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I first visited the Hunter Valley two years ago.  I loved the place even though I only spent one night, it seemed to have a bit of everything: wine, good weather, friendly people and did I mention there’s heaps of wine?

Plan at least two nights – chances are you will get there in the afternoon.  Aim to attack the wineries early in the morning, most of them close around 4:00 p.m., so be wary of their schedule. 

How to Get There?

The Hunter Valley is situated in Cessnock merely two hours away from Sydney, quick drive with pleasant views.  Hire a car and make your way there!

Directions from Sydney Australia to Cessnock Australia  Bing Maps 2013 04 16 18 23 21

 

Where to Stay?

There’s tons of places to stay – I’ve had good luck with the “Potter Hotel” the two times I’ve stayed there.  It’s a brewery in the middle of the wine country, which is odd.  Make sure to have a tour of the brewery, it’s very personal and you learn quite a bit.  They have very good beer, I enjoyed the 8% IPA called “Cranky Pants” (how appropriate, huh?):

 

Cranky Pants IPA

 

How to get Around?

If you have a designated driver, then that’s your best bet.  If none of your friends want to play that role, then there’s tour buses around that will take you to certain vineyards.  They are somewhat expensive but beat spending the night in prison due to a DUI.  Another option is to hire a bike and cycle your way from vineyard to vineyard.  The gradients are not bad at all, and with the exception of a couple of hills, it’s a very easy ride.  The nice thing about riding is that you get to see things you would otherwise miss, like these guys:

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Where to Drink Yourself Into Oblivion

The Hunter has lots and lots of vineyards, all at your disposal for free tastings.  That’s right, no charge for tasting wines on any of the wineries (although this might change soon due to a tax law that is still pending approval).  I visited the following vineyards, enjoyed them quite a bit:

Hungerford Hill (http://www.hungerfordhill.com.au/page/about_us.html)

2450 Broke Rd Pokolbin NSW 2320 Australia 

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You won’t miss it, its amazing architecture will attract you from the street.  They had an amazing Semillon Sauvignon Blanc.   They also have a fancy Muse restaurant which looked good.

Tempus Two (http://www.tempustwo.com.au/)

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 This one is the one I used for the cover photo of this post.  The place is quite amazing, it has a Japanese and Seafood restaurant, a small shop that specializes in smelly cheese, and the winery that had very friendly staff who are eager to get you to taste everything.  The tasting room is quite exotic, unlike any other I saw during my stay at the Hunter:

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 Make sure you try the Gewürztraminer (if, unlike me, you can pronounce it) and the Botrytis, a dessert wine which I can testify falls under the category of “FUCKING AWESOME”.

Anything Else?

There are TONS of vineyards available of testing, so just take your time to enjoy.  After some tasting, your palates will deceive you and every wine will start tasting similarly, so make sure to have enough breaks between vineyards.  Oh – and don’t bother checking for weather…the Sydney Weather Bureau predicted rain on my second day, and we had none of that.  Salud!

Lucky Bastard

December 2nd, 2010

I really can’t complain. Every time I end up in an exotic place due to work, I can’t help but think of Dr. Seuss “Oh, the places you will go”. Boy was the good Dr. right :) I’ve travelled many places, met incredible people, wined and dined – all with one of my favorite persons in the whole wide world: me.

For some narcissistic reason (need I say more), I’ve found my company to be extremely pleasing. But then again, thinking about it, it’s not like I had a choice – I cannot get rid of myself, so might as well like me. It hasn’t been a paved road, let me tell you that. I can be a real asshole, and I used to be a very insecure person who constantly enjoyed auto-sabotaging everything. I was afraid to meet new people, felt weird if I had to sit at a restaurant and enjoy a meal by myself, and definitely felt like a freak when I entered a bar by myself. I quickly came to realize, that you either evolve and change your act, or you are bound to be an insecure little shit for the rest of your life. Insecurities lead you nowhere, and that was enough motivation to move on. Now I completely enjoy having dinner all by myself, ordering a good bottle of wine and downing it myself while getting a buzz and enjoying my own time. Yeah, sometimes people look weird at me, but who really gives a rats ass? One of the most important things I’ve learned in all my life is that whatever people think about you is none of your business. You are not here to please anyone else but yourself (as long as you don’t harm others); so don’t spend your time trying to satisfy others, most people are not worth your time anyways.

