Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Christmas

I only have one more sleep (as they say in Oz) until I get to leave for the other Az to join my family, brother and parents for Christmas! The nice thing about flying east is that you arrive before you've left, so I will get there on Christmas Eve.

Tonight is neighbour Mark's big family Christmas BBQ! He recently bought a new BBQ grille and has practised in preparation for the big event tonight. A customary Aussie Christmas food is seafood, especially big, fat prawns! In a previous post, you can see a picture of Nick contemplating a large prawn before devouring it during our Christmas dinner last year here in Oz.

All morning on TV are stories on how to pick the best ones, which types are the best right now, etc. They even have "Live Coverage" of the Fish Market in Sydney so you can plan when to fight the madding crowds and traffic jams to get that fresh seafood. I did notice this last year and thought it was pretty funny, but in Oz, seafood is serious business.

I'll be leaving the Fatherland (or since the weather on the Island has been bitter cold, maybe it's the Motherland) on 8 January and back to it on the 11th, so not much time really to catch up with friends and family once back in Washington. At least Craig Sweet is over from Japan and we'll get to share a few bottles of fine wine. Hopefully, I can catch up with the Marquands as well since I missed them last summer. My local relatives are throwing a belated Christmas dinner on 4 January and that'll be great to see them as well. It's a full schedule once back on the Island. This might mean no new blog entries for a while unless I get some time, not that I'm consistent in writing anything anyway. Honestly, I try to only put in interesting things in this blog and I'm sure, fail often. But if you've read this far, it's your own fault, lol.

Have a very Happy Christmas and great, prosperous New Year! Comment, write, know you're thought about and cared for often.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Near Death Experience in Perth

G'day. I'm here to tell you I've survived....so far, but the day is young. It's 11am Sunday and I went out for breakfast a couple hours ago. It was starting to get warm so I closed down the apartment to give the air conditioner a chance to keep things cool. After brekky, I walked around the shopping district, exploring hallways and alleys that I haven't seen before. As mentioned earlier, this is a 3 block by 4 block area, riddled with throughways, multi-levels and is sometimes a maze to get lost in, a shopper's paradise. I'm not a shopper. Some of the alleyways have names such as the Trinity Arcade which is so named as the shopping district swallowed up this old church and has added associated things as the Abbey Deli and a store that sells all kinds of religious stuff, mostly Catholic.

But what does this have to do with near death? It was the walk home. I took a longer way trying to find an Army Surplus Store (yes, they have them in Oz, too) that I'd passed by earlier and noticed some camo on display. Naturally I thought of cousin Steve Mak and wondered if he has the compleat collection of Aussie camo. I didn't find the store again, and in spite of drinking plenty of water this morning, began to feel...blonde. No, not feel a blonde, feel like one as in a little light in the head. I gave up my search for camo and headed back to the apt. when (funnily enough) a blonde followed me right up to the door of the apt complex. She had a clip board, looked official and said in a nice Scottish brogue "It sure is hot this morning, it's already 39C!" I don't know what 39C means but when I checked on line just now, that means somewhere between 97F and 102F! The weather centre say 97F and you know me, I don't like to embellish things...too much. Suffice it to say, it IS hot! It's only 11AM! I only have 1 beer in the fridge...THIS IS HELL! THIS REQUIRES SURVIVAL TACTICS (and hopefully, combat pay).

I'll venture out for supplies after I rehydrate, drink my lonely beer at noon...I have principals. Well, maybe sooner as actually it's already 2:30 in the Gong, so it should be all right.

More later providing my survival plan works.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Ferry to Freo

This entry is kind of out of chronological order as this is about the journey to the 3 masted schooner SS Leeuwin. At the end of Barrack Street is the wharf where you can catch ferries that go up and down the Swan River, no not Swannie River. At the mouth of the Swan River is Fremantle, about a 20 minute drive from Perth but on the passenger ferry, takes about an hour and a half. I think most of the time is in avoiding all the sailboats that are out in the constant trade winds off the Indian Ocean.

Fremantle or Freo as the natives refer to it is a great sailing capitol. I hope I can get there to explore this weekend as there are plenty of marinas, sailboats and a new Maritime Museum that you can see the silhouette in the sunset shot in a previous blog entry. The SS Sea Sheppard is located there as well, which is a more radical anti-whaling vessel than Greenpeace sporting several Imperial Japanese flag decals on it’s bridge. Apparently one for every whaling ship they’ve interfered with their operations. My joke about “I suppose no Frenchmen are allowed on board?” wasn’t met with laughter.

The ferry trip to Freo, the sail aboard the SS Leeuwin made for an incredible day. Even some of my pictures from the trip made it onto the company’s homepage where company business and social activities are mentioned.

