Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Family Visit Part 7: Victoria

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This installment collects 3 days in Victoria: the rainy Friday we arrived, the glorious Saturday we drove down the Gippsland Highway, and the sunny yet tumultuous day we spent exploring Melbourne. Upcoming- wild kangaroos (finally), fairy penguins, misplaced buses, and our life of crime. Much of this is without photographic documentation. You'll have to trust me. It might not be easy.

Our flight to Melbourne was uneventful. Those are the best. I watched "Blades of Glory" and wished it was "Napoleon Dynamite", "Old School", or "Elf". I must say I did like the peacock inspired skating costume, but the story left much to be desired. After, however, I discovered that this was was 40th anniversary of "Sgt. Pepper" and I could listen to the album on channel 12.
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We arrived to a drizzly, grey Melbourne and picked up our new Elantra without incident. (They offered us something bigger, but we had JUST figured out that the bags fit in relatively easily if you just unhooked the silly back window ledge- so we stayed with the familiar. Elantra. This time in white.) It was probably about 3:30 or so. We had directions from the Avis man. We had a humungo refedex (city street map) of Melbourne. Can someone explain HOW it could take 3 hours plus a stop at McDonald's to find our hostel in St. Kilda? FRUSTRATION.

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The hostel. Cooee. Very nice. No place to sit down in our room, but we did have a flat screen tv mounted on the wall. And, a very, very, very nice shower. We appreciated particularly the way the water stayed in the shower rather than covering the floor of the bathroom.

Saturday morning we ate breakfast at "la kitchen". The muesli was great! but, Marianna was very disappointed that her eggs were covered with stuff- herbs and onions. And, the coffee was undrinkable. I learned this trip that it is very hard to find coffee- just plain coffee in Australia. Espresso, yes. Coffee, well, no. I might have learned this earlier if I actually drank coffee. Then, a short drive through St. Kilda (really just turning around- but it took us by Luna Park) and we were off! Our destination: Phillip Island!

I was prepared to stop for tourist activity along the way- but there wasn't much to interest folks. Plenty of nice green (green, how odd!) farm scenery. You could eat at the little diner at the dairy farm. You could tour multiple wineries. We did neither. I did, however, pull over for the Giant Worm Museum and Wildlife Wonderland. Kevin and I had done this. I thought is was definitely worth seeing. Unfortunately, neither my mother nor Marianna thought that $12.50 was a reasonable price to see giant earthworms....so it was just Elaine and I.

The animal park is a bit small and twisted BUT you can pull up trap doors to watch wombats sleeping in their burrows! Identify how fat a dingo can become when exercise restricted and over fed. Watch the koalas MOVE! and practice not seeing them in trees marked with signs saying look up to see the koala. Most fun, however, are the BIG RED kangaroos. These kangaroos WANT to eat the food you can buy. They meet you at the gate and keep you there until you put out. They may be petitioning to carry weapons in their pouches. Elaine and I had a very, very good time. Good enough to not be sad that there were no more giant earthworms in the museum. They are an endangered species and can't be kept any more. We sat down and watched a bit of a video about the worms. Watched an Australian fellow dig through the dirt to find one, then try to tease him out of his burrow. These are big worms. (Not as big as the one in the picture, however.) They're as big around as a man's finger and when draped across his arms extend at least to the knee on either side. You gotta love these worms. To be honest, I think it was better to not have the worms there than to stand scratching your head and frustrated trying to identify a worm or piece of worm in the super-big, ant-farm-like, giant worm home.

Please note: I did not take ANY of these photographs. Thank you google!

Lunch was a bit of a challenge. We finally got some at our next place of lodging "A mazin' Place"...something like that. After, Marianna took a nap while the three of us set off to buy our tickets for the Penguin Parade. We figured we were 20 to 30 min from the site. Therefore, we were not surprised to find it took us an hour. Not surprised because we knew when we crossed from Phillip Island back to the mainland that we had missed a crucial turn. So, we picked up our tickets and watched a couple use the $5 camera thingy to spy upon the hundreds of seals out on the little island offshore.

