Planning Family Travel

Jul 3, 2014

Tweeny on her ideal holiday - at the resort pool in Bali
When it comes to plotting, preparing, arranging, and scheduling a family travel, I am the main instigator. My feet are the itchiest in the family, after living in six different countries and changing school seven times, I still want to see more! I want to share the world a little at a time with my Tweeny, so I am happy to be the family travel ringleader to make it all happen.

My family travel leadership doesn’t go to the point of being a total control freak with hourly spreadsheets of how we will spend our vacation time (well maybe sometimes but I am working on it). My scheduling stops at researching, booking accommodation and flights (if applicable). With the basics covered of where to stay, how to get there and a general overview of available attractions, natural wonders and activities, I start discussing possibilities with Tweeny and the husband, so they can also think and marinate about the type of vacation experience they want.

Our traveling party of three doesn’t always agree, in fact our three visions of the perfect vacation are vastly different. The husband’s ideal vacation day would be spent in Singapore, eating six – seven street meals a day. Tweeny Traveler’s ideal vacation day involves a resort pool, a swim up bar and pool side room service (she knew how to say charge it to my room by age four – I know bad parenting!). My ideal vacation would be in New York, walking, shopping and having cocktails throughout the city.

What works for us, is taking turns to make decisions on how to spend the day. If there is something particularly objectionable to one of us, we have no issues dividing up. In Singapore, the husband was not interested in shopping along Orchard Street, so he ditched Tweeny and I to eat some local delicacies (that we were not particularly interested in) while we shopped. Win – Win situation if you ask me. 

Who does the travel planning at your place?

Tales from the Vault

Jul 1, 2014

I had never regarded the Royal Australian Mint with any sense of drama or intrigue.  If I am very honest, I had never really thought much about the Mint at all. As a family we had visited once, quickly scooting around the displays, stopping off to allow Tweeny to press her own coin.

We took a fairly straight forward self tour, viewing the Mint as a factory where they make coins. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good factory tour. I think they are a great way for children to learn about how commonly used items, foods and products they use everyday are made. My mistake in our previous visit was to view our trip superficially, we looked at the robots making coins and left. I didn’t take the time to hear or think about the stories behind the very modern making of the coins.
Tweeny and I were excited to attend an afterhours Visit Canberra Human Brochure discovery event at the Mint, after reading the invitation which said “hear stories of treasures, ghosts and forgeries at Tales from the Vault in the Mint gallery”.

The tour was on one evening after school. I picked up Tweeny from Drama Club and drove the short distance between school and the Mint in Deakin quietly giggling to myself as Tweeny undressed out of her school uniform and into civvies. She was doing this all while trying to protect her modesty as she sat in the back of the car with her seatbelt on. Fully dressed, we arrived at the Mint ready and eager to hear the promised tales from the vault.
Our assembled group mounted the stairs to enter the dark and still first floor of the Mint gallery. Standing quiet and static was a silhouette of a hooded, caped figure. After we gathered around the figure, he finally moved and broke the eerie silence telling us the theatrical tale of how Australia’s first coin and currency was made by an infamous convict and forger!

English born William Henshall minted Australia’s first coin in 1813. He was a plater and a cutler by trade and a forger by activity.  The forgery got him arrested, tried and convicted. He was sentenced to the penal colony of New South Wales leaving behind his wife and seven children.

At this time there was a shortage of coins in the colony. Governor Lachlan Macquarie's solution to the problem involved employing the convict forger to recycle Spanish currency to create the first uniquely Australian coin.
Macquarie directed Henshall, to cut out by hand the circular centre piece from each of the 40,000 Spanish dollars. The outer ring of the Spanish dollar became known as the “holey dollar” with the cut out centre piece named the “dump”.  A new currency was established, with the “holey dollar” given a value of five shillings and the “dump” valued at 15 pence.
Fast forward 200 years and those humble coins have become extremely rare and hotly contested collectibles. A private collector recently purchased the “holey dollar” for a record $410,000 at a Melbourne auction and the “dump” sold for $100,000.

At the conclusion of the tale, our mysterious caped storyteller feel silent pulling his hood over his head and returned to his still and eerie position, signaling that it was time for the group to move on.

Coin production has moved on in Australia from the one man hand cut coins of Henshall’s era to a sophisticated operation at the Mint, with a capacity to produce up to two million coins a day. With over 170 staff and the use of highly developed robots, the Mint produces all of Australia’s coins along with the coins of our pacific neighbours.
We continued through the dark gallery spotting the creepy blinking lights of the factory robots below. Working silently in the dark with intermittent flashing illumination, there was something slightly spooky about these amazing robots. I blame the lighting, I am sure they look less sinister in the day!

