“To summarize the summary of the summary”

MapFlat2

What a long strange trip it’s been. Many things were learned along the way ~ and I’m sure that I won’t come close to summing them up satisfactorily ~ but here goes:

GENERAL TOURIST STUFF

Splitting food with a friend saves huge amounts of $. We spent approximately $23 per day on food for 2 and ate very well. Sometimes that was due to friendly hosts, but most often we were on our own.

Breakfast is best in one’s hotel room. We eat granola and yogurt at home. And that’s what we ate on the road (with Muesli sometimes subbing for granola). Often in hotel room glasses.

If one is like me, one never knows when a 7 mile walk through Sydney will happen. Stay hydrated and fed (we bought cashews and dried apricots for carrying).

A few zip-lock bags are indispensable. Ideal for breaking down larger quantities of snack food. For keeping things separated. In case a long coach trip unsettles your stomach….

As Miko reminds me from time to time: Credit cards can make up for most anything you forget.

An unlocked iPhone is useful but apparently difficult to get. Mine was long out of contract and popping a $20 SIM card in meant instant directions and restaurant searching on the go. On the other hand, Facebook and email are ubiquitous….

New Zealand has great radio stations. A LOT of great radio stations.

We packed 3 small bags and one overhead luggage sized bag. For 3 weeks. Traveling light is a blessing. And, judging by the heaps of luggage we spied all around us at hotels and airports, rare.

Ice cream, gelato, sorbet, et al. is almost always cheaper in a 2-scoop cone. So if you keep a cup to hand, you can readily separate flavors and each have an ice cream. Ice creameries are wise to this however, and may charge you for a cup.

Travel agents live and breathe this stuff. And a good one will know the best-positioned and least-expensive choice. Often this means older hotels that have gotten upgrades – sometimes in the form of awkward architectural fig-leafs and other times, full on avant-garde refittings. As in all matters of real estate, the 3 keys are location, location, location.

Talk to the locals. Sure, some of them are sick of tourists and all they represent, but there are wonderful people everywhere. And how will you learn about them unless you interact with them?

Do the touristy stuff. I usually like to find the sly side alleys and subtle wonders, but there’s simply no time. In our case we didn’t even have time to read the guide we grabbed in the airport – there’s simply too much to do and too little time. So, plan. Trust a good agent. And, perhaps most surprising to my cheap penny-pinching self….Let yourself be upsold sometimes. Since we were not likely to get back to the Antipodes any time soon, I got upsold twice – a small plane out of Milford Sound and a Helicopter up from the Great Barrier Reef. Thank heavens I was. Sunset1a

Some Random Observations about Australia and New Zealand

Expensive (even with a strong dollar in NZ). Want to grab a Snickers bar? Got $2.60?

All this driving on the other side of the road is fine. But the fact that cars have the right of way in almost all circumstances (barring a few well marked crosswalks, and even then…) less so. Windshield wipers where the turn signals should be? Dangerous. Not knowing which side of a sidewalk or hall? Suboptimal. Forever going to the wrong escalator? Just embarrassing. But then not switching the side of the steering column where you put the key? Silly.

Roundabouts are wonderful. Really wonderful. Not only do they keep traffic flowing well, they prevented me from making some awkward right turns. Love them.

Dark chocolate? Not to my taste. Let’s just say they excel at making “Dairy Bars” and move on.

Great yogurt and eggs. And Licorice.

All the kangaroo and lamb I expected? The cheap wool that sheep-sheering nations must have? Not so much. By contrast, they farm deer in NZ, and sell the antlers to the Chinese for crazy sums.

NZ is a country that loves thrills. Hard to believe that Zorbing doesn’t happen in Oregon, but overzealous American lawyers might be the reason.

There is both no tipping and good service here. If tipping is supposed to encourage better service, it simply doesn’t work. Not in Portland anyway. Instead I get a very strong feeling that tipping is simply an excuse to hide costs to the consumer (like we hide taxes), and acts as a subsidy to the restaurant industry.

These countries don’t have a gun problem. They just don’t. And all the arguments I’ve heard for our grotesque body counts, revolutionary impulses, and exceptionalist hobbyism are just silly.

