Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Australian Hinterlands and the Sunshine Coast

Following a great weekend with our cousins on the Gold Coast, it was time to move on. No more 5:00 p.m. drinks on the beach, toasting the end of another beautiful day in paradise. We had three wonderful barbies (barbecues), brunch with the entire family at the local Surf Club, and walks on the beach. But more sightseeing beckoned.

We drove back to Brisbane via the Hinterlands - the area inland from the coast. It is a scenic, mountainous part of Australia. The pictures above of hub and I were taken on the Tambourine Mountain skywalk. The skywalk is a sturdy walkway above the rainforest. I am not a fan of heights or the ability of the skywalk to sway at times, therefore I held on for dear life on parts of it. Hub, on the other hand, enjoyed moving the skywalk back and forth and looking down, enjoying the view.
The following day we drove north through the countryside to the Sunshine Coast, the beaches north of Brisbane. We passed through the Glass Mountains, in the picture above, stopping at various lookouts to enjoy the scenery. Throughout our trip we did some bushwalking - hiking. On one bushwalk through the Storybook Mountains we spied wallabies (or kangaroos, but we can't tell the difference).

We drove to Noosa Heads, the town at the northern tip of the Sunshine Coast. Our idea was to spend some time in Noosa, then drive home south along the coast. Noosa and the Sunshine Coast area turned out to be totally different from the Gold Coast - sort of like the difference between Miami Beach or Virginia Beach, and Carmel and Palm Beach. Noosa Heads is an affluent, upscale beach resort. This was not exactly our kind of town. The pictures above are proof positive hub tested the Pacific waters at Noosa, and show one of the high-end boutiques on the boulevard. Somehow I know I do not fit the profile of a Noosa girl...
April 25th is one of the most important Australian national holidays - ANZAC Day. Anzac stands for the Australian New Zealand Army Corps. ANZAC Day is similar to The U.S.'s Veterans or Memorial Day. The holiday originally commemorated the heroics of the Australian and New Zealand forces at Gallipoli during World War I. The Allies attempted to open the Dardanelles Straits, between the Mediterranean and Black Seas, with the ultimate goal of capturing the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople (Istanbul today). The campaign failed miserably. Troops initially landed on Gallipoli April 25th, 1915; eight months later the Allies retreated. Over 10,000 ANZAC troops died during the ordeal. Today the holiday memorializes all troops who fought in wars over the past century, including those currently in Afghanistan.

We woke early and attended the local parade and service in our Brisbane neighborhood. The parade started at 7:30 .a.m. - many towns have sunrise services. 

Following the service and breakfast at a local cafe, we drove north through an area with mountains, fruit and vegetable farms, ranches (cattle and sheep), and wineries. Almost everything - stores, cafes, schools - was closed. We could not find a cafe open for lunch, but did find a small market in the town of Crows Nest. We bought a cooked chicken and sat in the park, enjoying our lunch.
Hub preparing our chicken feast.

Sorry that posting has been erratic - internet service has been slow, non-existent, and/or expensive.

I have been posting articles about our Australian Adventure on seniorreport.com. Check them out here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Paradise Australian Style

I can forgive those of you who think I have returned to the U.S. and am now in Florida or some other beachy, palm tree-lined resort town. I am still Down Under, and this picture of Surfer's Paradise - that is the real name of the town - is an example of how much the U.S. life style has gone international. Surfer's Paradise is the largest town in a strip called the Gold Coast along Australia's eastern shoreline.  Smaller towns have cute names like Coolangatta, Kiri, Nobby Beach, Mermaid Beach, Palm Beach and Miami Beach.

Gold Coast weather is warm enough for swimming and sunning all year round, although it is cooler in the winter. The area attracts Northern Hemisphere vacationers from throughout Asia and Europe.