As you can hopefully see from the pictures, there must’ve been over 200 sailboats out that Saturday arvo (‘afternoon’ in Australian). The Fremantle Doctor (tradewinds that usually blow in the arvo. Of course, they shorten it to “The Doctor” which sounds better than the Freo Arvo) was blowing strong and steady and made the heat of the day bearable. Hopefully in one of the pictures, you can see the 3 dolphins that were riding the bow wake from the ferry.

It was just a damned fine day!

Another guest has committed to visiting the land down under. James, who took over for me in Seattle when I left, and very good friend Dawn will visit the last 2 weeks of January. They have friends in Sydney as well and are looking forward to thawing out from the Korean winter as they’re both now teaching English there. You too, could have excellent adventures in Oz. Your room awaits.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Traveling Tips

G'day. This is just a tip that I've found out for all you travelers. I am staying in Perth for about 11 nights and 5 of those nights were in a typical hotel room. Actually to call the IBIS typical is an understatement as the rooms are so small that even the cockroaches have rounded shoulders. They are notoriously small and at $155 per night, on par with other hotels that have normal sized rooms and probably more amenities. I don't really want to disrespect IBIS but want to provide a great idea as an alternate to hotels in general and that is to rent an apartment. Most in Perth prefer a one week minimum or at least you'll get a much better rate for a week. I'm in a 2 bedroom as they didn't have a 1 bedroom available but still, for only $3 more per night, I have a huge and very new apartment! This would be great for 2 couples or a family traveling as it includes clothes washer and dryer and a kitchen with all the utensils. These pictures, while boring, are of the interior of the apartment.

It is about the same distance from the office as the hotels, just on the opposite side of Northbridge which is the restaurant, pub and nightclub district. As before when Walker's was at the north end of Boeing Field and I used to go through the parking lot of the local tavern when I walked to work, I would tell people it takes me 10 minutes to walk to work and 3 hours to walk home.

Hopefully this weekend I'll have a day off to go to the Swan Valley which is wine country! Also, beer and distillery country! Fortunately its only a 25 minute train ride to where you can catch a shuttle that makes the loop of most of these fine businesses. Naturally I'll take some pictures as I'm sure NOT to remember the finer details of the adventure.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

SS Leeuwin, Fremantle, WA Australia

As mentioned earlier, my coworker Grey Mackay used to be volunteer crew aboard this replica. They do similar programs for troubled youth as the Lady Washington, taking kids out for 1 month sailings, teaching them seamanship, responsiblity and learning the satisfaction of working as a team. You can see more at www.sailleeuwin.com. Leeuwim is the southern most point in Western Australia and there are plenty of things named after it such as a recently closed restaurant, the Chewin' Leeuwin.

Anyway, Grey invited me out to join in a twilight sail from 4PM to 7PM (no DST in WA) and it was great! 90F temperatures and a good steady wind. We even saw a whale breaching and flipping us off. A great day for sure!

Hopefully next weekend, I'll get to go to Swan Valley, this area's wine region, not to mention all the microbreweries and a couple distilleries. I'd better take pictures as I'm bound to forget that day. Fortunately there is a 20 minute train ride to the area where you can catch a shuttle that makes the rounds for you. It should be good and I've already gotten tips on which places are the best!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Perth Pictures

Here are some pictures of the aforementioned bits about Perth, the mall, one of the throughways between blocks in Medieval theme as there are several other throughways with different feels. Also, the Bell Tower, view out of my room, Strawberry walled coffee shop and other only-in-Perth sites.

More later

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dateline: Perth

G'day my many followers (that means 4, 2 of which are a duplicate). I'm temporarily in Perth to work on the dreaded quarterly surveys or as I've nicknamed them "the dreaderlies." Ok, not very clever but at least this is a new adventure in Oz. And an expensive one.

Due to the business nature of Perth, mostly miners and bankers, costs seem to be through the roof. I know housing is expensive and never really did go down much during the latest economic crisis but to go out to eat and drink is just crazy! A pint of imported or local made beer is $8 - $10 a pint! Compare that with back home at about $4.50 or so. Meals are typically $15 - $20 for lunch and $25+ for dinner. You can find somewhat cheaper such as the little neighbourhood Korean joint where I was pretty much the only non_Korean there. The special bowl of noodles and various meat items was $12. And that was just a bowl of noodles, no salad nothing else.

While I'm at work this Saturday morning, I'm going to take a ferry to Fremantle and sail on the 3 master schooner SS Leeuwin, www.sailleeuwin.com. It should be a great twilight sail as already the temperature is 97F and it's not even noon yet. I forgot the cable to hook up my camera but will post pictures of this and my other adventures in Perth.

