Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Port Stephens and Nelson's Bay

Saturday morning after breakfast, Tim and Liz drove us about an hour and a half east of Eaglereach to Nelson's Bay beach at Port Stephens.

After lunch at a cafe, we walked along the beach and played in the water for a while.
Nothing says "This water is freezing", like Tim's face in this picture. Although it was cold, all of us eventually adjusted to the cool temperature. We went back into town and spoke to a park ranger at the information terminal in Port Stephens. She gave us a lead on where we might find some wild koalas, but we had no such luck. Koalas are extremely difficult to spot in the wild, although this particular area has a strong population.

We headed back to Eaglereach for the evening and picked up our previously mentioned basket of food, which Tim grilled at the cabin.

Reflections - Go to Hunter Valley Not Napa Valley

This reflection is merely an excuse for me to squeeze 2 blogs into one. The title says it all. In no way am I bashing Napa Valley or Sonoma, but Hunter Valley is much better. Why? You may ask. Because you do not pay for tastings in the Hunter Valley Wine Region. You have to pay for tastings in Napa and Sonoma. Unfortunately, I am pretty sure you will not meet your break-even point for cost justification of flying to Australia rather than California, especially with the weak dollar.

Sunday after breakfast and kangaroo excitement at Eaglereach, we checked out and headed for the Hunter Valley Wine region. We went to two wineries (Pepper Tree Wines and Lindeman's Hunter River Winery) for tastings and had lunch at a cafe. The people at the wineries were very helpful and described the wines that we tried with adjectives that made absolutely no sense to any of us. I have learned that "This wine is more approachable than the other one" typically means, "This bottle costs $10-$15 more than the other one."

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Friday evening, Liz, Tim, Rachel and I left for Eaglereach, once Tim and Liz got off work. We had a cabin out there for the weekend. The picture above is the view from the back porch of our cabin. Moral of the Story: "If ever traveling to Australia/New Zealand, consult Tim Nagy on where to book places to stay." This picture is from sunrise. There was a beautiful low layer of fog in the valley. Saturday morning, we awoke and headed up to breakfast at the top of the mountain. Behind the restaurant, they have food for the kangaroos and native birds, so it is an excellent opportunity to get some great pictures. Ironically, the kangaroos and wallabys are going to the restaurant for the breakfast at the same time as the people are, so you actually see a lot of them on your way to the restaurant. As they do not have any natural predators in Australia, they are not shy of people. The picture on the left below is a picture of Rachel and me, with a couple of kangaroos on the way to breakfast. The picture on the right is us with a wallaby behind our cabin. The third picture is of a couple of crimson rosellas. You may want to click on the photo to make it bigger so you can see them more clearly.
The video above is of a kangaroo hopping around behind the restaurant where our breakfast was served. The picture on the below left is of this same group of kangaroos. The picture on the below right is of sunset from our back porch.

This picture is of the group of us at an overlook on the grounds.

On Saturday night, we grilled out at our cabin. Master chef Tim Nagy presided over the meal. We had steak, lamb, chicken, sausage and bacon. Oh yeah, and we had cole slaw, vegetables, salad, and a veggie burger for Rachel. The meal was fabulous.

Rachel and I woke up first on Sunday morning and went to the front yards to see if we could see any birds (we could hear them chirping from our room). We didn't find the birds, but we did find 3 kangaroos underneath our deck. We coaxed them out with some kangaroo food and shot this video of the dominant kangaroo "boxing" the others away from the planted food.

I put down more food in an attempt to provide additional piles so that the others could eat. A wallaby soon joined the group. He was afraid of the other kangaroos, so I put more food down for him. It was fun to watch him stick his nose in the air and catch the scent of the food. He would then wander over to it and eat until one of the kangaroos would scuttle him (wallabys are a little smaller than the roos). We were able to get within 8 feet of him to take pictures on several occasions. We had a regular marsupial buffet behind our cabin by the time Tim and Liz came out and joined us.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

We Have Arrived in Australia

After 36 hours, over 10,000 miles, 4 airports, a hired sedan ride and a pickup by Tim, we have arrived at the Nagy's home in Sydney Australia. Rachel and I are really struggling today, as we had to make an unexpected trip to Grundy, VA to attend my grandmother's (Dad's mom) funeral. That resulted in only 3 hours sleep the night before our flight. For those who are not aware of the space constraints of a modern United Airlines 747, let me tell you that it is not easy for someone of my height and girth to sleep on one of those babies. WE ARE TIRED!!!
As I mentioned, Tim picked us up at the airport this morning and took us back to their apartment. It is amazing. It is only 2 blocks off of Sydney Harbor. Their apartment is on the 29th floor, so it has spectacular views. After cleaning up from our flight, Rachel and I walked down to the Harbor and had lunch at a cafe. We both had veggie burgers, which are somewhat different from veggie burgers in the States. This one had some ginger and spicy peanut sauce. I liked it.