Additional examples of American gone international - the following are all here: 7-11 convenience stores, KFC, Hungry Jack (Australian for Burger King), Target, K Mart, Subway, and especially McDonald McCafes. They seem to be everywhere. There are other American retail and food chains here...But so far what has not crossed the Pacific is the proliferation of large bookstores to the detriment of local ones. There are small local bookstores everywhere. They are fun to roam around in. Many have small cafes attached, encouraging browsers to stay a while. But once again I digress...

Surfer's Paradise's first successful resort hotel dates from the 1920's, but the resort really did not take off until hippies, surfers, and beach bums discovered the place in the 1950s and 1960s. Driving down the coast road, it is not much different from Miami Beach - highrises, tourists, cars, beach bums. There does not, however, seem to be as many seniors out and about. But driving around the country there are a number of retirement communities. Australia is experiencing economic problems - no country has been immune from the financial crisis - and the prevalence of retirement options will continue to grow once the economy improves again.



We did not go to the Gold Coast solely for fun in the sun. My cousin lives there and we had a wonderful family reunion. Early morning walks, dinners on the  barbie (barbecue), a visit to the Sunday flea, food and miscellaneous-stuff market, and we met new family members - spouses and grandchild.
 
This is a picture of the lifeguard tower on Gold Coast beaches. They do not have to worry about too much sun exposure!

And speaking of too much sun exposure...a current controversy in Queensland is the banning of long shorts (Bermuda shorts or just above the knee length) for men working on the railroads. The justification is that it is a preventive measure against skin cancer. 


Most of our accommodations have been wonderful. The one exception is our one night in "The Dump". It was the only place we could find on our drive up the coast one evening, an RV resort with cabins. It is memorable for the contrast to our other digs. But we slept there, got up in the morning and were out very quickly. It was not a place where we wanted to linger!

We are still having problems with e-mail post deliveries. If anyone has had the problem or knows of an answer or where to go to find relief, please let me know!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Culinary Treats a la Australia

The internet is a wonderful invention, but does not always work seamlessly. We have been having problems Down Under with a slow connection at the house where we are staying. The wireless at cafes also does not always work well. I am trying to post when possible. Thank you for your patience!

Food is a favorite topic, and we have successfully eaten our way from Sidney north to Brisbane and along the Gold Coast. Here are a few pictures from our culinary experiences.

Lunch on the road at the Aussie (pronounce Auzzee - that's where they get the Oz in Land of Oz as a nickname for Australia) Steak House. The restaurant/pub is in a hotel dating back to the 1800s.

Australians are meat eaters. There is a lot of lamb on menus, as well as beef and pork. Bacon seems to be in everything, but it is not the thin slices familiar to Americans. Aussies cook up large slabs of bacon and cut them into smaller pieces for dishes such as omelettes, salads and quiche, or eat the slices as part of a typical brekky (breakfast) - eggs, ham or sausage, potatoes, tomatoes (halved and baked) or mushrooms, toast (usually white bread), and slices of avocado. 

Kangaroos and other native wildlife are also consumed, although the animals are not as popular as cattle/beef, sheep/lamb and pig/pork. We tried roo burgers one night. I did not like them - tasted too gamey, well done and tough - but hub ate them.

I am sure you have spent time pondering the age-old question - how did the kangaroo get its name? The story goes an enterprising Englishman was attempting to communicate with the natives. The Englishman pointed to a kangaroo and asked what it was. The aborigine answered, "kangaroo," which means something like: I have no idea what  you are talking about.
Who would think this cool looking drink was an iced coffee? Little did I know when I first ordered an iced coffee I would become addicted Oz-style. The Oz version consists of a tall glass with a large scoop of ice cream, espresso coffee, and ice cubes made of coffee - that way the drink does not get diluted as the ice cubes melt. The Aussies really love their coffee, and iced coffee a la Oz is a winner!
We spent the weekend with my cousins who live in a subtropical beach mecca along what is known as the Gold Coast of Australia. My cousin went to Australia when she graduated from college decades ago, obtaining a two year teaching job. She met her soulmate, married, and as they say - the rest is history. They lived in Australia almost two decades, moved back to the states for another 15 years, and two years ago the entire family returned to Australia. 

