Good morning Sydney
Last morning of the adventure with the sun rising over the Opera House
What an adventure! When we were planning the trip we wondered if nearly 7 weeks was going to be too long - or as our daughter worried "Would we even be talking to each other by the end????" Well, the good news is that we're still talking, albeit with an occasional spat generally whilst (as the Aussie's say) driving a roundabout.
Just thinking about everywhere we've been makes my head spin - thank heavens for the blog to remind me. A friend asked how I had the discipline to blog - well, I'm fortunate in that words flow easily for me, and anyway, it was the only way I could insure I didn't drink too much wine at dinner every night. I love to watch human nature at work and much of what we both enjoyed on the trip were our observations of the people and places, and the delightful quirkiness of the human condition. I consciously wrote in the present tense - something that writers know is often difficult - as it seemed to capture best the immediacy of the experience.
So, what are we thinking about on this long plane ride home? Lots of stuff and things.... Planes, trains and automobiles and assorted other things that go fast...
12 different flights, over 26,400 air miles
Including on the largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus 380, all the way down to that tiny four seater in the Whitsundays, on five different carriers - Singapore Air, Qantas, Jet Star, GSL Aviation (our Whitsunday friend), and United. And just to see how much you remember about our itinerary, try to identify all these codes for the airports we flew into (and I didn't even throw in our unexpected detour to HND or the ground stop in HKG):
Qantas definitely has the worst flight attendant uniforms for the women - cheap looking rayon print dresses sometimes made even worse by a distinct lack of style on the part of the wearer. Of course, Steve is still drooling over the Singapore Air flight attendants....whoops, I meant their uniforms.
We were spoiled by Singapore Air, even in Economy, with the service, food and drink, amenities, seat back entertainment system, and all around kindness of the crew. Qantas was a pleasant surprise, both domestically and internationally, with on time flights, no baggage charges and decent food and wine on all flights, even the shortest ones. The best fun airplane food award has to go to the ice cream Popsicles served on board one of our Qantas flights. I don't want to knock our domestic carriers too much...after all, I'm sitting on a United 747 as I write this...but they have a long way to go to catch up with the international competition. If you have the chance, fly Singapore Air sometime.
2 ferries, 2 boats, 1 train, 1 bus, 7 rental cars
Traveling by ferry really is a comfortable, relaxing way to go, particularly on an overnight one. We ran the gamut with our shipboard accommodations, with the Solway Lass getting the award for most interesting placement of a toilet (in the shower) which gives new meaning to the term ensuite. KiwiRail has stunning new cars, with an open air carriage to drink in the scenery, and really comfortable seats, with plugs by each seat. Since our cars ran the gamut from the behemoth GW to a small and steady compact, the distinguishing difference were the 4 different rental car companies we dealt with - Budget, Hertz, Thrifty, and Europcar (I'm a loyalty program's worst nightmare since I always look for the best deal) - best service award goes to the desk agent in Melbourne who carefully gave us directions on how to get out of town without having to make a hook turn.
But , hands down, the most fun form of transportation...the Harley Davidsons at Uluru!
Most challenging transportation experience - the hook turns in Melbourne!
Airport security ranged from vigilant - remember that lost eyeglass repair kit in Singapore - to almost laughable. Aussies and Kiwi apparently don't think they must be of much interest to international terrorists since there's no prohibition on liquids, no full body scans, and you get to keep all your clothing on when you go through security...just when I was getting used to getting undressed in public. Now I lay me down to sleep...
11 hotels, 6 B&Bs, and 1 NoTell motel
It's tough when you start your trip with the best, but Raffles was hands down the best hotel, with a close honorable mention to the Park Hyatt Melbourne.
Raffles evokes the elegance and splendor of a bygone era in a city that is on the cutting edge of tomorrow. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the two but after a day exploring the newness of Singapore it felt like coming back to a cocoon of age old comfort at the hotel. Breakfast in the Tiffin Room was a delight, with the freshest fruits, best coffee, a little side chair just for my purse, and a plethora of new and interesting foods on the buffet, all accompanied by small sparrows winging their way through the large French doors leading to the outside. Of course, for Steve, it was getting to sit on the terrace outside our room every afternoon, sometimes with a Singapore Sling in hand, and luxuriate in the thrum of the tropical downpour.
The Park Hyatt Melbourne has the most intelligently and sensitively designed hotel rooms, as well as being spacious and comfortable, of any recently designed hotel in which we have stayed. Its location near the CBD but in a quiet, park like setting was perfect, as well as the genuine friendliness and helpfulness of the staff.
As for B&Bs, I'd move into Straw Lodge in Blenheim and live there forever (maybe then we wouldn't get lost walking to the river). It was the perfect combination of comfort and casualness, thoughtfully designed accommodations - no tatted doilies here - augmented by Tex, the black lab, delicious wine, and wonderful hosts. If they could bottle their magic, in addition to their wine, it would be a winning combination. Eat, drink and be merry...
We did...a lot. I don't want to get on the scale when I get home.
You remember our commitment to find a bad Sauvignon Blanc - well, we failed, but not for lack of trying. The wineries and vintages we enjoyed were way too numerous to mention but there was something very special about walking through the vineyard at Worlds End in Blenheim, enjoying a glass of wine made from the grapes that had grown on these very vines not too long ago. However, since Steve and I don't take failure well, we're planning on continuing our search for that elusive bad Sauvignon Blanc.