Traveling to distant colonial lands made me feel terribly aware of my own country’s savage history. But it also made me more appreciative of the glories of where I live. Portland is wonderful and I am pleased to be home.
GreenDragonIndex of Travel:
Prologue to Adventure!
Day 1 & 2 in North Island, New Zealand
Days 3, 4 & 5 North Island, New Zealand
At Sixes and Sevens
Day 8 & 9: Viva la Wellington!
Putting the Zed in NZ
Wild Life in Australia
NSW NSFW :)
More Fun (The Abridged Version)
Day 19 & 20 Welcome to the Jungle
Day 21: The Big Rock Finish
Day 22 & 23

Day 22 & 23

Day 22: A New Year

We awoke with a text from Jessica R, and eventually set off to meet her at noon by the lagoon for lunch. But en route we discovered something surprising. In avoiding the appalling high levels of ultraviolet and it’s attendant risk of skin damage that are a given down under on most days, we popped into an open door and the cool of a mall. And in the mall, came upon Elizabeth Barden, the most fantastic (and educational) salesman in the greatest clothing shop the Venetia has yet found. So many and splendid were the clothing options that we headed out for lunch without buying a thing, but promising to return.

We had a great lunch with Jessica – discussing everything from travels to politics to the C of E and Eddie (Executive-Transvestite-And-Serial-Marathoner-Deserves-A-Knighthood) Izzard.A little later we were to encounter one of Izzard’s routines in real life:

Awesome2

We were delighted that she could use the balance of the phone SIM card we’d bought in Melbourne only a week earlier, but were a little sad not to be able to phone her amid the festivities later because she had “my” phone. We hope to visit with her again when we head to England later this year.

Jessica   The return to shopping was… Epic. And curiously time consuming. Apparently when one is a petite (or “VS”, or “very small”) person of a certain shape, finding properly fitted clothing can be very difficult. Who knew? But once that mother lode was struck, there was really no turning away. I suspect she will be all too happy to show off the new togs upon our return. And really, it’s all good reference….

Shop1

After the well-earned (or would “well-spent” be more apt?) nap that followed, and as the final flying foxes races across the sky, we ventured forth into the twilight in search of a meal. But instead of the otherwise quiet street with the cacophony of parrots where we’d tried competing Indian restaurants on the previous nights, we turned down the street that had once, back at the city’s founding, been Chinatown.

ChinatownThere, much to our surprise, we encountered an inflatable Dragon Arch and a street festival celebrating the Chinese New Year. We paused to watch a couple dance to an all lost familiar tune, dueling English and Chinese speaking announcers, and an Indonesian troop on the makeshift stage. But it wasn’t just the Festival of the Snake that was crowded – everything was. Apparently Saturday night in Cairns is a wild time every time! We lacked the requisite reservations for the exotic Ochre (“Sorry loves, can’t get you in until 9”), but after a trip through Fried Food Alley and the spectacle of The Night Market, we found a fine Thai place.

After dinner we headed to the lagoon and looked up at the Southern stars while people thronged about having picnics and wading in the Lagoon. We were looking out toward the reef when a sweet quiet child with a slight speech impediment mentioned fireworks. Intrigued we waited a bit, and watched the exodus from the lagoon when the lifeguards called time. And then, when the sudden rain appeared, we moved back toward our hotel. We’d just about left the promenade park when the first explosion went. We knew it was from Chinatown by the incredible flights of birds rushing away from the site, and so we headed back the way we’d come for a better view. I grew up with masses of DC fireworks (and hope to see them again this year), but the explosion of tropical birds was even more impressive. And the number of waves! Apparently many groups of birds slept calmly through the first barrages, only to come unglued later. After the fireworks, we headed back to the hotel to arrange our new wardrobes for a safe return to the US.HappyYear

Day 23+: We Come From the Future, or “Once Around the World, James” 

What a day. It all began in Cairns at 7am. But our letters of transit were incorrect, and we waited an extra 40 minutes for our coach accordingly. When it arrived, we hopped on and headed out into the brief morning rain. We had to experience a little rain after all – for otherwise how would we see a full rainbow? And what trip to Oz would be complete without one?

IMG_5397bWeird to be visiting New Zealand again, but not stopping for more than an hour’s time.Nice to see the Dwarves guarding the International Arrivals Hall though. Those dragons are everywhere…

Airport1And wonderful to see areas we’d visited and knew from the ground ` and to be able to view the scenery as a topographical map with a scale of 1 to 1!

