Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hermosa Beach, California

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I can't believe it's STILL January 20th, 2015.  I left Sydney, Australia today at 3:45 p.m. and arrived in Hermosa Beach today at 1:00 p.m., two hours and forty five minutes earlier than I left Sydney.  Gotta love crossing the International Date Line.  It's almost as good as being "beamed up" by Scotty!  Except for the 14 hour flight that occurred in between Sydney and Lost Angeles.  

Such a civilized breakfast on Air New Zealand.

Loved my "pod" on the flight home.
The trip was uneventful and easy.  I slept most of the way home in my little "pod".  Air New Zealand is rated number one in customer satisfaction ... by whom, I'm not certain, but they certainly get my vote!  The safety briefing was an epic film staring Elijah Wood and was a spoof on the  "Lord of the Rings" movie about the middle of the earth.  The Air New Zealand film gets the point across as well as being hysterical and entertaining.  The service on the flight was amazing, the food was good, but the bathrooms were really special.  Each bathroom had a different painting on the wall.  One had a beautiful chandelier made of forks, knives and spoons, one a book shelf lined with books with interesting titles, but my favorite was the man on the wing of the plane looking in the window.  
Painting on the bathroom wall of my flight.
It reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock's  horrifying film about the man on the wing of an airplane that caused a passenger to go insane.  Those Kiwi's have a sense of humor!!  

It is so good to be home, albeit  for only a few hours.  As Dorothy says, "There's no place like home."  If the sun had been shining, I would have been drawn outside for a bike ride or a walk in the sand, but a heavy marine layer outside made it easy to get unpacked and reorganized for my flight to Washington D.C. But a later walk on the Strand made things right with the world.  

This entry concludes my  2015 Australia/New Zealand blog.  I hope at some point along the way, these stories have brought a smile to your face and maybe even made you laugh out loud.  If you've followed my blogs in the past, you may notice a different feel this time around.  I seem to have found some joy in life again.  If feels great.  Thanks for your patience along the way and I hope you’ll log in for my next adventure in April with Stevie bicycling across Denmark.  Until then, I'll use a favorite Kiwi expression taken from the Maori people meaning "be well,"  Kia Ora.

Tasman Sea and Sydney

Monday, January 19, 2015

Another day at sea.  The Tasman Sea.  AGAIN!  Our last sea day.  Tomorrow morning, we dock in Sydney, Australia, where we began this journey.   The seas are calm today.  Surprisingly, gloriously CALM.  

We spent the day packing and preparing for tomorrow's departure, a fairly easy task because I know what I'm taking!  

Then we rushed downstairs for the grand finale Bingo match to support our new friends Lisa and Allen.  Lisa has played Bingo every day of the trip and as a result, has won several hundred dollars.  So she encouraged everyone to join in the fun AND to make the pot larger.  So we finished packing and rushed downstairs for the big match only to find that the time had been changed and the Bingo match had been held 3 hours earlier.  We totally missed out.  Lisa didn't win the big pot and was not happy.   

We met Sheri, from San Francisco, for dinner at the Italian restaurant on the ship and had a lovely evening learning more about our new friend who has endured so much tragedy in her life.  She lost her first husband in the Delta Airlines crash in Dallas in the late 80's.  Her second husband died of a heart attack two years ago and now she has picked up the pieces and is traveling and enjoying life again.  At 80 years old, she has such a sweet sparkle in her eyes and the most stunning smile ever.  What an inspiration to me.  So glad we got to meet her and hope our paths cross again.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

We docked in Sydney this morning.  After transferring our bags to the Intercontinental Hotel to be held until we were scheduled to leave for the airport, we set out across the Botanical Gardens searching for the Art Gallery of New South Whales.  There was a special person I was anxious to meet at the Gallery.  John Freckleton.  

John Freckleton, Rosemarie's son.
John is Rosemarie's long lost son whom she reconnected with this fall.  A story with a tragic beginning yet such a wonderful ending,  anyone who has seen the movie "Philomena" will know Rosemarie's story as a young woman in Ireland who's son was taken from her as a baby and put up for adoption.  
Walking through the park with John.
Rosemarie spent years searching for her son and finally found him in Sydney, Australia.  I had the privilege of meeting John today.  I recognized him immediately as he has Rosemarie's eyes and smile.  We had a wonderful visit and I learned of John's long quest to find his mother, Rosemarie.  So I guess I have a new Brother-in-law and I'm so happy I was able to meet John today in Sydney.  I look forward to meeting the rest of his family, Sally and son Phoenix. 

