I woke up today with coffee on my mind. This is no different to any other day but today I wanted something special. Sydney is a coffee town. There are boutique coffee houses in the inner suburbs that are constantly heaving with caffeine feens and Coffee Roasters that have set up shop in abandoned warehouses. The usual cuppa joe was not going to suffice today, so I jumped in the car and drove the 25 minutes through the city to Marrickville to a coffee roaster called Alchemy.
For the last 18 months I had been meaning to try Alchemy. The reviews were great and there is something about the science of roasting your own beans and producing a product from beginning to end on the one site that appeals to me. Alchemy is set up in an old warehouse with a sit in option on one side and the other dedicated to takeaway. Arriving around 9am, it was evident that I was not the only person with Alchemy on the brain. The cafe section was full but the wait was short and in what seemed like no time, we had a small table in the back corner.
The coffee machine is one part example of superb engineering and one part artwork. The coffee at Alchemy is perfect. It is strong, but not bitter and the milk is the perfect temperature, hot enough to warm the insides but not so hot that it cannot be drunk straight away. The milk is silky and before I knew it, cup number one was empty and I found myself contemplating another.
The back of the shop houses the roasting machines. These roasters look like something from the height of the industrial revolution. They are large and have an imposing presence. Unfortunately the current batch of beans were not ready to come out of the roaster while I was there but I have every intention of going back to see the roasting process in its entirety. I may even have another coffee or three while I am there.
Alchemy will not disappoint if you are a coffee enthusiast. The espresso is second to none and they also specialise in drip filter. I have tried very hard to find a fault or area for improvement with their coffee but my mind is drawing blanks. Alchemy is quite possibly the best coffee I have had in Sydney to date!
It is amazing what fear can do to a man. Fear can force you to perform feats that were previously thought impossible. Fear can drive you to keep going when all seems lost and hopeless. Fear, it turns out, can take a man from a drunken stupor to dead sober in a matter of seconds.
Let me set the scene. It is a brisk July morning on the cobblestone streets of Pamplona. It is raining just enough to make the road slippery but not enough to soak the waiting crowd through. What had seemed like a bit of fun suddenly became a reality as the old priest looked me in the eye as he blessed the crowd. A silence fell over the nervous throng as the devout fell into prayer.
The previous afternoon, I had boarded a bus from my home in San Sebastian with three friends, destined for the festivities of San Fermin. Arriving in the city centre, we each bought a litre of sangria and made our way to the Plaza de Toros de Pamplona. I had never been to a bullfight before, and I didn’t really agree with the slaughter of these majestic animals that didn’t seem to really have a chance of winning the “fight”, but my number one rule when travelling is to experience as much of another culture as possible. And in Spain, bullfighting is right up there so I was in.
We found ourselves in the upper tiers of the arena, sweating beneath the tin roof among a cloud of cigar smoke that rose gracefully from the group of old men two rows in front. Three hours and another litre of sangria later, the bullfights were over and the champion Matador, Joselleo, stood over the slaughtered creature, bowing before the frantic crowd as roses poured down upon him.
Plaza de Toros de Pamplona (photo source: http://www.boston.com)
What happened over the next 12 hours is half a blur – though I do remember my friend being hit in the head with a skyrocket as it exploded, and half not suitable to be translated into the written word so I will skip ahead to the morning after. The plan had been to find a room, get a few hours sleep, sober up and have a hearty breakfast before making our way to the bull run. This seemed the sensible thing to do and was what I had promised my better half, who was not all that impressed with my participation in the first place. While the plan sounded good, as is the case with most things in life it did not come into fruition. In what seemed like no time at all, it was 7:30am, we were finishing our last drinks and the Plaza del Castillo Pamplona was emptying as the runners and spectators alike made their way to the course.
Once the official blessing had taken place, a local man explained to me that the best spot to start the run is at the top of the initial rise as the bulls would be a bit slower after they run up the hill. He told me that I will hear a rocket being fired to let the crowd know that the bulls were out and running. “Don’t start running straight away”, he said “the aim is to run with the bulls”. The locals went about their stretching and limbering exercises as it dawned on me what was about to happen.
