Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hobart, Tasmania

I spent Saturday afternoon exploring Hobart: a waterfront city, right on the Derwent River, with the central point being the docks. I ate chips on one of the piers, and admired the views: the whole city is situated within minutes of both mountains and beaches.

I also wandered along Salamanca Place, which is lined with old stone buildings, mainly now restaurants and bars. Hobart seems quite a sleepy city, especially after the busy-ness of Melbourne, but a cute one, too.

Saturday also happened to be Mel's birthday, so her lovely friends Brad and Matt took us out to dinner at a wonderful Indian restaurant in North Hobart, which served the best naan bread I have ever tasted.

Sunday was the third and final ODI, which meant a ride over the Trans-Tasman Bridge to the other side of the city, and more amazing views. The Bellerive Oval, where the matches this week have taken place, must surely be a candidate for Most Beautiful Cricket Ground In The World. It's nestled among suburbia, with a lovely beach just seconds away – and seriously, the views have to be seen to be believed.

The match itself was a tense affair: England looked a dead cert to retain the Ashes, with the Australians staging a spectacular fightback in the final 10 overs. I could barely watch (very unprofessional of me) – you can read about how tense it was in my piece for AOC.

Once that particular drama was over, Mel, Eliza and I went to Muir's for dinner, to eat some authentic Tassie seafood, including squid and scallops. Hobart is famous for its seafood, being right on the water, and it did not disappoint. In fact, the food I have had in Tasmania has been the best I have eaten anywhere in Australia (just starting to worry about getting on the scales when I get home!)

Monday was a very exciting day, as Brad and Matt were taking Mel cider-tasting in the Huan Valley, and I was invited along. This meant that I could see a little bit more of Tassie, and the drive (about a 3 hour round trip around the valley) threw up even more views that took your breath away.

With the stretches of water and the mountains, it reminded me a bit of Scotland – aside from the fact that it was a beautiful sunny day, over 30 degrees, and the likelihood is that the mountains near Stirling are currently covered in snow.

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the cider tasting; anyone who knows me knows that I am a big cider fan. Apparently cider is just getting big here in Tasmania, because they have had problems in recent years exporting their apples. So, we visited two apple orchards, both of which have just opened up recently to the public, and I ended up trying about 10 different types of cider, including cherry, which was a new one on me. It was delicious, although the one that was 8% alcohol was possibly a little bit strong for my tastes!

Other highlights included: the scallop pie we ate for lunch; and stopping at another one of those lovely Australian beaches which seem to stretch for miles, where the sea is refreshingly cool, rather than freezing cold. Oh, and of course Mel's adventure down a cliff to rescue her sandals...she did (eventually) make it back up safely!

In the evening, Brad and Matt had very generously invited me over to their place for an authentic Australian “barbie”, about which I was very excited. It turns out that all the stories about Australians doing barbecues a MILLION times better than Brits are 100% true. First of all, everything was perfectly cooked. Secondly, we could eat outside, even as it got darker, because of the lovely weather. Thirdly, everything was cooked on a Real Barbecue, rather than one of those disposable ones. I even had my first taste of kangaroo meat (which is actually quite common over here, and can be bought in any supermarket). Despite my initial objections, based on the cuteness of kangaroos, it's pretty delicious.

A couple of the BBC guys, Phil and Katie, who have been over here reporting on the women's series, also came along; and even more cider was consumed.

I also slightly fell in love with one of Brad and Matt's two border collies, Coco, who is brown and white and adorable.

All in all, a perfect Australia Day Holiday, one of the best days of my trip so far. Thanks so much, guys.

Tuesday was ridiculously hot – it must have been 40 degrees, and made worse by the fact that a hot wind was blowing, the like of which I have never experienced before. It was like being blown along a London street in the winter, but without the refreshing cool bit: more like a hairdryer constantly in your face. Horrible. The heat definitely seems to be following me around out here (not that I mind, most of the time!)

I escaped the heat by catching the ferry across to MONA (the Museum of New Art), which everyone said was the Thing To Do while in Hobart. It is an incredibly bizarre place. Owned by some multi-millionaire who buys up old art and also commissions new stuff specifically for MONA, it's on an island a 30-minute ferry ride away. This meant I could take some photographs to try and give some indication of just how beautiful Hobart and its surroundings really are:

MONA is unlike any other art gallery I've ever been to, and probably unlike any other art gallery in the world. For one, none of the exhibits are labelled, which means that without your audio guide you would have no idea what they were or what the “meaning” behind them was (but I guess that might be the point). And instead of dividing the art neatly into categories in separate rooms, everything is intermingled: so one minute you'll be looking at a lump of twisted metal, and the next minute there will be some ancient Aboriginal artwork, or an Egyptian mummy.

Some of the exhibits include: a room full of nothing but blinking light bulbs; a room full of old television screens; and a machine which is sort of like a model of the human digestive system, with various clear containers connected by wires, in which you can see “food” going round and round, and if you hang around long enough, watch it do a “poo”. There is also a new “death gallery”, with nothing in it but a hangman's noose in the middle. And most of the time, you are wandering around in near-darkness. Emerging at the top and out again into the heat was like emerging from some sort of nightmare horror movie. I'm glad I went though.

Tuesday night was fun. I was invited out by Mel to join some other local journalists: apparently Jesse Hogan lost a bet relating to the Big Bash, and promised Alex Johnston dinner, and the rest of us were beneficiaries. We went to this AMAZING Chinese dumpling place in Sandy Bay, with, in Alex's words, “better chicken than KFC” (it's true!) Then on into the city, to a bar in Salamanca Place, with the night ending in some questionable dance moves as classic rock tunes were played (hi Jesse!) ;-)

Yesterday was, perhaps, the best day I'm likely to experience as an English cricket journalist. As you'll no doubt be aware, England won the T20 game by 9 wickets, and in some style, with Charlotte Edwards making 92*. With that victory, England have retained the Ashes, for only the third time ever on Australian soil.

It was amazing to see the players running onto the pitch, and the attention lavished on them after the match ended: the guys from Sky and the BBC were all crowded around, at last giving the players some of the credit they deserve for the way they have played these last few weeks. Meanwhile I sat up in the press box frantically typing, as I tried to take it all in.

I still cannot believe that I was lucky enough to be here, 10,000 miles away from home, to see it. Any minute now I'm going to wake up and find out that this whole incredible trip has been a dream.

I left Hobart this morning feeling a bit sad that I spent so little time in Tasmania. I don't even feel like I got to know the city properly, let alone the island itself. Hopefully I will return at some stage. I was there long enough to learn this much, though: Tasmania is indescribably beautiful.

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