Celane and Hank’s Great Adventure:
Around the East in 80 days:  1/10/12 to 3/31/12
New Zealand & Australia, then (on Blog 2)
Bali-Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia-Thailand-China

Actually, it’s already been 80 days of reading, websearching, planning, choosing,
reserving, rescheduling, pre-medicating (typhoid, encephalitis etc) and prescription-
ing (Malaria, gutbugs, etc). Last and lasting has been packing enough for day temps
ranging from 50 to 90+ degrees while keeping it all small enough to lug on and off  
planes, trains, buses and tuk-tuks.  

(Meanwhile to avoid boredom we are planning a house renovation)

This trip happened because we’d been talking for years about going to Aussieland,
and decided in the fall to “just do it” this January. Meanwhile our friends Tish&Jack
were working on a trip there and elsewhere in the Far East also in January. Then
friends Sue&Lenny (& others) said they were planning a trip to China in March.  

Celane reasoned “ Given flight costs, as long as we are out there, let’s travel
around between the two ends.” I said THREE MONTHS, ARE YOU KIDDING?”  She
wasn’t.

It’s good to have adventurous friends and spouses.  As everyone has their
preferences in what, where and how they wish to travel, we will be doing tag travel:
with Jack & Tish in part of NZ, in Australia and later in northern Thailand; then with
the China group in Beijing.

Tomorrow January 10 we fly to LA, the real trip begins the next day with a 15-hour
flight on a Kiwi airline.  


Days 1-3  Saluda to Philly to LA to Auckland NZ
US Air flights and connections went smoothly, leaving us to overnight in a
“beauteous” motel near LAX. Actually it was fine. Just had to kill much of day 2
as the flight to Kiwiland was at 9pm. Given US and some Euro airlines
experiences, we had something of a dinner before the flight.

But Air New Zealand surprised us with dinner or lunch choices, free glasses of
quite decent wine, snacks on demand through the flight, and as many of the 48
at seat movies as you could do in 13 hours. Celane wisely signed us up for
Skycouch seats: three seats with large foot rests that rose up to expand the
seats forward to create a nesting platform.  As it was not a full bed and one
dare not leave one’s head or feet in the aisle, it took a bit of maneuvering:  You
go there and I’ll go here…no I’ll go over and you go under… ah let’s try this…

Eventually tied in with the required “snuggle belt” and to the relief of
experienced Skycouchers behind us we quiet down and settle in for a nice nap
– (wondering if with this snuggling setup the flight attendants are sometimes
caused to blush! )
Overall a great experience for such a long trip and the Kiwis airline gets a cheer
from us.

Days 3-8 Auckland and Mount Mounganui
Hauling five pieces of overstuffed luggage (yes, we pushed both checked and
carry-on limits a bit), we start getting the Inter-city buses that would take us
through much of NZ.  We had decided not to spend time in Auckland, NZ’s
largest city, but to head for a beach for post-flight R&R.   Took three buses to
reach town of Tauranga near the beach where we had rez. The views along the
last leg from Hamilton to Tauranga are beautiful… horse country plus.  A
strange, neat sight is huge windbreaks, 30+ feet high, made of trees planted
close together to form tight hedges.  NZ is a tad windy.

We planned to meet the Murrays of Leesburg and Rehoboth fame at the Mount.  
NZ has Info centers in every town of tourism interesting and so we wandered
into the one in Taruanga to learn how to get the 10 miles to the Beach. And LO!
There in the Info is Tish Murray.  

So we enjoyed nice accommodations just off beautiful beaches at Mount
Mounganui near a sweet nearby village and a good walk around the Mount that
sits at the end of the peninsula. Must mention the sea water, in the shallows it’s
a beautiful pale aquamarine – lighter in hue than the Carib.
Unfortunately, recuperative rest and bliss were interrupted by five trips, with
Jack being a patient chauffeur and C as H’s aide, to health clinic and hospital
for bad-timing Hank to get  IV infusions of antibiotics and a “procedure” for a
blind cyst.   BTW, NZ has no-charge medical care for all residents. Those
Commies. One can opt for private care.

