To quote myself, 'I always have travel ambitions'*. But my ambitions have been rather thwarted lately by the rest of my life - work, moving house, finances. It's now more than a year since my latest trip outside Australia, and I have nothing definite planned for the near future, though a friend and I are exploring possibilities...
So, in the meantime, I've planned some weekends away from Sydney to at least have the illusion of being elsewhere. Over an extended last weekend some friends and I spent time in Mount Victoria - the western-most town in the Blue Mountains - and in Orange for its F.O.O.D. Week.
We had a day in Mount Victoria at both the beginning and end of our time in Orange, which was probably wise to prepare for and then walk off the effects of some of the wonderful food we ate. At this time of the year, when the seasons are changing, autumn is always so much more advanced in the Blue Mountains than it is on the coast in Sydney. We stayed at a friend's house and had log fires, snuggly doonas, and an opportunity to wear not only knitted scarves and shawls but also knitted hats! (Gloves were still a step too far).
Even for someone as reluctant to exercise as I am, the walks around Mount Victoria are so beautiful they're restorative, with vast views from rocky outcrops across valleys
ancient, worn rockfaces and cliffs
and the ragged, spikey beauty of the trees and bushes.
Orange is an inland city of about 30,000 people. It was one of the many inland towns where what was and is Aboriginal land was initially settled by pastoralists, and later expanded rapidly with the discovery of gold in the 1850s and 60s. Throughout my lifetime it's been known mainly for its orchards, particularly its cherries and apples, but over the last twenty years or so the town's been cultivating its reputation more generally as a region for fine food and local produce. Vineyards have been planted and cold weather wines from the area have become known and valued. Such variety is now produced that a shop in town is able to stock only local produce - organic fruit and vegetables, lamb, olive oil, vinegars, jams, chutneys, spreads, tapenades, nuts, biscuits, cheeses.
Last Saturday was a perfect, sunny, autumnal day and we did all the things that tourists to Orange should do. We began it with a visit to the growers' market where I bought olive oil, fig and olive tapenade, some hazelnut muesli and a whole kilo of fresh figs. From there we drove to a local vineyard - Patina - with a traditional cool-weather 'English' garden where we had a just-right picnic lunch of local food packed in a wicker basket and a glass of the resident winemaker's rose.
Late in the afternoon we strolled in the Botanic Gardens - populated with birds of all kinds and full of their calls back and forth,
and made an end-of-the-daylight trip up a rather scary road to watch the sun set over the vast western landscape from Mount Canobolas.
And finally, one of the main reasons for the trip, we ate a perfectly judged dinner at the stylish 'hatted' local restaurant, Lolli Redini.
Sunday was wet, wet, wet. We were pleased we'd managed to fit so much into our Saturday, and after a leisurely brunch and potter around A Slice of Orange buying yet more local produce (blackberry jam, roasted pumpkin and rosemary dip, quince paste) we drove to nearby Milthorpe, a village of charming streetscapes, yet more hatted restaurants, small shops and galleries and, much to our delight, an old, unused, but well-maintained railway station. (In case you'd not noticed from my previous travel posts, my travelling friend Jan and I love railway stations).
I wonder at the changes in these inland towns and villages across my lifetime. Many of them began with the discovery of gold. Some survived to serve the needs of the surrounding farms, and others prospered as regional centres for health or educational centres or even developed small industries. But these towns now simultaneously revel in what they do best - their emphasis on 'localism' - while marketing their local identity to the world outside.
It was a great extended weekend away but, in the bittersweet way of such things, it has further increased my travel ambitions, rather than satisfying them.
* One Saturday morning towards the end of 2010 I was waiting with friends for the Library where we hold our local Knitters' Guild meetings to open. A young women approached our group and asked if we would be interested in being interviewed about our life preferences, interests, passions etc. Two of us agreed and discovered that the interviews were to be filmed and edited to become an advertisement for a well-known brand of health and vitamin supplements. I can't act. I become overwhelmed with self-consciousness. But ask me a question, or solicit my opinion on almost anything and I'll talk for ever. The interview finished and I was late for my meeting. I forgot all about it until a couple of months later when I was informed I was in the final cut of the advertisement and offered payment.
I appear in the ad for about 8 seconds and my contribution is 'I always have travel ambitions - always'. I guess if I and my passions are going to be represented by any six words, these are a very apt choice.