Monday, May 29, 2017

Happy Memorial Day!

We don't have a flag pole.  We have a simple bracket on the house for the few days a year that we display the flag.  Our street is a mile long and we are the only ones flying the flag today.  There are a fair number of people in this area who do fly the flag every day.  There are very few of those who light it as they should at night but I guess that is too much like work.  I used to read a column in our local paper written by a guy who must have been some sort of libertarian because he argued that the flag should only be flown in front of government buildings as a sort of identification.  I fly it as a sign of respect for men and women who are serving and who have served.  Of course I respect them every day (!) but save the flag for special days.

Following the news these days is quite strange.  Every day the popular media finds something weird about President Trump.  Some days it is as earth-shaking as whether or not he holds his wife's hand; some days it's a bit more.  His trip to the Middle East and Europe was actually kind of scary.  The guy doesn't seem to know what he is doing and being 'political' doesn't seem to be in his makeup either.   Of course we were living in Europe when Bill Clinton was doing his best to get close to Monica Lewinski so we are used to being embarrassed by the President.  Then there is the whole Russian secret communications channel thing with Kushner.  It is to the point that I looked up some conservative news sources (like Fox News) to see what they are saying.  Well, at least they aren't laying bets on when Mr. Trump will be impeached.  I found an article discussing British and Irish bookies taking bets that he will either be impeached or voluntarily leave office before the end of his term.  My crystal ball is cloudy (hell, it never has worked!) so I guess I'll just keep on keeping on.

We have transitioned into home-bodies quite nicely.  Up about 06:00 to walk, keeping up with the internet in the morning, lunch out at one of the local resturants, some sort of work around the house in the afternoon and a quiet evening.  The bbq gets quite a workout around here.  We both enjoy the grilled taste so I've bbq'd almost anything we drag home from the store.  We have a library of a couple hundred movies so if there isn't anything on television we still have lots to choose from.  If television and movies don't call, then there are the books.  TONS of books.  My wife likes science fiction and fantasy while I prefer mysteries.  I'm sure there would be no objection if I wanted to read one of her books or she read one of mine but in 35 years I don't think it has happened.  LOL

I'll try to keep you all updated with all this excitement but it's going to be tough.  Right now the biggest thing going is a root canal I'm having done next Thursday.  That's life in the fast lane folks.  Take care and thanks for stopping by.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Final Thoughts and Welcome Home

So I've bored everyone with our visit to Australia and New Zealand but I'm not quite done yet!  There are a few things that we learned that might be helpful to others.  These aren't pearls of wisdom and are in no particular order so expect a lot of jumping around!

The first thing we learned is that the distances are great so unless you have lots of time you are going to be flying from place to place.  The good news is that it is relatively inexpensive compared to air travel in the states.  The bad news is that a simple trip from say, Brisbane to Adelaide will pretty much take up a day.  Between time to get to the airport, time in security, delays, the three hour flight than all that other stuff all over again - it's a day.  Adding to the 'interest' is their use of time zones.  Some are east-to-west as in North America but they also have north-to-south zones.  Politics; don't you just love it?

You may as well resign yourself to not seeing everything unless you take a long time.  We are comfortable with traveling for a month and it wasn't nearly enough time.  We would have loved to spend another week or 10 days in New Zealand and perhaps 15 more days in Australia.  We could have seen at least a few more places but that is a 2 month journey easily.

People were friendly and I only had to ask a couple people to repeat themselves because of conflicting accents.  Both countries use English but sometimes one wonders!  If you are male, I hope you like being called 'mate'.  TV is as mindless as anywhere; once in a while you find something good though.  We were determined to view the Southern Cross Constellation.  Everyone said 'Oh yeah, I see it all the time' but that wasn't a lot of help.  Then one night we found a program talking about astronomy and they gave perfect instructions for finding the Southern Cross!  That very night we found it for the first time.

For those who enjoy alcohol, I'd keep to the beer and wine.  Distilled spirits tend to be expensive to my eye.  Here in the states we have Foster's beer and Yellow Tail wine in many supermarkets.  In Australia you seldom see Yellow Tail and I didn't find Foster's at all.  That's not to say there aren't many tasty beers and wines; it's just not the ones we find here.  Oddly we found Peroni beer from Italy on tap quite often.

In general things seemed expensive.  It wasn't uncommon for lunch for 2 to set us back $50 AUD.  Granted that is around $40 US but still; it's not like we search out expensive places!  A draft beer was usually $7 AUD ($5.50 US)but in one pizza place it was $12AUD  ($9 US). 