Anyway, our “Oceanside B&B” hosts Jim and Lorraine are warm and helpful.  
Jim, in his mid 70s, has wonderful stories of his own travel: In his mid 50s,
taking a break from decades of dairy farming in NZ, he went off for 18 months
through most of Europe, China and North Africa. He would make friends no
matter what the language barrier and just jump on buses and trains on whim,
seeking adventure. He says he found the best way to meet people “ I just
learned about the local dances wherever I was. People at dances are out for a
good time and very friendly. I’d then learn how to say 'would you like to dance?'
in the local language and be off!"   ( he was divorced then)  His stories certainly
made our trek look more like a walk in a park!  Upstaged by our first NZ host.  
He also introduced us to local Mauori culture by sharing  two  interesting NZ
movies to watch with him.  

Aside:  Driving on the left is nothing new after Ireland & England, but always
exciting.  Laughs provided by the windshield wiper arm being located where we
normally have the turning signal, thus the locals had to determine that our
wipers going full blast meant we were turning in some direction.

Hawkes Bay: We then head southeast over a mountain range to the North Island’
s east-central coast.  We can verify that Yes, NZ has MANY sheep. Many cows,
but far more sheep. And hills wrapped about hills under bigger Hills under
mountains and then larger Mountains. West Virginia is flat. High on the big Hills
and mountains were endless acres of tall pines and dark firs. Sell a lot of
timber, Kiwis do. Below the tree lines grazed what we could wear or have for
dinner.  

Together all those parts make for wonderful vistas.  We do constant Dicks &
Janes: “Look! Look! Look!”  About  halfway in a 5-hour drive we stop at a coffee
shop/garden/art gallery. Primary art was metal working creating critters native
to Africa, of all things.

Should speak to the coffee. NZ is a very English country. Accent to an American
is almost the same as a Brit. (Don’t tell them that.) Towns and streets are
named for the home country –down to an Avon River. Except they apparently
gave up tea (“tay”) for muscular coffee.  Java joints everywhere. Can even get a
good latte at BP gas stations. (made from Gulf Coast crude?). And, much to
Celane's delight, they have decaf soy lattes!  Good on ya, Kiwis.   

Napier the town was not a thrill, so we headed out to the wineries – what, you
had a better idea? Kiwi vineyards are known for whites, Savs especially, and
there are enough acres of vines to make a Sonoman sob. So we tasted a few,
bought  whites, a decent red and a port (tragically, we misplaced a fine red in
our subsequently packing and moving on. Not sure if homeowners will cover
that).


(BTW i have no idea why this text insists on shifting to the left side of the page.


Food should be mentioned. T&J had outfitted themselves with a cooler so we
would feed ourselves some nice cheese, crackers,wine and such. We also
learned that the English tradition of terrible food could be found in sandwiches.
A corned beef sandwich consisted of two (2) slices of something gray. Really.
Like the mystery meat in college.  However the very Brit meat pies were really
quite good. Dining out turned out well in most cases.

More on that later as we continue down to Wellington and the South Island.  
WEEK TWO, ONTO NZSOUTH ISLAND

Actually this part starts in the city of Wellington, at the end of the North Island,
where we four overnight in an area of town whose very steep streets and
home styles remind us of the Mission District of San Francisco. (“Welly"
however has only a population of 400k). We dine at a fine Sicilian restaurant.  
The next morning early we drop off the rental and board a large Interislander
ferry for the trip across Cook Strait for the South Island of Kiwiland.  While the
strait can have wild wind and waters, our good fortune was calm seas and
blue skies. The boat is comfortable with many lounges and snack areas.  We
spend at least half the 3-hour trip outside viewing the many small islands,
most too tall and steep even for sheep herds. Occasionally a house will clutch
a hillside just above the watermark.