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The Penguin Parade.

I can imagine how they get those little penguins in their uniforms and fezzes..but how do you teach a penguin to play the trombone??? Seriously, as dusk approaches the big doors open and throngs of people march down to large concrete bleachers. There you sit with your behind going numb while brown jacketed rangers keep an eagle eye on the crowd watching for ANY sign of a camera. NO PICTURES! No pictures of the penguins coming in from the surf. No pictures of the penguins stumbling back into the surf. No pictures of the penguins making their way back to their burrows along the boardwalk. No pictures of penguin family reunions. No pictures of your friends or family chilling in the bleachers. NO PICTURES.

I have no pictures from the penguin parade. (I even had to borrow the sign picture from a fellow blogger!) This isn't true of everybody. I observed several folks sneaking a shot in. It was a bit of a game for them, I think.

Anyway, just as the day gets dark enough that you can't be sure what you are looking at, at the edge of the water you see (far off at the edge of the water) a flash of white. Then it grows bigger (more penguins massing) and then it disappears (they all run back into the water.) This is repeated. Again. Again. Until finally they get their little courage up and run up the beach. Run. Run. Run. Well, as much as a penguin runs, up into the grassy dunes. Then they waddle on with first one and then another veering off to the little lane that leads to their personal burrow. A mate may be waiting. If she/he is, she/he is standing outside crying out "It is time for dinner! Where have you been? Do you know what time it is?" You don't see much of this, however, until you give up on the frigid vigil and walk back to the museum/gift shop. Then, you can see them only feet away marching onward to their own little cul de sac.

It is fun. Squinting to try to make out the penguins massing. Then watching their dash. Especially when they hit a hole (must go down and then climb back out) or a log in the way. (What to do? What to do? Over? Around? Once they figure it out they all do it the same way. I'm sure it was there last night, but that doesn't speed up the decision process ... or I guess it doesn't eliminate the quandary.) The best thing is that when you've given up and started back up the boardwalk, that is when the experience gets really good.
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Sunday we packed up and moved out. Back to Melbourne. We found a fabulous bakery in the little town on the mainland (San Remo) where the bridge to Phillip Island is. We all ordered something, got more, and then ordered another round to take back to the hostel (COOEE) for tomorrow's breakfast.

Not far along the road back to Melbourne we saw them. A whole field of kangaroos! Lounging. The animal had eluded us throughout the Northern Territory. Here they were! Our trip was complete!

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The plan for Sunday in Melbourne was to take the free tour bus to see the major sites. We successfully navigated the tram and got off appropriately across from the Anzac Memorial...the something of Remembrance. (Isn't that ironic? I can't remember. Oh wait. Tomb! Tomb! I think that is right.) But, we waited for 1/2 an hour to catch the bus that was to come every 15 min. Finally, we decided to see the memorial and try to catch the bus at the next stop just on the other side of the Botanical Gardens.

In the end, we had a humongous bowl of soup at the gardens and my map reading took us the longest route possible through the garden. We FINALLY found the right bus stop and got on with only about 20 min more of free tour left. Just enough time to take us as far into the city as it went - as far away from the hostel as we could get. We did it any way. This time Elaine read the map and we made our way back to St. Kilda Road and found the tram we needed to get "home". They were running a special. That is all I'm going to say. You never know when a transit cop may be reading...

Everyone was SHOCKED when I chose to take a walk when we got home. I wanted to take a couple of photos of Luna Park. I think it is cool...and I like to walk.

And, this, doesn't belong here...but I forgot it earlier. We left Melbourne as we found it. Gray and Rainy.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Family Visit Part 6: The Great Ocean Road

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A last minute (sort of) thought I had was that while in Melbourne we could take a drive down the Great Ocean Road. This is a scenic drive along the coast of the what I've recently learned is now the Southern Ocean. You probably knew that. I'm always the last to know. This was our third beautiful sunny day in Victoria which is something like a miracle. Well, it may be a miracle. We're waiting for word from the Pope still. Don't let on like you know. He likes to make the big announcements.

