May 31, 2012

MSC Cruises have just launched the latest addition to their fleet with the christening of “MSC Divina” in elegant style at a ceremony held in Marseille, France.  The event was opened with an aerobatic and jet plane show performed by the Captens Aerobatic Display Team and the Breitling Jet Team.

Italian screen legend, Sophia Loren, who is Godmother to “MSC Divina”, as well as all of the other ships in MSC Cruises’ fleet, performed the duty of cutting the red and green ribbons, which sent the traditional champagne bottle breaking across the bow of “MSC Divina”.  A gala dinner and entertainment followed.

The christening in Marseille continues MSC Cruises’ tradition of christening its ships in different European ports. “MSC Divina” is the 12th ship in their ultra-modern fleet and represents the embodiment of Mediterranean style.  I attended the christening of “MSC Poesia” in Dover, England, so I have first hand knowledge of this Mediterranean style and elegance.  Sandra T.



May 28, 2012

The Mudgee Wine Lunch was a highlight of the Pyrmont Festival of Wine, Food and Art.  Held at the fabulous Blue Eye Dragon Taiwanese Restaurant, one of Sydney’s best, located in Pyrmont Street.  It featured a multi-course degustation menu with matching selection of wines from Mudgee’s Mongrel Vineyard and the Lowe Wine Company.

Head Chef, Jade Chen cooked the delicious food served at the lunch.  It was very hard to choose favourites from the six selections served in both entrée and main, but my vote went to the chicken with basil and 5 spice plus the pork belly.  My partner’s was the pepper steak.  The food was so good we couldn’t resist purchasing a take home pack of mixed dumplings.  Yum.

David Lowe, the CEO, owner and winemaker of the award winning Lowe Wines spoke passionately as his wines were being poured.  The Lowe vineyard, winery and farm are all certified organic.

Sue Fairlie-Cuninghame from Mongrel Vineyard also gave the diners an interesting background on her Vineyard’s wines.  I was particularly interested to hear Sue tell us about the superb rosé which was served at the lunch.  The grapes are grown at Sue’s Mongrel Vineyard and when harvested are sent to David Lowe to produce this excellent wine.

After trying a range of products from the Mudgee region during the Pyrmont Festival, I certainly won’t wait too long before planning a visit there so I can see first hand all that Mudgee has to offer.   Sandra T.   Photos:  John Pond.    Top:  Sue Fairlie-Cuninghame with David Lowe.



May 25, 2012

The Pyrmont Festival of Wine, Food and Art presented another exciting event last night at Sydney’s newest luxury venue, The Darling Hotel at The Star.  Taste Of The Star was billed as a tasting extravaganza showcasing signature dishes from The Star’s top restaurants.

This culinary adventure took place in The Darling’s large foyer where the six participating restaurants, Sokyo, Black, Bistro 80, Balla, Fat Noodle and Adriano Zumbo Patissier dispensed tasting plates of their signature dishes to the hungry crowd.

Being able to sample two tasting plates from each of the restaurants really gave you a very good overview of what food offerings are available at The Star, from Italian to Asian and much more in
between, everything tasted very fresh with amazing flavours.  There was something to tempt every palate, from Black’s butter poached prawn & steak tartare to Balla’s roast pork & bean soup and Sokyo’s miso lamb & sashimi to name but a few of the dishes served.

Winemaker Jacob Stein from Mudgee’s Robert Stein Winery was on hand to dispense a selection of his red and white wine varieties.  I really enjoyed his sparkling white wine, which went perfectly with the food.

This tasting event certainly made me want to return to The Star for a dining experience.  Only problem is which restaurant do I choose, guess I will just have to keep returning and try them all.   Sandra T.   Photos:  John Pond

PHOTOS: Jacob Stein with Sandra T. & Balla’s Chef Slicing Pork at Taste of The Star



May 18, 2012

An early start this morning to be at Pyrmont by 7 a.m. to celebrate the start of the Pyrmont Festival of Wine, Food and Art with an Italian Rustic Breakfast at Doltone House on Pyrmont Bay.

Sitting at a long table which looked splendid in the morning sun with it’s white theming, drinking some sparkling wine from Mudgee’s Huntington Estate, certainly made the early start worthwhile. The morning just kept getting better once the breakfast of antipasti, Sicilian eggs and espresso coffee was served.  The final temptation was the cannoli which no-one could resist.

Twenty wineries from the Mudgee region will take part in the Festival and the biggest free event happens on Sunday 20 May, when Pirrama Park will feature a huge outdoor wine and food fair with Mudgee produce from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Festival will also showcase a series of Mudgee region wine and food matching events at several of Pyrmont’s restaurants.  Choose from degustation dinners, a cheese and wine masterclass, sampling events and lunches.

