Monday, December 31, 2007

Room With a View

video
This is a test. This is only a test.

M has a cool, though little used, technology on her camera that might come in handy later today. Thought we'd give it a try and see how it looks on the blog.

This is our view from our room.

More later.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

'Burbs and Beaches


What do Sydneysiders do on a sunny Summer Sunday afternoon?

They go to the beach!

We've read that Sydney is surrounded by a bevy of beautiful beaches and quaint little suburbs. So, this afternoon we decided to see for ourselves. We boarded the "Bondi Explorer", a hop on/off bus that tours the beaches and burbs of Sydney.

We rolled through places where people live: Woolloomooloo, Potts Point, Darlinghurst, Kings Cross, Darling Point and Paddington. And, we saw several beautiful (and very crowded) beaches, including Bronte, Coogee and Bondi (see above).

It was great to get out of the city for a bit, which is definitely gearing up for tomorrow night's party. And, by the looks of things, it's going to be BIG!

Another Chance Meeting


We spent our Saturday on foot, as we've done most days here in Sydney. (And some of the time we were carrying our coffee in a paper cup, making it easy for others to play "Spot the American".) With ipods in tow, we learned more about Circular Quay and explored a very historic part of town known simply as The Rocks.

We took a break from our tour to enjoy a cool lemonade on a shady sidewalk, or footpath as they're known here, and do a little people-watching. In the middle of a sip, M looked up and saw our colleague H and her husband walking down the quaint little street. We gave them a yell and laughed at the coincidence of running into each other some 7,000 miles away from home. We all knew we'd be in Sydney at the same time, but couldn't imagine such a chance meeting in a city of 4 million people. We made plans for dinner later, which took us back to The Rocks to a place called Rockpool. We enjoyed fresh fish, fine wine, great conversation and fantastic service. It was a delightful evening. We shared travel stories and lamented a bit that while they're just starting their trip through Australia and New Zealand, ours in nearly nearing its end. We wished each other a Happy New Year and Happy Travels.

The world does indeed feel small when you can travel thousands of miles, visit two countries and run into a couple of couples from home.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Easy to Spot


One of the best things about traveling is people-watching. And, in Sydney (and all across Australia and New Zealand) it's been great. We like to make up stories about where people are from and what they're up to. It's fun!

We're learning that we Americans can be pretty easy to spot. There's something we've noticed that Seppos do that is a rare event down under: buying takeaway coffee.

Where we come from, if you walk down the sidewalk on a weekday without a paper cup from Starbucks or Peet's you are in the minority. But, here it's the reverse. People stop and sit and enjoy their flat white, long black or tea from a mug or a cup. It's very civilized (and much more enjoyable, so we've noticed). If you do spot a rare someone who's carrying a steaming paper cup, listen closely. (We have.) Chances are you'll here the kind of English that's spoken in Boston, Chicago, Texas or somewhere else in the US.

Today we had a late lunch at an outdoor cafe at Hyde Park. While we dined al fresco and enjoyed the beautiful, lazy afternoon, we saw a family of four huddled together on a park bench. The kids had bags from Hungry Jack's, and mom and dad had paper coffee cups.

We looked at each other and said, in unison: "Americans!"

The takeaway, we've learned, can be a dead give away.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Greetings from Sydney!

Happy Day After Boxing Day from Sydney.

We've left the muggy tropical paradise of Palm Cove and headed south to very pleasant Sydney yesterday. We landed just in time to see the sailing ships of the annual Boxing Day Sydney to Hobart race sailing off the Eastern shores of New South Wales as we approached the Sydney airport. It was quite a sight! (We've yet to figure out Boxing Day exactly. For now, we know it means a day off for most, shopping for many and watching sailing and/or cricket for all.)

Sydney Harbor is absolutely magnificent. And, as much as we adore our beloved San Francisco Bay, we have to say...here, Sydney has the homeland beat. It's drop dead gorgeous. The Sydney Opera House, we learned, can take your breath away. It's stunning. It's really something to see it in person.

There in the background you'll see the Sydney Harbor Bridge. And, if you click on the picture above, you'll see a circle around a group of something that looks like ants.