Lunch at Fish Pool.
Back where we began this journey 3 weeks ago.
After our visit with John, we wandered back to the pier overlooking the Opera House for lunch before departing for the airport.  We found a great spot for lunch called Fish Pool where we enjoyed Fish and Chips and the most amazing Watermelon salad.  I love watermelon and since it is summer in Australia, the watermelon was incredible!!

Our flight out of Sydney to Auckland was on time.  One of the first flights of this entire trip that has gone off without a hitch.  
Finally... a working wifi in the Air New Zealand Lounge!!  
We're in the Air New Zealand Lounge waiting for our connection to Los Angeles.  Another 14 hours, and I should be home in Hermosa Beach ... well for at least a few hours.  I leave Wednesday morning for Washington D.C. and then on to visit my sister and parents.  I'll slow down on the travel someday ... but it's not going to be today.  

I'll conclude this Australia/New Zealand Blog tomorrow when I'm home sweet home.  Until then ...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Melbourne, Australia

Sunday, January 19, 2015

Thick salt on the glass and rough seas outside.
The ride from Tasmania to Melbourne involved another day at sea ... yes, the Tasman Sea.  It didn't disappoint.   Rough as ever, we rocked and rolled our way to Melbourne, finally arriving Sunday morning.   

Melbourne, Australia's second most populous city, has been named the cultural capital of Australia.  With it's edgy street art and chic Laneway restaurants, there is definitely a "coolness" factor going on here.

With no firm plans, we got off the ship and headed to town.   I remembered exploring interesting Laneways last year and set off to find them again.  Our shuttle to town dropped us at the river.  I didn't even remember a river in Melbourne last year, so this was all new territory.  

A sidewalk art show was in full swing with interesting vendors selling their wares.  I found the cutest pair of Koala earrings and an amazing Kaleidoscope   
A treasure Kaleidoscope from the Sidewalk Art Show in Melbourne.
Jess found a great wooden box with a lid made of Gimlet Burl, a very rare wood found in Australia.  The river walk was lined with very trendy restaurants and shops and appeared to be fairly new, but no sign of a "Laneway."  After googling The Sofitel Hotel to get my bearings, we set off to find familiar turf, but not before we found  ourselves in the "men's club" section of town, which was booming even at 11:00 on a Sunday morning.  Not the best neighborhood, we continued on towards the hotel trying to put as much distance as we could between us and this undesirable part of town.  
A typical Melbourne Laneway.
A few kilometers away, I finally found one of the colorful Laneways that I remembered in Melbourne.  Filled with character and characters, the Laneways are narrow alleys with shops and restaurants of all ethnicities.  Tables and chairs fill the narrow streets and whiffs of Pizza, Falafels, Korean BBQ and much more, linger in the air.  
Union Street - Graffiti Art Gallery
We also found Union Street where local graffiti artists paint the walls with their political and artistic views of the world.  
Happenstance meeting of friends in Melbourne
And then, we found, quite by 
accident, the Block Arcade, which is a covered Laneway with upscale boutiques and beautifully tiled floors.   While admiring the floors, I looked up and came face to face with my friends, Bruce and Gail, whom we'd said goodbye to the night before.  They left the ship, ending their voyage in Melbourne, to attend the Australian Open Tennis event.  Such a large city to run into friends on the street.  Guess Melbourne isn't so big after all.

Pedestrian Bridge across the river in Melbourne.
By now, we were starving and decided to find a lunch spot.  We were looking for a good fish and chips place and Gail's guide recommended a spot in the Southgate area along the river.  We found an Irish Pub with fish and chips, good beer and a glass of cold wine.  After lunch, we found ourselves sitting on a park bench beside the river watching the people go by.  What a great way to experience Melbourne on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  
Interesting People Watching in Melbourne.
The people watching was tremendously entertaining as we concocted amusing stories about nearly everybody walking by.  I had to compliment a girl on her hair style and she graciously allowed me to take her photo.  Now I like ALMOST anything Leopard print, but this may be the exception.  I thought my niece, a hairdresser in Virginia might get a kick out of it.  What do you think, Jessica?