We ate the breakfast we had purchased at the cool-o bakery the day before (more spinach and cheese quiche for me, thank you!) and left our Cooee home about 7:30 AM. We stopped to watch the surfers. We stopped so Elaine could touch the Southern Ocean and so the Southern Ocean could touch her (see wet pants). We stopped to watch waves crash along the shore and green hills roll across the horizon. Our final stop was for the Twelve Apostles. It was nearing 4 and the sun was low. Fortunately, we'd learned there was a second route back to Geelong. We made the trip that had taken us over 6 hours in 2.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Pause from Review for Real Life

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Just not sure about our move from Aspley to Fitzgibbon. Our house sold and we were encouraged to quick, quick, quick find a new place so the new owners could move in and the old owners could get paid for the house. Fortunately, on practically day one of looking (actually one of the first days my family was in town!) I found a house that sounded great on Realestate.com. Close to the Caboolture train line, fenced yard, and two, count 'em, 1...2... air conditioned rooms! Woohoo!!!! With the help of a friend we managed to inspect the property while I was in Alice Springs and Kevin was on Creek Street. Like magic! and we got a quick acceptance of our application. Anyway, with the exception of never having actually seen the house we'll be moving into in two weeks, everything seems PERFECT. Until this week. Monday Kevin got the message that a red light camera on Beams Road (the major road that leads to our new subdivision) caught him on the wrong side of yellow. Wed. the news is that another camera on Beams Road found him going 75 in a 60 KPH zone. This house is becoming expensive...and we aren't even going to it regularly!

Real life story #2 and a long awaited story from Ann at work. Actually, Ann was at work but not working. I took Zelda in on Friday to draw blood to do a geriatric profile (liver, kidneys, thyroid, CBC) with the ultimate goal of anesthetizing her for a dental in the near future. (Goodbye doggy breath!) After the venapucture (and fishing 2 Kleenex and 1 Styrofoam popcorn piece out of her roaming mouth), I called to arrange a pickup of the sample from the lab. The phone call seemed odd. Really odd. They never ask me for the owner's name or address or phone number??? I mentioned this to Rob and Di and they said maybe it was a new person working at the lab- but they weren't too interested. Not until the lady from the pet cemetary came in with a green plastic body bag to collect Zelda! How is it possible to look at a phone number pasted on the phone and misdial it so as to get another veterinary related agency IN THE SAME CITY????

Waiting at home for me was a message.

"...from the pet cemetery. There's been a call for a pick up for Zelda from (insert vet clinic) in Bald Hills. Please call to confirm cremation."

Thank God I made this error on my own dog!

Wow! Everyone should know that one of the spell check choices for Woohoo is Ohio!

Family Visit Part 5: Whale Watching in Moreton Bay

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Fabulous! Fabulous! Fabulous!

The only glitch was a minor whereis.com.au problem that encouraged us to turn Left and away from the ocean when leaving the Bruce Highway. Fortunately, I was too perceptive for them and only drove 6 KM West before I turned around. Try and fool me!

The boat was very, very nice. The crew passed out sea sickness capsules before departing (and after serving cake and tea). We had already taken ours upon boarding! Feeling smug and experienced. We were told that while the surface was very calm in the bay once we rounded Moreton Island the swells were up to 8 feet! Oh wow! Looking forward to seeing what that was like!

It took over an hour to get to and around Moreton Island. We were told we were traveling the same course that the whaling ships used to take. Whaling was BIG in Moreton Bay to the extent that at one point the numbers of whales returning to these Australian waters was reduced from tens of thousands to 300! Fortunately, they knew to stop and the whale numbers are rebounding. Anyway, it was an interesting trip out to the watching area. We passed the US Aircraft Carrier, The Kittyhawk, coming into Brisbane and thanks to Elaine's binoculars could look at the row of wrecked ships off Moreton Island. It was hard to understand what the captain was broadcasting on the speakers, so I don't know the story of the shipwreck. Guess I could look that up. G O O G L E.

