Monthly Archives: September 2014


Sunday, September 28th – Still Going Home – Day 7

After a fitful night (it’s still midday back in Sydney), we finally fell into a deeeep sleep around 4 a.m. I managed to drag myself out of bed around 9 a.m. Unfortunately, in my sleep-dazed mind I couldn’t figure out how to get the shower to come on, so had to settle for a bath. It turns out, the front desk stuck a picture-demo in the card key packet showing you had to pull the nozzle down to operate the shower. Paul figured it out when he got up. Oh well.

Comfort Inn breakfastWe ambled over for breakfast around 9 a.m., went back to the room to do some more blogs and email catch-up.

Finally, around noon, we caught the shuttle van back to the Urban Tortillaairport, checked the bags, and found a charging bank near our gate. Had a leisurely lunch at Urban Tortilla – not bad at all for airport food. A little priced … but it’s United’s dollar and we’re worth it.Charging

Flight was on time, though full. We had to check our carry-ons. Hey, that was free, too, so it made it worthwhile. The only thing was I refused to check my laptop, so had to wedge it in my one carry-on “personal” tote.

Bless our sweet daughter for coming out to the Atlanta airport at midnight to pick us up, even ATLthough she had to work the next day. Finally made it home around 1:00 a.m. Home never looked so good. I missed my bed, my TV, my kitchen, my hairdryer, my bathroom, driving (on the right side of the road), grocery stores, sweet tea, salsa, friends, and the list goes on.

And so, as is wont, all good things come to an end.

Adios (Mexico) …  Araua’e (French Polynesia) … Moce mada (Fiji) …  Adieu (New Caledonia) … G’day (Aussie) … Ya minyah (one Aboriginal dialect) … and Goodbye!

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig!



Saturday, September 27th – To Sydney Airport and Homeward Bound

Airport ShuttleThe day started out uneventful with a doorstep pickup by the Airbus Airport Shuttle. A thirty minute ride later and we were walking into the International Terminal (separate location from the Domestic Terminal) of Sydney Airport.

Can’t tell you how much we dreaded the 13-hour flight, but it turned out to be very comfortable. The seating alignment was 3 on the left, 3 in the middle, and 3 on the right … except where the galley broke. We wound up in the 2 seat alignment on the right side. UA Seat mapRoooomy with extra leg space, 110 volt outlets, a wide selection of free movies, and food the whole darn trip. (I thought we’d gotten away from every-other-hour eating.) Even with it pitch black outside for the majority of the trip, it was very comfortable.

We both stayed awake for the whole flight – Paul watched three movies and I read most of the time. Our plane took off on time from Sydney at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday and landed on time in San Francisco at 11:33 a.m. on Saturday. Crazy! Jet lag You get kinks in your brain trying to figure the time zones out! Alas, we hit a snafu. Another plane was late departing and had taken up residence at our assigned gate.

Thirty minutes we sat on the runway waiting! Once we pulled up to the gate (you travelers know the drill), you hurry up and wait to debark. Then you walk as fast as you can about a quarter-mile to get in line again to go through Immigration. Then you walk as fast as you can again (another quarter-mile or so) to reach the international baggage claim where you wait for the bags to arrive. Once you claim your bags, you walk as fast as you can down a long hall to get in another line to clear customs. Almost there … another long hall to recheck your bags ….. and come to a screeching halt. We’re now inside the 45-minute window to transfer checked bags to another flight.
Yep. We got yanked out of that line and sent to …RE-BOOKING. Thanks to inclement weather in Chicago the day before, everything is backed up and overbooked. Nothing available heading to Atlanta, not even on the other airlines.

The nice United agent lady apologized profusely and offered a 40% discount on a hotel for an overnight stay. And didn’t that just fry my hide! Nope. We walked out of there re-booked for the next day with aisle seats, a hotel voucher for 100%, and meal Tiredvouchers for dinner, breakfast, and lunch. Irritating, but as my sweet cousin-in-law, Lynno (as the Aussies would call her), says – might be a blessing in disguise. I think it was a blessing, because we hit the hotel room, shoved the bags in the door, and crashed!