We land at Picton, collect our mountain of baggage and climb on an Inter-city
bus for a 6-hour run to Nelson, which has a reputation for nice beaches,
kayaking and art galleries. These buses are nice - clean and in good shape,
more ‘coach class’ than first class, due to seats a bit narrow for anyone with
wide bums and little overhead space.   As the bus swings along the narrow
snaking road, we roll with it like round-bottomed wooden dolls.  But as we rock
and roll,  we are also enjoying the awesome beauty that compensates for our
white knuckles.  In Nelson, we pick up a beat-up old car from an off-beat 2-
person agency and good recs from the second in  command for off beat places
in the area, most especially the local brew pub in a renovated church with a
yak in the side yard.

NELSON AREA
Our accommodations a few miles outside town, after C and T insist on
changes, are decent albeit basic. Not far down the road is a beach and various
shops. At a local bar/restaurant we chat at length with a local couple – he’s a
high school teacher and she owns a little 7-ll type shop. We can understand
him readily, but her accent is difficult for us. There is quite a range of accent
here, the equivalent range of say “proper” speech of the more educated
English to stereotype Cockney. We eat at this place where C and T find the
“green-lipped mussels” quite fishy.
The next day we go into town for the Saturday Market.  The women folk
browse the stalls with a wide array of local market craft, cheese, fruits and
veggies, baked goodies, etc etc.  They contain themselves, albeit  difficult,
and greet us at the designated meeting place, on time even, with a picnic
lunch of cheese, ciabatta and fruits. J and H had spent the time drinking
coffee and walking in circles. On the otherhand, T & C had managed to
squeeze in the market, some art galleries, a visit to the old part of town with
lovely small historical cottages , a step into the local Anglican Cathedral
where they heard a lovely choir rehearsing for an afternoon concert.   Then we
head west to see the countryside, highly-praised beaches and small town art
galleries (the Nelson area is known for art). Down a side road we find a funky
clustering of homes and businesses near an inlet. Perfect weather has us
sitting on wooden benches havng our picnic lunch and watching teens  
cannonballing off the pier. They happily agree to do a few extra for us to shoot.

Here are two art galleries, one carrying quality oils but, perhaps as it is very
cramped, the artist indicates he is not doing well there.  The adjacent
metalwork gallery has walls filled -- covered with fantasy sea creatues made
up of discarded tools and sheets of iron. The prices are low and we are all
tempted -- if only we had an inch or pound to spare (we are over both limits on
planes). The artist is away, his friend says sales are verry good and that is
believeable.
Further along , up rolling hills, we find a gallery on a back road where a
husband and wife create semi-abstract sculptures and paintings of impressive
quality. Don't know if they make a good living but the scenery from their home
gallery is priceless.  
We pull off again on a road into Abel Tasman Park and find that it is narrow
and twisty and clifty and not much fun and not apparently  heading to the
water as we hoped.  So it's another direction and we do find the recommended
bay with the pale green waters and great rocks. A place for a nice stroll.
Interestingly none of the beaches we've seen are crowded, even on a
weekend. Not many people live in NZ, especially on the South Island.

NORTH ISLAND'S WEST COAST
Nelson area, we agree, would have been worth another day, but we are
committed the bus early the next morning for a 5-hour run to Greymouth where
we pick up the Tranzalpine train over the"NZ Alps." The bus ride is up into the
western mountains, narrow (what else) roads high along streams and rivers --
amazingly colored a pale pale green.  We hit some rain but it does not matter.
Many "Looks!" and "Wows!" At one point, where the road is one lane for both
directions, and a good 60 feet above the river, the driver notes that during one
spring flood he had to drive through water!
The road decends to the sea for a scene out of a travel video, waves rolling
and crashing into black reefs and grey boulders, lava and limestone and
sandstone forming strange shapes. More Wows. We ache to stop and watch
long. Fortunately there is one wide spot for a pullover. There some agency has
created a walkway out to the pounding surf and twisted rock. The stop time is
teasingly short but welcome.