So, eight foot swells. From the cabin look like big splashes of water that reach up to the top of the windows. From the front of the boat where we were hanging on for dear life as we traveled from the first pod of "high downtimers" (a technical term there referring to the amount of time the whale spends submerged after surfacing...) to a more active group looks like water bouncing up and down like it does if you're sitting in a tub of water and start rhythmically moving your legs- but bigger. Much bigger. It feels like driving pretty fast down a very hilly road- like Seibt Road outside Versailles. Wheeee!!!!! Somehow, Marianna and my mom were up front holding on with me. After we reached our new pod and the boat stopped, Marianna first and later my mom decided they could watch the whales just as well from the seats inside the cabin.

Anyway, these later whales were stunning. Lots of breaching where they rise up out of the water nose first then fall backwards. Big splash! And, tail flukes. And, thumping the water with pectoral fins. Then there were the dolphins. There must have been a hundred! Speeding through the water coming toward the boat where they'd swim along the stern then duck underneath. They were swimming in twos and threes. They swam in circles around schools of fish. They crossed over and under each other. Wow! I want to be a dolphin. I've decided. When I grow up, no longer will I be a flying red horse (a long term wish); I will be a dolphin!

Cool whale facts: the humpback whale is the 5th largest whale. It is a baleen whale but prenatally it has teeth. Like all other baleen whales it has 2 blowholes. The toothed whales, like the bottle nosed dolphins we watched, have only one blow hole.

Somehow, with whales I'm always looking the wrong direction and only catch the end of the performance. A glimpse. A really big splash. And, since I'd not taken my SLR camera and was under the mistaken belief that I only had about 8 shots of film left on my point and shoot (but with a zoom lens) 35 mm camera I didn't try very hard and was largely unsuccessful in photographing whale action. Yet again I'm reminded that Kevin tells me I can just remember things. If only.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Family visit part 4: The Austalia Zoo

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Friday 20th August

Marianna decided she needed to take a day in bed to try to recover from her sinus infection, so it was just Elaine, my mom, and me going down Steve Irwin way through the Glass House Mountains to the Australia Zoo. I wasn't positive that this was a necessary visit- we'd already gone to the Alma Park Zoo. Kangaroos had been fed. Koalas had been fondled and photographed.

But, Steve's home won them over. Even though we only paid the most modest attention to the yards of crocs, we were charmed (again for me) by the wombats (running! on their little short legs- hoping for a handout from the keeper), the kangaroos, the aviary, and the koalas. Elaine also got to see an Echidna- spiny and on the move- a hyperactive Tasmanian devil - and more camels, dingos, and emus. The best bit for me once again was the bird show! At one point there were 3 black cockatoos, half a dozen major mitchell cockatoos (pink), and a gross (give or take 11 dozen) of rainbow lorikeets flying through the crocoseum! We also got to pet the wombat (Minibus- what a great name!) and Elaine fed the elephant!

Family Visit Part 3: Sydney

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On Saturday morning, early Saturday morning, everyone save me took a taxi to the airport to leave for Sydney. Their flight home leaves from Sydney. This was my idea to ensure they got to see this beautiful city. Saturday's plan was to see the aquarium in Darling Harbour. I like Darling Harbour. I like the aquarium. Our first visit there was on an evening just a hour or so before closing time. We had the place practically to ourselves. It was magical. This was not to be their experience- attending mid afternoon on a Saturday. Mixed reviews. Elaine loved seeing the platypus who was playing! and my mother says they can put holes in the tanks. She wasn't interested.

I flew in after work.

