Sunday, 5 January 2014

January Challenges and a Hedonistic Vacation in Albany

There is nothing like a good challenge to start the New Year with!  Well, as I tend to not do anything half-hearted, I actually decided to take on not one but TWO challenges!
The first one aims to hopefully improve my photography skills.  I've got a Photo-A-Day Schedule where every day is marked by a theme.  All I need to do is contemplate a little on the theme for that particular day and take a photo covering that topic.  Sounds pretty easy, but there comes the second challenge!
For Christmas Ian gave me a book How to Craft a Great Story.  It's a fabulous guide for those who want to improve their writing skills.  The book contains various techniques and strategies and also exercises to help someone like me write great stories!  One of the very first practices is to write a short story consisting only of 50 words.
Well, there is my second challenge!  I take a themed photo every day in January and write a 50-word story related to that photo!
I am very excited about the task and hope to publish my "creations" once a week.
As we are now on our post-New-Year trip in Albany, a town on the South coast of Western Australia, I am expecting my first photo-stories, dated 1 - 5 January to be out there some time next week.
Just so you have something to read in the meantime, I will tell you a little about our hedonistic vacation.  As you probably noticed, I am not calling it a holiday deliberately, as there is nothing holy about this little break! After the last six months of hard work and very little fun, we decided that this vacation is going to be just that - eating, drinking, sleeping in, reading, navel gazing and generally admiring all things beautiful! Not having any plans and trying to live in the moment, do spontaneous things and enjoy every minute of it!
Day 1 and so far so good! The place we are staying at is a B&B run by a Scottish couple. A gorgeous, slightly bohemian place with a manor staircase and pictures of Scottish glens, plush furnishings and leaf tea for guests' comfort and indulgence.
Our room has a view over the gazebo surrounded by beautiful eucalyptus trees and rose bushes.  A game of croquet anyone?  The lush green lawn with balls, mallets and hoops - all provided!
The food experiences are pretty hedonistic as well!  Coffee and home-made pumpkin fruit cake for morning tea in a town called Williams,  home-made bacon and cheese pies for lunch at the bakery in Albany and a scrumptious dinner of duck ravioloni with cherry tomatoes and a Tuscan sauce at Venice Restaurant!
On the way to Albany we stopped at the Sandalwood Factory and bought some lotions and potions made from Australian sandalwood. Now both of us, all our clothes and our room smell absolutely divine!
On arrival we went for a little drive/walk along the local coast and soaked up the amazing views of the Southern Ocean and beautiful rock formations.  We got sprayed with salt water from the ocean and just about got blown away by the gusts of strong sea breeze.  Wonderful weather to clear one's head, get rid of all the rubbish in one's mind and get ready for new thoughts, ideas and emotions in the New Year!
Day 2. Bacon, poached eggs (just laid that morning), grilled mushrooms and tomatoes for breakfast served on family silver and accompanied by some art talk with the owner about Charles Mackintosh, a Scottish architect, designer, water colourist and artist who was the main representative of Art Nouveou in the United Kingdom.
Morning tea found us at a cafe Liberte where we had our coffee with a blueberry friand.  The place is seriously oozing French ambiance!
For lunch on Day 2 we just shared a grilled chicken and avocado panini and coffee in a cafe which had free Wifi for patrons.
After the day spent swimming, sun-baking and exploring some very pretty beaches, our dinner was fish and chips at the Marina which had a claim  to be the best in Albany!
We also met some incredible people who have lived on their yacht for 40 years while circumnavigating the world and Australia and raising their children on board!
On our arrival back to our accommodation, we were welcomed by our host with some night time tipple, a glass of locally made orange liqueur! So nice to spend the evening with the fellow travelers sharing life stories.
Day 3 breakfast was the same as the day before but this time accompanied by Mozart! Then, you guessed it, morning coffee in town after buying some locally grown and produced food at the Farmers' Market.  The best pies in town for lunch, and as the weather was a bit wet and windy, after lunch we went back to our room and spent the afternoon reading and napping.
Dinner was a picnic at the Princess Royal Yacht Club grounds and consisted of some locally made goat cheese Fraise and creamed honey on a French baguette, locally smoked Tasmanian salmon and the sweetest peaches I've ever had in my entire life! All washed down with a bottle of Zinfandel 2010 wine from Margaret River while listening to the clanking of rigging against the masts and squawking of seagulls.
Breakfast on Day 4 was accompanied  by the music of Billy Jackson, a Scottish harpist and composer. It was his Wellpark Suit, commissioned to celebrate the centenary of Tennent's Lager, first brewed in Wellpark Brewery, Glasgow in 1885. The suit is a six movement piece written in a traditional style with bagpipes, electric guitar, bass and drums, harp, flute, fiddle, whistle and cello. So very Scottish!
Unfortunately it was our last day in Albany and straight after breakfast we had to pack our bags and drive home.
We took a longer drive and stopped at the mountains to look at Bluff Knoll, a peak in the Stirling Range in the Great Southern region of Western Australia. It is 1,099 metres above sea level.
Local Aboriginal people call the mountain Pualaar Miial, meaning "great many-faced hill" because the mountain is often shrouded in a mist which curls around the peaks and floats into the gullies. Local people believed this to be a spirit named Noatch (literally meaning "dead body" or "corpse").
So came the end of our hedonistic vacation and we both concluded it was the best holiday we had in a while! 
Now back to work and our daily challenges, full of energy and wonderful memories!