See it? Well, those aren't ants. Actually, they are climbers who have paid a pretty penny to don a special suit and climbing gear for the privilege of climbing half the span to the summit and returning in one piece. This morning, we joined our own group of ants and made the climb. It was great fun. The views from the top (and along the way) were amazing. On the half of the bridge we did not climb, pyrotechnicians were loading fireworks. (We can't wait!)

After a post-climb lunch near the Opera House, we strolled through the Sydney Botanical Gardens, where beauty resides around every corner. We plugged in our ipods and were guided by a tour we downloaded from tourcaster.com. (Tourcaster gets a big thumbs up from us. Check it out before you head off to your next travel destination.)

We do feel a bit like we've landed in the "Mecca" of New Year's Eve. The entire city is gearing up for it. The Sydney Morning Herald published a guide to the special day this morning. The local news interviewed the fireworks stagers tonight. They've announced big plans that this year's display promises to be the best yet.

Along with the rest of the city, these two little tourists are getting very excited.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!


It’s noonish Christmas Day here in Palm Cove. Santa (who wears shorts while he’s in this part of the world) has made his visits here already, and people are gathering for Christmas Lunch, which is the big meal of the day. Then, they’ll go for a swim, catch a little cricket or listen to the Queen’s annual Christmas address. It’s quite a day.

We went for a long walk up the beach this morning, exchanging Christmas wishes with folks from around the world. Along the way, we spotted this unique Christmas tree created by a delightful little family from Melbourne. Cute, isn’t it?

From here in the tropics, we send our very warmest wishes to all for a very Merry Christmas.

Now, we’re off to the pool!

Monday, December 24, 2007

In a Pinch


Part of our mission in traveling to other countries is to really experience the places we visit. So, today, instead of heading off to another tourist attraction, we decided to check in to the Australian health care system.

Somewhere between our New Zealand destinations P developed symptoms of a pinched nerve. (A bit too much bungy, perhaps?) Days later the symptoms were getting worse instead of better. So, the order of today became clear: see a doctor.

The reception staff at our hotel was most helpful in booking an appointment at the local medical clinic and scoring a taxi for us on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. (Seems most Aussies do their holiday shopping on the 24th!)

After a brief wait at the clinic, we were greeted by a friendly chap who called himself Peter and escorted us to an exam room. Turns out that Peter is a very understanding and seemingly talented physican who -- in a matter of moments -- diagnosed that the situation was indeed a pinched nerve. The most likely cause: too much time hunched over a financial planning desk. Curses! From thousands of miles away, work gets in the way of vacation.

Our good Aussie doctor prescribed some pain relieving drugs, a hot pack and some follow-up instructions for when we get home. The patient is resting much more comfortably now. A couple more days in paradise is just what the doctor ordered.

Cost of a day of health care (including drugs and a hot pack) in Australia: $100.
Finding pain relief on Christmas Eve: priceless.

The Great Barrier Reef


Merry Christmas Eve greetings from beautiful Palm Cove, Queensland, Australia.

It's just after 7:30AM and the temperature is hovering around 80 degrees, and the humidity is considerably north of that. To say it's muggy is, well, an understatement.

Our travel day from New Zealand to Australia was long, but uneventful. We arrived in Palm Cove around 11PM Saturday night and we slept fast. Our tour to the Great Barrier Reef picked us up shortly after 7AM.

Our day on the reef was superb. We sailed and snorkeled and sunned and relaxed. It was very, very nice. The snorkeling was absolutely fabulous: Many different types, shapes and colors of coral surrounded by a wide variety of fish. Thankfully, no sharks or stingers! It was all quite beautiful.

We didn't take an underwater camera with us, unfortunately. But, we did manage to snap a picture or two while we journeyed around in a semi-sub. The picture above hardly does the reef justice. We were underwater enough to lose color. From just below the surface the colors are stunning.

We've scrapped our plans to journey into the rainforest today in favor of staying a bit closer to our home away from home. We've heard that part of the Palm Cove Christmas Eve tradition is carolers strolling down the esplanade along the beach. We can't wait to see what beachside carolers wear in 90% humidity.

Merry Christmas Eve!