After lunch, we took some pictures from the Harbor of the Sydney Bridge, which we will climb on Wednesday and of the Opera House. The Opera House is much bigger than what I expected. Having seen it on TV, I didn't realize just how long it would take to walk around it.

This evening, we are heading to the Hunter Valley area with Tim and Liz for the weekend.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Luncheon Impossible - The International Builders Show

This week, I attended the International Builders Show in Orlando, Florida. It is a pretty amazing show and fills up two halls of the Orlando Convention Center (not quite as large as the World of Concrete). As you can see from the picture, this year's show was sponsored by our own Bill Langston's Whirlpool, who also had a quite large and impressive booth.

Where is Home Depot one might ask? Never fear, they were a primary sponsor and also had a large booth inside showcasing the products of many of their main suppliers. I had an interesting argument with one of their empolyees, who was trying to get me to sign up for a credit card. She told me that credit cards are what makes America great and what has allowed the economy to expand as it has. I informed her that "efficient credit markets" are what makes the U.S. great and that the lost efficiency (lenders giving anybody a credit card and an interest only home loan) during the last market upturn is what has us staring down a recession right now. About the only thing we agreed on was that I was not going to sign up for one of her credit cards.

Reflections - Luncheon Impossible

If you did not know this about us already, Rachel and I are big fans of the Food Network. We catch Rachel Ray's "30 Minute Meals" when we get home early enough, and we watch Iron Chef America when it is on (by the way Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's restaurant is in Philadelphia). One of the more interesting shows that I have watched is "Dinner Impossible", where chef Robert Irvine is taken to a kitchen he is not familiar with and given a mission to cook hundreds of meals for various audiences. He has between 4 and 8 hours to prepare the dinner. He has cooked for US Marines at their base before they left for Iraq, at a resort in the Bahamas, and at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

This week, he prepared lunch for about 400 of us at the International Builders Show. They used a format, which was a little different from his previous shows. He actually cooked on stage, while the guys in the back plated the meals that he had begun preparations for earlier that morning. This format was great because the audience got a lot more exposure to him than they normally would. He is quite the character and entertainer. He even took questions from the audience.
For this mission, he was flown to Orlando and driven to the resort where the luncheon was held. The luncheon was at 12 noon. He learned of the mission at 7 AM that morning. In this assignment, he was given one key ingredient of each course and told to build a dish around it. The appetizer ingredient was scallops, which were flown in that morning from Maine. Chef Irvine and the resort staff made savichy from it. I'm not a scallops fan, but the appetizer was wonderful.
I believe "craisens" were the ingredient for the salad. The highlight of this dish was the deep-fried goat cheese that was served on top of the salad. The heat from the "cheese ball" gave a nice contrast to the cold salad, and the flavor was wonderful. The UT catering staff must have identified the secret ingredient for the main course, because it was, creatively... chicken. I kid you not, this may be the best piece of chicken I have ever eaten. Served on top of mashed potatoes and a split carrot, this chicken was tender. The quality of the dishes amazed me considering the staff was preparing and serving over 400 of them.
Desert was a frozen custard on top of a cookie. The accompanying leaf on top was hand-made for each desert. He showed us how he blened the color on the leaves. It was pretty cool.

Chef Irvine is a real talent for cooking and entertainment. If you ever get the chance, watch his show on the Food Network, and be on the look-out for the NAHB International Builders' Show Luncheon.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Las Vegas and the World of Concrete

Week before last, I traveled with work to Las Vegas for "The World of Concrete". Before you make fun of me (believe me, Rachel already has), let me explain. The World of Concrete is actually the second largest trade show held annually in Las Vegas. Number 1 is the Consumer Electronics Show, which is held two weeks earlier. Ironically, the Adult Video Association convention is held between the two. Bus drivers and cab drivers will willingly share some interesting stories with you regarding the clientelle. 80,000 architects, contractors, heavy equipment salesmen, and a few chemical company sales and marketing types descended on the Las Vegas Convention Center for the week. There were heavy trucks with tires 8' tall, boom trucks that can pump concrete several hundred feet into the air for skyscraper construction, a monster truck (pictured), and hundreds of vendor booths. The Hilti Tool booth, pictured above, was one of the more impressive, as they constructed a 3 story platform where attendees could try various Hilti tools. My week was spent accompanying Sale Reps. to meals with customers. I got to eat at a lot of really good restaurants - N9ne Steakhouse, Emeril's, Smith and Wolinski, and Prime Steakhouse at the Bellagio were a few of the highlights. I have been dieting; proudly, I maintained my weight on this trip by eating reasonably and working out. It was a very productive week, as I had the opportunity to meet a couple of our sales reps in person, who I had only spoken to on the phone. I also got to meet several new customers as well as socialize with some customers that I had met previously.