One of the robots we saw was Titan. He is a big boy weighing in at 4.6 tonnes, baring responsibility for lifting 750kg of drums filled with coins throughout the different production stages. When he is not busy working he performs for the Mint’s visitors. He was enjoying showing off his dance moves when we spotted him.
Robbie Robot contributes to the Mint team by packing small plastic bags of finished coins into a large cardboard shipping box. Thanks to Robbie and the other robots, no human handling is required in the process of completing a coin, (they still keep the humans around for quality checks and maintenance).

Penny, Florin and Shilling are the three Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs). We only saw Penny out on the factory floor that evening; the other two must have been on a coffee break! Penny works in warehousing and stock control, having replaced a number of the forklift s that were used at the Mint.

The last tale of the evening was delivered by CEO and master ghost story teller, Ross MacDiarmid. He spoke to us in muted tones about the ghosts that roam the halls at the Mint. The first is affectionately known as the “Whistling Ghost”.  Staff at the mint swear that he can be heard all day long in the downstairs vault, whistling tunes happily up and down the halls.

With the attention and intrigue of the entire group, McDiarmind continued on to tell us about the “Disappearing Ghost”. It is widely believed that this ghost was an employee at the mint and has come back to the work place he loved and roams the basement. Staff say they often feel a presence in the basement and see a familiar face out of the corner of their eye but when they turn to take a proper look, he disappears.
As a parting gift and souvenir, Tweeny and I got to mint our own $1 coin and left contentedly absorbing the intriguing tales from the evening.

To discover your own Tales from the Vault, visit the Mint and be sure to ask staff about roaming ghosts.

Baby, it’s cold outside

Jun 20, 2014

With a frosty forecast for the next month or so, I am going to embrace all things winter in the Southern Hemisphere. I am thinking ice skating, drinking copious amounts of marshmallow filled hot chocolates and fulfilling my most stereotypical image of winter, enjoying many a dinner sitting by an open fire. Since we do not have a fireplace at our place, I have my sights set on tasting the winter menu by the open fire at Mercure Canberra, Olims Bar & Bistro.

I recently got to experience some of what the Olims Bar & Bistro in Braddon had to offer at a Visit Canberra human brochure discovery event. Never having really spent much time at Olims, I had wrongly assumed from the name “Bar & Bistro” that they served stock standard pub fare and drinks but the tasting we did suggested a more bespoke approach.
Specialists in beer and food matching, the Olims treated us to a tasting selection of craft beer and cider from boutique operation the Sydney Brewery company. Not being a devoted and knowledgeable beer drinker, I paid particular attention to the food accompanying the drinks and there were some standouts.

The Sydney Brewery, Paddo Ale was accompanied by Hare cutlet. It was my first time eating Hare and actually the first time I have ever seen Hare on a menu, ever! It had a much stronger, gamier taste than rabbit and the dish really embodied warmth and all things winter. In contrast, the next pairing embodied summer, Coconut Ice Cream served with the Sydney Cider and it was genius! Both drink and pairing were appropriately refreshing and I am planning on making this my summer go to.

For now though the open fireplace and Hare cutlet beckons.  

Truffle Hunting – From Paddock to Plate

Jun 17, 2014

The word truffle has always conjured up images for me of the French country side and expensive Michelin starred restaurants. At approximately $2000 per kilogram, it was not an ingredient that I thought was in my budget or within my geographic vicinity. However ahead of the annual winter Canberra & Capital Region Truffle Festival, my first experience with the much prized and adored fungi suddenly became within reach.

On the weekend, I was invited by one of my new found clever human brochure friends & fellow blogger Lessons in Laughter, to attend a most unique foodie event - a truffle hunt and cooking tour right in the heart of Canberra, no passport required.

Originally from the south of France, truffles are ideally suited to the temperatures in Canberra. The extreme heat in the summer, coupled with our cold frosty winters and dry days, make it an ideal breeding ground. With research, careful selection of a location, quality tree stock, and good soil management, the lush rolling hills of French Black Truffles Estate of Canberra at Mt Majura is at the forefront of an emerging truffle industry in the capital.

I never imagined that located fifteen minutes from my inner city high density apartment, I would find a truffiere. The Estate is a family business; it began as a wonderful journey of interest and excitement for the founders, with the planting of the first trees in 2004. The farm has now turned into a commercial operation employing the team at Truffle Dogs to hunt and harvest the little nuggets of black gold.

Our tour group of ten entered the truffiere, disinfecting our shoes so as not to contaminate the soil and met the brains and the noses behind Truffle Dogs before embarking on our hunt. Jayson the brains, had previously worked for 12 years as a canine handler and instructor for Australia’s premier law enforcement agencies. With his experience, Jayson takes a professional approach in training his exceptional team of dogs to hunt for ripe truffles.