Tea time on the ship.
Time to head back to the ship for one more day at sea heading back to Sydney to catch our flight home.  We arrived back just in time for afternoon tea.  God forbid, we should miss an opportunity at another feeding!  

This has been such an amazing journey filled with new memories,  this blog being, my "journal" chronicling fun experiences along the way.  And it's not over yet.  We have another day at sea and another day in Sydney.  I'll report in later.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Friday, January 16, 2015

Tasmania is southeast of the Australian Mainland.
LAND HO!!  We docked at Hobart, Tasmania, Australia this morning.  Terra Firma felt great after the ride we had across the Tasman Sea.  I will not choose to cross the Tasman again.  Twice is enough to convince me that I should have stopped after the first ride.  Guess I’m a remedial learner.

Tasmanian Devil found ONLY in Tasmania

We all know this version of the Tasmanian Devil
Hobart, a quaint little place, and the capital of the island state of Tasmania, known colloquially as “Tassie,” was first settled as a penal colony.  Tassie is home to the infamous Tasmanian Devil, found in the wild only in Tasmania.  The size of a small dog, it is characterized by it's stocky, muscular build, black fur, pungent odor, loud screech, keen sense of smell and ferocity when feeding.  We all remember the Looney Toons cartoon about the Tasmanian Devil, yes?  This is where he’s from. 

Mount Wellington is the dominant feature of Hobart’s skyline.  And since it’s the highest place on the island, measuring in at 4,100 feet above sea level, we felt it just needed to be conquered.  
Mount Wellington, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
So we signed up for a bike ride from the top of Mount Wellington back to the ship, a mere 22 Kilometers (or 14 miles).  
From the summit, a break in the clouds allowed for one quick photo of the City of Hobart below.
The weather was clearing after five inches of rain yesterday, but just in case, we wore our g
ortex jackets and everything else we could put on to keep warm.  The drive up the mountain took about half an hour.  The view was spectacular ... what we could see of it through the clouds.

Dodging sleet, we prepared for the ride.
By the time we reached the top, the clouds were slowly encompassing the summit.  The winds were blowing steady at 40 miles an hour and if that’s wasn’t bad enough, it began to sleet.  Yes, sleet.  It was that cold.  But, like the US Postal Service once claimed … "neither rain, snow, sleet nor hail" will stop them … it didn’t stop us either!  We set off on the bikes assuming as we descended, the weather would change.  Change it did!!  
Karen and Monte are ready.
The sleet gradually turned to rain.  My hands were frozen to the handlebars.  The front wheel of my bike was wobbling and I was afraid it was about to come off.  But it turned out, the intensity of my shivering  … from cold AND fear of being blown off the road, caused a chain reaction from the handlebars, continuing to the front tire and  all the way to the pavement.  After I figured out the cause of the wobbles, I calmed down a bit.  The rain was slowing to a gentle mist and things were looking up.  We were nearing the half way mark of the descent when  the skies opened up again.  This time with REAL rain.  I was wearing a baseball cap under my bike helmet, so that deflected some of the rain, but the water thrown off the front wheel was shooting a steady stream of water from the pavement right into my face.  I recall thinking how nice it would be to have wheel fenders.  Simple things in life, right?  Not only was the water being thrown in my face, but it was working it’s way up my back from the rear tire as well.  By now, water is running off my wet jeans inside my shoes.  With each rotation of the peddle, my shoes are sloshing.  I can’t see because my sunglasses are covered with pouring rain and  the onslaught of water from the front wheel.  Just as I wiped some of the water away from my glasses, my heart clutched with a foreboding of disaster … I was facing a bus driving up the narrow, winding road toward me.  I quickly calculated a safe, comfortable distance from the bus, teetering on the edge of the abyss to my left when suddenly, the front wheel of the bus dropped into a pothole and a torrent of water from the puddle washed over me, adding to my already soaked ensemble and nearly knocking me off the road.  At that point, all I could do was laugh hysterically.  I figured I couldn’t get any wetter nor colder, so I may as well relax and enjoy the rest of the ride.  We finally reached the beer brewery our guide had told us about earlier.  I’m not a beer drinker, but I figured I could at least clean my glasses and regroup a bit.  
The men had been drooling for miles awaiting an ice cold beer.  I was hoping for a cup of hot tea.  Our guide began talking about the brewery and told us all about how it was originally built to be a lumber mill, but the water from the adjacent stream was so clear, they decided to brew beer instead.  All the while, rain is pouring on us during his lecture.  Turned out, the brewery was just an informational sightseeing stop … not a drink stop.  At that point, I thought we were going to have a mutiny. By the way, I have no photos of the Brewery because it was raining too hard to pull out my camera!  So …  we loaded our wet asses back on the bike seats and continued on.  By now, we were off the main road and entered a bike path … a dirt bike path.  
Just a bit of mud on our backs.
Yup, you guessed it.  We now have mud to add to our already drenched attire.  After getting properly muddied, we reached the city limits and dodged traffic back to the boat.  The rains stopped, allowing time for our water and mud soaked clothes to fully distribute moisture to any remaining dry spots.  We turned in our bikes and helmets and sloshed back to our ship.  She put up a good fight, but we conquered Mount Wellington. 
A hot shower never felt so good!!