Cecilias PizzaWe did manage to have dinner later – a 15-minute walk and a superb pizza at Cecilia’s in South San Fran – and somehow managed to stay up until 9:00 p.m. (midnight Atlanta time).

Why is it the time changes going from East to West (geographically, not direction-ally) is so much harder than the other way?

Almost home … again. Can’t wait to see my kids and grand kids!

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Sydney – Day 5 – Shopping in Sydney

Friday, September 26th – Sydney – Day 5

Okay, I’m running out of steam. Got a few more things to buy and I’m done. We walked this Volle Jewelry Opalsmorning to Queen Victoria square to the opal store. Had a voucher, got a very nice discount, and my honey bought me a beautiful pendant. I learned more about opals than I ever wanted to know! Even saw one unset with a purchase price of over $6,000!

Haighs ChocolatesNext stop? Chocolates. Haigh’s Chocolates to be exact. A famous Australian chocolatier. They make great little handout gifts.

A return trip down the street and we reconverted the few Aussie dollars we had left back into US dollars.Aussie Dollars The paper money was easy, but we never did figure out the coins.

The afternoon we spent napping, repacking, charging, polishing off the rest of the wine, blogging, and reading.

For dinner, we went to a local sports pub (had to experience the local ambiance) for a steak dinner. Oh, I forgot to mention before, we had Bulgogi on Thursday night – a Korean delicacy complete with Kimchi!

After we got back to the Meriton, we had our notification email to check-in online. We tried, but shortly received a text message from United saying our flight had been cancelled. Oh bother, as Pooh would say. A phone call to United and we were re-booked on a later flight to San Francisco. Wound up paying almost US $400 extra to get decent seats, but we’re going home.Going Home

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Sydney – Day 4 – Walkabout in Sydney

Thursday, September 25th – Sydney – Day 4 – Walkabout in Sydney

Today is on our own, so we decided to skip breakfast and sleep in. Paul is so excited about having internet service again. He’s spent hours catching up his email. Me? I’m trying to post my travel blogs.

It’s been interesting keeping our electronic devices charged. The front desk loaned us one Adaptor plugpower converter (we use 110v while Australia uses 240v). You can’t power them up during the day because (like England) hotels require you to leave your room card in the slot by the door to keep the power on. (We tried leaving my card in during the Blue Mountain tour, but the maid removed it.) They’re very power conscious here, and try to conserve energy as much as possible. Kudos to them. All the outlets/switches have little on/off power buttons.

Today, we ate at an open-air French bistro. Latte is very popular here. You have to express very clearly when you order that you want “light” or “black” – because they blend the milk/coffee mixture in for you. The pastries are melt-in-your-mouth light.

We found the Hop On/Hop Off double-decker bus and took the two narrated tours – the Sydney Explorer which ran a very circuitous route through Sydney and its many harbors, and the other to Bondi (pronounced Bohn-Dye) and more shoreline. Incredible views of the Sydney skyline. And the water…. oooh! One of my favorite sights was a high rise with vines covering most of one windowed-wall. Spectacular.

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A funny little story we heard several times is about the meaning of the word Kangaroo. It’s an aboriginal word. Apparently, when one of the early explorers arrived, he asked an aborigine tribal leader what that strange jumping animal with the big tail and powerful hind legs was called. The tribal leader, not understanding English, responded, “Kangaroo?” Which in his language meant, “I don’t understand.” I have to admit I laughed every time I heard it.

Kangaroo means...

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Sydney – Day 3 – Blue Mountains Tour

Wednesday, September 24th – Sydney – Day 3 – Featherdale Wildlife Park, Three Sisters, and Scenic World

Activity Tours picked us up same place, same time on Wednesday. Our first stop—the Featherdale Wildlife ParkFeatherdale Wildlife Park. There, we took pictures of koalas, wombats (not a bat), kangaroos, emus, an Australian crocodile (his name was Dundee!), scads of birds/owls/flying predators, wallabys, Tasmanian devils, spiny echidnas (pronounce ih-KID-nuh), and on and on and on. Great time there!