Coromandel On the 12 hour trip to LAX, we saw an absolutely hallucinogenic sunset. Hard to imagine missing such a magnificent show by sitting on an aisle….IMG_5452 Air New Zealand is wonderful (so was JetStar). It’s almost enough to make me believe that the US is home to the worst national carriers in the civilized world. In addition to the Crowded House album (NZ represent!) i listened to as a dozed, I watched 4 films, from stately to the ridiculous to the more ridiculous: Lincoln, Seven Psychopaths, the Aardman Pirate movie, and Cars. All while Venetia revisited our trip through New Zealand by watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (with the added Air N Zed safety film scenes, natch. Though we watched the same safety film thrice, the delight of passengers heretofore unexposed kept it fresh. Something no other such film has ever managed.). Airplane screens being what they are, we were always able to see more than our own screens. I took up Lincoln after the viewer in front of me turned it off when he realized that it was a largely procedural film about legislating. To see poor Boromir shot down during the successful House vote to end slavery was quite surreal. And weird cast and scenic interplay continued all trip long.

The captain woke the passengers for breakfast, ensuring that I’d have a view of the day’s second dawn. That was a first!

SecondDawn

Santa Catalina was the tip off that La was near. How amazing that I’d been seated on the correct side of the plane for both New Zealand and Catalina. So much about this trip was lucky!

SantaCatalinaAs I write this, we are trapped in the long layover at LAX – where the lines are not short. Where the airport is squalid. Where the prices and amenities are outrageous. And where the fascism of the optimally-intrusive and appallingly-surly security apparatus has me quietly humming an Orwellian take on Steve Goodman’s “(If Your Life Was On) Video Tape”. Fear – it’s the American Way. And like the now-sacred words “under God” added to our coinage during the Red Scare, this bureaucracy created during the Islamofascist Scare looks to be just as eternal and seems to be getting evermore entrenched. As do an absence of food or even snacks on flights, and all manner of asinine hidden fees. And unless one is lucky enough to travel abroad, such things will ever seem “normal”.

SanGabriels

By the time we are home, it will have been 30 hours of travel.
And ALL on the same Sunday.

Addendum: We got to talking in the airport with Chicago’s Jack & Diane, and when they moved our gate, we barely had time to board. No food was taken. Happily, we met the wonderful Bruce Hostetler on the way home. Turns out we have scads of people and taste in common, and that he’d directed the version of The Hobbit I’d done the poster for (yes, it’s Hobbit all the way down). Bruce was returning from a Revels Board Meeting north of LA, and he was kind enough to pass over his banana in self defense. :)

Speaking of self-defense, there was a fellow in the Portland Airport openly brandishing a submachine gun while he was chewing gum. Clearly he’d come to kick ass and chew gum, but why? Just another ratcheting up of our country’s endearing paranoia….

Day 21: The Big Rock Finish

Just as the clever designers of Travel UI had worked in different ways to ensure proper structure (the trip up the Sydney Harbor Bridge at twilight, the train assent and gondola return of yesterday, the plane return from Milford Fiord after the coach arrival all being fine examples), so I designed the trip as a whole to finish big – and there is nothing bigger or more spectacular than the Great Barrier Reef!

Reef1   But this wasn’t a small dive off a small fishing boat in Kona – no, no! This was a massive, almost science-fictional, staged procession to (and from) “Marine World”, a massive tented reef platform hub (one of three within our sightlines). We took a large Catamaran out, and it remained docked throughout, serving as a sort of cabana (with crucial and unduplicated restrooms). The ride was choppy through the channel as the ship dealt with the fierce tidal pull. Given Venetia’s rather… difficult… bus trip to Milford Sound, we deemed it best for her to take the motion-sickness pills as we boarded. The multitude of seasick passengers who later joined us at the back deck suggests that this may have been the wisest decision we made all day.

The trip out was stunning/sick-making, and the platform held plenty of other craft which would be the same. A deep-prowed boat they called a Semi-Submersible allowed us to sit below the waterline and go for a spin about the platform and over nearby reefs. The animatronic owl on the prow amused us greatly.
A small glass-bottomed boat was bobbing next to the emergency Zodiac, a 40 passenger ferry boat and a helipad floated nearby. Apparently there was a “wear a bubble helmet and walk on the bottom of the sea” option, but it was never really clear to us amid the countless other choices.