A cold sweat had consumed my body, my mouth was dry and my palms were clammy. I turned to my mate and we devised a plan. The only way to get through this, we decided, was to stick together. As the final pieces of the plan were falling into place, an almighty boom filled the morning sky. Jesus. Why didn’t I pray with everyone else?!
To my surprise, everyone just stood, looking down the hill. Waiting.
What happened next took less than a minute, but it felt like a life time. I could hear the rumble before I could feel the tremor of the ancient cobblestones beneath my feet. The crowd began to rush towards me in what appeared to be a wave of frantic bodies. As the first beast came into sight, I remember feeling surprised at how big it was. As the second and third bull approached I turned and ran. The plan had gone out the window. It was every man for themself. Fear had made its way into my mind and it flowed through me with each chest shattering beat of my heart.
One thing I learnt on that morning is that a 650 kg bull can outrun a human. The first beast cruised past me as I turned to see where my friend was. It turns out he was right behind me and as we locked eyes I could see that he was just as scared as I was. That look turned to sheer terror only seconds later as he slipped on a cobblestone and disappeared from sight. As those behind jumped over him, instinct took over and I once again turned and ran as the remaining bulls approached. It was survival at any cost.
With the infamous “Dead Man’s Corner” getting closer with every step, I struggled to navigate the congestion and decided to cram into the boarded up doorway of a shop. As others followed my lead, it became a battle of survival as instinct again took over as each of us tried to push the other out of the way. Luckily, the bulls did not stop to witness our display of humanity at its worst. If they had, I am sure they would have chuckled to themselves just before putting their head down and tearing us apart.
As the last bull ran past, the doorway emptied and we exchanged sheepish looks at the fact that each of us would have sacrificed the other had it come down to it. I ran the remainder of the course with a sense of relief and followed the beasts into the arena where they were quickly corralled away for that afternoon’s bullfight. I had made it, only just.
Not the ideal situation (photo source: http://www.theadventuretourist.com)
The infamous Dead Man’s Corner where the bulls often lose their footing on the cobblestones (photo source: http://www.goseewrite.com)
There is much to be said for travelling. I am not talking about a week in Phuket on daddy’s credit card, I mean really getting away from the everyday and immersing yourself in something completely foreign to what you know as your familiar existence at home. How many of us will, god willing years from now, lay on our deathbed and think; “You know what, I did it exactly how I wanted to do it”?
The decision to give up all that is familiar and the comforts of home for an extended amount of time in exchange for an open road, a heavy backpack, cramped flights and the odd case of exploding stomach syndrome is one that is not taken lightly. When I was 19 years old I first took it upon myself to make this decision. I had dreamt of travel, seeing new places and meeting new people for as long as I could remember and now that I was old enough, my number one priority was to get out there and see it all. Upon reflection, naivety worked in my favour. I made some terrible decisions along my travels at this tender age, but nothing that killed me. The freedom that I felt then and the feeling I still get now is like a drug. Every day of my life is spent thinking about my next hit.
I remember running up the stairs of a rundown guesthouse in Rajasthan in my first week in India, taking the steps three at a time, clinching in a way that can only be interpreted by onlookers as ‘that guy is about to shit himself’. The thought running through my head at that particular time was not one of freedom, it was one of anger at the fact that I had given up my hygienic, en-suite bathroom at home to travel to a place where the boundary between the toilet and the outside world seemed to blur. My mind was completely focussed on getting to the toilet in the room. So focussed in fact that I had forgotten to collect the key from the receptionist who was screaming wildly behind me to remind me that I wouldn’t be able to get in and alas, “there are no public toilets up there sir!”. Disaster struck. I will leave the rest of this story to your imagination.
While there are bad times, it is these times that makes you grow as a person. I feel like my sense of humour and my ability to constantly laugh at myself were formed and based much upon the happenings of these few years. I sure as hell know that it was times like these, when the world seemed to be against me and I was completely lost, that made me appreciate the good times just that little bit more.
I have so many great memories. The times in my life when I have had nothing to my name except a backpack full of dirty, torn clothes have been my happiest. Being in a state of pure happiness allows you to open up to people in a way that previously seemed impossible. I looked at the world around me with a new set of eyes. Eyes that were not clouded by the pressures of living and struggling to survive in the western world. I appreciated all the small things in life and in the world. It is possible that it was just simply the fact that I had the time on my hands to sit back, wait and look at something long enough until something happened, but it was a beautiful time.