There is nothing more appropriate to subtropical beach living than the 5:00 p.m. drink on the beach. Hub enjoys his beer here.
Prawns - otherwise known as shrimp to most Americans - are available in several sizes and varieties. They are always sold head intact, whether raw or cooked. Here I am holding a large cooked shrimp pre-beheading. Removing the head requires a quick snap, otherwise gooey stuff has to be extracted before eating.

I have to give up now.
It has taken 45 minutes to download the pictures above.

I have been writing more about our Australian Adventure for seniorreport.com website. Check out our latest adventures here.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Meet Our New Australian Friends

Our first night in Australia we met cousins for dinner. This picture of the four of us - including me (the short one) and  hub (the gray haired one) -  does not really show how exhausted we were from the trip - airline delays, long flights, jet lag. But we had a great, traditional Aussie dinner at a local pub - steak, chips and salad for the Thursday night special price of $15. Drinks, however, are expensive - $8 for a beer, anywhere from $3.50 to $5.50 for soft drinks or coffee. The coffee is wonderful here - Aussies love their coffee.
Creatures such as this friendly lizard, just hanging out on the sidewalk, are common, especially on wooded paths and pavement.
One night I was sitting at the kitchen table and happened to look up at the wall and ceiling. There, just hanging out, was this gecko. Looking around more carefully, his companion was wandering around another wall of the room. Not knowing whether friendly or not - should we abandon the house and run? - I called our hosts' daughter who lived nearby. I told her our dilemma - and she laughed. Geckos commonly share the upper space of many Australian homes. They are nocturnal, appearing in the evening hours, and do homeowners a favor by eating moths and insects.

Meet my friend Wally (as in wallabee) and hub's friend. We got up close and personal with the local animals at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

Our Australian/American cousins John and Marsha. We spent a wonderful weekend on the Gold Coast with them - location of Surfer's Paradise and other towns such as Palm Beach and Miami (really).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pictures from Our Adventure Down Under


Proof positive we are actually in the land of Oz - hub and the iconic Sydney Opera House.



Everyone has seen pictures of the Sydney Opera House, but I have never seen pictures of the ladies' room. The top picture of the stalls does not really do justice to the beautiful, undulating stalls and wide aisle. The bottom picture of the sinks is a common rest room design here. The water from the faucet falls onto the surface and flows downhill into an unseen tank. 


This is an iconic - and historically-designated and protected - Sydney landmark - no kidding!



American culture has made deep, deep inroads in Australia. Need I say more!?

Bondi is a famous Sydney surf, sand and sunbathing beach. Yes, that windblown figure is me.
Sydney Harbor Bridge

Courageous souls can take a two hour training course, don safety clothing and a harness, (say prayers), and climb to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Look close and you can see a group of hearty souls walking up, and some on the top of the bridge hugging the flagpole!

Another popular Sydney activity is ascending to the top of the Observation Tower, seen here towering over the Sydney skyline. The tower was built to withstand a once-in-500-year earthquake, but I was taking no chances. Maybe next time...
Aboriginal carvings on a tree in Sydney's Botanical Gardens.

Stay tuned for more pictures from Down Under. 
Next installment - our new Australian friends and other native features.




Sunday, April 15, 2012

Eating Out Down Under


The Australian flag flies over the Sydney Harbor bridge.

There is a lot to see and do in Sydney. Dear to my heart is the topic of food, so this post is all about our initial Aussie culinary experiences.

On our first full day in the country we checked out the hotel breakfast, included in our room rate. The buffet was overflowing with an assortment of foods. Hot items included scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, and mushrooms (typical Aussie fare). There were hot and cold cereals, a variety of muffins, croissants, whole grain breads and English muffins, and fresh fruit including kiwi, pineapple, strawberries, and two kinds of melon. We were off to a good start!