Btw, the small downtown area is great with a 2 block by 3 block area as a pedestrian shopping mall the connects over the main train station and into another pedestrian mall between the City's and State's art galleries and museums. Very nice as I walk through this on my way to the office. On the 'other' side of the tracks joining up to the galleries is an area called Northbridge that is about 6 blocks by 3 blocks of their main restaurant and bar district. I walked all over this area last night finally coming to the Korean place to eat. I did stop in at the Elephant and Wheelborrow for an expensive pint as well as Rosie O'Grady's before that. Almost broke and hungry, I had to get my bowl of noodles and mystery meat. Just kidding, as there were pork ribs and shrimp involved among the hot spices. The way I like it.

More later.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cousin Amy's Visit

It’s been a week since my last visitor (formerly) Cousin Amy has left after a world-wind adventure. Well, for her it was an adventure as she’d told me she hadn’t been on a real vacation in 22 years and never overseas so she fought back a lot of fears. On her second day, she realized she’d made a mistake as if she could’ve stayed longer she would have but between having to care for kids plus maybe was a little afraid to do so. If you decide to visit, and I hope you do, don’t make the same mistake. Of course for some reason now that the travel bug has firmly bit Amy, she’s thinking going to Italy is doable. Italy? Is this every young woman’s dream?

Anyway, Amy was initiated into the Aussie culture (at least my version) immediately by heading to the Charles after I got home from work. She met the usual gang and was entertained by the waitress/lingerie model as we all are every week. Steve (Niko), Alan, Bi-Jo, her boyfriend Glen and Bud (picture) were there. Afterwards, neighbours Mark and John came over to my flat where we continued on in a typical Friday night piss into the late hours, the damage is pictured above. The following Friday ended up on the patio outback of the Charles with more of the usuals as you can see in the picture.

Amy’s first weekend was getting to know Wollongong so she could get around on her own using the free bus. Sunday we went to Symbio Zoo which is a nice, small place where you can feed the kangaroos, pet the dingos and maybe even a koala if you’re lucky. Holly and I went there and it really is a family oriented place with picnic areas and swimming pools for the kids on hot days.

I had to work so during the week, Amy enjoyed doing unusual things such as nothing! Relaxing, sunbathing, going to the beach, even shopping leisurely for herself, kids and friends. She even did some cooking including a very good apricot chicken that provided several meals after she’d left.

Getting over another fear, Amy did some body surfing with neighbour John. He took her to the beach and gave non-swimmer some tips on enjoying the active ocean. She had such a great time that she refereed to it as her Great Aussie Gift. As she told me "it was epic! I wouldn't have gone into the surf on my own. Another very enjoyable evening was the neighbourhood BBQ. This is a common comment from my visitors as enjoying the company of my neighbours leaves my guests with a special memory as they are very good people and they know how to throw together a barbie!

One thing suggested to Amy was to try lamb in Australia. I happened to cook up some lamb chops before Amy's arrival and slice them, heated them up and put them on a green salad. With skepticism, Amy tried the lamb and immediately fell in love with it. It didn't taste like any other lamb she'd had in the US. Another covert!

Besides the above, there is one thing I must warn you about and should've done so for Amy. No, I'm not talking about 7 of the 10 deadliest spiders and snakes, this is worse! They're more addictive than cigarettes, more insidious than a politician reaching into your back pocket! I'm talking about.....Tim Tams! A sweet, almost innocent looking chocolate bickky (cookie to us Yanks) that is chocolate, covered with chocolate with a chocolate layer in the middle. Sounds innocent enough however take this warning from Amy's experience! I showed her the Tim Tams at Wollies and she picked out the white chocolate version. I'd gone into her room to say something to her and noticed the empty Tim Tam package. I asked about that and her response was within 20 minutes of getting home and opening the package...they were GONE! She is a woman of remarkable self control (no, not that aforementioned 20 minutes) but never bought any (to the best of my knowledge) anymore Tim Tams until she did her final shopping for home. It was then that I discovered much to my horror, that there are more than just Chocolate on Chocolate or the White on White version, there are TWO DOZEN versions! Butter Brickle, Chocolate Mint, Caramel, the list goes on and on! My head was swimming at the choices. But Amy and her ironclad self control did limit herself to only buying 23 of the 24 varieties available. When she got them home, her son Max told her the Tim Tams were the best thing she brought back from Oz after sampling one of each. I've been told they've been repackaged and placed in the freezer to be opened later. Well, that was yesterday, who knows how many are truly left today.

