Friday, February 27, 2009
Another lazy day at sea; these are Carolyn’s favorites. Dick spends the morning messing on the computer and Carolyn goes to the vegetable carving demonstration where they make a flower basket in a watermelon bowl
and the culinary demonstration where the head chef prepares two dishes; pesto pasta and a scallop dish. The pastry chef does a custard desert also. It turns out to be comedy show because they can’t get the burners to work right and waste a lot of time which in turn causes the pastry chef’s frozen sample made earlier to melt so it won’t hold the finish decorations!. It is a fun hour and a half!After lunch, we both go to the two lectures. The first one is “World Famous Ocean Liners” by a Dr. Bradley and Sarah Weber. They have been doing a series of talks on various sea related subjects since the ship left on its world cruise. The talk today is on the RMS Titanic. It is from the perspective of the type of ship and is very interesting. The second one is of interest to Dick, “Custom Villages and Cargo Cults, a visit to the Black Islands of Melanesia”. The speaker is Dr. Pamela Peck. She talks about Vanuatu and its people and mystery. Dick said it was good, but Carolyn only remembers the opening and closing pictures. She had a very nice nap during the rest of it!
The ship brought on new entertainers in Cairns and tonight it is a comedian and a musician at the pre-dinner show. The men are OK, but not as good as the ones before them. However, it is nice to do something before dinner.
Tonight’s menu has three of Carolyn’s favorite appetizers; crabmeat cocktail, a fruit and cheese dish and a potato and cheese quiche, so those dishes and a bowl of the, “always available,” fettuccine alfredo are her choices. Dick has the crabmeat cocktail, a vegetable and lamb soup and the “drunken shrimp”. We finish off with our waiter’s recommendation of the chocolate mint torte. It is another good end to a very relaxing day.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
After falling into bed last night, by 8:00AM we are awake and well rested, ready for a day somewhere in the Coral Sea basin. It is sunny, humid and hot!
This morning Carolyn decides to do a though search of the luggage and stuff. The goal is to get everything we want to send home, souvenirs, travel books, and clothes that we are not using or don’t need any more sorted and ready to ship home when we stop later at Guam. The other reason is to be sure that we haven’t just hidden some little things from ourselves. In the process, she realizes that among the lost travel papers are the passport photos for the visas for the countries where we will get our visas "on arrival", one more thing to take care of while we are on the ship! The saving grace of all the mess with the lost case is that we had two extrenal drives for picture storage. We were using one just as a back up and at some point in New Zealand started carrying it in the camera case. So we still have all our pictures and now have a new replacement drive. Again we have two sets of all the trip pictures!
After lunch, Carolyn goes to a port talk for Rabaul, our next stop. Since it is so hot outside, Dick goes for a swim, but the sun does not appeal to Carolyn, she uses the time to work on the computer.
A new singer is doing the pre dinner show for our seating. He came on board at Cairns. We get a drink and enjoy his performance.
It is Polynesian night tonight, but neither of us is too hungry, Dick has crab pot stickers and coconut scallops and Carolyn has salmon from the “always available” list and we both have a very good macadamia nut mouse.
They are having a western ho down up stairs with the crew, but we are party poopers and head for bed instead!
The mistake most people from the US make in planning a trip Down Under is that we get a map of the whole of Australia and pick places we want to go, either driving or flying, in our standard vacation time of 2-3 weeks including the time to fly to Australia and back. Hey this is how we do it at home….except we are usually looking at state maps and are talking about doing something in one or two states. Makes sense…Hey; my map of Texas is the same size as my map of Australia! We simply forget that we would not try to see all of the US in a couple of weeks and, like wise, we cannot do that in Australia either. Both countries are huge!