Since we like to travel light we need to do lots of clothes washing.  Sometimes you can do it in a sink and wring things out enough to dry overnight; we did that a couple of times with clothing items that we purchased with that specifically in mind.  However, we also stayed in two self-catering apartments and each had a washer and a dryer.  One of these was just set up for someone who wanted to stay at the beach for a week or so; the other was in a block of condos that were rented out when not being used by the owner.  They each worked out well.  The condo even had great views.  Also we stayed in an Ibis hotel that had a laundry room (free) on one of the floors.  It had only 3 washers and 3 dryers but we had no trouble getting our laundry done.

So hopefully that's all you'll hear about our Australia & New Zealand adventures.  After another 15 hour trans-Pacific flight and a hop from LA to Vegas we found our rental car and drove home.  Yes, we have discovered it is cheaper for us to rent a car and drive to Vegas then rent another in Vegas when we return than anything else!  Even the long term parking at the airport would run $300 for a month.  This way our car get to stay home in the garage and we save about $200.  What's not to like?

We came home to find a pretty good crop of weeds that grew thanks to some rain that occured while we were gone.  Happily there is a young man in the neighborhood who was happy to pull some weeds and make some money in the process.  Let me tell you, that's a deal we both liked!  Pulling weeds at 13-14 is much easier than when you are staring 70 in the face.  This photo of a hawk who decided to visit our bird bath has a nice background of some of the weeds.

We like to walk when we are home.  It is good for our health and it keeps us in shape for our travels!  We usually see rabbits, jack rabbits and assorted birds.  However once in a while we get coyotes; this guy and a friend of his were just across the road from our house.

Of course there is always time for a glass of wine in the back yard at sunset.

Yes, we do love to travel but being home is pretty good too.  Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Last stop in Australia - Syndey

We planned on spending our last few days in Australia in Sydney.  We flew from Adelaide on JetStar; it was a nice flight except that our luggage didn't get to ride on the plane with us.  Grrr!  We were told it would be in the next plane and it should be in by 3 pm.  Well, I won't bore you with the entire tale but it was 9 pm by the time our luggage got to the hotel.  The hotel people were great but the luggage handlers really dropped the ball.  In addition, while my suitcase seemed untouched my wife's suitcase, which had been locked, was missing it's lock.  Finally, her house keys turned out to be missing as well.  Really, why anyone would steal house keys from an airline passenger is beyond me but I'm convinced that is what happened.

We were staying in a hotel called the Larmont Sydney "by Lancemore" in a region called Kings Cross.  The hotel seemed very nice but the region has lots of bars and sometimes the drunks were pretty noisy even though we were on the 6th floor.  Our first day in a new city is usually when we set out walking and this was no exception.  The view from our room included the Opera House, the bridge and part of the waterfront.  Nice but someone is building in front of the hotel and that will limit the views.
However, walking down the hill was quite pleasant.  We came across St. Mary's Cathedral. 
It is a lovely building and just after I took this photo a newly married couple came out to pose for photos on the steps.  Very nice.  I've written more than a little about the use of art and of older buildings and Sydney is no exception.  We were walking along and found this guy.
There was a collection box for a local hospital and if you put in money and rubbed his nose you were supposed to have good luck.  His nose was certainly rubbed clean and another part as well.  I'm not sure what rubbing that was supposed to bring:  fertility?  Anyway...

We came across a park that had something I've never seen before.  There was this large area with what appears to be parts of old buildings.
It looks like someone saved these pieces of architectural art work and just decided to make a display of them.  I thought it was a pretty cool idea.  There was no notice board or anything to tell the casual observer what was going on so your guess would be as good as mine. 

We came across this building which I thought was pretty cool.  It is labeled as The British Medical Association, MCMXXX.  Of course it is sandwiched between two much newer buildings.
We did eventually make it to the harbor and all that entails.  The Opera House is probably in first place on everyone's list.  We discovered that they have a lovely cafe where they sell quite nice beer!  We were also able to sign up for a tour on the next day.
When you turn the other way you see the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  It's quite impressive as well.
 Here is a bit of a closeup.
If you look closely you can see people walking on top of the bridge.  My wife and I didn't really care for the idea so we skipped that particular tour.  We thought of walking on the regular bridge deck but didn't manage that either.  We did take a ferry around the harbor a bit and over to the Aquarium.  I was rather disappointed in the Aquarium.  It is quite compact with many levels and smallish exhibits.  It was also overrun with children!  It did specialize in fish from the water around Australia and I thought that was an excellent idea.

