Thursday, 4 December 2008

Close Encounter of the Sculptural Kind

As any Australian travel editor knows, there's something enormously alluring about international travel.

Curiously, these editors receive far more unsolicited material about overseas journeys than domestic ones, even though domestic travel is much cheaper to research.

It seems that a trip to Europe is inherently sexier than a weekend interstate on a budget airline.

But addicted as I am to international adventures, there's no logical reason why a local trip should be any less enjoyable.

You can even travel very locally and have a good time. A case in point - last Sunday Narrelle and I visited the Yering Station winery in the Yarra Valley, just 40 kilometres east of the centre of Melbourne. We were interested in the seeing the works entered in the annual Yering Station Sculpture Exhibition & Awards.

What was novel (for most Melburnians) was our method of getting there - a train to the Lilydale terminus, then a bus from there. It was surprisingly easy to catch public transport into the Yarra Valley, but most people would assume it would only be practical by car.

The sculptures - a pretty flexible term, as most were not the traditional carved stone pieces - are scattered around the grounds and premises of the winery, making an attractive hide-and-seek game as you spot them among the greenery.

The one we had a particular interest in was Grosse Fische - Kleine Fische (Big Fish - Little Fish), a piece which had been foreshadowed some months ago in a post within John Richards' Outland Institute blog.

In it, artist Gaby Jung asked readers to send her empty fish-shaped soy sauce containers. The resulting work used masses of these plastic vessels to form a giant fish, suspended above a pool in which more soy fish float.

It was an impressive piece, as were many others in the exhibition. The winery itself is no slouch, either, being composed of a mix of historic and modern buildings set within beautiful grounds denoted by circular patterns of plants and paths.

After viewing the artork, we tasted home-made jams in the nearby shop, then climbed the stairs to the deck of the bar. We sat outside in the sunshine, sipping rosé and eating excellent sandwiches made with quality ingredients, thinking that perhaps life wasn't so hard after all.

Then we walked the two kilometres or so to the nearest town, Yarra Glen (which I always think sounds like the name of a bushranger). It was an easy stroll along a flat road past fields, though cars whip by at a fast pace.

One woman stopped and asked if we'd like a lift - bless her - but we declined and kept strolling. I'm always amazed by how difficult people who don't walk, think walking is - as if it's a major hardship to walk a couple of kilometres through attractive countryside on a pleasant day.

And the important thing, it occcurs to me, is being immersed in the environment when you're travelling. A car is handy to get from A to B quickly; but I always feel annoyed when tearing through a new landscape I'd rather be in contact with, while confined behind glass and steel.

So that was our Sunday. A visit to a winery, some great art, and a walk into a new town. It might be close to home, but I call that a travel experience worth having.