Koala and Pal Betty

Koala - 2

Bird - Colorful





Dingo (Wild Dog)

Dundee the Croc

Tasmanian Devil Wombat - 2 Wallabys and Pal Betty Goannas








Next we broke the ride up with a stop a small park for a quick 15-minute “bush walk” down to Leuraa local falls. After that, we stopped in the little town of Leura for lunch and shopping. Very nice.

Our next stop was at Scenic World. You take a cable car ride to the top of the mountain Gordon Fallsplateau, take one of the many raised walkways through the canopy, and descend again on a 52-degree incline railroad. Of course, you have the mandatory exit through the gift shop. The Three Sisters and Usviews are spectacular, overlooking a mini-Grand Canyon with their famous Three Sisters pedestal. The legend has it there were originally 7 “sisters,” but time and weather eroded four of them away. Today, the three monoliths stand side by side with a nub at the end. Locals affectionately call this their puppy.

We also made friends with a family from Malaysia — even exchanged emails. Our Tour Mates

The experience was marred (only slightly) by the influx of the “green jackets.” Good for Sydney, not so good for the smaller tours. Some 6,000 healthcare professionals from China descended on the city for a week-long conference. Of course this day, their final day in town, was dedicated to tourism. We managed to avoid them until Scenic World. In some eastern countries, there is no sense of what we call personal space. Contention for space, taxis, entrance – you name it – is based on who can get their toe in the door first. Even though that’s not the culture of Australia, it’s hard to overcome the onslaught of thousands of these green jackets letting their fellow green jackets break into the queues. Annoying. We never did get to take the cable car across the valley because of this.

Harbor bridge at sunsetRiver FerryThe tour was capped off with a quick visit to the site of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, and then a relaxing ferry taxi back to Sydney. Amazing views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge at sunset.

After our return to the city, we ate at another Thai restaurant (Siam House) the Meriton recommended. Can I say YUM?!

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Sydney – Day 2 – Hunter Valley Wineries

Tuesday, September 23rd – Sydney – Day 2

Sydney - Activity ToursActivity Tours is the name of the organization Paul booked our tours through online. Today, we visited three boutique wineries in the Hunter Valley region.

The trip started brighSydney - Pie Face Eatery 2t and early with a pick-up at our doorstep at 7:40 a.m. That meant an early rising (not hard for us with all the time changes we’d made on the ship) and a visit to Pie Face, a local patisserie. A really neat concept, fresh baked goods made daily from local products and delivered to several franchised locations throughout the city. Most of the street-level shops along George Street are “open air.” We each chose a mini quiche and coffee. Delicious, but what a surprise! Food in Australia is expennnnnsive! Our little breakfast cost AUD 21. Ouch! We started drinking water after that.

Our ride to Hunter Valley (in a Caravan type minivan) with 12 other passengers took Sydney - Activity Tours - Ernest Hill Wineryapproximately 2 hours. Once we arrived at the Ernest Hill Winery (a small family-owned winery that sells only at the cellar door; no exports; no commercial sales in country), we were treated to a taste testing. One of the family members explained each of the wines we tasted which were named after deceased ancestors – (Cracklin’ Rosie Rose’). We bought two bottles there.

The next stop was at the Iron Gate Winery. This grower/distiller is fairly new to the region, but Sydney - Activity Tours - Iron Gate Winery rosebusheswith several awards under his belt. A retired industrial chemist, he uses science to create his product. Considered a “little bit off center,” he’s made a reputation for himself of producing creative combinations of the highest quality. They still continue the tradition of planting a rose bush at the head of each row — an ‘early warning’ system to alert them early of any potential blight problems that might affect the grapes. We bought a case of wine there and shipped it home since we’re restricted to 2 liters duty free to carry with us.