A self-service espresso machine AND milk foam machine were available. Aussies apparently love their coffee. Coffee bars are everywhere. Most seem to be locally owned. So far I have seen only a couple of Starbucks and three Gloria Jean coffee outlets.

After breakfast we agreed to take a sightseeing bus. Still tired and dragging from our plane trip, this was the ideal way to get an overview of Sydney. The bus drove all over the city, and we could get on and off wherever we liked. We eventually got off at the Sydney Fish Market. It was lunchtime.

The Sydney, Australia fish market.
The Sydney Fish Market, the second largest in the world we were told, was wall to wall people. Numerous stalls sold a wide variety of fresh fish, many familiar and a lot unfamiliar. I never realized there were so many different kinds of prawns (shrimp).

Fish BBQ, fish and chips and sushi bars lined a huge warehouse-type building. Stands sold platters of fresh fish with a variety of sides. We shared a large platter of fish and chips ($15) and salad ($7).

Restaurant food is expensive. We are in a major city, and meals should be cheaper outside Sydney. A plus is that tax and tip are included in the price.  The menu price is the total price.

After lunch we got back on the tour bus for a visit to the infamous Sydney surf and sand beach, Bondi Beach.  It was a pretty setting, surfers were out, and the street lined with tacky food and souvenir shops. Just like home!
Hub at Bondi Beach
We caught the tour bus back to town and walked around center city, eventually ending up in The Rocks, the old city area. We found a German restaurant/beer garden with an old-fashioned oompah band, the musician/singers wearing shorts, shirts and suspenders. They were not the best singers or musicians but were having a good time; I am sure the beer downed during their break helped.
 We shared a platter of German dishes, meat and potatoes ($39.50). The waitress was taken aback at our desire to share; she insisted the platter was too small. We told her we could always order more food.

Then we asked for water. Sparkling water? No. Tonic water? No. Just plain, old, standard, tap water. The free stuff.

Back at the hotel our bags were waiting for us. Reunited at last! Clean, wrinkled clothes to wear! It was a great conclusion to a long, exhausting, fun day.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Touchdown! – Aeronautically Speaking


The long, long plane ride from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia produced a jumble of sleep and a half-conscious state of befuddlement and exhaustion.

Flying business class means no lines at the lavatories, an attendant available to provide water (or anything else you may need) anytime, and a suggestion – totally unsolicited – that a Bailey’s was just what was needed to induce sleep. The drink proved enjoyable, but I cannot vouch for its effectiveness in producing sleep.

I watched two movies and took another nap. Breakfast was served, the coffee much needed, decent tasting and appreciated.

Landing proceeded smoothly. Suddenly our 15-hour ocean crossing was over. We collected our belongings and shuffled off the plane towards customs. Although lines seemed long, they moved quickly and before we knew it were standing at the baggage carousel awaiting our luggage.

Bags moved up the conveyor belt and fell onto the carousel, travelling around and around until owners pulled them off. We watched and waited. The belt stopped. The carousel kept moving. Our bags never appeared.

That is because our bags were still in San Francisco. A customer service agent worked hard for several minutes feverishly striking a lot of computer keys. She handed us new luggage tags and told us our bags would be on the San Francisco flight leaving 4:00 p.m. Australian time. They would be delivered to our hotel. We received vouchers for $50 a day per person compensation from the airlines.

Hopefully our bags arrive tomorrow. (There is only one flight a day from San Francisco to Sydney.)

But we were finally Down Under, in the Land of Oz, the Southern Hemisphere.

Too exhausted to figure out bus and train routes, we opted for a taxi to the hotel. Fortunately we were able to check in early. A few minutes after 8:00 a.m. we entered our hotel room. Hub immediately collapsed. It would take several hours for him to recover enough to stand up again.

I showered, dressed in my well-worn clothes and, after testing out the Internet service in the lounge (free) and not in the room ($20 a day), went shopping for clean clothes.

