Brisbane, QLD

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Ever since I saw a documentary about the Napa Valley Wine Train I added it to my bucket list. Then I saw a post on Pat's blog, about when she went on the wine train.  This made me want to do this trip even more. A few months ago when we were in USA we managed to do this great trip as part of a tour.
The Napa Valley Railroad is privately owned and started doing wine trips between Napa and St Helena in 1989 after hassles with locals about the environmental impact.
The engines used to belong to Canadian National Railway and they have been converted to run on natural gas. The nine cars were built in early 1900's by Pullman Co. They have been extensively refurbished by NVRR.
 Our group was lucky to get the last car with an outside observation deck. It is a lounge and bar car with swivel lounge chairs. There were four glasses of wine waiting for each person to taste. We had a sommelier tell us about the wines. Our tour guide gave us an information sheet about the wineries we were passing.

Bill throws away concern about getting Atrial Fibrillation and enjoys the wine and the nibblies.

Me too. A dream come true. The view from the windows was beautiful. 

 One vineyard after another surrounded by rolling green hills. It reminded us of the Hunter Valley in NSW.

 We went out on the back deck to take photos and film. The track runs along side the State Route 29.

 The train stops in a few places where you can get off for tasting and tours of wineries.

However, we stayed on board and went to the dining car for a gourmet meal. The round trip takes about 3 hours.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Between 1996 and 2008 we belonged to a wine tour group and every year we visited a different wine growing region in Australia. After 10 years the group started going to overseas wine regions. We visited French, Spanish, and Portuguese wine regions. Unfortunately we missed the Italian tour because we were river cruising between Amsterdam and Budapest. Unfortunately we never visited the Californian wine regions as I hoped we would one day. We left the wine group in 2009 as TOH isn't able to drink much wine anymore due to it causing his heart to go into Atrial Fibrillation.  

However, on our last trip to visit our daughter in LA, we decided to finish our trip with a tour of the Napa Valley Wine Region and tick it off our Bucket List. So we joined Tauck Tours and did 3 days discovering San Francisco and then we went to the Napa Valley for 3 days.

It is not far north of SFO and the scenery was lovely. One vineyard after another for as far as you could see. We were taken on a guided tour of the family owned Benziger Winery. We were taken around the vineyard in a trailer behind this tractor. We were given a lot of information on how they grow the grapes organically and sustainably by using knowledge of native plants.

Then we were taken to the cave/cellar for wine tasting and lunch.

We were surprised to hear that they use French oak and not American oak.

The wines tasted great, just as we expected. They are not as heavy as the rich fruity wines of Australia but have more oomph than the delicate wines of France. (That's my opinion) 

The lunch was in an interesting setting underground and the lunch was a delicious salad served on a plate inside a bamboo container. I tried to get the ambiance without using a flash.

After lunch we were taken to an olive oil tasting. 

As I was full from lunch the thought of swigging olive oil turned me up, so I just looked on but others said it was interesting to taste the different flavours.

Finally we were taken to "The Lodge at Sonoma" and we rested in the most beautiful surroundings before attending a talk on "pink wines" which was very interesting. The sommelier explained how people need to be educated about the new, dry, light, red wines that are being produced today as they are not like the old sparkling Rosè of the past.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


After a day on the bay in San Francisco, our tour guide promised us a surprise dinner. Then she told us we had to cook it ourselves for the whole tour group there were 23 of us. We were taken to a warehouse which had been converted into offices, showrooms and an huge kitchen. The company running the kitchen was called, "Hands on Gourmet". They ran these special dinners, where groups came in and they had to cook their own meal with help from a number of chefs. It is a way for people to get to know each other. I can tell you I was nervous as I am the world's worst cook. However, I'm always in for some fun and adventure.

We were divided into 4 groups and we were given a choice of 'Appetisers', 'Starters', 'Mains' (called Entree in USA) and 'Desserts'. Unfortunately I can't remember all of the menu and somehow I didn't get a menu to keep.

(All the photos were taken in a hurry with our phones so the quality is poor but hopefully you'll get the idea of what we had to do and what fun it was.)
Each group had a chef to explain what had to be done.

 They showed us how.

They gave us wine to drink while we worked.

 Then the fun started. Everybody had something to do. It was an exercise in bonding with strangers. It was loads of fun.

Bill enjoyed making tartlets.

 I was deep frying doughnuts.

They turned out well with the help of a new found friend. Then we coated them with sugar and cinnamon served with a special sauce, which I can't remember the name.
We nibbled and drank wine all through the preparations and then we all shared each others creations. It was a great way to get to know all the other tour members, we were the only Aussies everyone else was from all over the States. They were all friendly and helpful. It was a fun way to have dinner and we didn't have to clean up. Yea!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


When we were in San Francisco we joined Tauck Tours. They took us for a catamaran sail on the Bay. While we waited for the yacht we walked along Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf. The pier was overtaken by sea lions some time ago.  The city built these pontoons especially for the sea lions so that the pier could be returned to humans again. The tourist kind.