We arrived on January 22 and left on February 24. We went from the Pacific to the Indian Oceans on the Indian Pacific train and from the Northern Territory to the Southern Ocean on The Ghan. We drove some 3,000km in West and South Australia. We stayed mostly in self-catering cottages with a few city hotels thrown in. We shopped in local produce and meat markets, fixing many of our meals in the cottages and visited with lots of lovely people. We visited Kangaroo Island, but did not go to Tasmania nor to the state of Victoria. We stayed in Sydney, 4days; Albany WA, 4 days; Yallingap WA, 2 days; Fremantle WA, 3 days; Darwin NT, 2 days; Seven Hill SA, 2 days; Oakbank SA, 4 days; Kangaroo Island, 2 days. We spent three nights on the Indian Pacific Train stopping in Broken Hill, Cook, and Kalgorrli, then spent two nights on The Ghan with stops in Katherine and Alice Springs. We flew from Perth to Darwin and from Adelaide to Sydney on Qantas. We found their service to be great and the planes comfortable in coach. Our final time in Australia was spent on the Tahitian Princess with stops in Brisbane and Cairns.
We feel we got a good taste of the country. It reminds us of the US…very diverse terrain, varying in appearance very quickly sometimes with lots of cigarette-smoking, tattoo-sporting, scantily clothed young people. As we went from place to place we would say oh, this looks like…. For instance, the Red Center looks like Utah and the four corners area. It is a much drier country than the US. It is a young country compared to the US; almost 200 years younger….their history begins with the transportations in the late 1700’s, ours begins with the Jamestown settlement in the early 1600’s. The people are friendly, easy to talk to, fun to listen to, very proud of their country and do not hesitate to tell you how great it is.
Traveling in Australia reminds me of traveling in the States in the 1950’s…in the rural areas, the small towns have not changed…actually, it looks like time has stood still since, say 1900. On the other hand, the cities are very new and shiny looking with a core of the original Victorian center.
ACCOMODATIONS: There are many nice small B&B’s and guest cottages, but very few hotel/motels except in the big cities and, with the exception of Sydney, the hotels are not up to the standard we are used to in the States. The name hotels are expensive for what the rooms are like. Some of the cottages we stayed in were over the top in what was provided, some tended to nickel and dime us. If I have one BIG complaint, it is with the A/C. Everywhere we stayed, I checked for A/C and all places said they had it. However, the reality is some places think an A/C unit in the living room of a four-room cottage is air-conditioning. This brings me to the climate.
We visited in the summer time. The north and the east coast are humid and hot, but no more so than on the Texas or Florida coast…actually not as hot as we get in the Summer. The problem is the lack of efficient A/C in public buildings. I am not sure whether the abundance of street side cafes is a result of people liking to be out doors or because it is just too hot inside. The center and the south are hot during the day, but comfortable at night, in fact far more so than summer time at home. Of course, this is because it is the dry season.
FOOD: We found the meat and produce in the local markets a real treat and very reasonably priced, but did not enjoy the restaurant food that much. Most of the restaurants were very pricey, in fact. The type of food leans too much to the Pacific Rim style for our taste. The food combinations and spice choices just did not hit us right and we realize that is a personal thing.
DRIVING: The roads for the most part were well maintained and traffic was light, even during what is considered the rush hour. The roads, except around the big cities, are two-lane with passing lanes where needed. We never had problems with animals on the road, but we did not drive after sunset either. We did encounter some road-trains, but not any longer than four trailers. The road-trains are allowed to be as long as six trailers! Driving was very easy and we would highly recommend a driving vacation! Like driving anywhere in our western states or Alaska, you need to plan a little and be aware of your gas situation etc, but it is not a big problem.
We enjoyed our time in Australia. There are a few places we would still like to visit and a few we would like to revisit in the springtime. My biggest recommendation to anyone planning a trip is to get out of the big cities and away from the big tourist areas and visit the areas and the lesser known coastal areas… in the south and west, they are wonderful!
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
A lazy day at sea……we get down to breakfast about 8:45am then go to the lounge to hear a very good talk on Captain Bligh. The Great Barrier Reef Pilot is a very good speaker and must love seafaring history!
Back in the room before lunch Dick works on the computer getting everything back up to date. After lunch Carolyn works on the pictures and gets mostly caught up on the Blog. Fortunately we had two drives and were backing up pictures on both. We had one in the computer case with the computer, but the other was in the camera case! So we were lucky in that we haven't lost the pictures.