Greymouth is just a quick switch onto the train. We are assigned facings seats
with a center table which we quickly fill with snacks and then turn to the large
windows. These "alps" are not about to be confused with the real ones, but
they are worth the view. At times they are like the Adirondacks, some are
reminders of the Rockies --especially the few with summer glaciers nestled  in
high creases. There is a one car with open sides for hardy photograhers
(temperatures are in the 50s and with the wind, make for a bit of a chill factor),
An interesting sidelight is 15 minutes of dark in an 8km tunnel.  Fumes from
the diesel engine are not flowery.(cough)

CHRISTCHURCH
Wonderful and painful. We knew this city (pop 300k) had a major earthquake
last spring but the damage is greater than the rest of the world is aware of --
most of the city center is still closed.  Hundreds of building have been raised
(including 60 downtown highrises) and hundreds more (including 80 more
downtown highrises) are standing vacant waiting to be torn down.   Many are
beautifully rendered older structures. The block long Canterbury Museum is
still standing -- vacant and blocked off - undergoing intensive repair, as is the
art museum.    The loss of museum experiences was disappointing, but more
than compensated for by our stroll through the lovely botanical gardens that
house specamin trees from around the world and countless varieties  of
flowers.
The tremors continue still. "We have had over 10,000" said one woman. "They
weaken the buildings even more. It will be decades before we recover."  It is
not just the buildings that hurt.  "Each time we feel the shaking," she said
with  pain on her face, " we don't know if it will stop, or will be another big one."
Yet the Kiwis do not quit: one area cleared of a damaged highrise is now
occupied by dozens of shipping containers, adapted with doors, large glass
windows and insulation into retail shops. (This is being written on a notebook
bought  from a container store).

As both Jack and Celane had birthdays this month (no years given), we
planned a fancy dinner out. But after hours of walking that does not seem so
beckoning so Tish cooks up a tasty pasta dinner at the motel. The next day
we part company with the Murrays as they fly to Tasmania and we bus south
to the olde Scot town of Dunedin.  

Week Three: NZ southern tip
Dunedin
Waving goodbye to the Murrays who headed for Tasmania, we grab another
Inter-city bus south to Dunedin a Scot-based town on the southeast coast. The
drive is through lowlands and under low clouds,  a not particularly memorable
journey. Which itself is different. Whoa. One exception: C spots herds of clearly
domesticated deer lounging in fields, are told they're relatively recent import
from Canada.  We are wondering how it is that they do not jump the fence and
run into our bus.  We need some of that magic in the U.S. – yes?
Dunedin was once rich with gold, now is stuffed with the nation's largest
university student body. This naturally leads to a liveliness with bars, coffee
shops and restaurants. We have a fine meal of venison and creamy tomato
vegetable soup at a old Brit style fine pub/restaurant by the name of Bennu.   
Then it is up a steeeep hill to the B&B in a threadbare Victorian that C finds
quaint and interesting and wonderfully funky. H finds tolerable. We are south
enough (sort of like a flipped upper Canada) so that even in summer the
rooms, lacking central heat, require a space heater. Should you care, Dunedin
is about 47 degrees south latitude
C grabs a good tour to the locally famed Lamarch Castle.  That 1800s rich
Scottish dude really knew how to pick a site.
Beyond awesome location on the tippy top of a mountain overlooking the
Otago Peninsula, which just happens to be lovely, lush, green high cliffs ..
serious slopes slide down to meet the blue, blue sea.  Oh my, how I would love
to be the lucky woman whose husband bought this real live castle in the
1970s to restore, establish gardens to die for, and generously share with the
public – for a fee, of course!
Next stop – my new found castle touring friend Carol and I brave the strong,
cold winds to visit The Penguin Place, where we hope to see yellow eyed
penguins.  Our tour guide, Cheeks, take us on a  yet another awe inspiring, hair
raising curvy/cliffy jaunt down the road where we hop onto what appears to be
a retired school bus … down a very narrow curvy/cliffy dirt road to the penguin
site.  As two low land lubbers who do not very much like curvy/cliffy awe
inspiring hair raising places, we  have questioned our decision making more
than once on this trip.  Each time the reward far outweighs the trepidation.  
This, no exception.  Within breathing distance of one baby penguin who places
his curious  face as close to us as he could get and still be on his side of the
barricade protecting the natural habitat from viewers.  Wow!  Topping it off, we
were there at the end of the working day and had the thrill of watching
parents emerge from the ocean and waddle across the beach toward home,
bellies full of fresh caught fish for their young.  Some of those birds had been
as far away as 30 kilometers...they gave themselves a nice break on the
beach before they headed up the hill for home.  Just like watching a
documentary up close and personal.
Icing on the cake was a rogue drive around the bend to the nesting area for
the Albatross.  Cheek gifted us with this treat despite the fact that we had
only paid for the castle and penguins, because he knew they would be flying
on such a windy day, and he was a terrific tour guide.  The cliffside was
bustling with sea birds, but it was incredibly easy to id the albatross with their
wing span so grand and their glide so gentle as they ride the air waves.
Back to town and a rested H: In the very center of town is a square, actually
an octagon, anchored with an olde church and city hall with restaurants and
such around the edge. Facing city hall is a statue of Scot poet Robby Burns
(roll your Rs). While most such remembrances are done when done, in this
case as time goes on there are additions of sidewalk plaques naming student
winners of the Burns literature award. Neat.   
"Lay the proud usurpers low, Tyrants fall in every foe
"Liberty's in very blow, let us do or die." (Burns was a typical rabble rouser)
NZ Architecture residential and commercial continues to impress. The town's
huge old railway station manages to turn merely black and white stone (lava
rock and limestone) quite flamboyant.  
The Cadbury Chocolate Factory is in the town center, but amazingly it requires
advanced reservations and the thought of a literally block-square chocolate
factory with huge pipes and tanks is not that sweet. As much of a chocolate
worshipper as she is, even C decides to by-pass this amusement … agreed the
smells as we walk past were sufficiently wonderful!

