime Minister. 

On the way to Old Parliament House for the Museum of Australian Democracy the morning after the coup we went via the lawns of the new Parliament House to experience the media frenzy with morning television shows reporting live with politicians buzzing between the makeshift studios. 

Old Parliament HouseThe Museum of Australian Democracy is fascinating – school groups travel from all around the country and get to enact and debate within the old House of Representative and Senate chambers – lovely to watch. 

Canberra is 100 years old this year and this building was the home of parliament until 1988, so lots of history.  One room was devoted to the history of a party led by a chap called Tim Fischer – there was a bit of Fischer memorabilia.  He was deputy Prime Minister in the 90’s and Ambassador to the Holy See (Vatican) until he retired last year.  The aforementioned chocolate factory is in the electorate Fischer represented and we passed over the ‘Tim Fischer’ bridge.  As you know, serendipity should be dealt in threes, so when we returned to our accommodation, guess who was at reception checking in?  Yep, Tim Fischer.

TurnerThe main reason for the Canberra visit was the National Gallery’s exhibition, Turner from the Tate.  Six rooms of Turner from early landscapes through the seascapes to the later works.  Brilliant.  As was much of the permanent collection.  Then it was down the road for lunch to explore the National Portrait Gallery – also extremely rewarding – some history – lots of modern.

Friday was probably the last day of parliament sitting before the election and the day politicians return home.  We boarded the flight and took seats 4B and 4C.  In front of us, in 3A, was our local Member of Parliament, Ian McFarlane.  “Interesting week,” he said quietly.  I love the accessibility  democracy brings.  For our Canberra Disabled Travel website, click here.