Reflections - Luck and Vegas Hotel List Vegas is a place where some people live and die by luck. I am someone who has always been somewhat superstitious, not so much in the sense of old wives tales, but more of the good kharma/bad kharma variety. For instance, I had pregame rituals that I went through before any baseball or basketball game I played in high school. I though I had left my superstitions behind with any athletic prowess that I once possessed. Enter Vegas - Thursday night 9:00 PM. Steve leaves dinner and has an hour or so to kill before turning in. He heads for the Blackjack table and wins $50 in an hour and a half. He quits while he is ahead and goes to bed. Friday afternoon after the conclusion of the World of Concrete, Steve has an hour or so to kill while waiting on Rachel to arrive from the airport. Steve once again plays Blackjack, this time winning $100. He is 2 for 2. Rachel arrives and the happy couple enjoy a nice early afternoon lunch at Casa Margarita at the Luxor. Steve has surprised Rachel with tickets to Cirque du Soleil - Beatles Love for Valentine's Day. Rachel decides that since it is 3 hours later on the east coast, she had better get a nap. Steve has time to kill and heads back to play Blackjack. This time he wins $150. Steve is happily up $300 on his trip. Fast forward - Saturday night. Rachel, impressed by Steve's obvious Blackjack skills, has asked for a quick demonstration after dinner. Remarkably, Steve loses $100 in less than 5 minutes. He goes 0-6-1 in Blackjack over the stretch. For those mathemeticians at home, Steve's odds of performing this poorly are approximately 64 to 1. Moral of the Story: Rachel is bad luck. Do not play cards when she is around!

I conclude with my Top 10 places to stay in Vegas. This list is my personal preference and is based simply on how nice the place looked, not on overall value or any other criteria. Disclaimer: I did not go to Mandalay Bay, which I have heard is very nice, nor Hooters, which I have heard is "not". 10) The Luxor - this hotel is shaped like a Pyramid and has an Egyptian motif. This is actually the hotel where Rachel and I stayed. It is nice enough, but the rooms are a bit older and outdated. Club LAX and the Cathouse Steakhouse are some of the bigger draws. 9) MGM Grand - you can't miss it; it is the bright green hotel. The main benefit of this hotel is that it has some kickin restaurants in the lower level, including Emeril's. It also has the glass cage housing live lions. There are actually 34 of them, and they are rotated in and out in 6-8 hour shifts. 8) New York New York - it has a roller coaster outside. Seems nice enough. 7) The Palms - houses N9ne Steakhouse, which is trendy and delicious. It is also the home of the Playboy Club... or so I am told. A nice hotel with a pretty nice casino. 5) No, I did not skip a number. There is a tie for #5 between the Mirage and Hotel Paris. The Mirage is chic and trendy. It is where we saw Cirque du Soleil - Beatles Love. The show was amazing. We had not seen any of the other Cirque du Soleil shows, but this one was awesome. The acrobats are amazing!!! Hotel Paris is modeled after... you guessed it... Paris. Complete with an Eiffel Tower with a restaurant in the top, Hotel Paris is fun to walk through. 4) Caesar's Palace - the place to be when I was 10 years old. It seems like every major boxing match when I was a kid took place at Caesar's. I was actually surprised at how nice the place was. Like Hotel Paris, it comes with plenty of props, including the Coliseum. 3) Bellagio - the Bellagio is an extremely nice hotel and may actually be my favorite. The indoor courtyards are immaculately decorated. The shopping area has the largest chocolate fountain I have ever seen, and the restaurants at the hotel are very good. However, the best part of the Bellagio is the fountain in front. Although it has been commoditized by movies, there is just something about watching the fountain show at the Bellagio. I think Rachel and I could have stood there all night. 2) The Wynn - The second wing of the Wynn is almost complete. It is the epitome of style. Wynn and Roger Penske have a Ferrari/Maserati dealership on the site. Steve Wynn may be the only person in the world with an ego bigger than Donald Trump. He may also be the only man in real estate with more power, too, as he has prevented Trump Towers from obtaining a casino license. He essentially runs Vegas. And Bill and Erin - go somewhere else - "No Strollers Allowed". 1) The Palazzo at the Venetian - the Palazzo is the newest wing at already the nicest hotel in Vegas. The Venetian is beautiful inside and out. Some of the more "traveled" customers that I met with in Vegas swear that the Venetian has the nicest rooms on the Strip. I'll take their word for it. I can attest that it has good restaurants and nice shops. It is also cool to see the painted sky inside, as couples ride in Gandolas down the man-made river.