Another aspect that I’ve found invaluable is that life is worth living every second. If you constantly wait to try and meet some condition to accomplish one of your life’s dreams, then you will most likely never accomplish them. How much time do you have in your life? 30 years? 12 months? A day? Who knows, and that is not only the only question you should ask yourself. It should also be “How much quality time do I have in my life?”. What’s the point of longevity if you can’t do shit? Seriously.

One sad thing I’ve come to realize is that the wider the gap is between the country I’m visiting and Costa Rica, the more I like the place. Take Sydney, for instance: a beautiful city, safe, diverse as no other (well…maybe New York, but fuck New York). Sydney has not only managed to cope with people’s differences (look at the wall of Maritime museum if ever in doubt) but it has also managed to created a society that respects these differences.

All the time I’ve been in Sydney I was expecting to find the city’s dark secret. Either they have it very well hidden or it does not exist. And while I’m downing a Sapporo (I stopped at a liquor store yesterday in Chinatown), I can’t help but feel that sinking feeling you anticipate when you are about to lose something precious. In the midst of a beautiful day, an early caffeine rush and enjoying the first beams of light in Circular Quay (pronounced “key” as one good friend pointed out), I can’t help but think: “this is the most amazing place on Earth”.

You must really experience Sydney to know what I’m talking about, and this is just ONE of the cities that this beautiful country has to offer. So as I’m writing this into my Moleskin notebook (thanks Felix for introducing me to this indispensable traveller’s gadget) I raise my non-Australian beer in tradition of the diversity that this country stands for – and I salute you Sydney – thanks for an incredible time despite the crappy weather in the last few days of my stay. Cheers mate!


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Yesterday I ordered a pizza with Papa Johns and my credit card was denied.  “This can’t be good” was the first thing I thought. After quickly checking my online statement, I found out that between December 31st – January 8th, there had been about $5,000 of unauthorized charges to my credit card – ‘yay!’  For the record, most of these charges were done in Cape Town, South Africa, a place where Jose mentioned that 2 colleagues had the same problem a while back.  In other words, watch your freakin’ credit card while in SA, never let anyone take it where you cannot see it.

Even though I have credit card fraud insurance with HSBC, I will have to take the fall for 10% of the total charges, which obviously sucks.  I had heard about stories in which credit cards were cloned, but I never thought I’d be a victim.  So I’m thinking about ways for this to never happen again, or at least, that if it does happen again, it is not as bad as this one.  Here are some ideas:

  1. Get a credit card that offers 100% insurance if your credit card has a high limit.
  2. Regardless of the card, always have some type of insurance
  3. Check your credit card statements every day.  Takes 5 minutes, can save you a lot.
  4. Completely wipe out the 3 digit security code that every card has, make it so that it is not readable (but make sure you write it down somewhere)
  5. Talk with your bank and have something fire off an e-mail alert when there are charges greater than $500 (thanks Maria)
  6. Try to never lose sight of your credit card (something really to accomplish in Costa Rican bars and restaurants)

Any others you’d like to share?

[UPDATE] I wrote to some friends I met in Cape Town warning them about this issue and here is their reply:

crazy stuff is happening..my mastercard data has been copied and used as well. before i was able to block it I lost round about 1.100 euro between 30.12.2008 and 03.01.2009. in germany things run a little different.. I don’t have insurance but it seems like mastercard will do a “chargeback” after they received the receipts from the different shops… (what they basicly do is make sure it wasn’t me) luckily i can prove the abuse because I had left SA on the 19.12 already….
by the way, same thing happened to a friend of mine in cape town I was sharing a room with..

so at least you’re not alone :-(

Cape Town Half Day 1

December 23rd, 2008

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I arrived Cape Town on Saturday December 13th. While on the plane I started feeling by blood rush when I saw the landscape that this place offers (shitty pictures from my phone):

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My bag arrived fairly quick from the carrousel and then I had to answer the million dollar question:

Should I rent a car or not?

