Sunday, May 30, 2010

Snakes on Trains and Up the Parramatta

My great neighbour Mark and wonderful partner Kath invited me along on one of their excursions yesterday. As always, it was fun to do some site seeing with great company.

We drove up to the Sutherland train station on the outskirts of Sydney to catch take the train into Circle Quay on Darling Harbour. This is the hub for most ferries that can take you across the harbour to the zoo, Manly beach and lots of other fun places. Besides, it is a very inexpensive way to tour the harbour and take in the sites, some are even free!

Circle Quay is a very hopping place, full of tourists, buskers, restaurants, pubs and souvenir shops. The Opera House is at one end so there are plenty of photo-ops. The big cruise ships dock here as well and it is a short walk to the CBD or a bit of a longer walk to King’s Cross, the notorious (at least a little less so now) entertainment district. Sydney really is a good, walk-able city.

We hopped aboard a catamaran ferry to head up the Parramatta River, going under the Harbour Bridge and passing by other ferries and commercial and dodging dozens of sail boats and other pleasure craft out enjoying a very fine Sunday. In fact, it literally was the calm before the storm as to the south of us, a huge storm was beating the coast and headed our way. We had visions of experiencing a Titanic like adventure on the way back, but fortunately arrived back home just in time.

The views along the water are incredible! There was so much to see, multi-million dollar homes, old historic estates and official buildings, industrial and navel instillations, and parks for all to enjoy the water and views. After about 2/3 of the trip, the harbour became a river, narrow with mangrove like swamps along the shore with restricted access to this narrow and shallow portion. It was so quiet! After the high speed and constant activity of the harbour, we were limited to 7 knots with only the small wake making a little noise as it hit the shoreline.

We rounded a bend and the river ended! There was a wall with a small amount of water spilling over and a large circular turn around for the ferry. We arrived at the town of Parramatta. Really, Sydney is similar to any large city in the US as small towns have been swallowed up as part of a huge metropolis. Parramatta isn’t so different than just another formerly small town although certainly does retain it’s own identity and has a pleasant and small CBD.

Restaurants with sidewalk dining line several blocks and reminded Kath of Melbourne where the managers stand in the door way trying to lure you into their place by offering special deals not on the menu. Our mission was to find a pub after our long and arduous journey. Afterall, we’d left Fairy Meadow around 9:30 and it was 1:30 and we were need of refreshment. Much to our astonishment, we couldn’t find a pub in this revamped and sanitized CBD area. I think just to make a point, we passed up all the restaurants, bound and determined to find a real Aussie Pub! We even asked a couple who said they were local, but didn’t really know where a good pub is located downtown. I would’ve thought the guy knew as he looked to have a nose for a good pub. (imagine one of the greats like W.C. Fields)

We were ready to throw in the (bar) towel when Mark’s head snapped around to an old movie theatre, The Roxy. Sure enough it had just what we needed. At the entrance to the theatre was a good sized plaza with a place to order food on one side and a decent bar on the other. Finally after nearly an hour of fruitless searching, we had arrived. The food was great and the beverages much appreciated.

While eating, they were setting up for music later that evening. We investigated the theatre and it looked very nice inside, very classy and very inviting for rocking time once the DJ started up the music. I snuck upstairs in spite of it being closed off and what they had done was added a ceiling below the former balcony. A smaller movie screen was there along with a stage and floor. They advertised it being available for party functions or business presentations and I could see how that would work. The area below was the main, very classy bar area. It was really impressive what they’d done to the grand old movie theatre, very creative!

We headed back and I took pictures in earnest of the trip. I think I may have nodded off while taking the train back to the car for the trip home. What a great day!

Oh, and the Snakes on Trains? One of Mark’s dirty little secrets (and I hope it’s ok to mention this) is that he loves lollies (candy to us Yanks). He does have a sweet tooth! For the trip, he brought along a package of Gummie Snakes to share. We worked on those, mostly on the return trip after our satisfying tea (late lunch or maybe supper). So on the way home while riding the train, when Mark would offer some Gummie Snakes much to his dismay I’m sure would say, “Snakes on a Train!” He probably was reminded of an obnoxious kid who wouldn’t be quiet.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Lovely Visit from Holly!

Holly scheduled a two week interlude between internships so she could come down under for a visit. While two weeks may seem like a long time, it really isn’t especially in this case and the time flew by. At least the weekend in the middle was made into a 3 day trip to the Blue Mountains where we explored one of the Jenolan Caves and rode a practically vertical rail line down to the bottom of a gorge. It was fun! Well, at least that’s my story and I’m sticking with in spite of Holly’s screams and cursing me for suggesting we sit in the front seat (heh heh heh). It was better than Disneyland!

