Country Victoria and Road-Tripping With My Mum

These school holidays I’m spending time with my mum. We’re doing a six night road trip through north western Victoria and seeing places I’ve either only driven through or not been to before.

We met in Albury, where Luke’s parents live (located, rather conveniently, halfway between Orange and Melbourne) and will be spending two nights in Echuca, two nights in Swan Hill and two nights in Castlemaine before heading back to Melbourne.

Yesterday Mum arrived in Albury and Luke drove us out to the Hume Dam. It was a beautiful day and Luke’s mum, Lea, had informed us that Luke’s great-grandfather had built the dam himself with the help of ‘one or two people’, so we should go see it. I seem to have neglected to take a photo of the dam itself, but there’s footage for the video and it’s a pretty standard looking dam with a road across the top you can walk over. The lake was quite lovely though, ringed with low green hills and people out on boats. No nasty jetskiis ruining the serenity, either. Perfect!

hume dam

The next morning we had a coffee at the lovely Noreuil Park in Albury with Luke’s sister Erin and her ridiculously smiley baby, Evie. Then Luke, Lea, Mum and I drove to Rutherglen to visit a few wineries before Mum and I headed on to Echuca.

Rutherglen is a very popular wine region about three hours north of Melbourne. It’s a small historical town that’s very well presented. There’s dozens of wineries in the area and many are open for tasting. We first visited All Saints, one of the most prestigious wineries in the area. You can tell because it has a frontage that looks a bit like a miniature Hampton Court.

all saints winery

I think castle-style buildings in AustraliaĀ  look either comical or tastelessly pretentious, but this one wasn’t all that bad and the large elm-lined driveway into the property was quite grand, even without any leaves on the trees. We tried some samples of food in their cheese shop then tasted some wine. I always feel like a fraud when wine tasting – I know I’m not good at it, and I also know that it is definitely possible to be good at it as my friend Nikkii can taste a wine and guess pretty accurately what the label will say regarding flavours. I find this ability to be verging on magical. How can someone genuinely taste chalk? Or pencil shavings? Or white (not yellow!) nectarine flavours? And yet she does. Without any training. I’m not sure anyone I know has an ability that leaves me quite as awestruck.

Fancy produce in the cheese shop.

Fancy produce in the cheese shop.

After All Saints we trundled into Rutherglen to visit Parker Bakery, which Erin assured us was well worth a visit.

parker pies

I opted for a vegetarian pie as I have been in contact with too many vegetarians and vegans lately and feel guilty about eating too much meat. There was only one vegetarian option available but the range of meat pies was pretty impressive, including venison, emu, kangaroo, prawn and buffalo. The gourmet pies were $8 each, which I thought was a bit steep, especially for the vegetarian one, but it was indeed very tasty.

parkers pie

beechworth menu

Last stop was Pfieffer’s Winery, which Luke remembered from his childhood. It was a typical country establishment that was in equal parts quaintly humorous and disturbing.

pfeiffers

scarecrows

Apparently there was a scarecrow-themed event coming up. Possibly for another chance to use alliteration.

scarecrow poster

Inside the shed we tasted some wines and saw people collecting picnic hampers to take out to the bridge. Luke had talked about it being a nice bridge to have a picnic on. I’d been imaging something pretty small and tacky, but it turned out to be gorgeous.

pfeiffers bridge

A proper wide wooden bridge over the river. How lovely! We spotted turtles and fish in the water and wished we’d eaten here instead of in town. Next time.

After Pfeiffer’s Mum and I said goodbye and headed off towards Echuca, using Mum’s tomtom GPS unit (at seven years old it was possibly their very first model) for the first time. ‘The Man’ (as the tomtom will hereafter be called) pointed us in the right direction and we only stopped once as Mum had to put a bet on. Being with my family is so different to being with anyone else in my life. No one else I know bets on horses, eats in bistros, drinks wine with lunch or watches news on television. It’s so familiar and yet quite foreign. I’m not complaining though… except about the news on tv as it’s just so darned depressing.

I’ll leave Echuca until the next post as this one has ended up much longer than I expected. Suffice to say that Mum and I have continued drinking wine and went to bed at 9:30pm and we both woke up around 5am. Lucky you’re not with us, hey Luke? šŸ˜‰

The Harry Potter Studio Tour plus our very first prize giveaway!

Firstly, a plug for two blogs that are not only about travel and exotic places but are also well written and full of lovely photos;Ā www.followtheopenroad.wordpress.comĀ andĀ www.lucasthenomad.com. Over the next couple of months the three of us will be crossing paths and traveling together and it’s going to turn into whatever the blog equivalent of cross pollination is. Or something. While that doesn’t, on the surface, sound exciting, trust me. It’ll be awesome to get in now on the ground level and bond with some extremely likeable characters.
Anyhoo, on to our latest adventure…
…ooo000ooo…
In preparation for visiting the Warner Bros Studios in Watford, north of London, I’d watched all but the first of the Harry Potter movies within the last 2 months. I hadn’t seen them before – I’d been unimpressed with the first movie but as I’d been told the studio tour was well worth doing (thanks for the tip, Linda!) Luke and I spent some of our quiet days between playing tourist watching them on his laptop.
I’m glad we did.