We decided to use the tram system and found it quite useful.  You buy a card and load it with a certain amount of money.  Then you swipe the card when you get on the tram and again when you get off.  It was very handy; as tourists however it was a little tricky to have 'enough' money on the card but not have a lot left over when it is time to leave the city.  Oh well.

We also took the ferry up to Manly.  Manly is a beach town that was just a beach town.  Our excuse for visiting was just to ride the ferry and see more of the harbor area.  For that, it worked great.

We had to tour the Opera House.  It is quite the building and much of the tour was about the design and the long building process.  In fact the Danish architect wasn't around during the latter part of the building process.  The interior is lovely with a lot of wood.
The unfortunate part was that the opera does not allow photography in the actual theatres if they are in use.  That's silly!  So what if you take a photo that includes someone practicing their lines?  So what if you get a photo of a set?  They cite copywrite laws but to me it seems like nothing except free publicity. 

One thing I found impressive is shown here.
This is where four sections of the floor come together.  It is screwed to the framework and each section can be removed for maintenance.  That was true of every floor and wall.  I imagine it is true for the ceiling but couldn't document that.  I've never seen anything like that before.

The building is covered by tiles of various shades.
I find the detail as amazing as the whole.  It does take work though.
These guys were inspecting the tiles for damage.  That's quite the job!

Throughout our visit we've seen the cruise ships in port.  It is usual to see a different ship tied up every day.
The Explorer of the Seas was in town and hordes of people were getting on and off her.  There was a huge line of taxis trying to drop people off.  The next day it was the Radiance of the Seas tied up in the same spot.

We got up by 05:30  on the day we were to leave.  Ok, we're a little crazy that way.  So we get to the airport about 08:00 for a 10:10 boarding call.  Hmmm, it wasn't happening.  By 11:10 everyone was standing around getting crazy when the Captain got off the plane and came and talked to us.  It turns out they have a truck that delivers food and drink to the plane.  The whole bed of the truck is raised up to the level of the plane and they just unload.  EXCEPT that this truck broke down while the bed was up in the air.  It won't go up and it won't come down.  It is above the height of the wing so the plane cannot be moved.  And there is an interlock so the truck can't move when it's bed is lifted in the air.  SO, everyone just gets to wait!  Of course they had a guy trying to fix the truck but whatever it was, it wasn't working.  At least everyone was relieved to know that it wasn't that Delta was just being obnoxious.  Why someone from the ground crew hadn't bothered to tell us this I'll never understand.  Anyway we did finally get food on the plane; passengers on the plane; the truck fixed and moved and off we went. 

That's our month south of the equator; a first for both of us.  Next time I'll try to do a few final thoughts and talk a bit about what we found when we got home.  Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Adelaide for a few days

We flew to Adelaide for a few days and really did enjoy the city.  Like most of the cities we've visited the old buildings are being used right next to the huge new ones.  Our hotel was right downtown so while we still managed to walk quite a bit it wasn't quite as demanding as some other places (translation:  no hills!).
The name on this building is 'The Austral Stores'.

From the ironwork it certainly reminds one of New Orleans.  If you look closely you see a blue and white sign on the end that says 'Polites'.  We wondered what it meant because they were all over the place.  It turns out a man named Con Polites started from almost nothing and became quite a real estate tycoon.  As he bought more real estate he wanted to put his name on the buildings he owned.  He was rightfully proud of what he had achieved and wanted people to be able to see it.  The company still exists though the man died some years ago.  Here is the story that another blogger unearthed.

On the very corner this building houses a shop selling locally manufactured chocolates.  That's the Haigh's Chocolates part of the story.  I love the sign on the top of the building 'Beehive Corner'.  There has to be a story there too!

Downtown there is a nice pedestrian mall with some interesting statues sprinkled about.
Yes, it is a pig either getting into the litter or putting something in.  You can choose to believe whichever you prefer.
All of the pigs have names:  this is Horatio.  There was more art work but I just liked the pigs.

We took a streetcar out to the beach one day.  It was only a short ride and just a lovely day.
Obviously the beach wasn't crowded!  It was a nice wide beach; the photo was taken from the fishing pier.  Adelaide is a bit inland but the huge bay is protected from the ocean so there was very little wave action.