Why was I being such a chicken shit in just renting a motorized mode of transportation? My biggest fear was the fact that in South Africa driving takes place place on the “wrong” side of the road (left). Other than that, I had no idea how safe getting lost was in this place, and I have a keen ability for this.

When I weighted these cons against the fact of being stranded to wherever those shitty red tourist buses take you, I decided to give the rental company a run for its insurance and gave it a shot. It is not as bad as one may think, although as soon as you are sitting on the car with the gears on your left (they did not have automatic transmission cars available) and your universe slowly shifting into bizzarro world you think to yourself “I’ve made a huge mistake”.

After driving around the Avis parking lot to make sure I got the hang of this new form of driving, I ventured forth into the road (with a GPS, of course) and see how things would turn out.

One of the first things I noticed whilst driving is that the average driver is Cape Town drives really slow even though there are amazing roads which we, Costa Ricans, can only dream of having. This of course was a great thing for me, because while listening to the GPS, shifting gears with my left hand, and dealing with roundabouts, my brain was about to have a meltdown. I also quickly realized (after a couple of honks here and there) that the slow lane in highways is the LEFT lane ;) Here is a pic of my faithful companion during this trip (+500 Km):

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I stayed at the Souther Sun Hotel near the Waterfront, which was a great place to be in terms of security, price, and general hospitality of the staff. They have a van that will take you to the Waterfront every 30 minutes and it runs until 23:00, which is a safe way to drink yourself into oblivion without having to worry about a DUI. It is worth noting that I also drove close to the 12 Apostles Hotel a few days later, which was right in front of the beach and very close to Table Mountain. Had I known before and I’d probably would have booked there given that I had a car.

Once settled, I headed straight to the Waterfront, which is where you will find lots of great restaurants, a big shopping mall, countless number of shops that sell all that native African stuff that is worth buying (masks, handmade crafts, drums, etc). Outside the waterfront, you are able to find all kinds of things going on in terms of entertainment. There is a small plaza where there are live shows and just walking around you will find find all kinds of streetside shows in a very safe environment:

For being a touristy place, I generally found Cape Town very reasonably priced. Dining out is very cheap when compared to the US & UK and the weather during this time of the year was close to perfect. I was in the Waterfront most of the day trying to chase away my jetlag, and what better way to do so whilst downing some some beers and wines (the wines were out of this fucking world, I tried an amazing Shiraz from Wines of Jordan)

Some random pics from that day:

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Next post: Cape Town Day 2: The Winelands and the Boat Trip

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Whilst I sit to board my flight, drinking an kick ass Shiraz, I am getting an empty feeling that is bringing me down. I feel like I am about to lose something that I enjoyed, an integral part of what has been an amazing experience for the last 4 days.

I felt this once in the past when I left Bangkok, and the feeling lives within until (I assume) one goes back to those places that have made you incredibly happy. Having the opportunity to visit South Africa, I decided to venture forth and head to Cape Town just because I had heard it was “kind of cool”.

I had never, ever imagined that a place with such magnificence could exist. From the ever lasting gaze of Table Mountain, to getting a buzz early in the morning while tasting some of the best wines in the Winelands, to being in a freakin’ cage admiring a Great White Shark a meter away or just driving and getting lost – there is no wrong turn in Cape Town – or at least, I could not find it.

I really do not want to make this all of one post because it would not be fair at all to this incredible place, I’ll try to slice it and dice it to give anyone an idea of what to do and how to do it when they come around.

Now…I don’t want to write anything. I am feeling a knot down my throat as I am watching the sunset from afar, hoping that I could extend this stay a day or two, or why not – the rest of my life. I will see you again Cape Town, you can count on it.

Listening to LastFM is amazing, you can find amazing music there based on the music you currently listen to. I was growing a bit tired of copying and pasting artist and album info to find some of their music in torrent sites, so I wrote some applescript code that gets the job done.

This code ONLY works if you are listening to Last.FM with iScrobbler, because the script uses the iTunes applescript dictionary to get the current iTunes song, and iScrobbler does exactly that – play LastFM tracks on your iTunes.