Te Anou
Another bus takes us to the far southwest which boasts a 6-million acre
preserve of steep mountains, deep gorges and narrow fiords. And rain. 25 feet
of it a year. Lush anyone?  












The town itself is notable only for being the jumping off place for strong-legged
backpackers and weak-muscled tourists who ride coaches and board boats
for the views. While H contemplates his navel, C hops on a boat for a ride up
Lake Te Anou  and a visit to glowworm caves  This involves first a boat ride
across the river, around a mountain, through a gorge to the cave entrance.  
Awesome ride.  Then, the cave with  a small group of 12 strangers and one
tour guide with a small flashlight that illuminates very little and she uses
almost not at all.  The walkways (steep mostly) are, well, inside a mountain
alongside a stream rushing through the inside of that mountain to find its way
to the sea.  Loud rushing water! Dark, steep narrow cave walk that seems to
be endless until it is not.  12 strangers and 1 benign tour guide pile into one
boat in the water that drifts off into even darker darkness so we can see the
magic of glow worms. Tour instructions:  absolute silence for the eerily cool
ride through a cave lined with fairy lights that are really worms.  Really!  It was
eerie but cool.  Except for the loud foreign tongue that failed to understand
the silence part and interrupted the magic with uninterruptable conversation
with someone that was obviously not a stranger to him.  Challenging hike back
out of the cave and lovely hike through a rain foresty area before the equally
lovely, but now windy boat ride back to H who needs now to stop naval gazing
and join C for diner.                 
On the advice of our BnB hosts we take a Real Journey tour bus for the 150
minute rise through the mountains to popular vista called Milford Sound, a
fijord. The driver is a bit of a naturalist and provides a good listen. A surprise is
that the most common higher latitude tree is a thin-needle evergreen called a
beech. Given the rainfall on the western flanks of the mountains, the trees are
often wrapped in layers of moss and sections can be eerie, fit for a fantasy
about trolls and  goulees.

higher elevations often lacking vegetation. There are signs in such places
telling drivers not to stop in the winter when snows cover the upper reaches
and avalanches are common. Today it is raining. Not hard but constantly.
Those 25 annual inches translate into rain 2 of every 3 days.  Not clear if this
is day one or two, it sure is not day 3. Alex the driver says there is a reward for
coming on a rainday. We shall see.
We board a good sized tour boat, several levels with plenty of indoor space,
plenty of outside open space, very little covered outdoor space such as one
might love when site seeing in the rain.