If you have ever had the slightest inkling to get out there and see what this world has to offer outside of your office walls or the cafe down the street, I implore you to take that first little step over the edge and just peek around the corner at what the rest of the world has to offer. Years from now, when your body is no longer up to the task of carrying a backpack or sleeping on an overnight bus, you will look back and smile.
Walking up Bridge Lane, I approached a doorman and asked if he could direct me to Mr. Wong’s. “Well”, he replied, “you’ve come the wong way. Go back along the lane, turn wight and then wight again and you’ll see the sign. Have a wovely night!”. “Thanks”, I replied with a smile on my face.
Arriving at Mr. Wong’s, we were told that there would be a wait of at least an hour and a half, and being a Friday evening we were more than happy to go for a pre-dinner drink, so the wait was no problem. One of the “It” bars in Sydney at the moment is Palmer & Co. Just around the corner from Mr. Wong’s, Palmer & Co. is not just a bar to kill some time while you wait, it is an experience in itself! Creatively styled, this Prohibition style bar is located underground off Bridge Lane. The Bar serves all of the classic cocktails of the period and beer by the bottle. If you are a whiskey fan, the Whiskey Sour is something that should not be passed up.
The hour and a half went by in what felt like 20 minutes and before we knew it we were back at Mr. Wong’s being walked through the restaurant to our table. Walking past the kitchen in Mr. Wong’s is in itself worth the trip into the city. The open kitchen runs half the length of the restaurant, with a small room filled to the brim with Barbecue Duck hanging from hooks and a two storey wine cellar at the other end. The kitchen was bustling with 20 something chefs grilling, frying and working their magic with flaming wok in hand.
It is hard to concentrate on reading the menu with so much going on around you so I suggest ordering a drink and taking your time to take in your surroundings. For ease, we opted for the banquet and ordered another drink. The short wait was definitely worth it. The dim sum platter was a great little starter and equal to any dim sum that I have had in Sydney previously.
Usually I would finish this post by listing the dishes we ate, give them a rating and tell you how delicious they were. While each dish was amazing, I want to keep the focus on the atmosphere at Mr. Wong’s. The level of detail that has gone into this restaurant is second to none. The simple act of going to the bathroom turned into a trip down memory lane. The photos and incense that fill the bathroom took me back to the time I spent in South-East Asia. The kitchen, which I have mentioned already, was so alive with action that I was almost compelled to apply for a job as a dish boy just so I could be a part of it all.
Mr. Wong’s is busy. It is fast paced food and it is worthy of its tag as one of Sydney’s “It” places to eat at the moment. The bill will leave your wallet feeling a bit lighter than it was before you arrived but if food and eating means more to you than simply filling the stomach, then Mr. Wong’s should be added to your culinary bucket list!
I have been fighting an internal battle of late. The voice in the back of my mind is telling me that no one in their right mind is interested in reading my thoughts, the everyday happenings of my life and my opinions on the mundane events that make up the world in which we live and breathe. After much thought however, I have decided to push on for the simple reason that writing my thoughts down into readable words allows me to escape the daily grind of working 9-5 and imagine for only a short time that I could do this for a living.
Recently I drove 4.5 hours north of Sydney to the paradise that is Crescent Head. My family has owned a beach house up there for over 20 years and I try to get up there whenever the rat race allows it. Crescent Head holds a special place in my heart. It is where I spent countless hours in the ocean with my dad, learning to surf. It was the location of my first unsupervised trip away when I was 16 and is one of the few places in this world where I truly feel at home.
For those in surfing circles, Crescent Head is a place of legend on the East coast of Australia. With the right conditions, the point breaks for 400 metres, hugging the rocks and offering a wall that allows you to do so many turns that your legs will be screaming for a break after a couple of hours in the water. If the point is crowded or not working to its potential, there are a number of options up the main beach or up the infamous dirt road that boasts breaks such as Point Plomber and Racecourse.