Samson one of the highly trained noses led the hunt. He is an energetic and eager to please seven year old black Labrador and has been finding truffles since he was six months old. Having worked all over Australia, Samson is worth his weight in truffles, a true legend in the industry with Jayson being offered a cool €60,000 for him on several occasions. Samson proved to be a true professional on our hunt quickly picking up a scent. Following his nose with purpose to the base of a tree, Samson starts digging to show Jayson the “spot”.


I was surprised how close to the surface the truffle appears to be as only a small gardening tool was required to carefully dig, scrape and brush the dirt around the truffle, before it was successfully unearthed. The chance to then touch, smell and photograph the freshly dug truffle was quite an unexpected thrill for me. For an ingredient that was so unfamiliar to me, I was wildly excited about holding and smelling it.

It was three from three successful finds and digs for Samson, on our hour long hunt yielding much excitement and delight for our tour group and some sausage treats for our trusty nose.

Truffles in hand, we were ready to cook and taste our findings. Andrew from 3Seeds cooking school had prepped one of the Estate’s converted sheds as our rustic lunch setting. Over the hour long demonstration, he shared his philosophy on cooking with truffles. Believing in removing the mystique and fear surrounding truffles, Andrew encouraged us as home cooks to make the most of any purchased truffles by infusing, marinating and layering truffle flavours throughout the meal and not just using shavings of truffle as a garnish on top of dishes.
Our tasting plates were cleverly created layered dishes including truffle eggs, where the raw eggs had been left to infuse in the fridge with a truffle for a few days, then cooked with truffle butter and truffle cream. Followed by Chicken stuffed with truffle brie, served with a truffle cream sauce, then a rich and velvety truffle duck confit and to finish off even our dessert contained truffle in the form of chocolate ganache “truffle truffle”.

All of a sudden the truffle seemed accessible to me and I felt less intimidated by the prospect of cooking or ordering dishes with truffles, lucky for me launching on Saturday the 21st of June, is the 8 week celebration of Canberra & the Capital Regions Black Perigord Truffle Festival! With over 45 local vendors offering the opportunity to taste and experience truffles with events ranging from gourmet degustation dinners, café style dishes, pastries, cooking classes and demonstrations, farmers markets, and truffle hunts I will have opportunity a plenty to share my new found affection of truffles with my family.
First on the list is a family truffle hunt. A truly fun paddock to plate experience right in the heart of our city, which I would love to share with Tweeny and the husband.


I Saur a Dino! Discovering a lost world

Jun 8, 2014

Following on from feeling like Gulliver in Lilliput at CockingtonGreen Gardens miniature village, Tweeny and I headed to experience dinosaurs in the dark at the National Dinosaur Museum. The two attractions are located just a short stroll from one another and in a matter of minutes we left Lilliput and entered Jurassic Park. Luckily the museum’s 23 complete skeletons and over 300 displays of individual fossils, and big roaring animatronic dinosaur replicas did not come to life that evening!

The National Dinosaur Museum is privately run and operated. Since starting from humble beginnings in 1993 the museum has grown to house the largest permanent display of dinosaur and prehistoric fossil material in Australia. With a focus on both education and entertainment, we were treated to large doses of both on our tour with one of the best museum guide’s I have met to date, Phil.
Phil was fun, knowledgeable, engaging and mesemerised both adults and children that evening. He took the group on a journey through time, where we discovered a lost world when dinosaurs roamed.  We moved through the museum’s exhibits from how the earth was created into the beginnings of life, touching on each geological era. Phil described the landscape from each period and brought the plants and animals of each time to life.

Just as entertaining as the second floor museum exhibits is the National Dinosaur Museum Shop-a-Saurus which has a wide range of dinosaur and prehistoric animal keep sakes. In the downstairs store we had the opportunity to lick some dino poo (I opted to keep my tongue to myself) and touch an assortment of real fossils. Shop-a-Saurus blends the museum’s ethos of education and entertainment with a large array of themed books and toys. Tweeny added quite a few items that she spied on the shop floor to her Christmas wish list and given the educational value I feel hopeful that Santa will oblige her!
Check in on all things National Dinosaur Museum via the website and if you are planning a visit, make time for a guided tour and let them lead you on a journey through time.

The small and short of Canberra

Jun 5, 2014

Village life

At the beginning of this year, Tweeny, the husband and I were joined by my sister from Sydney for a staycation in Canberra. In the spirit of fairness and fulfilling all our different visions of the perfect staycation we decided to take turns on how to spend each day.  On Tweeny’s day she unequivocally chose a jam packed schedule at Gold Creek with the headline acts being Cockington Green and the National Dinosaur Museum.