You can watch the script in action in the following link: LastFMFinderinAction

So in order to use:

  1. Open Script Editor and paste the script below
  2. Compile the Code and save it as an Application so you can quickly invoke it, call it “FindLastFMAlbum” or something more creative
  3. Download and Install iScrobbler
  4. Tune in a station that you want
  5. When you find hear a song you like, invoke the app, it will use artist + album parameters to find the album that has the song

The script:

property this_artist : “”

property this_track : “”

property this_album : “”

property serch_url : “”

tell application “iTunes”

try

if not (exists current track) then return

set this_artist to (get artist of current track)

set this_track to (get name of current track)

set this_album to (get album of current track)

end try

end tell

Demonoid

set searchString to replace_chars(this_artist, ” “, “+”) & “+” & replace_chars(this_album, ” “, “+”)

set search_url to “http://www.demonoid.com/files/?category=2&subcategory=All&quality=All&seeded=0&external=2&query=” & searchString & “&uid=0&sort=”

open location search_url

PB

set searchString to replace_chars(this_artist, ” “, “%20″) & “+” & replace_chars(this_album, ” “, “%20″)

set search_url to “http://thepiratebay.org/search/” & searchString & “/0/99/100″

open location search_url

on replace_chars(this_text, search_string, replacement_string)

set AppleScript‘s text item delimiters to the search_string

set the item_list to every text item of this_text

set AppleScript‘s text item delimiters to the replacement_string

set this_text to the item_list as string

set AppleScript‘s text item delimiters to “”

return this_text

end replace_chars

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(give this pic a thumbs up in the social wallpapering site! )

I went over to Mount St. Helens this weekend. Long story short: this active volcano erupted in the 1980s and pretty much changed everything around it. Some of the pics below show the mountain post-eruption, it pretty much blew the top off, here is what it looked life before (it had a top):

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The blast was so staggering that the ashes from the eruption went around the world, I kid you not.

It is an amazing place, definitely go see it if you happen to be close to Seattle (2 hour drive) and happen to catch one of the 226 days that it is NOT cloudy. Some random pics:

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My beautiful mother and myself on our way to the top (driving – of course)

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That’s in Johnston Ridge observatory, looks like a montage ;)

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Amazing place

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On our way there, the climate could not have been more generous

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This was about 1 hour away from getting there

Sunday in Bangkok

September 10th, 2007

Today I met with a colleague from work who coincidentally was on vacation in Thailand.  This changes the panorama a lot because quite frankly it sucks to travel alone.  After 1:00 p.m. we too the BTS to the Somdet Phra Chao Taksin bridge.  From there you can take the tourist ferry for like 100 Bahr (~$3).   That is the easiest way to get to the area around the Grand Temple and the Wat Pho since no metro or BTS arrives to that area (I really wonder why).  You gotta love a country where you can buy beer anywhere, and Thailand is no exception.   Just before getting in the boat, buy a beer from the local merchants and then enjoy the trip.

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Thai Boxing Pictures

September 10th, 2007

Here are some pics from the Thai Boxing match (takes forever to upload):

If you no likey slide show, here are the pics:

Mai Thai Fight September 9th, 2007

Thai Boxing: Awwwwwwwwww Yiah!

September 8th, 2007

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In Costa Rica, we have boxing matches every now and then.   Usually 3-4 fights, they cost like $30 and quite frankly, after seeing Thai boxing, I have come to the conclusion that Costa Rican boxing plain sucks.  Let me rephrase that, Boxing sucks.   Thai boxing is way cooler than any Ultimate Fighting Championship matches, and this is based on the matches that I saw yesterday, which was a regular Sunday match.

There are Thai fights every night around the city, just ask at a tourist info office on which stadium is the schedule one.  The one we saw was in Ratchadamnoem Boxing Stadium.  You can buy ringside tickets for 2000 Bhar (around $60) and they are worth every penny.  Yesterday night we saw about 8 fights, one of which was a comedy one.  I really don’t know if it was the beer or the comedy fight was that funny, but I was literally laughing my ass off.

 

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