Later, we met Bruce, Gail, Sammy and Mike for cocktails and dinner at Signature, another dining spot on the ship as we sailed away from Tasmania back into … wait for it …  YES! ... The Tasman Sea!  Yup, we have another day at sea to reach Melbourne.  I totally forgot about this sea day, thinking instead that we would arrive in Melbourne tomorrow morning.  The crew is locking down anything that moves in the staterooms as the seas are expected to be rougher tonight and tomorrow than before we reached Tasmania.  Here we go again!!  What was I thinking????   White Trout Lake is looking really nice right about now.  Gotta run.  Time to get strapped in to the bed.  

Milford Sound and the Tasman Sea

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Entering Milford Sound
Bruce and Gail
The Regent Mariner arrived at the mouth of the Milford Sound today at 2:30.  All of the Vintage Club members and their guests (that's me) were invited to Kay and Bills suite for a
Milford cruising party.  Kay and Bill are in the far forward suite that Stevie and I shared last year, where the views of the steep mountains that plunge into the sea to form this spectacular fiord are best.  We visited the sound yesterday via helicopter and today by ship.  I think we've got it covered.  

Cruising the Milford Sound
After cocktails with the group in the Milford Sound, we returned to the suite and decided to stay in this evening for room service and movies.  I mean, how can anyone screw up a cheeseburger, right?  Wrong!  Room service prepares items with no deviations to the listing on the menu.  So when we asked for bacon cheeseburgers, we were told NO DEVIATIONS.  At which time, we could have simply said, "Ok, we'll have two cheeseburgers with a side of a BLT sandwich, minus the LT and bread."  But that seemed rather wasteful, so we just went for the cheeseburgers as sold on the menu.  NO DEVIATIONS.  We tuned in to a movie called "23 Catch" because a friend of mine wrote and produced the movie and another friend had a small part in the movie.  Well, the cheeseburger with NO DEVIATIONS moved into Michelin Star status compared to the movie.  Lillian, you did an amazing job.  Your Academy Award winning performance was superb!  But please don't star in any more movies unless Steven Spielberg is involved.  NO DEVIATIONS!

By now, we were well into the Tasman and the calm seas were short lived.  The gentle 5 foot swells rapidly increased to 20 - 25 foot swells.  Winds were roaring by at 40 miles per hour and rain was pounding the decks of the ship.  We were in for a rough ride!!

The morning forecast was for more of the same … rough seas!  As I sat down with my computer, the glasses and cups in the shelves were crashing together.  The door was covered with salt and water drops from the wild waves and rain.  The wind was howling through the sliding glass door and I was wedged in to the sofa to keep from going airborne with the pounding waves.  Expletives were pouring from my mouth and Jess calmly said … “Oh, you working on your blog again?”   And yes.  He was right.  The wild ride doesn’t bother me half as much as the poor wifi reception on this ship.  Expletive!  Expletive!!  (Delete, delete*#!)  It has become so frustrating that I’ve decided to just finish writing when we reach shore.  So … since there really isn’t much to report here … I’m out for a while.