Holly also provided a great excuse to get together with all the people she’s met in the Gong. We had a great Italian dinner at Ryan’s Hotel with coworkers Jan and Bernie along with Jan’s daughter Di and her new boyfriend Ash who is a great guy. Jan and Holly shared an incredible wine, Howling Wolves 2008 Cab-Merlot that was like velvet across your tongue with every sip. I don’t think it’s sold in Bottle-O’s but can be bought on line and I certainly will do that!

We also went to see Iron Man 2 with more coworkers Michael, Estelle and Andre. Michael introduced us to a great Chinese restaurant next to the theatre he and his wife like and he was right, it was delicious. Those three also headed up to Dubbo for a long weekend to see Michael’s wife Val, who is working on a nursing internship. Dubbo is about a 6 hour drive and is home to the largest zoo in Australia having the animals in large natural outdoor settings. There’s a 6 kilometre track that meanders through the zoo and you can rent bicycles which they did. It sounded great and the weather cooperated with the cloud cover arriving on their last day. It is raining now over quite a bit of Eastern Australia, typical for this time of year.

Holly and I also had the pleasure of Mark and Kath’s company, going to a local high end, kind of Italian flavoured restaurant where they have wood fired pizzas and great pastas. They have unique dishes like smoked salmon pizza and other unusual and creative food. It is very good and for what they do, very reasonable. It’s a BYO so we brought our own wine and some beer and had a great feed. Afterwards, we walked across the street to the Frat for desert and coffee to end a very enjoyable evening. Mark and Kath are such great people. I am so luck to have met them here in Oz.

It is very tough living apart and these visits are not getting any easier. I suspect there will be changes very soon and when all the options are thought though will let everyone know what we’ll do. Holly would like to come down under and work for a couple years but we’ll see if all that works out. It is difficult to be so far away from home, family and friends. I guess I need more visitors…are you getting the hint yet?

At least her trip back home was much better than the trip over. Well, what greeted her is a different story and maybe I’ll mention that some other time. But for now are some of the pictures from my wonderful (but very short) time with Holly.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Holly in Oz - a letter to my children

Ok, I'm lazy. I wrote to the kids to advise them that Mom arrived just fine...sort of, in Oz yesterday. I did forward this to my brother and sister you two too can skip this. Ma and Pa can read it if they want more grizzly details of the morning, but I wouldn't recommend it. Some people write these beautiful books, "A Letter to My Daughter" or son. My poor kids just get this kind of junk. I'm hoping they don't turn out as psycho-killers.

I'll post a few pictures soon of Holly's adventures in Oz.