Southern Australia is, of course, known for wine.  As enthusiastic wine drinkers we thought it only right that we do a winery tour.  We found a local tour operator and set up a tour.  Shriaz and Company is a very small operation but we really enjoyed it.  They do small tours only (max. 6 people) and, in fact, we were the only people on the tour!  The tour is customized to what ever you would like to do so we needed their help!  We've never been on a winery tour before.  So we went to the McLaren Vale area and ended up visiting four very different winerys.  The owner/driver was knowledgable and helpful and was obviously well known at the wineries!  We started the day at the beach again because the tasting rooms (called cellar doors here) don't usually start until 10:00.
We were told this was the first nude beach in Australia.  I can't say one way or the other since there were only a couple people on the beach and they were way far away!  But then we got down to the wine.
There were plenty of vines to be seen and in between them were olive trees.  This is a Mediterranean inspired region where there are all kinds of wineries.  The four we saw were very different.  One, Molly Dooker is quite large and is not difficult to find here in the US.

The other good sized one was Leconfield Wines.  It can be found here but it is mostly their higher priced wines that I've found.  It was about lunch time and the tour operator has made a deal with some of the cellars to provide lunch.  So we just had to buy a nice bottle of wine to go with our cheese and meat plate.  It was really tough!
In the distance you can see a huge tent being erected.  The next weekend the winery was going to host a concert by the American rockers Cyndi Lauper and Blondie!  Ah well, we will be long gone.

The two other winerys were quite small.  In one the men were working on barrels out in the yard.

At another they were planning an Art Festival for the weekend with local artists.  They had quite a collection on the grounds.
The bird was probably 4 or 5 feet long!  Neither of these places export at all. By this time it was about 4 pm and we were ready to head back to the hotel.  So we ended up with a bottle and a half of wine for our room.  Of course it didn't last long!  No worries about shipping wine home.  We were told however that it could easily cost over $200 to ship a case of 12 bottles back to the states.  No thanks!

So having seen Adelaide and the one tiny corner of the wine country it was time for us to move on.  The last stop in Australia is coming up:  Sydney!  Thanks for stopping by. 

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

More Brisbane

Our first two days in Brisbane were spent in a Next Hotel; the Riverview.  It was fine but quite a distance from downtown.  It did have a garage so we could keep the car.  We had decided that after returning the car we'd move to a downtown hotel so that's just what we did.  We moved to the Ibis Styles Hotel which was quite different.  First, we were on the 24th floor!  Great views of part of the downtown and across the river.  I counted 14 building cranes; you might say things are growing!  The room was fairly compact but very clean and comfortable.  We liked it a lot.

As usual we wandered around.  There is a lovely park near the downtown area so we spent some time checking it out.  It was pretty cool to be in the trees but surrounded by city.  As a country mouse, all those new skyscrapers really get my attention.

On the Sunday we got tickets for the Lone Pine Koala Preserve.  You can drive to it of course but it's more fun to take the boat.  On the way to get the boat we saw a sign warning about the birds in the area!

 The trip takes about an hour and they have a timed narration running so you learn quite a bit about the city.  Brisbane has had quite a history with good guys and bad and quite a few floods.  (Incidentally Cyclone Debbie had eased on down the coast and was watering the area just south of Brisbane.  More than a couple people lost their lives in the flood this year.) 

The Preserve is supposed to be the oldest in Australia and, actually, it's become more of a zoo showing off all the animals unique to Australia.  Of course they have koalas and take wonderful care of them I'm sure but they have plenty of other characters.  The koala we are told eats about 4 hours a day and sleeps the other 20.  I believe it!  We saw one that was really awake while the rest were curled up sleeping.  They have a special permit to allow people to have their photo taken holding a koala - for $18.  They switch out the poor koala about every half an hour so it can go back to sleep.  No, we didn't go for it.

I'll only drag this out with photos of a couple more animals:  a small kangaroo who was in a part of the park set up as a petting zoo and a Tasmanian Devil.  I'd never seen a Devil before and I thought he was kind of an ugly little guy but maybe he'd grow on me.  The sign says they can eat 40% of their body weight in 30 minutes!  Currently they are dying off due to some cancer-like disease.  Hopefully a cure will be found soon.

So that was the remainder of our time in Brisbane.  The next morning we got a taxi for the airport.  Ordinarily we'd take public transportation but we'd discovered the station was quite a long walk from our hotel and would cost $36 for the two of us.  $50 for a cab sounded lots better!  We were off to Adelaide.