When we arrived (and after some instructions for our eventual departure), we set out immediately into the nearby (roped-off and lifeguarded) reef area. The snorkeling was stupendous – parades of parrotfish, wrasses, angelfish, all the usual suspects and an extremely gregarious 5′ long Humphead Maori Wrasse called “Wally” who was friendlier than most cats I’ve known, happy to be patted and adored.

YellowBoat1

But it seems that a proper seal for one’s snorkel is darned tricky when sporting facial hair. And it speaks to the long years since last I snorkeled that this common-sense fact had utterly eluded me.

Happily, the crew were a jolly and helpful lot. After their slightly disbelieving “You mean you’d be willing to just… shave it off?”, I undertook the worst shave ever in a cold water sink in a tiny rocking lavatory with a disposable Bic Shaver – all to make me look more like an Amish Abe Lincoln. But it wasn’t about looks, it was about utility. The mustache will grow back – my time at the reef would not.

A tour in the semi-submersible followed, and while Venetia was in good form, I was feeling a bit green at the gills from our time below.Reefs2
I ate a tiny bit of the vasty buffet and hung out a little bit in the sun before it was time for the “Adventure Dive”.

It was there that we spoke to the first American we’d seen all day. A fellow Portlander named Heather who works as a Psychiatrist with children at Kaiser.
We hopped in the ferry and headed to the far corner of the big reef were we walked off the side and splashed down – it felt like a kinder version of walking the plank. Immediately, there were large schools of small fish below us – one of several types of local Banana Fish. Then the big schools of bigger fish – Red Bass. Then just a little group of two – Grey Reef Sharks. Later we saw a couple Whitetip Reef Sharks, a young green turtle, a jellyfish (that our guide brought up for our delectation), loads of Spotted Sweetlips, insane posses of Clownfish, incredible Boulder and Brain Corals, and most every kind of Wrasse and Sergeant Major one could imagine. The trip was a little tricky for the tidal swells and the very low tide, but ever so worth the effort. Toward the end (amid a sudden rain shower, and amid my fussing with a recalcitrant mask amid kicking-up waves), it was my great joy to spot a very old and well-camouflaged sea turtle. Everyone in our group got to see the old fella nipping at corals and being quietly fearsome, some 4 meters below us. But Venetia, swimming alone at the back, got to see rather more:

“This day was the ultimate day of wonder and magic. I have always admired Ophelia for the serenity and beauty of her final pose; if only she’d had a snorkel! After our long hour of drifting along the edge of the coral, I wasn’t at all ready to leave. I could have spent hours more out in the ocean but I’d learned that when fins started clumping together, there was always something worth seeing, and I sped up accordingly. He was enormous, at least for a turtle, which is to say he was my size (though undoubtedly weighed a great deal more!). I followed him as he moved along the ocean floor until, much to my amazement, he started to rise up until he was directly beneath me. As he rose toward me, I couldn’t resist and put out a hand to stroke his shell. It was surprisingly soft, not at all rough or slimy but soft like short clean fur. I brushed his back left flipper as well, amazed that he allowed me to get so close. Then I put my head above water at the exact moment he poked his own head out for air. It was extremely brief but the difference in his coloration from underwater was astonishing. Then the spell was broken. I saw Lee waving at me and when I looked back underwater again, the turtle was gone.”

I swam back to watch the encounter (note to self: must start calling Venetia “Dances With Turtles”), but realized we were delaying the party and headed to the dock as swiftly as my blue swim fins would propel me. And when I arrived, I was surprised to hear my name. It seems our tour leader had been asked whether we were on his tour, and he’d said no. This caused alarm among the staff for two reasons. 1. Losing passengers to the briny is bad form and terrible for tourism. 2. We were scheduled to take a helicopter trip back to the mainland, and we cocking up departure times. But miscommunication is everywhere, and in our case it had a cascade effect. I got Venetia to swim in pronto but she didn’t know why. As she was pulling my wetsuit off in haste, I accidentally elbowed her in the face, and as I changed out of my wet swimsuit in the open and hastily donned real clothes without really drying off first (towels were apparently some thing we should have carried from home. Who knew?), Venetia found an actual changing room. I hurried to pay up, sign us out, and get Venetia some ice for her face. Then we met up and raced for the glass-bottomed boat which in turn sped to the helicopter, which then… sat still for several minutes.

