I won the Ultimate Gourmet Escape to Hobart, Tasmania

We’ve all seen those contests on Facebook and Instagram. They’re ever present. But do you ever sit back and think to yourself, who actually wins them? Would you believe it if I told you I won 3 in one week!

It all started with a raffle at artesian brewer Moon Dog. I had a couple of casual beers on a Saturday afternoon and before I knew it I walked away with a complimentary case of their intense annual brew Jumping the Shark. A few days later I had entered a contest on Facebook sponsored by local food guide The Urban List Melbourne and Crown Melbourne. I had won $200 to dine at world acclaimed Japanese restaurant Nobu. It was delicious of course.

But when my Instagram @Leeveca was pinged as the winner of The Ultimate Gourmet Escape presented by finedininglovers.com I couldn’t believe it. The prize included economy flights for two people to Hobart, Tasmania valued at $800, one night’s accommodation at MONA Pavilions valued at $700, MONA Gallery entry valued at $50, and dinner for two at Franklin Restaurant valued at $200.

When my friend Renee planned her visit from the US I gave her the ultimate ultimatum. In addition to adventuring around Melbourne, down the Great Ocean Road and across to Phillip Island, sailing the Whitsundays and snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, she had to make a hard decision. Visit Australia’s most iconic city Sydney, or go rogue by adventuring to Tasmania to cash in my Ultimate Gourmet Escape prize. It was a no brainer, Tassie won.

After stepping off a 24-hour flight to Melbourne from Philadelphia via LAX and traveling by Sky Bus into Southern Cross Station, I quickly ushered her to my apartment in Richmond to shower, grab a quick bite and pack a small bag. A few hours later we were back at the airport sipping wine in the Qantas Lounge awaiting our flight to Hobart. Jetlag would have to wait.

View from Coal Valley Vineyard

View from Coal Valley Vineyard, Tasmania

Franklin is one of the hottest restaurants in Hobart right now and deservingly so. The kitchen is the epi-center of this simplistic, cement and timber themed eatery. Dining at the bar, our favourite part was observing the chefs expertly prepare each plate individually; taking their time as if it was their first. I envied both their patience and precision as there was definitely no rush to get it wrong.

Periwinkles @ Franklin Restaurant

Periwinkles @ Franklin Restaurant

Everything bar one dish was awesome. We experimented with periwinkles, a small sea snail with a surprisingly long body and questionably mushy finish. Not your typical escargot. We fought over the last oyster, bite of kingfish and wallaby tartare. The gamey wagyu however let us down.  Renee comfortably slept off her jetlag that evening in the picturesque Victorian era-restored hotel Hadley’s Orient.

Boutique Wine Tours Tasmania led us on a journey the next day through the historic town of Richmond and to sample the famed pinot noir of the Coal River Valley. Having been through here a few times prior, David who guided the tour exceeded my expectations as we visited the oldest church, goal and bridge in Australia (just saying the country isn’t that old), sipped quality pinot and sparkling at my favourite family owned winery Pooley Wines, and tasted chilli cheddar and more outstanding cheese at Wicked Cheese. The hospitality at Richmond Tasting House as Renee tried the local whiskies and I sat trying all the food samples on repeat, was a highlight.

Oldest Bridge in Australia, Richmond, Tasmania

Oldest Bridge in Australia, Richmond, Tasmania

That evening we were welcomed into MONA Pavilions, one of 8 uniquely designed apartments that are situated on the museum property facing the River Derwent, each named after a famed Australian architect or artist, going for $700 a night! Luckily it was my birthday at midnight so we celebrated with the complimentary bottle of Moorilla Estate’s Muse Brut while ensuring we made the most out of the place, the Beatles turned up through each modern speaker fitted in the wall units and sipped our sparkling on the veranda overlooking the river. Ours was coincidentally named Robin, which is Renee’s middle name.

MONA Pavilions

MONA Pavilions

The Source, the very upmarket and nationally respected contemporary, French-inspired restaurant at MONA was our biggest and most frustrating disappointment. While our server Alice was spunky and friendly, our sommelier appeared strangely depressed. The atmosphere, which seemed like a dated hotel function room, didn’t compliment the $200pp price tag for the 5-course degustation plus wine pairings. While I finished every bite of the Morton bugs with apple, wasabi and lime and the scallop gnocchi using a golden spork, I commented, “wow that was so interesting!”  And “oooh, this is so weird.” But Renee said it right at the end, as we requested a cheese plate over dessert and found that to be one of the best bits. She said, “For $200 I don’t want an interesting meal, I want a delicious one.” So true, despite us both being very passionate about food, every dish definitely challenged by palette.