Our hotel is ideally located in the heart of Sydney’s CBD – downtown business and tourist district. Less than a block away was a pedestrian mall – a brick street with stores on either side at street level, several floors above and a couple of floors below ground. Street performers entertained the crowds. It seemed endless and overwhelming. Apparently Sydneyians love to shop.

It is difficult to find reasonably priced clothes in any big city, and Sydney is a large metropolis. But I persevered and found most of what I needed on sale at Myers, an Australian department store chain. A few items – men’s underwear in particular – proved troublesome. No sales and the cheapest pair over $15 Australian/US dollars (the $AU almost equal with the American dollar.).

I returned to the hotel room with our new clothes and immediately changed. I woke hub up and insisted he get out in the fresh air. We walked around and had lunch at an espresso café. Small coffee shops can be found on just about every street in Sydney; little hole-in-the-skyscraper places with a couple of small tables inside and anywhere from one to several outside. Some were strictly takeaway (Australian for take out).

We completed our first walkabout (Aussie for walking around/hiking), getting a feel for this busy, vibrant city, then headed back for naps before dinner. Along the walkabout we found a place with almost reasonably priced men’s underwear.

We met my cousin’s daughter and her husband for an early dinner. They took us to an ‘authentic’ Australian pub where the Thursday night dinner special included steak, fresh green beans and roasted potatoes for $15. A bargain anywhere.

After dinner we strolled along the harbor area and got our first glimpse of the famous Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge.

We returned to the hotel early, our bodies dragging as they slowly recovered from jet lag, travel exertion and exhaustion.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

When Thrown a Lemon...


We have managed to make and enjoy a large pitcher of lemonade from the sour lemons thrown our way yesterday.

After an exhausting day boarding and disembarking three planes, hours waiting in the Philadelphia airport, a stop in Washington D.C. to change planes on our way to San Francisco – we finally arrived at the SF airport 4:00 a.m. west coast time.

Airline personnel were waiting to help us make arrangements for the next segment of our journey. We received a free hotel room and meal vouchers while we waited in San Francisco for our plane to Australia, leaving 10:30 p.m. that evening. A van took our tired bodies to a hotel for some much-needed rest and a shower.

We collapsed upon entering our room. Minus our luggage – we were not allowed to claim our bags since they were ticketed through to Sydney – we had minimal amenities. Luckily I had thrown a clean pair of underwear and a bra in my backpack – a trick learned from previous travels.

We slept a few hours and spent the afternoon relaxing in the hotel room. Hub spent time on the phone entertaining folks back home with our tale of woe.

Our (eldest) son took pity on us. He travels for work and has collected huge amounts of frequent flyer points and other bonuses. He called United to use his bonus freebies to upgrade our seats.

The airline representative could not believe the price we paid for our trip. Where/how did we find such cheap fares?

We worked hard for our fares, spending a lot of time online searching and monitoring prices. When a good (read: cheap) one popped up we went for it. Evidently it was an unusually low price.

After telling the rep our story and after the airline verified the information, our son managed to talk them into upgrading us to business class. Although used to cattle car coach travel, the overseas flight is a long one – almost 15 hours – and any extra comforts appreciated.

So here I sit in a comfortable, reclining seat somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Hub and I each have our own TV monitor offering a selection of movies, TV shows, documentaries, audios and audio books, video programs and games. We have two small cubicles to store our belongings. I have a comfortable blanket to keep me warm. The stewards/esses are extremely attentive.

Immediately upon boarding we were offered pre-flight drinks and handed a menu. No charge for alcoholic beverages. Drinks are served in glasses and mugs. Hot washcloths are provided to wipe our hands before meals are served (we get dinner and breakfast). Dinner arrived on real dishes with real silverware and cloth napkins.

Imagine the front-page headline:

Couple Paying the Cheapest Fare Get Great Seats, Meals and Service!

We lost one day of sightseeing, but our Australian adventure is back on track.

Only twelve – 12 – more hours and we will be in the Land of Oz.