Pilot

I never imagined getting seasick on a helicopter, but the longer it sat in the rain, rocking to and fro, the more that possibility loomed.

Finally, and without fuss, we rose off the platform and up out of the small rainstorm and over the glory of the Great Barrier Reef in the quietest but most dramatic way possible.

GreatBarrierReefCOpterWe’d never ridden in a helicopter before, but it was thoroughly lovable. Where the tiny plane out of Milford Fiord had seemed to have all the strength and maneuverability of a paper airplane, the helicopter ride seemed like a magic carpet. The young Aussie pilot was great, and our knowledge of the reef (the size of Japan and teeming with life) allowed him to take it easy on the narration.

When I mentioned a blue hole in the reef ahead, he swiveled and dove in its direction, without producing the slightest pang of discomfiture or worry in his passengers (including the 3 non-English speaking Asians in e back seat). I felt a little like Eli Cross on his crooked crane, ascending into the heavens above. A bigger finish I could not have imagined.

HelicpterFlight1

PS: Venetia’s face is fine. :)

Venetia

 

 

Day 19 & 20: Welcome to the Jungle

  Day 19: Up to Cairns

We arose, packed and checked out before wandering a couple blocks to meet up with Mark Rulewski who we’d last seen by sheer chance in the Chico Hot Springs of Montana last June (see account here).

MarkV

We enjoyed a lovely and leisurely breakfast at Two Good Eggs, and he walked us to where the car was imprisoned and we parted. Maybe we’ll next see him in Oregon!

The petrol prices by the airport were predictably exploitive and ghastly, but the airport itself was another simple and laid back affair, and when one has nowhere important to be, a 15 minute delay really didn’t matter. As we flew north out of town, we got to see the glory of Sydney stretched out below us – all those crazy fingers of land stretching into the harbor, the tall buildings, the neighborhoods we’d walked through and the bridge we’d just climbed.

GoodbyeSydney

Our seat mate for the flight north was an erudite and interesting lady named Jessica R. who, growing up a ginger in the UK, had long admired her namesake Jessica Rabbit. With such good company, the trip passed in a flash. And the views of the coast ( and the frickin’ Great Barrier Reef) as we descended were awe inspiring.

We checked in before checking out an Indian restaurant up the street. After a yummy Hanti Gosht we emerged to a riot of wheeling parrots in prismatic gangs! And then, when they’d calmed a bit, and as we wandered Cairns’ beautiful Lagoon (a mirror-calm pool for soaking that occupies the middle of the town’s sea-front) we spied even larger shapes circling in the sky – Flying Foxes! We only saw a few at first, but later we saw them everywhere filling the twilight sky with their wide swooping silhouettes. Venetia was completely entranced. What a magical surprise!Cairns

A delicious banana and Carmel gelato and a short sharp shop for breakfast nosh and it was home to bed.

Day 20: Up the Junction

We arose early, but having travelled the day before and turned in early, we felt no pain in it. We were scooped up by the coach (aka “bus”) and taken on a tour of several other local boarding establishment. It almost incredible to me just how many tourist hotels this small town is made of….

A few tourists were let out at the indigenous peoples’ cultural center, and a couple others at the entrance to the SkyRail, but most continued with us to the Kuranda Scenic Railroad depot in Redlynch. Many men serving under foreman Red Lynch had died building this tropical railroad up to Northeastern Australia’s table lands, and we got to marvel at it while suffering no more than the heat and humidity of a nice summer day in Virginia.

Kuranda1

We also marveled at Barron Falls. This massive cataract is an unstoppable force in more typically rainy Monsoon Season, but we were lucky to find it almost dry. Photos don’t really seem to convey its scale, but whoa!