But the compensation, Alex’s “reward” comes quickly.











Countless Waterfalls.





"Look over here."  “Look there,” someone says. “And there’s two on that side.
“Three up front!” is a call. Many of us, photophiliacs, are outside trying to stay
dry under narrow overhangs. But it’s really no use. The moving boat and the
falls the boat nuzzles close to wet us down. When the wind gusts we naturally
turn away and the backs of our jeans get soaked.  Time to just laugh, keep
cleaning rain off lenses and shoot.
Many of the “falls” are more like streams sliding down the rock faces, which
generally are steep --70 degrees or so-- but not quite 90.  When there are
straight downs and when a few streams collect big free falls begin. C muses
“Right here, right now, I am seeing more waterfalls than I ever seen in total – in
my whole life !”  When the captain pulls in very close their spray joins rain in
blessing us with New Zealand holy water.













The low clouds keep us from seeing the tops of the mounts, but we “get” the
starkness and beauty of these parts. On a vacation when there is never
enough time, this was worth time. Next is our last NZ bus ride.

Queenstown
This relatively modest-sized town is set on the edge of a 40-mile U-shape
mountain lake. The hills here are “California gold” in the summer.
From high on the hills it is a beautiful sight.











Downtown, 20-somethings in short shorts and tank tops (outrageous!) lounge
on grass along a small  stream.  We, in our sweats are still cold!  Above Qtown
are some of the extreme sports – on just one hill one can get into bunge-
jumping, luge, and sail-gliding. The latter had clearly experienced guys leaping
off a cliff and adding to their thrill by spinning left and right until they almost
upended their chutes to land on a very small green park area below.
This is NZ’s version of a Vail, visited by many in summer but the long lines of
condos speak more of skiing when the hills turn white. A local artist said that
an in- village condo will rent for over $1000 a day. We are a few blocks away at
prices more fitting the 99%.  
There is a small peninsula nearby with a trail along the lake that then rises to
English gardens, clay tennis courts and a troupe of actors emoting about the
18th century or somesuch. Quite nice actually.  (Oh my, we find England/Kiwi-
like phrases entering our speech and H thinks  he is thinking with an accent!)
Next day we take a bus (what else) about 15 miles to a historic and cute-sified
village called Arrowhead, another former gold mining town now mining
tourists. They have preserved some modest buildings from an early Chinese
community – which existed in many NZ areas where gold and coal were found.
(As in western US).

Sidethoughts:  NZ skies seem more blue, more clear, perhaps the result of
1000 miles of no land upwind.  NZ governments seem to pay great respect to
the Maori history and tradition, more than say we do to the Early Americans in
the US. Most Maoris lived and today live still in the warmer North Island, which
of course is upside down.
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NEXT LEG: Australia (In Latin, 'Southern')

4am in rural eastern Aus. We are asleep with the window open.  A raucous
sound of amazing volume startles us awake. Amazingly, we laugh. To
understand shared insanity, go to this site:  
http://www.anbg.gov.au/sounds/

then click on kookaburra. It's amazing. but warning. only play for 5-10 seconds
to keep your sanity.  If you do not recall that silly childhood song about
Kookaburra sitting in the old gum tree then just know sound is real as is the
famous birds who laugh uproariously.  

We are staying at a "home exchange" arranged by our good traveling buddies,
the Murrays. It is a fine house with a covered porch where we eat most meals,
and with a pool. (life's tough). We take day jaunts to villages and to the nearby
Sunshine Coast. When our energetic friends insist, we take walks up and down
the very steep hills. Whew!  But rescue is in "Toomey New" beer, mate.  Tish
and Celane cook amazing meals. We unlax, visit places, relax. Life is good.

We are in the tropics so birds are colorful to the eye and ear. Flocks of
Rainbow Laurakeets are insanely bright in red yellow and green when the sun
blesses their breasts. And of course we have those crazy kookaburras and
other singers and squawkers.  We've seen several Roos in the neighborhood, a
Water Dragon lizard in the creek and, on an outing to a shore preserve, a Koala
hugging a tree.  Jack reports Koala means "does not drink" and we simply
cannot fathom such a life. Weather on this, the "sunshine coast" has been
ideal. (Twas  yuck in Sydney: unseasonably cold and raining.)