Diagon Alley

The tour was terrific, well, except for the first part, where you spend half an hour in line with eleventy-billion other people. You can’t just turn up to the studio – in fact you can’t get into the carpark without a ticket. We had booked for the 1:30 session. My tip for people thinking of going is to set your date several months in advance and book the first session (10am) or book any time in the day and turn up first thing. They don’t seem to mind letting people in early but it’s probably be better to be organised.
After a long wait in the queue we were ushered into a plain room in a large group and had a guide speak to us and show us a short introductory film while we stood up, then it was into a theatre to sit down and watch a longer film (not much longer) before entering Hogwarts main hall. I imagine they do this to space out groups but it’s also a good introduction and builds some excitement for what you’re about to see.
After the dining hall where some costumes are displayed, there are two large studios full of well-signed displays of props, movie displays, many costumes, latex masks, all kinds of things – in fact just about everything. You can stand in front of the house on Privet Drive, walk through the wooden covered bridge that is part of Hogwartsā€¦ the collection includes pretty much everything you could want to see. My favourite part was the cardboard sculptures of all the buildings and the conceptual art paintings. And of course the giant model of Hogwarts that was used for many of the CG shots.

Set schematics. There was a whole room just devoted to these.

Mum and I took about 2 and a half hours to go through, Luke a bit less than 4 but he had paid extra for the audio visual guide and so had more to listen to.
There were lots of interesting bits of info – boards with photos describing the animals used in the films and the fact that each of the staff had their names inscribed on the end of a box in Olivander’s Wand Shop. There were 17,000 boxes altogether in the shop and each had its own unique, hand made label.
The first and last thing we did was look in the gift shop. There was quite a range of merchandiseā€¦ in fact it was probably the most extensive merch store I’ve ever seen. It was funny to overhear people talking about buying wands for display in their lounge rooms. I’m not sure I’d ever achieve that level of fandom about anything.
I bought a packet of every flavoured beans for my nephews and some chocolate bees. Mum will take them back for me, although I wish I could be there to see their faces when they try the dirt and earwax flavours.
Speaking of Mum, she had only read one of the books and seen none of the movies and still said it was a great day out. She really enjoyed watching the interviews with the directors and what each had tried to bring out in their movie/s.

This model of Buckbeak breathed and moved a little.

So our verdict was that although nearly 30 pounds seems a bit pricey, you get a lot for your money and it’s definitely worth seeing if you’re even mildly interested in the filmsā€¦ or even if you’re just interested in films in general. Luke paid extra for the guide – you got the hand held device plus a guide book to keep (which he forgot to pick up when we left) and it’s probably worth getting if you’re a big fan.
All in all a good day.
Also – I bought 5 postcards and have no idea who to send them to. If you’re a Harry Potter fan leave a note and I’ll send one to the first five replies (you might have to email me your address to a1lenon at yahoo dot com). It may also be worth noting that there’s a series of Dr Who stamps available here in the UK right now so if you want a particular doctor on your postcard I’ll see what I can do.
Now we’re off camping for a week so I’ll post said cards (should anyone be interested) when we get back to civilisation.

Quick update: Wales and Dublin.

The internet is rubbish here so no photos and just a quick update for now.

We picked up Mum from Heathrow two days ago, and being the trooper that she is, she had a quick shower at the hotel (and curse you, Heathrow Hilton for charging so much for the internet) and then we hit the road.

I’d read up on pretty drives through Wales and so we took the M4 towards Cardiff then turned off and drove up the A470 most of the length of Wales. The scenery was nice to begin with – rolling green hill, then the Brecon Beacons then the OMG-amazing Snowdonia National Park. As I commented to Luke, it was like driving through a car commerical.

After 8 hours or so we arrived, exhausted, in Holyhead and checked into the Boathouse Hotel, which was full of Australians who were also catching the ferry.

We left the lights on overnight in the van so we needed a jump start in the morning. The good thing about being a super-early person is that there’s time to start the car, drive around to charge it up, get to the supermarket for some bits and pieces and then get to the ferry terminal in plenty of time.

The ferry crossing was pleasant and the sun was out all day, despite predictions of rain. Speaking of weather, the drive through Wales was more Melbourne than Melbourne – I think we went through maybe 10 showers and 10 bursts of bright sunlight during the day. It was quite odd.

We drove from the terminal to our apartment and became very frustrated with Dublin’s one way streets. Luke was driving and he doesn’t really like driving in the city at the best of times and got quite cranky by the end of it. Still, we found our place and we’d been upgraded to a two bedroom apartment, which was nice.

We went to a pub around the corner for a couple of drinks and a snack mid afternoon. Turns out it was a Czech pub and they were watching ice hockey, which we’d already learned was huge in central Europe. Lots of shouting and cheering and a great atmosphere.

Our apartment has decent cooking facilities so I cooked a pasta dinner and mum had a quiet night but Luke and I took a ghost bus tour. I’ll go into that more later.

I’ll also post about seeing Rowan and Kerry in London as soon as I can – must add photos to that post:).

Today we’re sightseeing in Dublin then off to Waterford tomorrow.