Eventually we got to Kuranda and bid the lovely train adieu. And then we were stuck there for 3 hours. I’ve been in many towns called “tourist traps” – sometimes by the locals, sometimes by visitors. In this case, a local woman overheard the description in the post office and under her breath whispered “some people LIVE here” to me ere she departed in a snit. True, but if I lived at South of the Border or the Mall of America, I’d be the first to admit it was a tourist trap. And without a means of egress, we were literally trapped in this sticky tourist Mecca – truly a luxury problem.Plane2Opals were gawked at, Schnitzel happily devoured, clothing admired, used books considered, frozen purees consumed, crashed (for-films) WWII plane inspected, the same aboriginal designs seen on every product and in every context imaginable, and countless shops and stalls visited. When asked why there were so many Germans and Austrians among the shopkeepers, one replied “it’s just too cold in Germany”. Fair enough, but I admit to a moment of wondering whether Ira Levin really had it right about Brazil….

Yes, we’ve seen and done countless touristy things in the last 3 weeks, but today was Tourism writ large. Yes, we visited the post office and the grocery store. Yes, we actually conversed with the natives more than we dickered with them about prices. Yes, we took some great tropical reference photos of plant and animal life (lizards, and brush turkeys and crocodiles – oh my!), but we were really just happy tourists pinned like so many beautiful butterflies.AnimalsWhen at last our appointed hour was at hand, we tottered down the hill to the marvelous SkyRail that would in turn take us back down the mountain, in gondola #101 no less (clearly named by George Orwell for maximum irony).

Skyrail1
We glided over the jungle canopy and were generally held high above it all. There were occasionally wonderful pairs of grey forest birds sitting on the gondola wire, but there were no other animals that even seemed to notice us, and overall (literally), it seemed a perfect method of travel. With only two isolated stations on the route, it made quite a small footprint….

DinDinThere was a large female orb-weaving spider in the station where we stopped to see Barron Falls, or, in the proper parlance of the region, Din Din (what a great name for torrential falls). While we enjoyed the comparatively dry weather (I fear the June trip to Virginia and points north will be far worse), it did seem a little sad to see the mighty cataract reduced to a trickle.

PlantsAs we descended back to the coastal plane, our attention was drawn to the curious waterpark on our left – an odd oval track where people on surfboards jump off ramps, and generally glided around. It took us a long approach to realize that they were being pulled along hanging wires like cable cars. A curious sport, but then I suppose the Barrier Reef limits most of the hard core surfing up here….

CableSkiPark

We didn’t head out again once we were returned to the hotel. The snacks we’d bought last night stood us in good stead, and while we missed the nightly megabat festival, we enjoyed our napping.

We witnessed no cassowaries, but otherwise we got our jungle money’s worth.

More Fun (The Abridged Version)

Day 17: SuperBowl Monday and drive to Sydney

Watched the SuperBowl with the US ambassador to Australia in a ersatz Irish sports bar. Wincing at the grotesque mockery of the massacre of Sandy Hook. Apparently surviving a massacre allows some kids to sing a jingoistic anthem with Jennifer Hudson, and no mention of the reason for their inclusion shall be given.

We found ourselves rooting for the Ravens and excited by their exceptional play, even as Canberra locals cast bemused glances at the assembled throng of expats, Footie-players, and early drinkers.
The local cheerleading squad was also out in force.

Cheer

Then… The lights went out. I’ll be posting my thoughts about what followed elsewhere. But suffice it to say we enjoyed the expat experience (while missing that misogynist Audi ad so many of my friends have been talking about). After the necessary gelato, we hit the road. The drive thereafter was a smooth and quiet one. Good roads and lovely scenery the whole way into Sydney. We checked into our hotel about 6 and set out for a walk through the parks and shops of town. What seemed a single contiguous park on the Map proved a series of poorly-connected (or simply unconnected) areas. We tried to get to the Opera House and simply failed. That said, I love this view that I’ve somehow never seen:

ClamsAngel Place [the large photo below right] was especially surreal (I was forced to quote Admiral Ackbar when surveying the scene):

AngelPlace
But if we learned anything it was that we should have eaten when we first got to town. We finally scored kebabs at 10:30 and then fell deeply into sleep.

Day 18: Spirals

We scribed a clockwise spiral around Sydney today, traveling on foot to no fewer that 11 Advertizing Agencies over a route that took us 7 miles. We’d walked 4 miles in New York last July, but 7 set a new inner city record. Funny to think how easy it would have been by car (had there been anywhere to park), but we’d have missed so much of the city!

It amazes me how different agencies are in their cool cat offices and different neighborhoods. And how specific their org charts are – where some have Art Buyers, others have Heads of Print, and still others Creative Directors. Whether in the US or Sydney, one size definitely does not fit all.