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Few Pics


The sun has come out in Christchurch! That's been a fairly rare commodity here in the South Island. (See above.) But, today looks terrific. Before we head out for a Friday of sunny sightseeing, a quick update.

You may have heard there was a big earthquake in New Zealand last night. 6.8 on the East Coast of the North Island. Far, far away from us. We didn't feel a thing. There are reports of extensive damage up north, though.
We finally downloaded the camera. Here are a few pics:


We spent a day on Doubtful Sound. Even in the clouds and rain it was amazing.


At Doubtful, we saw almost as many waterfalls as we've seen sheep in the South Island. Here's one of them.



Our last day in Queenstown was stunning. So, we took the gondola to the top of Bob's Peak to enjoy the view...and make a big decision...


Either way would surely be exhilarating.
Which path did we choose?
Wanna guess?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Making Friends Along the Way

We've journeyed across the South Island and have made our way to Christchurch. It's a lovely little town that reminds many of England. We've never been to the UK, but this place reminds us very much of the England we imagine. It's all very British, and lovely.

We have pics to share of Queenstown and our trip cross country. We're back on the laptop, but have yet to connect the camera. So, those will come.

Beyond the beautiful sights we've seen, the most notable news of the last couple of days has been the people we've met along the way. On our bus ride yesterday, we had the pleasure of meeting a lovely couple from Sweden. We chatted away all day...swapping travel stories and comparing notes on life in a small village in Sweden and life in a major city in California...and comparing it all to New Zealand. By the end of the day, we exchanged contact info and promised visits to each other. We look forward to welcoming them to the Bay Area one day, and visiting them in Sweden another.

Our tour stopped for lunch at Mt. Cook National Park. At our table for 5, we were joined by our new Swedish friends and a lovely young woman from Brazil. She was daytripping from Queenstown on her way from a year studying in Australia to be home for Christmas in her home near Sao Paulo...and then to start her senior year in high school. She was delightful. We so enjoyed her tales of the Sunshine Coast, which she already misses. Oh, to be so brave to travel the world alone at 17.

Our newest acquaintances were met over breakfast at our Queenstown B&B. This couple is visiting from Boulder. They're nearing the end of their trip and were heading out to Christchurch a day ahead of us. Over breakfast we learned that we were staying at the same hotel in Christchurch. We joked that we'd look for each other, all imagining that we were staying in a vast hotel in a large city. As it turns out, Christchurch and our hotel are small and quaint. When we headed out for dinner last night, we opened our door and saw this same couple coming out of their room across the hall. We ventured out into this surprising little town together and landed at a fun little spot where we got to know each other over dinner. Like us, they are here to celebrate a 50th birthday. So, we made last night a bit of a birthday party.

Cheers to 50 and new friends in New Zealand!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Global Gossip

Queenstown is lovely. No doubt about it.

Internet access, however, is spotty.

Greetings from a clever little space called "Global Gossip", where you can log into one of 30 or so computers and connect with the world for cents a minute. It's the last of a rather frustrating number of attempts for us to log on the last few days. It's nice to be back.

No bridge jumps...yet. But, we've hiked hills and cruised waterways and seen lots and lots of sheep. (Pictures to come when we're back on the laptop.)

We hooked up with our colleagues and Bay Area friends T&P twice. The first occasion was quite by happy coincidence. They've been traveling the South Island for a few weeks and are here in Queenstown. We planned to have dinner Sunday night. But, on Saturday night we were enjoying dinner by the water. Over P's shoulder, M saw T, and thought "That looks a lot like T." Then, someone who looked a lot like the other P emerged. There they were, T&P, having a farewell dinner with their travel group...sitting just two tables away. Such a small world!

We did get together for dinner on Sunday. We shared tales of our travel adventures, talked a bit of business and made tentative plans for a bungy jump today.

More later.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich


One of the many really enjoyable things about traveling is finding different foods and beverages. But since New Zealand and Australia aren't exactly known as exceptional culinary destinations, we wondered what we might discover.

But yesterday morning at breakfast, alongside the bread and bagels, was a basket of vegemite. Not even sure what to do with it, I spread a little on a corner of my toast. Interesting!
Vegemite is considered as much a part of Australia's heritage as kangaroos and the Holden cars. It is actually an Australian obsession that has become a unique and loved symbol of the Australian nation.