So when I received a very kind invitation for myself and Tweeny to attend a human brochure discovery event at both of those locations on Saturday evening, I may have done a little squeal knowing how excited she would be.
Cockington Green Gardens is an outdoor miniature English village, complete with cricket pitch, a soccer streaker, castles and a village pub. The detail captured in the staged scenes is just amazing and at times whilst walking through the gardens I felt like Gulliver in Lilliput, looking down at village life. What a saucy, cheeky village it is! Or perhaps that is just the sassy curators of the gardens having some fun, placing the Stig, the grim reaper and a town flasher in amongst the action of the village.

For our evening tour, we were joined by members of Cockington Green Gardens founding family. Amazingly it has been a family owned and operated attraction, with four generations involved since opening in 1979!

Our behind the scenes evening started with a wander through the English village. Even though I had visited Cockington Green Gardens earlier in the year, I had never been in the evening and picked up a whole new level of detail that I hadn’t noticed previously. Tweeny was quick to point out some new elements she had noticed, an axe murderer and a man sitting on his throne (not the royal type).
Next on our tour was a ride on the Cockington Green Gardens Miniature steam train (did I mention everything on site is done on a smaller scale here) where we got a sneak peak of the international display, which we had not yet visited. Just in case we missed anything first time around, the train looped around the gardens twice.

Moonlight danciing on the streets of Argentina
Last stop on the tour was a visit to the international exhibit. After initial interest from a few Embassies in Canberra, this section of the gardens has gradually grown into a wonderful global display with culturally important miniature buildings of over thirty countries currently represented. Tweeny had fun trying to guess which countries all the sites belonged to and we were excited to spot one place we had travelled to together, the Tenochtitlan Temple in Mexico.
It was a beautiful mild evening to have experienced Cockington Green Gardens after hours and see the displays lit up at night. No matter how many times we visit the gardens, we always have fun laughing at discovering a new mischievous scene and element of the miniature village. If I was Gulliver, I wouldn’t mind spending some time here; it would be quite a colourful little village to live in!

afterDARK Garden Tour

Jun 4, 2014

candle lit garden path

Last week was busy and full of delightful Visit Canberra human brochure events. My week of discovery was capped off on Friday evening with a magical twilight tour of the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG). I am embarrassed to admit that in my four years living back in Canberra, it was my first time visiting the exquisite location. It has been on my radar for a while to attend either a family sunset cinema session or summer sounds concert but somehow it has eluded me.

Dressed for the evening Canberra chill, I was set to experience two of the popular thematic garden sections, the Rainforest and Red Centre afterDARK.
Located just six minutes from Canberra City, I was surprised how immediately tranquil and quiet it felt upon driving into the gates and getting out of the car. Devoted to the growth, study and promotion of Australian floral diversity, the ANBG is spread over 90 hectares in Canberra’s Black Mountain's lower slopes where they have created a truly peaceful and calm oasis. Some of the other more ANBG experienced humans revealed that the cafe onsite was their favourite Canberra location for breakfast. I can see that with the wall to ceiling glass windows, the view offered over breakfast and the serenity would be a mighty powerful draw card.  Another tip my fellow humans shared with me, was that on a hot Canberra day the place to be is enjoying the shade under the canopy of Rainforest Gully!
After a refreshing native Australian evergreen Lilly Pilly cordial, (a first for me) we were split into groups and set off by torchlight with a knowledgeable guide up front and a shepherd bringing up the rear to ensure there were no strays left behind. Our tour walked leisurely through the Rainforest Gully stopping on occasion to admire and discuss the success ANBG has had cultivating different rainforest flora that are not indigenous to the region. One of my favourite parts of the tour was when the guide dimmed the torches and the group stood in silence for a minute allowing our senses to take in the surrounds.

Our tour continued through to the newly constructed Red Centre Garden. Our walk through gave me a sense of the dramatic natural beauty that the Red Centre in Australia has and an appreciation for its unique desert plants and landscapes. We concluded the evening in the beautiful Red Centre Garden grazing on Kangaroo Ragout and Bush Tomato Soup under the stars.

Not really one for gardening or flora, I honestly did not expect to enjoy the discovery event at ANBG as much as I did. The few tranquil hours I spent there has left me wanting to experience more and to bring along my family next time. Perhaps we will take on board the suggestion and come back for breakfast at the onsite cafe or I am tempted to attend one of the upcoming AfterDARK Firefly Tours, where Tweeny and the husband can head out as I did on a fascinating after dark discovery, exploring the various garden habitats and habitants. Where else in the heart of a city can I take my family from a rainforest to a desert?’

Read more at Australian National Botanic Gardens