When we leave Australia, after a brief return into  Sydney to be reported in the
next chapter, we will take with us memories of bright sunshine, blue, blue
skies, puffy white clouds (Bill Bryson describes the Australian sky as a throw
back to the the midwest sky of the 1950s), hot, dry days with cool mountain
breezes, small towns - each with its own unique architectural landmarks
dating back to frontier days, art galleries replete with lovely conversations
with local artists, amazing Saturday farmers/craft/retail markets, great
shopping for the ladies, lazy moments in one of the many coffee shops in each
village we visited, lovely tropical mountain vistas with layered slopes gently
greeting each other in faraway valleys or gorges, way friendly people who
surely would become our new best friend if we had only five more minutes to
linger, beaches with the finest sand our feet have ever met, perhaps the
clearest most pleasant water of any ocean (the Coral Sea) we have visited
with surf and rips so strong  they clean the beach with each sweep back to
the sea, colorful cliffs that reach straight into the Sea, wines, and much, much
more.
for
perspective,
a trailing
boat is at
lower left
click
images
to
enlarge
'stralia (as they say) 2
Earlier in this blog, we ignored the fact that our first 3 days in Aussieland we were
in Sydney... when it was cold and wet and we hit bad restaurants and Tish
sprained her ankle.... anyhow it rather sucked.
But after 12 days of R&R upcountry, we came back to Sydney with good weather
and vibes of hope. On the way we stopped briefly in Brisbane... a smart, sharp city
with large citycenter walking malls, great architecture, museums, and hugely
expensive parking.  A couple of gentrified/funky neighborhoods just outside city
center with shops and side street homes in small, aussie victorian bungalows with
tons of charm.  Worth a visit.  
A couple of bumps enroute to the BIG city ... Totally missed our end of the day
flight ... and a lesson learned:  never assume locals know their own city.  Car rental
folk via cell directing us to their locale near the airport take us 30 kilometres out of
the way in rush hour traffic.  So we overnighted near the Brisbane airport.  On to
Sydney easily enough the next day ... nothing booked, but no worries - it is a large
city with plenty of hotels ALL OF THEM FULL!  (well, there was a suite for
$1109/night) After 2 frustrating hours in the airport searching online, we gave in
and went to the information desk.  With a bit of string pulling the lovely Info lady
was able to locate a room in a fair to middlin hotel for an exhorbitant price.  Ouch -
so much for laissez fair travel!
Sydney (named after some otherwise forgetable English Lord) . . . .    Beyond the
obvious beauty of the famous Opera House, which also includes several other
entertainment venues and tons of cool sidewalk cafes, this city has miles of
waterfront walks lined with countless restaurants.  Trendy places line the paths of
Darling Bay, quaint ones fill the old Rocks section. If you like a mix of stone and
water, Darling's Chinese garden is sheer beauty.  What they call Sydney's
surburbs we would consdier to be urban neighborhoods with cool names (Surry
Hills, Paddington, Darlinghurst) and they, too, are street after street of shops and
restaurants - most of them small storefronts with great art, fashion, books and food.
Of course, there is King's Cross - described on the tour bus as very colorful - as in
the color red!  We are guessing it is akin to Bourbon Street strips and Amsterdam
madams.  
At the suggestion of some locals, we found a treasure trove of small Italian
restaurants clustered in Surry Hills. Trovata, immediately struck us with the aroma,
the look, and even the sounds, of snug restaurants in Manhattan's old Little Italy, or
perhaps those on cobblestone alleys in Sienna.
We mentioned that to our waitress and wound up chatting a bit with other servers
as well as we ordered, drank and ate: Puttnesca, a sweet variation on Alfrado,
simple salad, a solid red. Sigh. "Benissimo" I said to waitress Carol, "as good any
any in New York, or anywhere!"  
"Will you tell that to our owner/chef," she asked?   He seemed a bit taken back but
apparently pleased. A complimentary Terimuso (C's favorite dessert) arrived. I've