It has been rainy most of the last two days at sea, so we haven’t been swimming or out and about much, but hopefully the weather will improve for our day in Cains tomorrow and the reef trip.
The evening show for second seating diner is at 6:45PM. It is a double act…a singer, Drew Ashley and a comedian, Don Ware. They preformed the first night when we were in such a tizzy. At dinner that night everyone was raving about the acts, so we go for this show. They really are very good!
We have a nice dinner; Dick has escargot, French onion soup, Caesar salad and frogs legs: Carolyn has shrimp cocktail, French onion soup, Caesar salad and a steak. We like the show before diner. You are not falling asleep while trying to enjoy the entrainment. There is still music and dancing after diner if we want it, but it is off the bed for us. We have an early call for the reef trip tomorrow!
After a good night’s sleep, we are ready for a pleasant sea day. Dick spends the morning getting the computer set up and Carolyn goes to an interesting lecture given by our Great Barrier Reef Pilot. There is a sushi luncheon on the Lido so that is where Dick eats. Carolyn eats in the main dining room as they have lasagna, a favorite.
We both attend a good lecture on Captain Cook this afternoon and then enjoy the activities of the first formal night; all the while trying to get the blog up to date. We go to the “Welcome Abroad” cocktail party for those of us that boarded in Sydney. The captain introduces the senior staff and tells us there are 509 passengers from nine countries on board. The ship is full at 650, so that may explain the roomy feel of things. For dinner Dick has lobster bisque, the great Caesar dressing on a little salad and halibut, Carolyn has crab quiche, the Caesar salad and lobster thermadore. Good food and good night!
Monday, February 23, 2009
After a week or more of rain, Sydney’s weather is supposed to improve today. It is still overcast and rainy when we head to breakfast, but, by the time we are ready to start exploring, things look better with blue sky off in the distance.
We take a taxi up to QVB, the Queen Victoria Building. We walk over to the town Hall with its clock tower, finished in the 1880’s, and to St. Andrew’s Cathedral, built in 1819. The QVB is a beautiful Victorian building, built in the 1890’s as a produce market. It is five floors, two underground and three above with a copper dome and a glass ceiling. Carolyn is still looking for opals so after checking the directory we head to the top floor to a small one-man shop and, with the help of a delightful sales lady, walk out with five stones. They are a pair of boulder opals for earrings, two other really nice, irregular shaped, bolder opals, one with the blue colors and one with the reds, for pendants and a black opal that will match a pair of stones Dana got for Carolyn while she was teaching in Australia in 1995. The search and the wait were worth it.
While Carolyn shops for opals, Dick explores and finds a fountain pen shop with a gorgeous heavily decorated pen for only $9000AU, but he decides he can live without it for that price. We find a neat antique jewelry store with a great collection of Victorian things. Carolyn visits with the owner and finds that he has just found a Victorian Diary Locket in 18ct gold. The locket was made around 1900 by a famous Melbourne jeweler. It has all the proof marking and is very nice. Needless to say, we walk out with the locket and all the documentation on it. It is real piece of Australiana; a great find if you like that kind of stuff!
By the time we start our walk back to the Rocks and the hotel, it is after 2:00PM, the skies have cleared and the humidity has come out with a vengeance! We stop and check out another shopping area, The Strand, built in 1891. It is a shopping arcade filled with many little shops and cafes and is covered by glass roof. It reminds us of many such places in London and Paris. We also admire Martin Place. It opened in 1891 and is now a traffic free plaza with the beautiful Renaissance style Post office built in 1866. After cooling off and resting for awhile at the hotel,we head down to the end of the Rocks to Campbell’s Storehouses and an Italian place, The Italian Village, which has been recommended, for an early supper. As has happened several times on this trip so far, we are greeted with an Australian version of Italian which is akin to most cruise ship’s attempt at Tex-Mex! We won’t go hungry, but it definitely is not very good or worth the high price! The Steak dinner in the hotel last night was much better and almost half the price. It is still light when we finish so we walk around the area and take some pictures in the good light. Then we take a taxi back to the hotel and bed.