Working on my blog poolside in the Tasman Sea BEFORE the bad weather moved in.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dunedin, Queenstown and Milford Sound

Monday, January 12, 2015

Piper Seneca III.  SDP "Stoop down plane."
Unlike most of the passengers leisurely wandering the streets of Dunedin and visiting the Cadbury Candy Factory, we hit the ground running today.  We departed Port Chalmers at 8:00 a.m. and drove to the Dunedin airport to board our Piper Seneca III airplane destined for Queenstown.  Sadly, we won't have time to explore Queenstown, my favorite area of New Zealand because we're off to explore the glacier and Milford Sound via helicopter.  

Kawarau River

The skies were cloudy and gray, which made for an interesting flight on our small aircraft.  
Karen and Monte in the middle seats.
We flew up the valley to Queenstown passing wineries and the Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jump, the original Bungy, just outside of Queenstown, all of which I recognized from my previous visit.  

Our guide, James Varnham.
Preparing to load in our helicopter flying with pilot Simone.

By the time we reached Queenstown, the skies cleared and we hopped on our helicopters.  A range of jagged peaks called The Remarkables frame the east end of Queenstown, where the kiwi's have a "ski field" on the eastern slopes.   To the west is Lake Wakatipu, a stunning glacier fed deep aqua blue lake that stretches for miles.  We flew over Lake Wakatipu making our ascent up into the mountains.  Our first stop was at Lake Quill, a beautiful glacier fed alpine lake high in the mountains.  Shortly after we landed, a Kea bird bounced happily under the helicopter.  Our pilot told us these alpine birds are attracted to shiny objects and had recently caused considerable damage to one of their helicopters.  

A few clouds add interest and mystery

We landed on the edge of this lake.

Kea Bird.  Eats helicopters.
We watched him carefully to make sure he did not damage our helicopter as it appears to be a LONG, steep walk down the mountain.  Our next stop was atop Tutuko glacier.  I can't imagine a helicopter tour in the US landing on a glacier in between fissures that could slide off the mountain top at any moment, but that's what we did here.  Must be a lack of lawyers in New Zealand.  
Tutuko Glacier
Although it was beautiful and felt like we were on top of the world, there was a feeling of total isolation.   I would NOT want to be stranded here.  

We explored the glacier for about 10 minutes and then took off again to fly over Milford Sound.  
Atop Tutuko Glacier
As beautiful as last year, Milford Sound was a highlight last year and didn't disappoint this year!  The skies were clear with scattered clouds and some lines of low lying fog that added an element of mystery to the mountains and clearly explains why Lord of the Rings was filmed here.

Lunch on Cecile Peak

Gail's Helicopter clings to the edge!
From Milford Sound, we flew to Cecile Peak for a picnic lunch and some golf.  Yes, they had a golf hole on top of the mountain.  We had five helicopters parked, some quite precariously, on the mountain top.  
A Champagne lunch atop Cecile Peak.

Don't step back!!
The pilots spread a delicious lunch on top of boulders consisting of   Smoked Salmon, turkey, cheeses, amazing bread, chutney and fruit.  Oh ... and of course, Champagne.  

As if we didn't have enough to do today, the fun continued at  dinner with 

Bruce and Gail tonight as the ship set sail out into the Tasman Sea.  So far so good.  The Sea seems to be mild tonight.  Keeping my fingers crossed that the crossing will continue this smoothly.
After a fun dinner with Bruce, Gail, Tom and Melody, even the elevator ride was fun!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Timaru, New Zealand

Monday, January 11, 2015

Our Kiwi Guide, Barry
Timaru is a stop the Cruise Lines makes because ... well, I have no clue why!  There is nothing here.  There was nothing here last year and nothing has changed.  