never been a fan of chocolate scribbling on plates, but this had sweet syrups
creating a rose and petals. Very nicely done.  The lead waitress, learnng we were
tourists, said "That is too bad, we'd like to have the two of you around."  
Can it get better? Yes, if we could take Trovata home.   
This is an admitedly weird aside: Back to the '50s   I (hank) very much needed a
haircut. And a beard mowing. And my ear hair whacked. I asked a flower merchant
for advice and he gave me a choice of a barber or a hairdresser. Nothing in
between?  I go the frugal route and walk into a tiny storefront with large windows
last washed some years ago --  their top half blocked with askew blinds.  
On one side of the room are stiff chairs holding a middle-aged man and an elderly
woman (his mother it turns out), another man of years, and old magazines on a
worn table. On the other side there are two white and black barber chairs, vacant.
Between them is one moustached, lined-faced, apron-wearing apparent barber.
I am told the seated folk are not waiting for a haircut, just old friends chatting,
passing the day. "We talk to each other" says Nick the barber. "not like today with
internet and cells and this and that."   Nick does talk and fills 15 minutes with his
and his friends histories, local politics and state of the world. When his scheduled
customer still fails to show he says to me "sit, sit."  
But first a change in the guard. The visitors take their leave and a small
white-haired woman darts into the second chair. "Anne" says Nick. "she's a
radical."  "How can you not be" she says in a low haulting voice like NPR's Diane
Ream "The international multinationals" she adds assuming one understands and
agrees.  I teasingly ask if she is a "left wing pinko commie." Anne  is not amused,
gives me the evil eye.  
Finally, the haircut ... sort of. A paper ring goes around my neck aimed at keeping
cut hair out of one's shirt -- an act last seen in 1957.  I explain that I want a modest
and shaggy cut. "LIke a hippie," Nick says, not unfriendly. "When I first had my
shop, I had hair down my back and like this and that."
Comb in left hand, scissors in right, he approaches my front.  Frowns  with intensity.
Snip.
Backs up, approaches again.
Snip.
Rapid fire monologue about how the world is going down, down, down. "It isn't like
it was," Nick explains, both arms waving, scissors and comb high in the air. "Look
at airlines failing, baggers get $60 an hour and  this and that. Can't do that
anymore"
"International multi-nationals" says Anne.
Nick, talking, shuffles around the chair. Left foot moves to the side, right follows.
Aussie two-step. Over and over til he circles the chair. stopping sometimes to
Snip
The delayed scheduled client arrives, but Nick speaks of the need for resolve in
the world, and does not speed the cutting. Clearly, he is an artist not to be rushed.
Snip.
"International multi-nationals" reminds Anne.
Ears get careful treatment. eyebrows too. We agree on the right size trimmer for my
beard. He studies my moustache.  the regular customer looks at Nick hard.
Snip.
The back of my neck gets a close trimmer. Nick waves his arms as his voice rises
about injustice and change. Then, back to the 50's again, the straight razor makes
it closer.
Nick looks at my head all over. then gives one more
Snip.
"Looks good Nick " I say.
And it does.  Worth every minute.
While Hank gets trimmed Celane wanders ... aimlessly all around town -  galleries,
small shops, coffee shops, book stores and residential areas with awesome small
living spaces.  An all around great day for both Roden nomads!
As we leave Sydney and Australia to begin the second leg of our trip into Indonesia
and Southeast Asia, we muse over the past two weeks in Aussie land.  Parting
thoughts?  We need 6 weeks or 6 months.  We loved the countryside, the cities
that we say, the beaches, the mountains, the lush tropical hillsides, the food ... and
we only saw a very small part of the country.  Of course, we did see more as we
flew over, and can attest to the fact that this country is also a whole lot of bush and
outback between the cities.  Thank goodness for solid and affordable Aussie
airlines ... of which we would love one day to avail ourselves for more Aussie
experiences.