Sunday after breakfast my mom, Elaine, Kevin, and I went to the Sydney Opera House for a tour. Very cool place! I had never done this. The Opera House has an interesting history. Designed in the 50s by a Danish architect without the use of computer modeling (of course). A unique and beautiful building. Soon after work began there was a falling out between the architect and the government- and he stopped working! In fact, he may have never seen the completed building- or maybe he saw it once. We can't remember the story. Another interesting fact- construction was funded with monies from gambling...and it was paid for in two years!

Oh,and while you can take photos in the restrooms, you cannot take them in the theaters/auditoriums.

It was a drizzly gray day in Sydney. We did walk through the Botanical Garden, anyway. I had to make sure that Elaine got to see the bats. She had some experience with flying foxes at our place in Brissie. We'd turn the lights down at home as dark arrived and sit watching out the wall o'windows for our bat to fly through. He never disappointed. And, neither did the Sydney bats...though they were cold and huddling up in their wings. No fussing or jockeying for position on Sunday!

After lunch at Circular Quay where there were a few street performers including a very sad donkey, we took the train into the CBD (Central Business District- that's "downtown" in Aussie lingo)and visited the Queen Victoria Building (QVB). This building was built late in the 1800's to be a city market. Early tenants included a clairvoyant, a palmist, and a piano tuner. (What does a piano tuner DO with a shop??) It did not surprise me to learn that this venture was not successful and the building was turned to other uses. In the 1970's when it was time to decide whether to demolish the building or save it- and for what use- the plan was made to re-fit it as a shopping center. It is huge. Full of stores with expensive things that as Kevin says "I'd never buy". Well, we did buy a t-shirt and a magnet.

Anyway, the QVB has two big clocks that are suspended from the ceiling. Each has dioramas - that light up and come to life. One tells the history of Australia (on the half hours) and the other the grand story of Britain (on the hour). Odd, odd, odd. A few of our favorites....

Early colonists in Australia- includes one man being beaten with a whip.
Early colonisation (again)- aborigines running and climbing up rocks while a soundtrack of gun fire plays.
The beheading of King Charles I- live action!
King Canute of England 1016 (or so) - ordering the tides to stop.
All 6 wives of King Henry XIII- all WITH heads.

Other attractions of the QVB- beautiful stained glass windows, Islay, the talking dog ("Because of my kindness to blind and deaf children I have been granted the power of speech. If you put a coin in the hamper, I will say thank you." And, he ALWAYS says thank you- coin or no coin. Woof!), and a display of Queen Victoria at her coronation (age 19) with an assortment of crowns, staffs, etc. I'm sure they are all genuine. My favorite is a bit out of focus- but it is the crown by which the Prince of Wales is able to communicate with extraterrestrials.

Super supper at a nearby Italian restaurant where no one was whacked.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Family visit part 2

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I think I'll work backward. I think I'll start with yesterday and go back- so that something is fresh in my mind as I write this.

They left.

Poof. It is so quiet here now. And, empty. And, my kitchen counters are clear. I know it was real because I have 3 loads of laundry to do- sheets and towels, my long johns and a few of Kevin's socks.

I figure they'd be on the flight between SF and Chicago now. They're getting REALLY tired. This is always the leg of the trip that I can sleep through. I mean, why not? You've been up on a plane for 14 hours and then 3 in an airport...and you're now on a flight where there is NO HOPE of anything worthwhile, let alone free, to eat.

They caught the shuttle from our hostel- nameless, lest anyone think I'm recommending it.... it was OK, but by far the least nice place we stayed during the entire trip. They left about 10 AM to catch their 2:40 PM flight. The trip to the airport takes about 30 min. I think they were ready to be home.

But, this is what they missed. Monday was a gorgeous day in Sydney. Blue skies. Practically cloudless. Warm. So warm I took off my jacket. We walked through the city (discovering a shortcut through The Domain that would have been extremely welcome the day before!) to W. station (memory lapse) and took Kevin's old bus to Balgowlah. Found that the Balgowlah mall was now a big hole in the ground. Picked up some lunch, walked past Kevin's old house and tried to remember where the pedophile lived, then ate in the park by the water. After, we walked to Manly. Along the water. Watching dolphins. Manly is just a thin strip of land between the Manly harbo(u)r and the ocean. We gazed at both then took the ferry back to the city.