Golden spork @ The Source

Golden spork @ The Source

Before flying out we spent the morning nursing our hangovers with Xavier, the fantastic host at the Moorilla Estate cellar door while working through a tasting flight of both the wines and Moo Brew beers.

Lisa & Renee @ Moorilla Cellar Door

Lisa & Renee @ Moorilla Cellar Door

We then entered MONA – the wacky Museum of New Art.  The exhibition featured the works of Marina Abramovic and it was weird and wonderful. Dark spaces contained videos of people screaming at the top of their lungs, of a woman frantically biting her nails, and a rice counting room where we had to leave our phone and watches behind after putting on a lab coat. Once we entered the room of complete silence we were separated, then a scoop full of rice was presented in front of us. We sat there for about 15 minutes and I thought to myself, to work here for hours staring at people staring at rice in silence would be insane. We then ended the day with a tour of Moorilla Estate, yes more wine.

On our journey home we watched the sunset from the airplane window all the way back to Melbourne. It was a memorable birthday with an old friend in a beautiful part of the world. A special thanks to finedininglovers.com for making it all possible.

For more ideas on what to do in Tasmania check out my previous post: My Tasmanian Secrets

Bordeaux, My Gastronomic Adventure

But why Bordeaux? This was the response I received when going over my itinerary for #Eurotrip2015. London was a no brainer and Croatia has been on my bucket list for years. But as more and more people questioned my French destination of choice I was starting to get nervous that I had overlooked something obvious. Was Bordeaux no good? I mean sure, I much prefer Burgundy wines but then again I’m sure Bordeaux won’t be that hard for me to swallow.

Katrina Miranda in Bordeaux

Katrina Miranda in Bordeaux

Is it an oxymoron to say the city is both medieval and young at the same time? It’s active, vibrant and lively contrasted against dark ancient stoned walls, gothic churches and quiet narrow alleyways. Katrina described it as monotone: brown river, cream buildings, grey cobblestones. But it’s 9 pm in the summer and there is no sign of dusk. University students quickly scoot by on skateboards and sit outside smoking cigarettes while drinking espresso at cafes next to tattoo parlours, vintage shops and guitar stores.

Rue Sainte-Catherine, one of the largest pedestrian-only shopping streets in all of Europe is its main artery running through its centre. Cheap city bikes can be rented from all corners of the architectural haven and are used by both locals and tourists to navigate the shadowy historic maze. It’s a very liveable place for sure.

Both a city and a region, Bordeaux provides fresh, delectable food and well-produced wine to every doorstep. On the Garonne River’s left bank sits Medoc, it’s gravel and clay producing deep, full bodied cabernet sauvignons while on it’s right the clay and limestone in St. Emilion produce juicy, fruit-forward merlot. My glass is never empty and then I understand. Bordeaux is my gastronomic adventure.

Garonne River Bordeaux

Garonne River Bordeaux

The oysters are so fresh you order them by size – medium, large or extra-large. There is only one option: raw. The seabass comes with its head intact but with the right movement the flesh softly falls from the bone while the salmon carpaccio melts on my tongue. The cheese is aged and my monsieur croquet strong and heavy, the traditional way. The pate is thick and rich and the generous sliced baguettes are endless. There is no Maille mustard to accompany it. That’s only for Paris and we’re in Bordeaux after all. My favourite meals were the chevre salad with honey and walnuts while dining al fresco at Karl and beef tartare with watermelon and roasted tomatoes at the modern French bistro Le Chien De Pavlov.

The only way to truly experience it was to aimlessly wonder and get lost amongst the streets, stopping every few hours to try a new delicacy and to sip a new wine while watching the locals carry on with their lives. The second day we rented bikes, which gave us the same freedom to explore but allowed us to delve deeper into the city streets, to the botanical gardens, and over the bridge to the city outskirts.

Isabel from Bordeaux Tourism was friendly and helpful and booked us on a wine river cruise later that evening. It was like a disorganized frat party for old people – chaos to consume as much wine as possible while Jerome the wine maker from Chateau Madran rambled on in French and we sat observing with our crusty bread and orange cheese just taking it all in, not understanding a word.