We were rather astonished to come across some manner of media event on a small side street. Photographers and bodyguards mingled with the great and black-clad good. After a few questions we learned that we’d come across a memorial service.

“A big man used to run a financial service that blew up in a shower of sparks. Rather Wall Street. I think you understand.”

We stopped intermittently to shoot reference pictures – Sydney is a glorious spot for texture and pattern. Here are just a few of the ones I shot that day:

TexturesFlatThe new construction in the Uni district over by DDB amazed us [Below. Lower left] Are they building a bridge? A hanging garden? Who knows?

The range of architecture is a joy:Architecture

It took me a surprisingly long time to realize why I felt there was so much more good old architecture here than in London: probably because the Nazis didn’t bomb it repeatedly….

After a trip through The Rocks and the respite of a lovely salmon dinner, we headed to the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I want to climb bridges – pretty much ALL bridges – but somehow the locals never let me. Here in Sydney by contrast, they are all too happy to take most anyone’s cash, equip, train, and generally fool-proof them, and let them scale the bridge. Each small red circle below represents a group climbing over (and briefly, under) the bridge. The easiest to see is the silhouetted group at the top [Blown up in the larger red circle]:

BridgeCircles1
Our party was a dozen or so folks, including a tiny 70 year old Canadian lady and a strapping 6’6″ fellow from Newcastle. We were the only Americans and, wouldn’t you know it? the first in line to lead the parade up the magnificent bridge. At twilight. Cruise ships sailed below us, helicopters flew above. The Sydney Opera House shone in the gloaming. Up the top of the eastern bridge support and then, at the top, crossing over to the western side in time to see the sun set on North Sydney’s version of Luna Park.

Bridge1We had a Nick Cave singalong with our wonderful guide Hayley just beneath the roadbed, and generally had a magnificent time. Another expensive adventure, but one I’d recommend to anyone (who doesn’t suffer vertigo anyway)!

We shared a cab ride back downtown with an Irishwoman who’d come to town from working the sweltering mines of the NW, had a wee bite, and fell into hot baths.

NSW NSFW :)

Day 15: Exploring Melb’n

Up at a leisurely hour (9am) and headed into the city to seek our car. After sorting some miscommunication with our car rental, we headed down one block to the fabled Anton’s – located in a huge mall that had been built around (and in) an old Shot Factory over which they’d built a tall ovate dome [Below. Upper left].

Melbn1

I truly didn’t expect the massive orgy of consumerism (if only because everything was so expensive!), but we had heard wonderful things about Anton’s and were not deterred (the first hit online was a review from Mikelangelo about his time getting a suit, and both Mikey and Phyro spoke glowingly about it). Venetia spotted my suit immediately but made sure to explore all the racks first before asking our fabulous clothier Lauren for a trial run of my suit. I tried on the full suit, from a pimpin’ too-small blue bowler to the super shiny shoes.

AntonsSmAfter due deliberation, we bought the silk brocade jacket and hightailed it to Jason McEachen’s apartment where we met up with him, Kim, and Iona [barely visible on Jason’s back below].

PeopleWe had lunch with them on the pier (my first fish and chips in Oz, Venetia had a delicious sweet potato hash) before moseying to Luna Park where we met up with Stefan and Edith, who in their turn took us many other places.

LunaThe rest of the day was a mad-cap blur:
We window-shopped for sweets and fancy cakes in St. Kilda. Hopped on the tram and headed to Fitzroy to admire charming architecture and intricate ironwork – well as saucily named shops like “Naked for Satan” and “Lucrezia & De Sade”. We ate an amazing lamb dinner in a restaurant of ambiguous ethnicity. We passed Lygon Street on our way to the tram, where we admired both the desserts and the adorable lambs on the glass window above the corner door. We headed back to Jason’s to back-up our 2400 pictures – for there are surely more to come!

 

Day 16: Drive to Canberra

We had a lovely breakfast with Jason, Kim, and Iona, we set off to the east at 8am.