The Festival runs 18 through 27 May and is a collaboration between the Pyrmont Ultimo Chamber of Commerce, the City of Sydney and the Mudgee Wine Region which brings the flavours of the country to the city. Sandra T.    Photos:  John Pond©



May 12, 2012

Good news for lovers of Australian art and overseas tourists who want to see some Australian culture with the announcement that the Art Gallery of New South Wales is devoting 25% more space to display Australian art.

Opening on 12 May 2012, new works will be on display for the first time as will many works which have not been seen in years.  I was so pleased to see several paintings hanging in the Gallery that I had only ever seen in art books.

The new display includes numerous icons of Australian art and presents some 500 works across all media, spanning over 200 years.

During my morning visit it was great to see so many people, young and old, appreciating all that the Gallery has to offer.  The Gallery  
has installed several ipads that offer visitors an interactive experience of many of the great works of art as well as interviews with living artists.  Soon there will be a free application to access all this information on iphones and ipads when in the Gallery.  This should prove to be very popular.

To celebrate all things Australian, the Art Gallery of New South Wales has organised an Open Weekend over 12 & 13 May which will highlight live music, talks and film screenings.

Sandra T.   Photos:  John Pond



May 12, 2012

Following our visit to Kinderdijk, on Avalon Waterways river ship Avalon Luminary, we spent the rest of the morning cruising through the picturesque countryside en route to our next stop, the port of Rotterdam.  Four luxury coaches were waiting at the quayside to take us to view the fabulous Keukenhof Flower Park near the town of Lisse.  The Keukenhof, with its flowering tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, is spread over 79 acres and open during March, April and May each year.  Originally set up as a test bed for Dutch bulb cultivators, each year the park like grounds are transformed into “landscape paintings” with over 7 million flowering bulbs providing a mass of colour.  Tulips make up the majority of the plantings, with over 700 varieties on display.

Entering the gardens, to the sounds of an antique organ, there is almost a carnival atmosphere.  The well laid out landscaped plantings of mainly tulips of all sizes and colours takes your breath away.  Even the grass is something to behold, with the lawns having a separate border of a different grass variety and shade of green.  The four pavilions are named after members of the Dutch royal family and all contain magnificent displays of colourful flowers.  The pavilions also showcase Dutch culture, with displays of traditional dancing by men and women wearing national dress.  A restored windmill has been relocated to the Keukenhof as part of the display.

There are many places to sit and admire the gardens while enjoying a coffee and some Dutch treats such as profitjes, which are served with a chocolate sauce.  I can certainly recommend these.  At the end of May each year, the flower beds and lawns are all mulched.  Planning for the next year’s display starts immediately, as each year there is a completely new design and plantings.  No visit to Holland in the months of March, April and May is complete without visiting Keukenhof, which was possibly the highlight of our Avalon Waterways river cruise.    Sandra T.  ©  

Visit John Pond BLOGS at also  SANDRATBLOG.COM


May 6, 2012

It may sound like a bit of a cliché but most tourists in Holland usually find themselves, at some stage of their visit, especially if it coincides with Northern Spring and Summer, amidst colourful tulip fields and windmills.  This was definitely the case during my recent Avalon Waterways river ship cruise aboard Avalon Luminary. 

After our cruise departure from Amsterdam, the next morning I was able to enjoy a relatively relaxed breakfast, as we were already tied up at our docking position in Kinderdijk.  Breakfast, which was always served buffet style, offered a huge selection of fresh fruits, cereals, yoghurt, croissants and assorted breads, smoked salmon, omelettes, bacon and eggs cooked to order, plus a daily special to ensure we had plenty of energy for the included excursions.  As well as serving the usual coffee and tea, a bottle of sparking wine was also offered, as is the European custom, which is a custom I totally endorse.

After finishing breakfast, we had a couple of hours free to explore on our own.  Just a very short walk from where we were docked was the magnificent sight of Kinderdijk’s 19 windmills.  Although windmills can be found all over Holland, the small village of Kinderdijk is the country’s windmill capital and is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

The function performed by the windmills was to pump the unwanted water from the polders to enable the land to be used for agricultural purposes.  Most of Kinderdijk’s windmills were constructed during the 18th century but in the latter part of the 19th century a steam pumping station commenced operation.  In the 1920s the steam power was replaced by diesel.  Due to fuel shortages during World War II, the pumping station was put out of action and the windmills were reactivated to prevent the area from flooding.  The last working windmill was taken out of commission in 1950, being replaced by a modern pumping station.   

Sandra T.           PHOTO: John Pond ©