Jerome from Chateau Madran

Jerome from Chateau Madran

And then there was the highlight, Rustic Vines and the Famous Monk Tour the following day. Run by two Kiwi’s, Scottie the hottie educated us on the 60 appellations of Bordeaux, the rigid rules on how to blend the wine and the 10,000 plus chateaus in the region. We visited the picturesque medieval town of St. Emilion, mingled with Hugo in the cellar of Chateau La Gaffeliere to learn about French oak and sampled Grand Cru Classe from Aussie Gregg at Bordeaux Classique wine store. Richard, the only Australian chateau owner in Bordeaux confirmed that the French don’t believe in ghosts so he wasn’t concerned for his 15th century property Chateau Melliac. In his garden we picnicked on melon, jamon, cheese and macaroons. Richard told us he used think that Australian wine was everything until the French showed him their art and he had never looked back. I now feel way more confident knowing what to look for when choosing French wine.

I almost could have had one more day. Eating my croissant while waiting for my flight to London I realised then that Bordeaux was it, the grown up Europe I had been envisioning. Bordeaux left me with a smile. It’s safe, I felt confident, people were friendly, there was no crime or begging plus it is a foodie paradise. I would recommend to anyone to have a visit.

Lisa Vecchio, St. Emilion

Lisa Vecchio, St. Emilion; Courtesy of Katrina Miranda

Put It On The List

Thesetwoeyes.com was recently featured in Bucket List Publications. An exciting day for me, but as I got to thinking I wanted to return the favor and give BLP a proper shout out. You see, Leslie Carter turned what was once her travel blog into a publication that features other people dreams coming true, or what one would refer to as a their “Bucket List”.  Aside from taking submissions for articles, she also accepts submissions of bucket list requests, and works with donations to help conquer other people’s dreams.

Humph, a bucket list, ey. Now, my immediate thought was what kind of cool thing can I write about and ideally get for free. But then I realized, I’m not adventurous. I do not have sky diving, great white shark swimming, bungee jumping, river rafting, mountain climbing dreams on my horizon. I have respect for those who do, however let’s be realistic, I’m a huge wuss.

The thing is, lately I’ve been fairly content with my accomplishments. That’s not to say I don’t want more. I think the most difficult thing about traveling is knowing there is so much more you can do, so many more people you can meet, food to try, landscapes to see. I am not ungrateful for what I have already done mind you.

Once the travel bug bites it does not go away. Reading articles on Bucket List Publications makes me feel envious of those who write about safaris in Africa and treks through the Amazon. But I am too aware that others can say the same for my travels. That’s the hardest part. When you surround yourself with other travelers it’s all so every day. It’s easy to be less mindful that you are sharing experiences in a unique subset of society.

This past weekend I had casual conversations with a handful of people about Vietnam’s best travel spots. Vietnam did you say? I sure did. I could count on two hands people I’ve encountered in my life who swear up and down that Vietnam is a beautiful country, with rich history, culture, fabulous food and a price tag that would make you go, saaayyyy what? Cheap.

Telling your parents your spending thousands of dollars when you own not one item of value to your name to travel to Vietnam is like your child telling you in 20 years that they are vacationing in Iraq. See what I’m getting at?

So before I arrived on the continent of Australia you could say I had a “Bucket List” of things to accomplish. I’ve reached deep into my nightstand drawer to dust off my uhum journal from when I first arrived. I’ll tell you what it says, shhh.

  • New Zealand: Check
  • Uluru:
  • Melbourne: Check
  • Asia: Check
  • Quit Smoking: Check
  • Lose Weight: Check/Uncheck/Check/Uncheck
  • Byron Bay: Check
  • Western Australia:
  • Outback:
  • Friends: Check
  • Wineries: Check
  • Indonesia/Bali:

Looks like I’ve still got some work to do. But would I call these my official bucket list? Would I look back and have regrets for not booking the first flight to the middle of the country to climb a sacred red rock? Maybe a small amount.

So here I am again, ponder ponder, what do I truly desire, if I could go anywhere, try anything. And I think and I think and I come to the realization that, well, I want to live abroad; but I currently am. I want to live in London; I’ve done that twice. I want to travel the world; this year I will have reached 30 countries if I make it to South Africa in October. I want dear friends; I have plenty. I want a loving family; they love me too much.

So Leslie Carter, I guess as long as you keep publishing my blog posts while I’m lucky enough to actively live my bucket list I will be reading to see who’s dreams you’ve made come true and supporting it 100 percent with gratitude to you and envy of them.


Living the dream. Stradbroke Island, Australia.