Our guide, James must know this because he organized a tour with a local "Kiwi" guide, Barry.  We left the ship on a bus with Barry who took us to the Timaru Botanical Garden.  The garden was beautiful albeit small.  
Chewing on the fence trying to escape the botanical garden.
But the very best part of this visit was the phone call that I received from Jeff while walking amongst the roses.  We talked for several minutes.  He is on a Semester at Sea program traveling around the world, and was calling from the Pacific Ocean on his way to Hawaii.   He seems happy and excited about his trip.  I hope he has the time of his life and can't wait to hear from him again.  

Here piggy, piggy.
We set out on our tour stopping briefly so Barry could place a call to the folks ahead to alert them of our estimated arrival time.  When the bus stopped, the pigs from a farm came running to the fence. Guess they were looking for food.  I didn't have the heart to tell them that we were looking at them the same way.
St. David's Pioneer Memorial Church

Our first stop with Barry was to visit St. David's Pioneer Memorial Church, a quaint, tiny blue stone church in Cave, McKinsey County, literally in the middle of nowhere.  
Pulpit of St. David's
Built in 1865 to commemorate the local workers, this Presbyterian church was built of stones left behind from glaciers and carried by workers from fields that were cleared for farm land.  The walls were accented with beautiful stained glass windows telling the story of the hardships encountered by local workers.  Off the beaten path, this church is the kind of place only a local Kiwi would know about and I'm so glad Barry shared it with us.    

Our next stop was a visit to Barry's daughter and son-in-law's dairy farm.  We saw the day to day workings of a  typical dairy farm.  It was quite interesting to watch the cattle march into the milking shoot, get hooked up to an automatic milker and I found it incredibly interesting to see how much milk one cow could produce.  One cow half filled a 10 gallon jug.  
One cow almost filled the white container.
The cows are milked twice a day and the milk is shipped to a processing plant where it is processed and turned into milk powder and most of it is shipped to China where the Chinese spend $100.00 for a small box of this milk powder for baby formula.  The Chinese do not trust their own dairy industry.  Go figure!!

"You lookin' at me?!"
After the dairy farm, we went to Stan and Angie Taylor's farm called Morelea, in Fairlie, New Zealand.  Stan farms approximately 4000 sheep and several hundred cattle as well as a few alpacas.  
Home cooked New Zealand Meal.
Angie was bored as a farmer's wife so she decided to open her home to visitors for an authentic New Zealand lunch in a farm house.  The veggies she served were grown on their farm.  As were the lamb chops, meat patties and hotdogs.  
Pavlova recipe on Angie's Back.
She made a dessert called Pavlova, a meringue cake topped with whipped cream and fresh kiwi and strawberries.  
Angie and her Pavlova.  YUM!!
Delicious.  I guess she was tired of sharing her recipe, so she had it printed on the back of her shirt.  Brilliant!  So I'll share it with you.  
After lunch, Stan took us to the sheering barn and sheered a sheep for us.  Very interesting.  The lamb didn't seem all that excited about it.  The wool is sold for approximately $15 per lamb.  But the demand for wool has decreased over the years and now the real money is in the meat industry.  
Deer Farm.
Their sheep are all grass fed and free range and so are his cattle, which results in meat that is very lean. He sells his beef to McDonalds in the United States.  So I'm happy to report that McDonalds uses beef that is free range and grass fed in New Zealand.  

We also went by a Venison Farm.  Would have been fun to put a skillet shot on one of these.   

Tui's Ice Cream

We finished up at the farm and headed back to the town of Fairlie where we had delicious New Zealand Ice Cream at Tui's Treats, where she sells Ice Cream, Milk shakes and Loose Lollies, which is loose candy sold by the gram.  The ice cream was quite tasty.

After church, the farm visits and ice cream, we stopped at the local train station and rode a Model T Ford Rail Car.  
Model T Ford Railway Car.
Said to be the only one of it's kind in the world, the rail car, which seated 11 passengers, was in mint condition.  
Locomotive runs on firewood instead of coal.
We rode down the track about 2 miles and then switched to the steam locomotive and rode back.  This was a nice way to end our tour of "small town" New Zealand with our local Kiwi Gide, Barry.  

We returned to the ship and later had dinner at the Italian Restaurant on the ship as we set sail for Dunedin.