Hi Kids,
I know you know Mom left and after a series of cluster cusses (Mom watched some kid's movie, The Incredible Mr. Fox or something like that, during her flight where they said that often) she managed to get to my flat.
My car wouldn't start this morning in spite of all the tricks I've learned to get it going (except the part where you wait the amount of time it takes to enjoy a pint). In my panic, I thought I'd go up on the train. I didn't have enough cash for a ticket so had to walk about twice as far and back to get to an ATM. The closest one used to be for my bank, but they removed it a few months ago so onto the next one...out of service! So onto the next one again and I finally got some money out and they got their $2 service fee! Back to the train station where a train was due to arrive any minute but it would get me to the airport about an hour after you Mom would clear customs. As I was debating whether that would be a good Plan B, I saw the ticket machine was out of order and with my so-called luck running the way it was this morning, I knew the cops would be on the train checking tickets and wouldn't believe my story, handing me a $200 ticket that I'd have to defend in court and waste most likely, and entire day. So, I went back home to try and have your Mom paged to tell her to take the train.
I looked on line and nothing about paging people at the airport. I looked in the Yellow Pages only to realize it was a local addition and the only airport was the Illawarra International (joke) airport. So, back on line and I actually found a real phone number, not just some link for shopping or other unimportant garbage. I called and after a series of push this button if you want this or that button if you want that, a very young woman answered (I assume blonde) who was shocked that I'd even ask such a stupid question! "We can't use the airport PA system to page anyone!" she responded. She did give me a number for the Qantas ticket counter where they might page her if they had the time (and were in the mood). Of course, it was the wrong phone number and I ended up in Qantas' Lost Luggage department where another woman answered and seemed somewhat put out at hunting some foreigner down, but she took the information and hung up.
Soon, your Mom rang me to say she'd gotten the message. Apparently this woman had to find Mom anyway because Alaska Airlines put her luggage on a flight to Sydney all right, but via LA not San Francisco, so your pitiful Mom was the last passenger standing at the carousel waiting patiently for the bag that never came. Not only did this workout for her to get informed that my car's 'critical need' chip kicked in at just the right moment...when I really needed the car. You know those chips they put in everything that senses when you really need to use some equipment such as a printer for that term paper or copier for something important? Well, this car has one, too! You Mom caught the train and didn't need to worry about lugging around 50 lbs of...well, luggage. Qantas will deliver it to the flat tomorrow. Fortunately, your Mom has stockpiled some clothes here and was able to shower and change into a few fresh items.
After her call to tell me the above and assure me that taking the train was ok, I was trying to un-rattle my brain from the hectic and impotent morning. I thought I'd call NRMA (the Aussie AAA) for some assistance in getting the car started. They usually take an hour so I thought I'd fix breakfast since part of my plan was to cruise Makkas for a big brekky of a sausage McMuffin breakfast. I threw on one of those big bacon slices that looks like a side of hog in itself, a hash brown square and took out 2 eggs, ready to fry. I got the coffee ready to go since I'd made a cup earlier to take with on my drive to Sydney that never happened and later dumped out because its a fine to eat or drink on the train that I never caught. Just as I was ready to flip the eggs, I heard a noise and sure enough, it was the NRMA guy looking for me. Off goes the stove and out the door I go to 'assist' this guy. My assistance consisted mostly of unsuccessfully trying to stay out of his way. He did get it started after a bit and told me what I'd already knew, that some sensor on the crankshaft was failing, which is common on this particular car. He said the connection often gets full of dirt and water and after blowing some air on it and cleaning it out, the car started right up. I let it run for awhile since the battery was getting low from my clumsy attempts earlier that morning to get it going.
He left and I went in to re-heat my big brekky and I'm sure you know that all that stuff re-heated, especially eggs, just don't have the appeal of fresh off the grill food. Since I was dressed, I was very careful as I ate, bending way over the plate to avoid advertising on my shirt and pants to my coworkers what I had for breakfast. There was one, tiny, little piece of bacon left. I stabbed it with my fork and just as I got it to my mouth, it fell off the fork, rolling down my shirt and pants like a snowball on a slope of virgin snow. You know how they make those pretty little circles as the snowball merrily bounces down the hill? Well, my shirt and the hillside formed by ginormas belly was just like that. So pretty in a greasy kind of way. I said (something like) "Oh darn!" and decided I wasn't going to change, I'd just come to work like this and if they didn't like it, they could smell as well as see my morning!!!
Holly called me at work when she got to the flat and I could hardly wait to meet her for lunch. I went home to a hug and a kiss, 4 months in the making and we went off to get a Moka Burger. Crazy Con is a big older Greek guy who is great. Whenever he serves up french fries, he'll come over to your table and ask if they're all right, won't believe you, then grab a few just to make sure they're good. He smacks his lips and seems to be in heaven after every one one of his fries. We get up to the door and it's closed. Through the window, I see the place is gutted. Nothing is left! I was trying to remember the last time I'd been in there, it's only been a couple of months, but Crazy Con's Moka Burgers or 'The Lot' are now history. A guy who works at the Charles Hotel (pub) across the street walked by and he said G'day and I asked him what happened, but he didn't know. Con used to close up at 7:00 and at 7:01 was in there grabbing a pint and heading off to the pokies (electronic poker machines). Your Mom's comment was that everytime I'd take her to Moka's, it was closed and this time it was....for good!
But next door where the Italian place used to be is now a Thai place. I'd been there before and the food was very good. We walked in, it was about 12:30 and no one was in the place. No customers, no workers, nothing in spite of a sign out on the sidewalk saying Now Open for Lunch, with lunch specials listed. The only thing I was thinking is "yeah, a lunch special as in Smith and Wesson Police Special!" I was afraid to go towards the back wondering how many bodies I'd be counting before reaching the back door to vomit at the horror! I mean, have you ever seen the inside of an Asian restaurant? Don't! But after your Mom's persistent inquiries of Hello and Is Anyone here? (mine being, Is Anyone still alive?) a woman came out and asked if we had reservations. Just kidding, she sat us at the window so everyone walking past could see us getting red in the face at the delicious and very spicy food. It was good and I had to switch dishes with your Mom as mine was just a little less spicy than hers. She ordered some curry soup with noodles and I gotta tell you, the golden droplets really complimented the bacon grease on my shirt. At your Mom's suggestion, we did go home so I could pull another shirt out of the laundry to wear as brining 2 meals to work with me wouldn't cut it.
So now she's off to get a pedicure and walk around the mall and I'm in the office trying to stave off the after effects of a real Monday. I hope you Monday goes much better and unlike me, Murphy isn't your guide.