Much of the food was good and interesting but probably nothing to blow your socks off. The seafood was plentiful and delicious and we discovered lots of interesting new fishes - barramundi, John Dory -and loved the green lipp mussels. And that fresh caught smoked trout for breakfast in Rotorua - fabulous. What we enjoyed the most was enjoying local foods - passion tree fruit in Port Douglas, Manuka honey in Te Anau, Tasmanian bue cheese, dragon fruit in Singapore, kangaroo in Uluru, venison in Queenstown. Who knew that pumpkin was a staple on the menu in both countries, prepared in so many different ways...pumpkin risotto anyone? Paying for bread was a new experience, but offset by no expectation of tipping on the dinner check. One of our Aussie acquaintances explained that wait staff get paid a decent hourly wage, rather than the pittance in the USA with the expectation that you'll live off your tips. Miscellaneous musings...
It got hot and it got cold. We experienced the hottest day ever in Sydney - 115 degrees - and burrowed under the covers in Te Anau. Thank you, Steve, for getting up early every morning to turn on the heater. Summer comes in lots of different guises down under...made packing interesting.
Speaking of which, a big shout out to both Anne Cain and Lauren Gold. Anne for introducing us to packing cubes and Lauren for giving us great ones from LL Bean for Christmas. For those of you who thought I'd never be able to do the trip in a 22 inch suitcase, two words...packing cubes. It kept us organized and able to squish stuff down enough that I had room for the results of my shopping expeditions. A second shout out to Anne for the unbelievable travel purse she loaned to me - compact enough not to look like you're carrying a backpack but commodious enough that I even got a bottle of wine in it.
Digital traveling is the way to go - no more envelopes bursting with tickets and itineraries for us. After all, if you make all the reservations on the Internet, shouldn't you just use the same idea once you're underway. Dropbox is a godsend - copies of all the confirmations, tickets, emails were all tucked up there available on my iPhone or iPad whenever I needed them, as well as those great travel suggestion emails from friends so when we were looking for a restaurant in a new town, we had lots of good pointers readily available. TripIt is a jewel - as I would get conformation emails, I'd just forward them on to my TripIt account and magically the whole itinerary was created automatically. You can add other activities, notes, etc. to the itinerary, as needed, and then sync everything with your electronic calendar so it's easily available on your phone or tablet. However, under the belt and suspenders theory of travel, if my phone ran out of juice, Steve could access the same Dropbox files...and, truth be told, I did bring one hard copy of the itinerary. Wonder how we kept track of all the expenses? Mint, Intuit's online, free version of Quicken, lets you tag expenses so we could so easily see them mount up...don't even think of asking how much. Steve loved all the apps that let him keep track of the mounting credit card bill...funny how fast something would get posted to our Visa account...sometimes we'd barely be out the door when his phone would chime with an email announcing a new charge already posted. His best fun was paying his mother's retirement home bill from her checking account at her bank in Baltimore on his phone sitting seaside in Port Douglas. The Apple maps app isn't as bad as all that and they definitely have better audio instructions on how to drive a roundabout. The funniest time was when I had dueling Apple maps and Google maps both screaming at us in a roundabout with different directions - certainly helped keep the blood pressure up. A few tips - get a dual USB cigarette lighter plug for the car - it prevents spats over whose phone stays charged, bring extra plug adapters - there's always more to plug in than you thought (that is unless you are staying at Raffles where they happily supply you with all the adapters you need), remember to sync a lot of music on your phone - even we got tired of listening to South Pacific and singing "Friends in Low Places."
We loved meeting people all over the place. Our wonderful B&B hosts, fellow guests, folks on trips and tours, wait staff at restaurants - those relationships, brief as they may be, color your travels and are part of what make them so memorable. You get into the most interesting conversations - Bob Brown, our host at Frangipani in Port Douglas, having a persuasive conversation with Steve over breakfast about the Murdoch family and his belief that they are not the rapacious, ruthless media mavens they have been made out to be, but rather well-respected and generous community supporters, who have donated millions throughout Australia.
Best museum...Te Papa in Wellington. Innovative, intelligent, respectful, fun - we could learn a lot here.
Best architecture - Singapore. When you have no legacy infrastructure, gutsy (read dictatorial) government, and the money to back it up, the sky's the limit.
Hottest lifeguards - Bondi. 'Nuff said.
And now for Steve's sunglasses - I had threatened a blog of its own for this topic. Steve is blind as a bat and so wearing glasses is a serious necessity for him. When you're traveling you're frequently going in and out of buildings so there's the ritualistic switching between regular glasses and sunglasses. But does he have room to carry a spare glass case with him - of course not! I've gifted him with not one, not two, but three different clip on glass cases but none of them seem to meet his specifications. Rather, where does the spare pair of glasses go - why, of course, into that commodious purse of mine. If I had a nickel for every time I heard that little voice asking to switch glasses, I'd have enough money to do this trip again. A prize for anyone who finds a clip on glass case sufficient for his needs and wants...the prize being not having to view our 1,500 photos from the trip the next time we see you (thank heavens for lots of SD cards). Steve says he has assumed responsibility for finding a remedy - check back on our next trip.
And finally for the title of this blog - No Worries and Tight Lines. No Worries is the quintessential Aussieism...if we heard it once a day, we heard it a hundred times. It seems to be the ubiquitous answer to anything and captures that sunny, loose, casual, happy Aussie spirit so well. I first read the phrase Tight Lines as the sign off from all the emails with Kiwi fly fishing guides when I was setting up the trip last summer and, as Steve and Lex pulled out for their day of fishing, Lyn happily wished them the same. Again, it captures that Kiwi spirit of good-heartedness, simple life, loving the outdoors. Two new phrases that will always remind us of our incredible adventure.
This trip felt like a comfortable combination of the known with a nice frisson of adventure and discovery, overlaid with some of the most magnificent scenery we've ever known. Beautiful lands, welcoming people, new adventures...and memories forever.
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