Flawless point break. (photo courtesy of http://www.surfcds.com.au)
Crescent Head is home to a close community of just over 1,500 people. The people up there are a mixed bunch, some retired, some young families and some people who enjoyed the 60′s more than they should have. The one thing these people have in common though is that they enjoy some open space and the feeling that only a small community can give you. Among the residents of Crescent Head are legends like Baz, a returned Vietnam Vet who loves the surf and a chat just as much; and Bob Kennerson, a.k.a Kenno. Kenno used to be the postman in Crescent Head, delivering mail and shaping boards to sell out of the post office.
Kenno is a legend in Australian surfing folklore. He lead the grommet uprising that lead to the surfers of Collaroy, including kids such as Nat Young, to split and walkout of the local Surf Lifesaving Club. The result of this walkout, due to the unfair treatment of surfers, resulted in the formation of the Collaroy Surfers Association. This event shaped the future of Australian surfing forever and formed the views and attitudes of the on looking grommets such as Simon Anderson. Today, Kenno is retired from his postal route, however he still shapes boards and can be found down at the Golf Club enjoying a beer.
A Kenno classic.
Circa 1960′s (photo courtesy http://www.smh.com.au)
For me, regular visits to Crescent Head and meeting these people has shaped my perspective on surfing and the world in which we live. Learning to surf on the slow, crumbling point break allowed me to practice my turns without the risk of copping my board to the face. Looking back now, some of my happiest memories are of being up there and spending countless hours in the water with my dad. I can remember clearly the first time I saw a fin pop out of the water only metres from where we sat on our boards. I shrieked at the top of my lungs and paddled straight to shore, only to turn around and see my old man splashing the water with laughter as he watched a pod of dolphins swim around him.
Up until now, Crescent Head remains unspoilt and undeveloped. My hope is that this remains true for the rest of time and that young kids can grow up enjoying the same natural beauty that I was privileged enough to experience.
You can sit here for hours and not get bored (photo courtesy of http://www.macleayvalleycoast.com.au)
The Point firing on all cylinders!
Nat Young in the 60′s (photo courtesy of http://www.surfresearch.com.au)
Simon Anderson, inventor of the modern day thruster (photo courtesy of http://www.boardcollector.com)
The weather is getting cooler and the days shorter here in the Southern Hemisphere. I’m not complaining though. The surf has been good, the ocean temperature is still warm and the mornings are producing some of the best sunrises I have seen all year. I have some ideas floating around my head for a new post but they are yet to make their way from there to the screen of my laptop. Until then, I hope you enjoy some photos that I’ve taken over the last couple of weeks.
In what has been my greatest DIY undertaking, my Dad (PappaLouie) and I recently installed a wall unit/ storage cupboard in the lounge room of my apartment. Before I go any further it is important to note that I am by no means a DIY genius, so for a project of this magnitude I had to call in the troops (dad and a mate) to help.
A month or so ago, Dad and I measured up the space and came up with a design that would most effectively utilise the small amount of space that we had to work with and still look good… Well, my fiance was the leader of the design team (she left the heavy lifting and installation to us though). The main concern that we had was that this new addition would change the feeling of the room and make our little apartment feel smaller than it already was.
We had the materials cut to order by a professional cabinet-maker and undertook the installation ourselves, saving around $1,500 on the labour. The project took us a day and a half to install and finish off. The hinges on the top, horizontal cupboard have been installed using gas shocks which allow the door to open with minimal effort, providing easy access to the surfboards and other sporting equipment that we have stored in that cupboard.
We opted for the gloss finish on the visible panels, which did cost us a little more but the end result and look is worth the extra dollars. The fact that the doors are handleless and the unit finishes flush with the cupboards that run from the kitchen, creates a seamless effect which I think opens up the internal space, creating the illusion that it was designed that way on purpose.
We are absolutely over the moon with the end product and despite our fears, the wall unit actually makes the lounge room feel bigger than it was due to the fact that everything is now stored away out of sight! A warning though for all amateur DIY’ers – a project of this scale is no easy feat. There is absolutely no way I could have completed this project on my own with the same end result. If you have any handy friends who are willing to help, accept their offer with open arms. I paid the boys back in kind with pizzas and beer over a couple of games of football, which everyone was happy with.
The horizontal cupboard ready to be mounted on the wall.
The vertical cupboard was the first undertaking of what turned out to be a long weekend.
After 10 hours on the tools, we had built up a thirst. Glad Dad brought some home brewed beer along!
Everything is starting to come together.