Amy’s final weekend was fun as well. We went to Sydney and met up with her friend Aussie John at the Opera House. We all walked the adjacent gardens and then took a ferry to Manly Beach. It was hot out (96F) and in our quest to find Hooter’s in West Sydney (Parramatta) we ran into a traffic jam that made the 40 minute trip take over 2 hours. In spite of the heat we remained in good spirits. Maybe it was the exhaustion from the heat that allowed us to maintain but all that was washed away by plenty of beers and Ice Teas. I only had 2 beers as I was driving and those Ice Teas were potent judging by John’s reaction.

After getting to know all the girls who worked there (more pictures) we poured John onto the train home and we began a thankfully relaxing 1 ½ hour trip home though the country side twilight. Amy was a little nervous as I'd never driven that particular route before but we saw a sign for Wollongong so I knew all was well. I did just buy a GPS navigation system so hopefully, this will reduce the anxiousness of my passengers (and myself).

Amy’s last full day before heading home was to be a day of wineries. There are 4 fairly close together in the Shoalhaven area to the South. After a leisurely big brekky in Kiama and looking at their famous blow hole, we headed to Crooked River Winery. We bought a ½ case and headed off only to turn around at Amy’s request to get that one more bottle. Just as we were leaving, the cunning wine host had us taste some Chocolate Port. He knew we’d be back to buy a bottle and he was right.

It was probably about 1:30 in the afternoon and it was hot. The air conditioning in the car wasn’t working as well as it should have and soon the heat, combined with driving on the wrong side of the road and my ‘aggressive’ driving started to affect Amy. I knew the symptoms and shoved some cool water at her to drink and headed back to the flat. I turned the fan on in her room, brought her a bowl of ice water and a face washer (we Yanks call a wash cloth) and she laid down for about an hour.

In the meantime, I’d turned the fan on high in the lounge (living room) and opened the doors to get a breeze to flow through. The so-called breeze was a bit more than that plus it continued to get hotter and hotter as the afternoon progressed. I got on line to check the temperature only to discover it was 106F!!! I know my Brother in Maricopa would scoff at my complaints about the heat, but it was enough to knock Amy down for a bit. She came out of her bedroom only to find me sprawled out on the lounge with the fan unable to cool me or the 6 empty beer bottles surrounding me. It was hell!

Later, after plenty of water things were fine and we were able to speak coherently again. Amy’s comment was, “So, you don’t have air conditioning huh?” she said jokingly. Not in my flat and apparently on a hot day, not in my car either.

Amy had a great time and you too could have exciting (mis)adventures such as these if you come down to visit. While the Kiama Blowhole and winery tour I’ve done with guests in the pass, Hooter’s and driving around Sydney was new to me so I’m always up to try something different, especially when guests arrive. While Amy wasn’t up for it, if you visit you can use my car and I’ll supply a mobile (cell) phone that works in Australia with unlimited calling plus a calling card to the US, which is only 1.5 cents per minute. Not even worth tracking time on that thing!

Holly is planning on coming down the first two weeks of May and I just learned that James G and Dawn might be around sometime next year as well. James G is teaching English in Korea and getting in touch with his heritage from his Mother’s side. It sounds like fun and I look forward to seeing them as well. Shelley has mentioned she may visit towards the end of February for a couple of week as well. Even the woman who took over the vanpool, Christina is threatening to visit. It’s not like my social calendar is getting filled, but I’m glad that some friends are succumbing to the temptation to visit the land down under.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Update to Previous Post

Per usual, I didn't get all the information at posting time (sorry, the Melbourne Cup is running today and every bad pun that is related to horse racing is spewing forth).

The big bicycle ride is a fund raiser for MS. This year, they capped the number of riders to 10,000! Read that "Ten Freakin' Thousand" bicycle riders who raised nearly $3 Million! In this economy? Aussies are incredible when it comes to a good cause.

The very cool purple blossomed trees are Jacaranda, native to Central and South America but found in almost all tropical and sub-tropical areas Wikipedia has a very good article on them. It seems that little shoots were given to new Queensland moms leaving the hospital with their own, new-born sprouts to plant so they became very popular. They are pretty and start off the seasons of flowers here in the land of Oz.

Read and comment if you can. I know some of you have been having trouble with this site accepting comments but email works, too! See you at Christmas I hope!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cristo, Bicycles and Spring Blossoms

The title says it all except for a complaint that there weren't any pictures in the last entry. The first two are related really. It's not Cristo although Holly thought that's what it looked like. It's simply the roofs of tents for booths in the middle of being set up to receive the Sydney to the Gong bicycle event that is happening today. I thought it looked pretty strange.

The other is a tree that grows these great purple blossoms before the leaves sprout. Similar to our local forsythia that shouts out it's bright yellow blossoms announcing Spring is on it's way...really.