Happy New Year – and happy new decade too! It’s still sinking in that it’s finally 2020, a year that felt as much like a sci-fi date as 2000 did in the ’90s if that makes any sense.
For a bit more perspective – as if we need any more of that – a friend sent me a meme the other day that simply “2050 is as far away as 1990.”
Did you just throw up in your mouth a bit too?
Anyway, as my dad likes to say, we’re here now, so let’s make the most of it. 2020, here we are.
And with a wonderfully chilled-out Christmas and a low-key NYE, Christina and I feel like we’re ready to face the start of this new year.
We hope you enjoy this Weekly Edition and once again, happy new year everyone.
Jim & Christina xx
With all the travel we’ve done recently (check out the stats in our intro to our Best of 2019 post for the stats), we’re happy to be sticking relatively close to home – somewhere we feel like we can really relax without the strange pressures travel writers feel whenever they go anywhere.
Port Stephens – about three hours north of Sydney – has been a family favourite for years now. Christina’s sister has a holiday home up here and we’re all putting our feet up to enjoy the peace and quiet of this pretty seaside town.
How’s this for Christmassy? From the tiny tree and dodgy Santa napkins to the ham, the prawns and the bottle of bubbly. This is the way to do it!
And after we’re full of prawns and ham (as if that’s going to happen!) I bring out my signature macadamia shortbread cookies. These are a hit every time I make them – we even did a trade with our neighbours last year.
A pile of these bad boys in exchange for the most incredible rocky road we’ve ever had. Here’s the recipe of for the rocky road by the way – it’s actually our most popular story of 2019!
To balance it out a bit, there’s also this delicious fruit platter. I hadn’t realised how well strawberries and passionfruit go together before.
For something a bit different, today we’re in Newcastle – only about 30 minutes from Port Stephens.
This town used to be quite industrial without that much to offer, but these days it’s a real hub for tourism. This view of the stunning waters around Newcastle is from a section of the Memorial Walk dedicated to the Anzacs.
Running from the Strzelecki Lookout (where you can park), the Memorial walk follows the high coastline until it connects to the Yuelarbah Track that carries on down to Merryweather Beach and beyond.
In fact, this is part of the Great North Walk, which goes 250km from Newcastle all the way down to Sydney.
After all that ham, we could probably do with a walk like that. Instead, we head further into Newcastle for a pint and a spot of lunch!
We’re at The Grain Store Craft Beer Cafe in Newcastle’s Historic East End. Originally the grain and keg storage for Toohey’s in the 1800s, the space is now a fun, spacious taproom featuring one of the largest selections of true craft beers in the country.
All beers they serve here are from independent Aussie owned breweries and the range they have on the 21 pumps is impressive – makes me want to move to Newcastle!
The layout and decor of the Grain Store gives it a beautiful open feel with art deco style and an almost English pub-iness I love.
However, the sport on screens around the place and booth tables with inlayed game boards (you can borrow counters from the dispenser) give the Grain Store an American bar feel too. It’s a cool mix.
The food here is at the Grain Store is great too. Christina has gone for an American Burger, which looks excellent, while our brother-in-law is enjoying a Classic Cheeseburger. Both options would be winners…
if I hadn’t ordered the Whoopass Burger. The holy trinity of bacon, onion rings and jalapeños in this monster – along with a juicy burger patty, American cheddar and smoky barbecue sauce take the trophy.
Christina’s sister has pushed the limits and gone for the house supreme pizza. It’s got everything! Chicken, chorizo, pepperoni, baby spinach, Spanish onion, mushrooms, capsicum and a chipotle aioli topping! We take most of it home in a box.
The real winner though is Christina’s mum’s warm beetroot salad! As innocuous as it sounds, it’s actually big enough to feature on Seinfeld and comes with a remarkable amount of cashews.
Our brother-in-law has a boat too, so we’re out on the water today to see if we can catch some dinner. The water in the marina off the boat ramp is still, but further round in our favourite fishing spots, the wind is kicking up and making things… interesting.
By the end of our bait, we’ve pulled in at least a dozen good-sized whiting, a bream and a beautiful flathead.
At the cleaning station, we’re hemmed in by greedy pelicans and sharp-eyed gulls. One pelican even manages to sneak a beautiful sand whiting from under our noses. After that we’re more on guard.
While we were out yesterday, we set a few crab traps too. At the end of the day we checked them to no avail (though there was one pot with two big sharks in – a Port Jackson and a splendid looking Leopard that we returned to the deep).
This morning though, our brother-in-law checked the pots again (and removed yet another shark!) and came back with this lovely blue swimmer crab.
Worryingly, this guy has managed to grab a knife when we put him in the sink to calm down. Crabs these days…
We’re impressed to see that Nelson Bay – the flagship tourist spot of Port Stephens – has really tried to up its game recently. Street art and beautiful homewares shops with good coffee and interesting menus are showing up here.
Looks like the hipsters are moving in!
This Christmas, we’re also accompanied by this little treasure. Raven – our nephew’s dog – is growing up to be such a lovely natured little girl.
Still, it’s hard to believe she’s the same dog we met just a couple of years ago. Here’s her first feature on MMR – scroll down about half way.
One of the best things about this part of Port Stephens is the dog-friendly beach. Even in the height of summer, dogs are allowed to enjoy the sand and surf on their toes too.
It really makes for a lovely Christmas to be able to bring Raven down to the water’s edge and watch her play.
The stark light of the sun through the smoke haze though reminds us that not all is well with the world. The bushfires, which has mercifully stayed away from Port Stephens, have really made Christmas this year one to remember – for so many of the wrong reasons.
As we get back to Sydney just after Christmas, things are looking even worse. The bushfire smoke is even worse here. The areas surrounding the city are suffering terribly, and further south, people are being evacuated from their homes and forced to survive on the beach.
Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone effected by this devastating situation.
And here we are. Happy 2020!
Christina and I are having a pretty quiet evening this year – just the two of us, some good food and a bottle of 15-year-old vintage Lanson Champagne.
We’ve been saving this bottle for a special occasion – I think the turn of the decade is good enough, don’t you?
We sip this fascinating and surprisingly complex bubbly and wait for the decision of whether the fireworks will happen or not to be made. It’s a tough call, but either way, we’ve decided not to feature them this year.
It feels a bit bad taste to celebrate like that when so many so close to us are suffering because of fire.
This afternoon, we’re at the tennis! The ATP Cup – a tournament between 24 countries played out in Brisbane, Melbourne and here in Sydney – goes from 3rd January – 12 January 2020.
We’re here with Marriott Bonvoy – Marriott’s travel programme – one of the major sponsors for the ATP Cup.
Marriott Bonvoy members can use points earned to get access to special VIP lounges for the APT Cup. Lounge access gives you all kinds of good stuff like food and drink, and the best seats in the house:
Can’t really complain about this view! Now let’s see how Great Britain go against Bulgaria.*
GB lost 2-1. They won the first singles match, but lost the second and the doubles. Australia won though – smashed Germany 3-0.
As well as the tennis, the APT Cup here in Sydney has some pretty amazing catering and entertaining deals. We’re excited about the sport, but the food coming out of famed Rockpool Bar and Grill’s kitchen is very distracting!
The food is absolutely stunning – and more than makes up for Britain’s tennis.
You can book entertainment packages for the APT Cup here for everything including the final.
Cheers to Marriott Bonvoy – this is definitely the way we want to watch the tennis from now on!
Check out the APT Cup website for tickets in your nearest city. The final will be in Sydney on 12 Jan 2020.
We hope you’ve enjoyed the first Weekly Edition of the year. Wishing you and yours the best start to 2020 possible.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx