Eclipse Trip – Baker City, Oregon

Eclipse Trip

The light is not like a sunset, but more, as Barry said, like lighting from a stadium.  It isn’t a warm glow, but cooler, eerie light.  The temperature also grows significantly cooler and both of us reach for jackets.  We look through our solar eclipse viewing glasses to see the moon slowing take an ever larger bite out of the sun.  We are standing across the dirt road, where we have parked in a line of cars, just outside of Baker City, Oregon.  This is within the Path of Totality. (TA-TA-TA!) We are in a very dry, sagebrush covered landscape, with craggy hills and a clear blue sky.  
Shadows are elongated and the moon nearly covers the sun to make a crescent, then a small sliver.  Next a shout comes up from our group of strangers-viewers!  The eclipse!  Barry takes a short video of the hills surrounding us, it is a 360° sunset and the sky has changed to a dark, dark blue.  We are able to take off our glasses to view the sun without them. There is a very bright red section of the ring around the moon and I try to pull my eyes away from the eclipse to look at the stars in the sky, here at 10:20AM.  I study the bright silver ring of the eclipse and the realization that this is real, not a film, makes me smile.  Quickly, Barry and I take a selfie and hope that something turns out from photos.  
So, so quickly, the sun returns.  Just a sliver opens up and the whole world is illuminated again.  Too short, too quick, it can’t be over!  
Later that day, Heather texts us:  “Good eclipse?  Worth the trek?”  I respond:  “Yes – No”.  Now that I have time to reflect upon the experience, I am very glad that we went to see it.  It was really a trek, though. 
I started planning this a couple on months ago when I looked into flights all along the Path of Totality (TA-TA-TA!) and also at hotel rooms.  Many hotels were already full and there were few flights.  Some hotels that still had vacancies were gouging people outrageously  for the eclipse viewing date.  We really weren’t up for a long drive, and had read that lots of traffic jams were expected, so we gave up on the idea.  Then, I saw an article just a couple of weeks ago that listed college dorms that were renting rooms.  
My first choice, Western Oregon University was filled, but I completed in an interest form for Easter Oregon University and heard back from them a few days later.  They had a package available. For three nights we could rent a dorm suite for $500.  I rechecked flights and drive times and we decided to do the 10.5 hour drive to La Grande, Oregon.  We planned to stop at 8.5 hours in Boise, Idaho for the night, check out Boise, then drive up to the dorm.  
We set off as planned, but got off on the wrong highway.  This added two hours to our first day’s drive.  It was about 10PM for us, 9PM Boise time, when we looked for a place for dinner. Boise’s population is 223,000, to compare Sacramento has 495,000 and San Diego has 1.4 million residents. Boise is,  by far, the largest city for miles around in this area of the county, but it isn’t a large city.  I was very curious to see what we would find in Boise.  I had never been there. 
After that long drive, I was cheered by $4.50 glass of Lagunitas IPA, a Northern California,  lovely beer,  at a Mexican place near the hotel. (We were at the Lagunitas Brewery just a couple of weeks ago and the beer there was $8, I think. FUNNY!)  However, when my “salad” arrived it was only shredded lettuce, that was it, shredded lettuce was a salad. This was not the house speciality, I suppose.  
Revived the next morning, we strolled through a unexpectedly large craft and farmer’s market in downtown.  The vibe was sort of hipster meets cowboy.  Truly, everyone we have met here is very friendly and it’s a nice people place to be.  Lots of fun to see local crafts and foods.  The downtown is mostly well maintained and handsome, with some old buildings and some monumental, modern ones around them.  It reminds me of Salt Lake City.
The Idaho Botanical Gardens are supposed to be interesting, so we made a stop.  It is advertised as a  local feature.  It was “Bug Day” and they had lots of fun activities and exhibits for kids.  Happy kids run around the gardens with small butterfly nets, capture insects and line up to show them to an entomologist. Craft tables are everywhere as kids wield scissors and glue sticks in the celebration of insects.  There are native gardens, which to my untrained eye look lots like the desert that we’ve been driving through for hours and hours.  It’s not a major destination, such as the gardens in British Columbia (Butchart), Portland, Denver, or even Phoenix,  but a pleasant diversion. 
Barry and I listen to NPR as an optometrist/ umbraphile (one who loves eclipses) is interviewed.  He says that seeing an eclipse is like falling in love, and that everyone should have the chance to, at least once in their lives, fall in love and to see a total solar eclipse.  Since, I am still gloriously in love with my sweetie, 42 years now,  the bar is pretty damned high for this eclipse.
On the road North, I see a sign:  “45 PARALLEL, HALF WAY BETWEEN EQUATOR AND NORTH POLE”.  The teacher part of me smiles – very, very cool.  
We stopped in Baker City.  This is the town where we will view the eclipse, it is within the Path of Totality (TA-TA-TA!).  It’s a cute little town, we stopped in all the shops that we could find, had lunch and sampled at a vodka distillery.  We thought that this was a good indicator that, perhaps, La Grande was even nicer.  We thought that a university town might me more artsy or something? 
A couple of hours later, we checked into our dorm suite.  Nice and clean, the suite had 3 bedrooms that each had a single bed on stilts, a living room, a kitchenette, bathroom and storage room.  They supplied sheets, toilet paper and two paper cups. Well, not the Four Seasons.  Barry moved the mattresses into the living room, so that we could be together.  We reminisced about the times when Barry visited me in my dorm at UCSB, moving mattresses and ..ah good times.  We hung up the towels that we brought from home, unpacked our cooler….  So, what’s there to do in La Grande, Oregon?  Well, NOTHING!   
The University did have the dining commons opened for visitors, but we weren’t invited to use any other facilities such as the fitness center or tennis courts.  I had read about hiking in the area, but we nixed the idea of desert hiking.  
Went to see a movie, read, walked on campus.
Tick off the box next to “View Solar Eclipse” on our bucket lists, and we just couldn’t face another day in the dorms, though it was paid for and the dining commons might have meatloaf tonight.  We decided to cut our trip short a day and book a hotel in Reno.  We will take our chances on what some said would be apocalyptic traffic.  
What we hoped would be a straight 8.5 hour shot to Reno turned into hours more.  There was traffic, but not eclipse traffic so much as a bridge out that wasn’t on google maps, and we were rerouted all over, then repaving in Nevada.  Ahwg!  
We stayed in Mount Whitney Hotel, a fun non-smoking, quirky place.  It has a climbing wall built onto the outside of its multilevel building!  The interiors are fun and unusual.  (If you have to go to Reno, I would recommend this place.  But, I wouldn’t recommend going to Reno to begin with.)  No one was climbing on the wall when we were there, but it looks really, really cool and frightening too.    
Interestingly, we were across the street from Harrah’s, which looks pretty dumpy.  Barry wants to see the Harrah’s car museum and we go into Harrah’s to find it.  The museum is actually a couple of blocks away, but I have time to take in the cigarette smoke and loud gambling machines and lots of incredibly sad looking people.  
Barry loves the car museum, and I am NOT bored out of my mind, so a win/win.  He wishes he had Jon with him so that they could have car talk.  
Today, finally home, I’m really glad that we went.  It really was a quite a trek, but it could have been worse.  I read that Trump is going to speak in Reno this morning. If we had stayed in the dorms and not come a day early to Reno, ugh, we would have been in the same city with him.  
 Thank you, Universe for the eclipse, it was stunning!

Hobart, MUST Come Back!

March 3-10, 2017
Lovely beginning of autumn days

Esther Shohet, Battery Point

Picture 1 of 16

OK, Hobart, I fall in love with you upon arrival at the airport.  A seal sculpture rotates around on the luggage conveyer belt as we await our bags.   A naughty group of bronze  Tasmanian devils climb all over some luggage in the lobby.  This place is going to be fun.

We enjoy our first views of Hobart with green hillsides, blue water, nestled beneath Kunanyi, or Mount Wellington.  (In 2013 Tasmania adopted a dual-naming policy as found in other territories in Australia and New Zealand, as a step towards broader recognition of Tasmania’s first peoples.)  Our accommodation in Battery Point is Pretoria House Apartment Air B and B, with hostess Nickey McKibben.  Charming cottages and stately larger homes butt next to each other over the harbor, just above Salamanca.  It is very charming. Also, Battery Point is the birthplace of Errol Flynn (for my Dad).  Another plus is the washer and dryer and getting all of our clothes washed.

We walk and swoon and walk and then enjoy a great dinner at  Blue Eye.  The server describes the wine that comes from her friends winery up the road and knows all about the fish caught today.  Ah!

There is an amazing breakfast/brunch cafe a few doors down from where we are staying.  It is Jackman and McRoss.  I adore it, the croissants are the best ever and all the food looks wonderful.  The coffee is great, the service is nice, ambience is just wonderful.  This is a new “happy place”.

Then, we meet Hobart Walking Tours.  It turns out that it’s just us today and we met our personal guide, Lisa,  in front of Henry Jones Art Hotel, at 10AM start to Hobart History, People and Places Walking Tour.  We learn the the Henry Jones is the best places to stay during the Sydney to Hobart yacht race every summer,  just after Christmas.   We learned that they claim to have the cleanest air on earth, the fittest people on earth, that it’s the cheapest Australian capital city in which to live.  More interesting yet were the stories of the people of Tasmania.  The earliest inhabitants are thought to have arrived in Tasmania 400,000!! years before the English colonists.  These Aboriginals were thought to have been separated from mainland Australia’s groups about 10,000 years ago when the seas rose to separate them.  Like many native people, they were wiped out due to violent conflict with Europeans and infectious diseases to which they had no immunity.  Barry and I were reminded of the US history of atrocities against native Americans and also the inhumane treatment of African slaves.   However, I was surprised to hear from the tour guide that many people now living in Tasmania do have traces of Aboriginal DNA.

In 1803 Hobart became a penal colony and the stories of the nearly 75,000 poor souls  who were sent there until its closing in 1853 are enough to give anyone nightmares.  According to the tales that our guide told, children as young as 11 were sentenced to prison from England to Hobart.  She told us a story of many innocent women who were framed of using counterfeit currency were brought to Hobart because they needed women on the island.  Even though many of the women were married and had children in England, they were told they were “divorced by way of distance”.  The punishment for crimes committed by prisoners in Hobart were especially grusome.  Grisly stuff, this!    Now, surrounded by such beauty, in another time, this was hell on earth.  After the end of the prison, it becomes a pioneer town, full of rough and tumble types.

Barry and I pick up another tour with Lisa at 2PM for The Alcohol History of Hobart.  This one includes wine, whisky, vodka and cider tastings.  Again we meet in front to the Drunken Admiral and find out that the hotel and restaurant is named for Lord Nelson, hero of Trafalgar.  He was killed in battle and his men was placed his body in a cask of brandy, lashed it to the Victory’s mainsail,  placed under guard.  This is how the “Drunken Admiral” returned home.

Tasmania is foodie heaven and is know for “Paddock to Plate”.  They are also known for their seafood, wines, produce, dairy products and more.  It is difficult to find a poor restaurant review and easy to see that they are blessed with local, high quality food.  Food centric festivals and events abound.  The biggest is Tastes of Tasmania Festival  at New Years that adds to the festivities shortly after the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.  Crowds in excess of 350,000 come for a week long celebration of Tassie food!

It is renowned for it’s wine, but Tasmanians and other Aussies drink most of it themselves.  They export very little.   We are able to sample several wines and see excellent displays at the Gasworks Cellar Door.

Our visit to Lark Distillery  in Hobart is very, VERY pleasant. As we sipped wee drams of delight.  The distiller whom we speak with gives us a great pitch on how the water is the best in the world and barley is phenomenal and their whiskey is better than any you would find anywhere, including Scotland.  We nearly bought a pricey bottle, but decided that we couldn’t take the risk of breaking it on our travels.

We are able to sample goods from Grand Ewe.    Their Sapphire Blue cheese that is out of this world and enjoy the whey vodka so much that we buy a couple of small bottles to lug home for sharing with Heather and Justin.  We also enjoy some Pinot paste, made from the marc of the pinot wine pressings.  This sweet fruit paste is nice paired with cheese.  We buy a couple of tubs of it as well.  Their farm sounds wonderful, they welcome visitors and we put this on our “Next time in Hobart” List!

The restaurants around the docks have gorgeous seafood plates and we had to stop for some ice cream because the line was so long, we knew that it would be good.  No regrets, it is Devine.

MOMA , The Museum of Old and New Art, is a “can’t be missed attraction” in Hobart.  However, we run out of time and miss it!  It is an eclectic mix of modern art and antiquities.  We had seen it on TV and we were looking forward to visiting it.  Visitors can drive there, pick up a minibus or even a catamaran from the waterfront to get there, fifteen minutes outside of Hobart.  Next time….next time….

We are a short walk to Salamanca from our apartment.  It is an area of former whaling ships’ warehouses that have been remodeled to become shops and restaurants.  We enjoy walking through the shops and pick up a few small pieces made of local Tasmanian timber, called Huon pine. I also get a small, colorful and whimsical print by Esther Shohet.  Her work is in a gallery that features the apartment where we are staying and the heavenly cafe which we enjoyed, Jackman and McRoss.  (  The print that we got is similar to this one> her work is so fun!

Tragically, we missed  Market Day at Salamanca.  It is on Saturday when we will have left and includes booths in the street in which artists and farmers sell their wares.

Next visit to Tasmania we WILL:

Our guide book says that Tasmania “encompasses the historic, the healthy and the hedonistic”.  I couldn’t agree more.  So, we have flirted with Tasmania, but must return.  What a magical place.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef Cruise
February 26 – March 5, 2017 – Sun Princess

I am having a ball one interacting with the locals! This cruise is filled with Aussies. Americans are a small minority among the passengers. Breakfasting with a lovely, jolly Aussie lady our first morning onboard, I told her how much I have been enjoying Australians. She, likewise, compliments Californians. Her assessment of Californians is that we are fun loving, friendly, broad minded and are not like the Brits “who can be such whinging POMEs”. Whinging POMEs?! I never heard the term.! With devilish satisfaction she is happy to enlighten me, as she is especially knowledgeable of the subject, having been married to one for many, many years. POME , she explains is a negative term for an English immigrant to Australia, allegedly it stands for “Prisoners of Mother England”. It refers back to the original English immigrants who were mostly prisoners. The whinging bit means complaining or whining. (She said, “You know how the pommys like to complain and see the worst in things?”) She has such delight in telling me how her husband was really a ten pound POME. (He is sitting next to her and smiles at her kindly, as only a nice fellow who has heard this story before would do.)

She says that when her husband was a lad, Australia would offer very low travel fares for British to immigrate, if they had skills that were needed and they were “desirable”. The fares were as low as ten pounds British sterling. She tells me that they actually stipulated that only white people were sent and that they even preferred blue eyed English over everyone else! She had British ancestry, but her family has been in Australia for several generations.

I looked up these terms, POME, POHM and pommy. There is some disagreement as to whether pommy comes from Prisoners of Mother England, Property of Her Majesty or from pomegranate (due to the ruddy red faces of the English when they arrive to be sunburned in Australia). Whatever the origins, it was a fun story.

A very strange but entertaining port guide gives an onboard talk about what to expect in Airlie Beach, our first port. Many of us are here to see the Great Barrier Reef and she gives some interesting information. It is over 1,000 miles long, larger than the U.K., largest living thing on earth. This is where we will be going.

In the town of Airlie Beach there is NO swimming in ocean water, they have a man made lagoon with changing rooms if you need a dip. Crocs and jellies are in the water! The port lecturer is so nonchalant that this discussion reminds me of comment made by Segway tour leader several days ago. At the Currumbin wildlife sanctuary crocs sometimes get “special treats”. When a kangaroo in the park dies, they feed it to the crocs. Upon seeing the horrified look on my face the Segway guide followed with a somewhat apologetic, “You know circle of life and all”. They don’t do it in front of the guests though. Seems to me that the Aussies have a relaxed attitude about living with so many things that can kill them.

Some people will go into the rainforest. This rainforest is oldest on earth, 100 million years old, the Amazon is only 10 million! She tells us of another Australian animal that can kill you, which is in the rainforest. We saw one from a distance at the wildlife sanctuary recently, it’s the cassowary. This huge bird has 4″ sharp claws can eviscerate enemies. It’s sort of a cross between an ostrich and a velociraptor. It can live to 50 years old and it’s endangered. Many are killed on roadways.

T 2/28

Airlie Beach, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef

Before we even start out, we are warned several times that it will be rough and they supply sea sickness pills on the boat. Though I’ve never been sea sick, both Barry and I take them. It’s a bumpy two hour catamaran ride from Airlie Beach, past some Whitsunday Islands to a section of the Great Barrier Reef where we will tie up to a huge pontoon to go snorkeling. The pontoon is really interesting. It’s really large, anchored at the reef, includes an underwater viewing area, has a glass bottom boat, changing rooms, as well as stinger suits and equipment for at least 75 people.

We put on the stinger suits. They are lighter than wetsuits, but are very similar. They tell us that there isn’t much chance that we’ll run into any “blueies”, the deadliest of the jellyfish, but we could get a nasty sting from other very small jellyfish.

Trying to push back all thought of jellyfish and sharks from my consciousness, I climb down to the diving platform and into the pleasant water. I have to admit to huge expectations, and I was a little disappointed by the lack of clarity on the water and the bleached white and brown coral. However, the fishes do not disappoint! They are plentiful and colorful and it’s just transcends description to be in the water. Barry and I spend the day in and out of the water, enjoying this wonderful opportunity. The dive supervisor explains to me, before I go in for my first afternoon swim, that the coral bleaching is natural and normal for this time of year. She says it is t a result of pollution.

It’s another bumpy ride back for two hours and we don’t have time to see the town of Airlie Beach. I don’t need another tee shirt anyway.

W 3/1

Cairns, Australia

We are onboard the Reef magic II (Wonder what happened to Reef Magic I?). Today’s catamaran ride is rougher still. (I didn’t take any seasick pills today, I think they made me sleepy yesterday). There is no outside seating in bow, so rode the waves on the deck on the stern. It is exhilarating to bump up and down on the water, the wind is whipping all around me, sea spray making my hair wild and I hear myself laughing aloud. Just glorious! A very few other ladies, fellow sea witches, are outside near me. We are all, the coven, grinning from ear to ear, celebrating this moment.

Several poor souls, mostly men, are throwing up and looking miserable. Barry was queasy and went to the poop deck (the bottom level at the stern. Watching green faced people stumbling past him to grab rails and puke didn’t help him to feel more refreshed. He went back to our seat inside and just kept breathing. One especially menacing, heavily tattooed fellow spent the whole day with his head in his hands or puking into a sick bag. I don’t think that he even got into the water. That is tragic!

The stinger suits have hoods and gloves this time. We are assured again today that the deadliest jellyfish (maybe the blue bottles aka “bluies”) are not in these waters. However, the sting from some of some very small, barely visible jellyfish around here can be very painful, though rarely fatal. (This conversation brings to mind a part in the Bryson book in which he retells a story of a poor swimmer who was strung by a small jellyfish, the type I’d don’t recall. Bryson said that emergency personnel arrived to find the patient screaming in agony from the pain of the sting. The unfortunate soul was then heavily sedated, but chillingly, continued to whimper and cry out. Oh. Shit!

The dive supervisor also assures me that the over one hundred (!) varies of sharks that we could see will not bother us. She says there are so many fish that the sharks enjoy eating on reef that they won’t bother with us. Mmm, comforting.

Once in the water, all this is forgotten. The underwater visibility is much better than yesterday. The coral more colorful and the fish just as plentiful. We are so glad that we came out a second day. We see countless fishes, sea slugs and a green sea turtle. The weather temperature is warm, but not uncomfortable, considering we are covered completely with the stinger suit. After an hour or two In the water, I enjoyed a really nice chicken curry lunch. There was plenty for seconds, since so many people were either too sick to eat or too queasy to risk an upset with some nice spicy curry. More of a shame, this, since the ships food is pretty good, but light on seasoning. Back in the water, there are more interesting corals and some breathtaking varies of fishes.

Back on the ship we learn more Aussie wisdom. We are told, with all due respect, that Americans just can’t make coffee. Brunetti’s, in Melbourne makes coffee the right way and we should go there. I heard an expression I’d never heard before, “She’d make old bones”, as to live a long time. So descriptive.

Port Douglas, Australia

Lunch with the Lorikeets

Port Douglas, Australia

F 3/3

We do a bus tour and a walk through a wildlife park. We are in the rainforest, a clue that there will be water. It feels like stepping into a bathroom right after a shower had been running. We wear the lightest clothing possible and a light foldable rain poncho. The poncho was a problem as it traps the moisture on our skin like a greenhouse. A stranger passing by suggests to Barry that he take his poncho off since he looks so red and sweaty. Rain came intermittently, so we are always pulling the ponchos on and off, trying to guard iPhones and keep from getting soaked.

The weather doesn’t dampen our enjoyment of petting and feeding wallabies, kangaroos and birds. It’s probably all old hat for Aussies, but Barry and I enjoy interacting with these Australian animals.

There’s a brewery on the way back to the ship, Hemingway’s had a lovely view of the harbor and the beer sampler that we shared was nice.

Willis Island, Australia scenic cruising

I have to look this up, a small treeless island with a large building I think there’s a lighthouse and nice beach scientific recording I wonder if my fellow passengers are also wondering if they could live such an isolated life.

Brisbane, Relaxing Visit

February 23-26, 2017

Near our hotel in Brisbane, I duck into a busy shopping mall for an emergency hair color and cut. The stylist can take me today. As I am waiting to be “re-blonded”, I watch school kids walk through mall with the most unusual uniforms, especially the girls! They look like something from the fifties or even earlier. Peter Pan collars, waistbands on blouses, inverted pleats in the back, bands on short sleeves, they are styles that I haven’t seen in decades. The hair stylist tells me that they are from public and private schools and she doesn’t seem to think they are unusual at all. She likes Vegemite*, though she doesn’t know what it’s made of, thinks it funny that Americans think that Aussies drink Fosters beer. We don’t have lots more to talk about than this and I enjoy watching people go by and surfing the web. Brisbane has free citywide wifi, which is so civilized.

Brisbane is the third largest city in Australia, with about two million people. We decide to get an overview by doing a hop on, hop off bus for most of a day. I see lots of pretty tree lined streets and new skyscrapers, many under construction. It’s tropical here, and reminds me a little of Honolulu, only with a little more Great Britain thrown in? Brisbanians are proud of their never ending summer. They claim to receive seven hours of sunshine everyday. It’s always beach weather, though they are inland on a river. Fifteen (pronounced fif deen) kilometers to the south is the Gold Coast and just to the north is the Sunshine Coast. This paradise is cursed by recurring floods though. In fact, The Powerhouse, a repurposed power station on the river, has an impressive modern art piece that shows the levels of serious floods that they have experienced here. They are also cursed with large aggressive bull sharks in the river, and there is no swimming here.

Old Queenslander bungalows are built up on stilts or stumps, to allow air to pass beneath and cool the house, and to let floodwaters pass beneath. They also have large verandas which wrap around the houses with shutters on windows to allow air in and keep heat out. I adore the sweet Victorian touches such as gingerbread lattices below the roof. Corrugated roofs are practical and found on many older buildings. We learn that they are easy to repair or replace after cyclones!

We hop off at George’s for a terrific lunch of Greek seafood, in what we read is one of Brisbane’s well known places. The food is wonderful and the view over the Brisbane River really gives us a nice sense of place. However, I find myself staring into the muddy water below looking for sharks. We finish just in time, as we leave it gets busy and loud.

On this bus tour we pass another of the many ANZAC, Australian New Zealand Army Corps, monuments. I now put together that the Anzac biscuits (cookies) that I saw in New Zealand and previously here in Australia are named for these soldiers. The cookies are made without eggs and have a long shelf life. Families made them to ship overseas to their loved ones in the service. The cookies are still very popular today. They are very crunchy and are made with coconut. I enjoyed them and will try to make some with the grand-darlings when I get home.

It cools down a little bit in the evening and we walk across the river from the CBD (central business district) to South Bank. It is the happening place with a weekly street fair and live music. The Wheel of Brisbane is a large Ferris wheel with enclosed air conditioned gondolas. There are huge numbers of people strolling the street or eating at the restaurants in this area. The best feature here are some gigantic pools where hundreds of kids are swimming. It’s a very nice consolation prize, to have these beautiful pools for public use, since they can’t swim in the river.

Our next morning and it is time for Donut Time. This is the adorable little shop that spied in both Sydney and at Bondi Beach. We just couldn’t eat one when we saw this shop before. Now, which monster-sized decant donut to choose? The very cute girl at the shop selling them exclaimed that she just loves donuts, but looked like one never crossed her lips. She’s proud to tell us Donut Time started, here, in Brisbane. The most popular? It’s the Nutella donut. I can only take one bite, it is filled with Nutella and is so rich…..I ….just….can’t…..Barry takes one bite and we have to toss it.

The River Cruise welcomes us to “Brizzy” (These Aussies have such cute shortenings of words! Tazzy is Tasmania. Breakfast is “brekky”, it is listed as such on menus and signs. It’s so, so friendly.). The tourist river cruise serves tea! Tea, scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam await us onboard. It’s too bad that we can’t enjoy some after our overdose on one bite of that donut. Again we hear about the aggressive bull sharks in the dark green river that winds through the city. Dark green, muddy water has me straining to see the sharks lurking below. Jet skiers zoom by, only a couple, but I worry for them. According to our tour guide on river cruise, one of the city cat ferries had a bull shark jumped from the water into the ferry, thrashed around a bit then fell back into the water. She-it!

We pass the Brisbane Story Bridge. It’s a cute little baby version of Sydney Harbor Bridge, same designer. We also learn that during WWII a million American troops were stationed here, in a city with only 300,000 residents at that time. So the river tour is a little history, some interesting facts. T

We found a fun sushi restaurant, like some we’ve seen on tv. Plates some by on a conveyor belt, you take what you’d like and then order drinks from a monitor at our seats. So fun!  This has been a relaxing place to unwind and explore a bit.

* Vegemite – from Wikipediais a thick, very dark brown Australian food spread made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract with various vegetable and spice additives. It was developed by Cyril Percy Callister in Melbourne, Victoria in 1922….A spread for sandwiches, toast, crumpets and cracker biscuits as well as a filling for pastries. Vegemite is salty, slightly bitter, malty, and rich in umami – a glutamate similar in flavour to beef bouillon.

Drive from Sydney to Brisbane blog

Drive from Sydney to Brisbane
Warners Bay, Kempsey, Yamba and Currumbin
February 18-24

We had a devil of a time getting out of Sydney, firstly the major street in the CBD (George St.) was closed due to the construction. We took an Uber XL and spent $53 US dollars to get to the rental car office by going all around the city. Once in our car, Barry familiarized himself with the knobs and indicators, got into a driving on the left side of the road frame of mind and off we went, sort of. We circled around a while until we found the route to the major highway, this, with a gps unit rented from the car agency and google maps on an iPhone. Barry nearly sideswiped us twice. I yelped the first time and tried to keep it to a restrained whimper the second.

The landscape changes when we get out of the city. Ken, the caretaker at the Lord Nelson, commented that we’d take Pacific Motorway and that it was a nice drive. Barry and I agreed that it wasn’t what we expected. We had California’s Pacific Coast Highway in mind, on this drive we see very little water. Though we are near the coast throughout this drive, the few water views are of green waterways. The vegetation does not disappoint, it’s lush. There are eucalyptus forests and mangroves in brackish water.

Our first night’s stay is at Warners Bay. Barry planned this part of the trip and he explained to me that he thought that a two hour drive would be enough for our first day. After circling Sydney for a while, we were ready to get out of the car by the time we got to Warners Bay. Unfortunately there’s not much there to do on a really hot and muggy day in the early afternoon. We are near Hunter Valley, which is a popular place for wine tasting, but absolute sobriety is needed for us to drive. The shore of Lake Macquarie is inviting, with a walking path and lots of trees, but its too hot. Thundershowers are expected as well. Our hotel is very modest. It’s clean and the people are friendly, but these are far from luxury accommodations. Trip advisor lists the number one ACTIVITY in Warners Bay as the bottle shop, which is just a liquor store. Mmmm. The sky opens up in the late afternoon with a dramatic tropical thunderstorm!

At dusk, a cacophony of bird cries erupt outside. The trees, power lines and building tops are crowded with white cockatiels. I have never seen anything like this! The volume is overwhelming and I am feeling a little “Hitchcocked”, as in The Birds, by the number and activity level of these birds. This is a real treat! One of the locals on the street is nonchalant when I ask her about them,”Oh, cockatiels, noisey, aren’t they?”

It’s only one night at this hotel, so we enjoy some cold local beers, try to figure out how the keno game works in the casino downstairs. The local ladies look nice in bright floral sheath dresses, and they look like they are having fun.

During the night, I awaken because it sounds like one of the grand-darlings saying, “Grandma, Grandma”. (I do miss those little buggers!) It’s a cockatiel perched outside on the bathroom skylight, and lots more in the distance. It reminds me of the story that our New Zealand guide told, that Captain Cook’s crew would row back to their ship at night to sleep onboard because the bird sounds were too loud ashore. I can understand.

We have a longer drive, (over 3 hours) to our next stop, Netherby House B and B in Kempsey. At breakfast in Warners Bay, I order a “long black”, that’s a large black coffee. Trump is on the TV news in the restaurant. We try to keep it light, joking that we are Canadians, but laugh and say we are from California. The fellow at the counter sympathizes with us for being Americans, no levity here, and hopes that Trump doesn’t start WWIII. In our travels, I’ve felt that people in other countries may think Americans were a little loud, ethnocentric, or maybe unworldly. Always, I felt we were well tolerated and maybe liked. It’s a different vibe on this trip. There’s uncertainty, wariness when a stranger hears our accent. They seem to wait to see if we support Trump before they say anything.

When we arrive in Kempsey, the innkeeper has a real fear of Trump. “Trump has such a big ego, he should not be a world leader. He is dangerous. What Trump does effects us, we are your allies.” At one point I am afraid that our host will shake me by the shoulders and ask me what I will do about this situation.

In Brisbane the young woman who does my hair tells me that there are lots of anti-Trump protests in Brisbane and other cities in Australia. She asks me to explain to her why Americans have such a problem with immigrants. She’s not kidding around with me. Brisbane is full of all kinds of immigrants and she doesn’t get what the issues are with some Americans regarding immigration.

Trump is ridiculed and reviled in the papers here as well. Also in the local papers, Mem Fox, grandmotherly Aussie , 70 year old children’s book author was recently questioned and detained, and treated very badly by US Immigration. Fox had made well over one hundred previous trips to the US. Now, however, she said that she may never return to visit the US, and sobbed like a baby when her ordeal was over. Termed “Trump’s America” it is called, it makes my stomach turn. This is now the image of my beautiful country.