The next stop – lunch at a local café, followed by souvenir shopping at a small shopping area. We visited a third winery on our own and bought a loaf of fresh baked French  bread and a Sydney - Kangaroos by the roadlovely round of brie. That, plus the wine we  bought early made up our supper.  On the return drive, we saw kangaroos by the roadside. They prefer shade over open sun, so they’re usually found hiding in the trees and shadows.

After a long 10-hour day of touring, we were more than ready for bed. After all, we just spent the last three weeks lazing and grazing, hardly having to do more than take the elevator up or down to the feeding troughs!


Monday, September 22nd  –  Sydney – Day 1

We woke to blue skies and a huge harbor ahead. The Legend came to Australia to replace the Carnival Spirit, which is being moved to Alaska. The Legend, which is significantly larger than the Spirit, is making quite a splash in the Sydney news media. We waited at the mouth of the harbor for the local news helicopter to show. Once they did, we made our slow, cumbersome Sydney - Arrival - Opera Houe 5way into dock.

In Noumea, the Australian Girls Choir joined the ship. Now, at 6:00 o’clock in the morning, 2,500 passengers (give or take a few) and most of the crew lined the top decks waving Australian flags while the choir sang Australian favorites and the flag team performed a dramatic presentation of flags. We  docked directly across from the Sydney Opera House — a spectacular view … and we were there for this historic moment. Even got to watch on local TV later that night.

Since our hotel check-in wasn’t until 2:00pm, we elected a relaxed debarkation and didn’t leave the ship until almost 10:00am. A short taxi drive later ($40.00 worth!) down George Street (Atlanta’s equivalent of Peachtree Street), we arrived at the Meriton Serviced Apartments. What a great bunch of people there!. Not only did they let us leave our bags, they made Sydney - George Streetseveral suggestions about changing US Dollars to Aussie Dollars, a free bus, and the best places to eat in the area.

We set off on foot back along George Street, which runs in a north/south direction. Along the way, we found several money exchange places and converted some currency. We also found the green and white 555 bus that runs from the Circular Quay (pronounced kee) where the ship docked to Chinatown (near our hotel). Funny, the locals call it Thainatown because of the proliferation of Thai restaurants.

We rode the bus for a full loop, and then got off and walked several blocks to the east. Sydney is a hodgepodge of modern eclectic, historical protected building, and a cultural diversity that is impossible to explain. You really need to experience it for yourself.

Thoroughly wowed, we found our way back to the Meriton and settled into our room. Serviced Sydney - Meriton 2apartments are similar to a hotel, but we think they’re better. Our quarters contained one small bedroom with king size bed, a closet (one side for hanging clothes, the other side with drawers for folded things), and a flat screen TV on the wall. We also had a living room Sydney - Meriton 3 Sydney - Meriton 4area with a 48” flat screen, sofa, chair, small table with 2 chairs, an offset full kitchen area (full size fridge, cook top, toaster oven, electric kettle, and full complement of dishes), a desk area, and lovely bathroom with walk-in shower. Oh yes, mirrors everywhere!

Later, we ventured out again to sample one of the recommended Thai restaurants.

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Final Sea Day (Drat!)

Sunday, September 21st – Almost to Sydney

We booked this South Pacific cruise a year ago. A dream cruise. A vacation of a lifetime. How much fun it has been waiting for the departure date to arrive. Anticipation. Sometimes it can be more fun than the real thing. But not this time.

This trip—from the airplane ride Atlanta > Salt Lake City > Long Beach; boarding the ship in Long Beach; a stop at Puerto Vallarta, Mexico followed by 7 straight sea days (I think I love these the most); crossing the equator (Pollywog to Shellback); crossing the international date line and skipping September 15th; our stops at Tahiti, Moo’rea, and Bora Bora in French Polynesia; Fiji and New Caledonia; another 2 sea days and tomorrow–Sydney.

Every one of these destinations deserve a month spent exploring and learning about the different cultures, seeing all they have to offer, getting to know the people. Maybe a year. Alas, we take what we can get. It’s been special.