After an hour or so we passed a town where the battle between religion and the water utility seemed to have gotten ugly, in a strange Tolkienesque fashion:2TowersWe lunched in the curiously named Lakes Entrance and then headed north, passing as we did over Venetia’s long-dreamt-of Snowy River. We took a brief spin around the curious capital (you can play Footie on the roof!), and headed north to the University district where we found John Hughes and his lovely wife Pip.   CapitalAfter some in-depth geekery we headed out for sushi, kimchi, and yakisoba. Conversations about the Unification Church, free form gaming, and business followed. A more splendid day could not have been had.

Wild Life in Australia

Day 13: G’day Bruce!

Up with the dawn in Queenstown NZ, and onto the coach to the airport – the sweet sleepy little airport. Our Counter was the only one open when we arrived and even filling out forms took only a minute. After a wait made more comfortable by ice cream, we went through a sweet and personable security line and boarded up the two ramps. And we were off to Melbourne! And Australia!

The view of Flinders Island was a welcome one as we crossed the Tasman, but the hustle and bustle of Melbourne (pronounced “Melb’n”) was immediate. We saw more graffiti here in a minute than we saw in all of NZ. And only when a curiously-attired woman cut in the customs line did we realize there’d been no meanness or pettiness on our trip so far – a couple jaded and hard-faced Americans, sure. A couple furrow-browed South Africans, fine. But to see 2 different but almost identically dressed 50+ Asian ladies in black pleather with straps and buttons intentionally break in lines and ignore protocols was a bit surreal. Like an updated version of ‘What’s Up Doc’, where matching outfits and bad behavior create Screwball comic mayhem down under….

We never went to a bank machine or changed currency for NZ, but Australia is already proving a different kettle of fish. Cash is king, and exchange fees pile onto to the already poor showing of the US Dollar.

MelbnAfter a wander through the many alleys around Flinders Street Station (and blind alleys of Sim card conversion for iPhone and iPad) we returned to our hotel on the South Bank for a well-earned nap. I’d been surprised that our 13 hour flight to NZ had only changed the clock 3 hours (beyond the whole date line thing). That a 3 hour flight to Australia should change the clock 2 more hours just seems silly. But by the time we collapsed (like a flan in a cupboard) we’d already been up for hours….

We awoke a couple hours on to the sounds of pouring pounding rain. While we’d slept, the storm had roared in from the south, and the city was running like a watercolor left out in the rain. But we headed out to meet up with Stefan and Edith nonetheless. We crossed the Yarra and ducked into the tunnel under Flinders St Station:

Flinders1 We shared red Kangaroo Curry at a Thai place in Chinatown, and made plans for Saturday afternoon. The rain had abated a bit by the time they left us at Flinders to meet up with Gwynneth and her friend. From there we headed a few blocks to the madness that is the Crown Casino plaza. Quite the site for people watching and overpriced foofarah!

Chinatown

It was a bracing night, but other than a curious stain on my poncho everything turned out wonderfully well.

Day 14: Mission: Fairy Penguins Hit the Beach!

In a day fraught with monotremes and nobbies, we will not attempt any manner of sensible narrative here ~ only a list of the day’s many highlights.

Gluten-free designer cupcakes
Bunyip Tour Bus (we’re guessing most tourists have no idea what a Bunyip is). :)
En route to Philip Island and Churchhill Island
Highly-attractive people from Switzerland
Mocking bad ads and music on overly loud radio (auto-tuned music and grotesquely ebullient ads)
Emus, cockatoos, poisonous snakes, et al.

BigBirdPetted wallabies and kangaroos

vWallaby1 Peaceful and 1 Neurotic Koala
Tasmanian Devil
Prehistoric Turkey
Tawny Frogmouths up close and personal – I actually touched one.

Animalia2

Purple swamp hens and other splendid bird life
Better music from driver’s iPod (including Missy Higgins and Crowded House)
Shepherding with a dog named Pirate (it was almost as though this whole day was meant for Julia Ecklar)

HerdingSheep shearing

ShearingsMany more koalas, including a youngster.

Animalia Animatronic koala (WTF?)
Cowes (as opposed to “Bulls” in NZ)
Two disproportionately evil bunnies
Remote seal viewing
Up-close blue fairy penguin viewing
Stormy seas and spectacular sunsets Fairy penguin homes

PointFairy penguin parade (no photos allowed).
Shared poncho with underdressed Columbian woman
Hot chocolate
Passed a brush fire just starting, our driver called it in (the fire truck passed us a bit later)

Home by midnight