A Vegemite sandwich to an Australian kid is the equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to an American kid - but the taste is QUITE different!

From What's Cooking America

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Greetings from the South Island!


In the course of a few short hours, we’ve traveled from a place that’s a lot like home to a place that’s a lot like Aspen. In fact, Queenstown and Aspen are sister cities – or so we’ve been told – and we can certainly understand why. This lovely little town of 20,000 or so is stunningly picturesque. The backdrop is a mountain range known as the Remarkables (again, we understand why). The foreground is Lake Wakatipu (which now we know how to pronounce). Along the shore is quaint little Queenstown…with more restaurants, bars and shops than residents and visitors can imagine. There’s even a casino or two. The skies are dotted with periodic daredevil sky jumpers taking willing tourists for a wild ride.

If there’s going to be any bungy jumping, this is the place. After all, this is where it was invented. We’re here for a few days. We’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, Happy Saturday from a place that’s billed as the adventure capital of the world. From our corner room with this view, it’s seems like the perfect place to rest, relax, recharge, and maybe – just maybe – take a leap from a bridge.

Cheers!
P.S. We just realized we weren't allowing "anonymous" posts. Didn't mean to limit things. So, we changed it. Comment away! We're eager to hear from ya.

Friday, December 14, 2007

TGIF!


After a fantastic night’s rest, we ferried off to Devonport this morning. It’s just a 10-minute ride and light years away from the bustling environs of Auckland. For our Bay Area friends, it’s a lot like Sausalito – charming shops, lovely coastal homes, great people watching and (much to our surprise) a quaint little Kiwi Irish pub that turned out to be a great spot for a Friday lunch featuring fish and chips and some mighty tasty pints. Another plus for Devonport is its panoramic views of Auckland.

Back in the city, we discovered that lingering jet lag and a pint or two at lunch can have you yackin' like a Kiwi....and, it makes a late afternoon nap a must have!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

It's Pronounced "Oakland"


We're here!

It's almost 3PM Thursday, although our bodies think it's sometime (who knows what time) on Wednesday. While you all are enjoying your Wednesday evening, Dec. 12th is a day we skipped right on by. And, now suddenly it's Thursday. That whole International Date Line thing is very strange.

14 or so hours in the air came and went without incident. (Thank you, Qantas!) M slept and P didn't. So, we're quite the jet lagged couple this day. Breakfast was served on the plane at 4AM (Who cares how jet lagged you are, who eats at 4AM?) and we were on the ground shortly after 6AM. After an early check-in we hit the streets, and quickly discovered as long as we were walking we were fine. So, we walked and walked and walked all over Auckland. (That's right, as our driver told us this morning, it is pronounced "oak-land".) We picked up a few geocaches along the way, which brought us to some interesting little spots in the city. (Turns out geocaching is great cure for jet lag!)

Besides being very walkable, Auckland is a lovely harbor city. It reminds us a bit of San Francisco...only warmer and more humid. It's nice.

And, it's mid-afternoon. We've had our nap, and we're feeling human again. Time for more exploring!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Thanks, Raymond


Remember that scene from the movie "Rainman"? Raymond and Charlie are walking through the airport and Raymond expresses a bit of anxiety about his flight.
Raymond: QANTAS. QANTAS never crashed.
Charlie: QANTAS?
Raymond: Never crashed.
Lucky for us, we're flying Qantas today...a lot.

Here's to safe travels for all traveling this day and this holiday season...and us, too.

Next report from down under!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Shove Off, Mate


It's Vacation Eve!

Tomorrow we set off for our Big Birthday holiday celebration trip down under. While wrapping up things at work today, a colleague asked if we were going to have a travel blog. We shrugged off the idea at first, thinking "we don't need another pre-trip to do!" Then, it occurred to us that this little blog idea might be easiest for all of us. We just have to post a note and a pic once, and you can come visit anytime you like without our cheesy vacation pics clogging up your email box.

So, come along with us to the land down under. Our bags are packed (well, almost) and we're ready to go. It'll be great to have you along!

P.S. Thanks for the great idea, Vince!