 Why they all crowded on one pontoon when there were plenty for them to rest on, I don't know. Maybe they were keeping warm it was sunny but cold. 

Kissy kissy!

Our group boarded the yacht. We had a colourful and friendly captain. He looked like an old 'sea salt'.

Our tour guide on the left points out places of interest. Bill and I sat inside out of the wind except when we wanted to take some shots. We had a nice lunch on board.

 We passed Alcatraz and sailed towards........
 That well known icon of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, which is actually red. The bay and the bridge are often covered in fog but we were lucky on this day.

Yep we went right underneath.

On our way back to the hotel the bus stopped at the lookout so we could see the bridge from  different angles.
Then we drove over it to get home.
The tour directer promised us a surprise dinner for that night.

Monday, July 23, 2012


As I was in Sydney for my birthday, celebrating with my family, my friends in Brisbane waited until I returned to have our traditional Birthday Bear get together. 

Our Birthday Bear group had lunch at the 'Baan Thai' Restaurant in Springwood. Birthday Bear was there to greet me. As you can see Bear is an avid photographer this time and she has a model of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, to celebrate my climb up the bridge last week. Just look what is written on Bear's hat. Bear had a lovely card for me too. It read,

"This Birthday Bear has been known to wear many a hat,
And this birthday person, Diane, is the same, we all know that,
She is always willing to participate in many a daring venture,
Living up to her blog's title,-"Adventure Before Adventure."

Bear is home with me now, she is even dressed in blue my favourite colour. The Sydney Harbour Bridge has the nick name of "The Coat Hanger" so it is understandable that the model is made from coat hangers.

Thank you so much Ann and George for dressing Bear and thanks to Helen and Mary for coming to share my birthday lunch. Paul was sadly missed again as he was home in bed sick with the flu as well as having chemo therapy. Hope you improve soon, Paul.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


My darling other half especially made me a video to add to my post yesterday and I forgot to include it. Not a good move to keep harmony in the household. So here it is,  a super video of our jaunt on the cable cars.

Friday, July 20, 2012


When we were in San Francisco we fell in love with the cable car system of transport. We had to queue for a while to get on at the top of Hyde St where there is a turn table.
Men physically turn the car around on this turn table. 

We were standing on the back veranda and we watched the bay and Alcatraz disappear as we climbed one of the many steep hills in SFO.

We alighted at the top of the famous Lombard St., which has many switchback curves to negotiate before getting to the next block at the bottom. See below. You can also see Coit tower on the hill. A memorial to Lillie Coit, who left her fortune to the city for beautification.
 Looking up Lombard St from the bottom.The street is open for one way traffic. This stretch of road has been used in many movies.

We hopped on the next cable car, which rumbled over the hill and proceeded to the Cable Car Barn & Museum.

 In the Cable Car Barn we could see how the cables were hauled underground of the streets where the cable cars run. It is an amazing system. The cables are continuously moving under the streets. The driver uses a lever to grab onto the cable to haul the tram along. He releases the cable when he wants to stop. The names of the streets are written above the relevant cables. After the war the powers to be wanted to disband the cable cars for more modern buses but public pressure allowed some cable cars to remain. They are still used by locals as well as thousands of tourists.

 After touring the museum we climbed aboard another cable car to go back to our hotel. Bill chose to hang on the outside. I was hoping he would still be there when we got to the bottom of the steep hill.

We passed Grant St the centre of China Town.

Then clattered on down the hill towards the Bay Bridge and our hotel. It was great fun.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


When we were in San Francisco we visited The Ferry Building. It is situated at the foot of Market St and in 2003 it was renovated and turned into a people's market place. Large and small shops celebrate food in all its forms and restaurants and cafes serve a diverse cuisine.

Originally, it was designed byPage Brown and built in 1898 as a ferry terminal and train station before the bridges were built. The building is 660ft long and has a sandstone facade with a 245ft tall clock tower.

There is a two story, sky lit concorse running length wise through the middle of the building.

 Our tour group were taken on a delightful food tasting trip through the market place.  First stop was the chocolate shop.


 There were many shops and foods that we tried, condiments, meats, Vietnamese, cookies,.......
 breads and cheese. You can eat yourself silly in here.

 And if that isn't enough outside they have a Farmer's Market every Saturday. 
Hundreds of food stalls surrounding the Ferry Building. The fruit and vegetables in California are just the best!