Note: photos to follow.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Family Visit Installment 1

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Writing Saturday Evening.

My family- my mother, my auntie (Marianna), and my cousin, Elaine- arrived in Brisbane on schedule at 10:30 on Thursday. (And, I made it to the airport- my first trip there alone- on time, too.) They had a raucous good time on their long, long, long trip from Ohio. They were laughing tears as they told me about their experiences...including the drug store cashier who when Marianna explained that she was leaving that afternoon for Australia asked "Are you driving?", the little girls from Tasmania they met in line for a restroom who were surprised to learn that you could have a cousin when you were a grown up, and the airline steward who was so taken with my mom he gave her a big hug when the plane landed in Sydney. We got all the luggage in our little car- a bit of push the bag in and slam the hatch quickly before it fell out.

Thursday: trip to an Australian grocery- the Pick 'n Pay at the Aspley Hypermarket!
Friday: road trip to the Alma Park Zoo. We enjoyed feeding the deer, petting the koala, and visiting with a wallaby mother and joey. Lunch at an Australian McDonald's (Mackers)...though no one opted for the McOz burger.
Saturday: Kevin took the group house hunting while I worked in the morning. (They weren't able to see any of the houses that seemed like the best prospects. This is the joy of house hunting in Brisbane...again.) I needed to get my hair cut in anticipation of being on the road with lots of photo ops- so the afternoon was spent at Chermside Mall.
Tomorrow- we're looking forward to taking a cruise down the Brisbane River to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Kevin and I haven't taken the ferry yet- nor have we visited Lone Pine. This should be great fun- though it might be chilly on the river. The literature says we should be traveling past the largest bat roost in Brisbane. I hope it is true. I love seeing large numbers of our big fruit bats.

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I can't begin to capture the silliness and all the laughter I've enjoyed the last 3 days. It doesn't take much to tickle these women. And, they are spreading humor amongst the natives, as well. The woman who sat on the bench next to them at the mall was in stitches listening to their discussion of Australian money. And, the waitress at Harry's diner gave us a free slice of cake ("a fat one") to take home for dessert!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

They are in the air!

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My family. Somewhere above the Pacific. Wrecking havoc? Resting quietly? Watching the little plane cartoon make its way past Hawaii, across the date line, losing July 4th.

I haven't told Zelda. She wouldn't be able to sleep. I've made that mistake before. I once said, can you believe??, "Tomorrow we'll take a walk". Somehow she missed the TOMORROW bit and thought we were on our way RIGHT NOW. Her favorite person in the whole world is coming. Tomorrow.

Will I be able to sleep?

I'm not going crazy!

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Each Saturday as I've been driving home from Hawthorne- just after crossing the Story Bridge and on the border of Chinatown- each time I get stopped by the red light with the setting sun in my eyes and I see a poster across the street. People riding chickens. I think. Could it be? Chickens?

I considered it was one of those Versailles disabilities cropping up again (more bird language there...did you catch it?)... but...

Don't ask me what it means. But, you see it, too, right?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Random thoughts

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The best I can do it seems!

Following a link from Cathi about the new iphone, I found two interesting animal stories. The first- a zorse (that is a zebra/horse cross). Pretty animal. Wonder if it has any magical powers? You know, like the ligra.

And, a story about George- who was believed until recently to be the last of a particular form of Galapagos tortoise. I'm glad I didn't write this paragraph... or wasn't this veterinarian.

"Grigioni (the vet), now back in Switzerland, said she could normally get tortoises to ejaculate within minutes, but spent months manually stimulating George and never extracted semen from him."

My blog. It has sunk to a new low...

Click for George

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Got to spend part of my Sunday in Chinatown...which is always a pleasure. I thought I'd take a photo of the fountain, but the universe spiced it up with a little impromptu child action. Twice. I know how to take a hint.