But enough of “over” talk. We’ve still got 5 days in Australia. For now, G’day Mate and bring it on!Towel -

Today’s cool towel creature … hmmmm … a dog?

(Amazing. Twenty-three days at sea and our cabin steward never repeated a single creature!)


Saturday, September 20th – Almost to Sydney

Today and tomorrow. Saturday and Sunday. I wanted to savor them. Enjoy them. Live my “sea day” routine again. Alas, not to be.

The Australian Immigration Department came aboard in Noumea. This afternoon will be spent standing in line, awaiting our turn to present our passports and customs declarations to these officials. Aaarrrgg. Our deck (Level 7) is scheduled from 1:00-2:00pm. In reality, we hung out in the nearby lounge, reading, until the line finally dissipated around 4:00pm. We joined the end of the line and breezed through. Not my first choice of reading locations, but not bad either.
My honey, of course, is … how do I say this … chatty. Doesn’t know a stranger. He met his match this afternoon, but I have to say it was very enlightening.

An Aussie sat down with us. He didn’t think much of standing in line for two hours either. We learned quite a few do’s and don’ts while visiting Australia. Very friendly chap. Most of the Aussies we’ve met tend to be a little on the acerbic side. Not really caustic, but with a very (very!) dry sense of humor. This gentleman had been with Americans too long, because he was mellow to the nth degree! Very enjoyable.

Today’s towel creature … a bathing beauty?


Towel - Bathing Beautyature …

TRAVEL IMPRESSIONS – Noumea, New Caledonia

September 19th – Noumea, New Caledonia

New Caledonia. Modern. Big. And very, very French.

Noumea surprised us. I had visions of that old television series, McHale’s Navy, but this place is nothing like that. The island itself is the largest we’ve visited. The people here predominantly speak French, and yet they all have a good handle on English.

Crusing is not new to the South Pacific, but the supersized Carnival Legend is bigger than anything they’ve yet seen. Consequently, we wind up docking along with all the cargo ships. Not a pretty sight – kind of like an Angel Fish settling in among the catfish! In fact, the pier is like a maze of stacked containers waiting to be loaded. Pedestrian traffic is not allowed, so you get door-to-door shuttle service, straight from the ship’s debarkation points to the a shopping terminal or excursion departure point.

Once outside the unsightly pier area … wow! Stunning. The architecture is a curious New Caledonia - Catamaran - Paulmix of ultra modern, old French, and quaint native. Signs are in French, English, and the local dialect. Quite a melting pot.

Our excursion today was our favorite so far. We sailed the harbors of Noumea on a catamaran – only twelve of us. No swimming. No snorkeling. No diving. Just relaxing in sun. New Caledonia - Catamaran - PierreOnce we cleared the harbor area, the male passengers put their backs into helping the captain (Pierre)  raise the main sail. The other two sails went up by automatic hoist. And then Pierre cut the engines. Oh, the quiet. I lay on the netting between the two front skids, soaked up the rays, and listened to the gentle lapping as the skids sliced through the sea. Blue? Aquamarine? Turquoise? Azure? I don’t think a name has been invented for the color of these magnificent waters.New Caledonia - Catamaran - Betty

Our guide, David, gave us much of the history of the area, pointed out landmarks, and told a few tall tales. A painter (homes) by trade, he spends one or two days a week during the tourist New Caledonia - Catamaran - Davidseason running tours for the owner of this ocean-going catamaran. Ho-hum. Such a hard life. We learned it recently returned from a ocean trip to the Fiji Islands. I can’t imagine how wonderful that must have been.

The Legend sailed away with the sunset. Now that was an awe-inspiring sight – a lava red sphere sinking inch-by-slow-inch into a watery sleep. Fingers of purple, gold, red, all in blazing glory, clinging to the rapidly darkening sky until they too slip into the depths. Nouvelle Caledonie also has a coral reef buffering it from the open ocean. We watched the waves break on the reef for a long time … until that too, disappeared into the night.