We take a respite from the turmoil with this trip, and are delighted by road signs today:

  • Watch for kangaroos
  • Watch for koalas
  • Stop, revive, survive. Driver reviver stand in 10 km.
  • Prepare your bush. (Tee hee Fire preparedness)

The place names are so much too. Aboriginal places such as Dodingalong, Cooperabung, Coolongolook, Kundle Kundle, Pappinburra, and Woolgoolga just make us smile.

Our home tonight is Netherby House, a heritage 1922 property on the banks of the Macleay River. It is damp here, everything smells damp, feels damp. Locals are as wet as we are from the humidity and heat. The river has a slightly off-putting smell, and the surrounding garden feels so heavy, heavy with fragrance and moisture. A little breeze would feel so good. There are dead bats still hanging from the trees and loud choruses of insects. They were causalities of the previous week’s heat wave. Why are they still up there? The dark interior of the B and B and the fussy silk flower arrangements in old “pocketbooks”, with crocheted doilies on so many surfaces makes me glad we are only here for a night. As with the weather yesterday, a loud thunderstorm erupts in the early evening. Raindrops loudly pound the metal roof. The only thing to do is to give into the weighty lethargy and sleep.

Sleep, we did! During the night eight police cars arrived at the bnb to look for a robbery suspect. We didn’t hear a thing.

Barry’s not having the best of times today. When trying to buy some gas it took us both a full ten minutes to figure out how to open the gas tank lid. I got the car manual out to learn that all the doors have to be unlocked to allow the gas tank cover to unlatch. It didn’t help that when signaling to turn into the gas station, Barry (not for the first time) turned on the windshield wipers instead of the turn indictors. Further, someone in the shop referred to him as the man in the floral shirt, not the Manly aloha shirt that he so loves. “Doesn’t he know it’s an aloha shirt, grumble… grumble …floral shirt…grumble.”

Yamba (YAM ba), is a wonderful beach town. I wish we had more than one day here! It has beautiful powered white sandy beaches, little down town, surfers, yoga, meditation classes, my kind of place.

Next stop is the mountaintop subtropical bnb in Currumbin. This is the real deal jungle. Waves of insect noise rise and fall and the Chinese Australian hostess warns us not to go on the bush walk without pants and closed toe shoes. Jungle ticks. We have two nights here, though I don’t care for narrow, windy, mountain roads, DRIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD THIS TIME, it’s a pleasant and unique stay.

We spent a wonderful day at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary holding koalas, feeding kangaroos and seeing all kinds of Australian animals. Barry booked a Segway tour for us, and we had a blast. Just the two of us and a guide, we ran all over the park. (See the movie)

I have to admit that it was a relief to arrive in Brisbane and return the car. We were getting the hang of navigating and driving. However, “No one died. There was no property damage.”, is today’s mantra.

Fish & Bondi

Fish Market and Bondi Beach
February 17, 2017

It is soo hot and I am soo schwety. Yuck! However, we both really want to see the famous Sydney fish market. Yup, it is pretty cool. There are impressive displays of oysters, fish and sushi. We’d love to cook some, but we don’t have a kitchen. We sample some oysters and sushi then head to the BEACH!

We Uber to Bondi Beach (pronounced “bon-dye”). The plan is to walk one of the great coastal walks, Bondi to Coogee. It’s supposed to take 1-2 hours at about 6 miles. I read about it months ago, and it looks amazing, I can’t wait. BUT, the heat is overwhelming, even at the coast. We start out, but we are dripping with sweat and decide to save it for the next trip to Sydney, and a cooler day.

Heading back to Bondi Pavilion, there’s a festive restaurant that epitomizes beachy – wooden aqua painted tables, navy cushions , white shades above us, like sails. The view is world renowned Bondi Beach. Barry and I pull up some shade and a pitcher of Pimm’s punch. We watch the parade of bronzed beach regulars:  young parents with pre-nap toddlers, older folks with newly sunburned cheeks (maybe Brits?…mad dogs and Englishman…), bikini babes and lots of surfers. It’s a real show! I think Chris Hemsworth walked by a few times. Yumm! The ocean mesmerizes. There are layers of color that shift: white surf, tan sandy water, aqua, turquoise, jade, deep blue on the horizon.

Though we didn’t do the walk we’d planned, we get 4.97 miles on Fitbit. A final meal at our home away from home this week, The Lord  Nelson, ends our practically perfect day. We rent a car and drive North tomorrow.

Tasting All that LIfe has to Offer