Sunday, 27 January 2013

Post Script

Ok. I know that I promised that I was done with this trip, but I just couldn't end this vacation portion of the blog without relaying our day yesterday.

We are now back in the Southern Home...exhausted....spent....and without our luggage. (As I write this, there is a call from American Airlines delivery. It is here!!) While every travel portion of our voyage went exceedingly well, yesterday was the exception to the rule. It seems as if the travel gods were saying "Nobody gets away with perfect, schmucks." So here goes.

We left Auckland a few minutes late. That is not a big deal. When you are flying for twelve or more hours at a stretch, what are a few minutes really. The flight was bumpy. Bumpy and me? Well we don't mix all that well, but I decided to just close my eyes and try and sleep through it. New Zealand Air has these fold down seats that convert into small beds. Each bed is contained in its own little cubicle so that you have the feeling that you have a small amount of privacy. The Husband was directly across from me and beside me was this very large man. I kept wondering how he was going to fit in the cubicle. Turns out, badly. He thrashed and kicked all night like a toddler experiencing night terrors. And who did he kick? Guess who. There goes any amount of sleep for the next 24 hours. The Husband never sleeps on these or any flights, so he too was awake the entire crossing of the Pacific. That said, if anybody ever has the opportunity to fly with Air New Zealand, they are the best airline that I have ever flown. Simply outstanding.

We arrived at LAX a few minutes late, but no biggie. We had almost 3 hours to catch our connection to Dallas, so we weren't worried. Until.......we got to immigration and got caught behind a full flight arriving from.....BEIJING!! 350 Chinese visitors. All carrying visas that had to be processed. All needing to be fingerprinted and photographed and......none of them spoke English. No worries, right? American Homeland Security is right there on the ball....with only a single translator for the group and only 3 windows open. It took close to an hour for them to finally open a few more windows and move the group through a bit faster. Us? 30 seconds to clear once we got to an officer, but now we had to really hurry. We retrieved our luggage and started to exit when......we got caught at customs behind the same Chinese flight. OMG! This time, officials moved those passengers to one side while the Air New Zealand guys went through.

We exited at Terminal 2. We had to get to Terminal 4. Now if any of you have ever travelled through LAX you will know that there is no easy way to accomplish this task. The shuttles take forever. (On our outgoing voyage we waited 40 minutes for one.) We decided to hoof it. After asking directions from a security guard who actually told us that walking was the quickest way, we shlepped our bags the 25 minute walk to Terminal 4. It was packed. On a Saturday morning. Packed. We made our way to the kiosks to check our bags through to Miami. Done. Onward back to security. We get upstairs and another security person herds us into a waiting pen. No joke. A penned off area where we cattle get to wait until security has cleared some. MOOOOOOO! The Husband, tired and never good with crowds or lines, tells her that we have Priority Security made possible by our NEXUS cards. No problem. Down the stairs, across the terminal, and back up. OY. We slip under the confined pen (because God forbid she should open it!) and make our way to the easiest security check, ever! If you haven't yet done the work for a NEXUS card, it is a must. The new thing for American domestic flights is that you are pre-cleared. No removal of shoes, jackets etc.... It is a must spend 50 bucks. We had a about a half hour to spare, so we went up to the AA lounge to change our shirts, wash, and pee. Then it was back downstairs to the gate for Dallas. That's when the real fun began.

At noon on Saturday, they arbitrarily decided to change the direction of the runaways at LAX, which meant a huge queue of planes waiting on the tarmac for gates. Our inbound plane from Dallas was there....just not at the gate, which meant that we were delayed for an hour and 20 minutes. The problem? We only had a window of an hour and a half in order to catch our connection for Miami. The Husband, realizing that we are f***ed for making the connection, goes to enquire as to changing our flights to the one two hours later. AA answer? Don't worry. You will have 15 minutes. RUN!! (I swear to God, she said Run!!) We get on the flight to Dallas. We are told that we will be arriving at Gate D 27 and the Miami flight will depart from D 34. If we have 15 minutes (A big if given the taxiing times in Dallas) we just might make it. We both are highly skeptical, but decide to leave it in God's hands. And....we still haven't slept and are so bloody tired that we don't even notice immediately that....are you ready for this....David Cassidy is sitting beside me. DAVID FRIGGIN CASSIDY. My twelve year old self just swooned. He asked me if I could help him find his seat. I pointed it out and he said...(This is verbatim, I swear) "Thank you for assuaging my confusion." To which I smiled and said "No Issues!" David Cassidy!! He promptly fell asleep for the remainder of the flight until a flight attendant woke him  up to tell him how much she loved him when she was a kid. I'm sure he was delighted.

As the flight was landing, a flight attendant came over to inform us that our arrival gate has been changed from D 27 to A 34.... which of course was at the other end of the airport. Now we knew we were cooked. Our only hope was for a delay in the Miami flight. The flight attendant helped us to the front of the line, ensuring that we would be first off the plane just ahead of David Cassidy. We apologized to him, explaining that we had a very tight (tight?? Try impossible!!) connection. He was so nice and understanding, and told us to run. And then (OMG!!) he said that if we missed it, to come to the bar in the lounge and he would buy us a drink. A drink with David Cassidy!!! I would've had scotch just to say that I did. As we ran (and I do mean ran) off the flight, we heard a ground attendant say that they were holding the Miami flight...RUN!!! And run we did. Upstairs and across escalators and to a shuttle and off the shuttle and down more escalators and stairs.....until finally at the gate. They actually tossed us (seriously...threw them at The Husband) new boarding passes and we ran onto the plane. Seriously. Ran. Like OJ Simpson in those old Hertz commercials. I had an asthma attack on the plane, but we made it. And no drink with Keith Partridge. :(

This is a stock photo. Sorry. We didn't have our cameras handy. He was unshaven, which only made him look sexier, and was wearing a baseball cap. OY!! bags in Miami. We made the flight, but our luggage didn't. We made arrangements for delivery and took a cab. The perfect end to a perfect travel day, but we are home. And I met David Cassidy.

Friday, 25 January 2013

That's a Wrap, Folks

As I sit here in the Auckland airport awaiting the first of our three marathon flights that will wing us back to The Southern Home, I obviously find myself reflecting on the sights and sounds of the past month. It would be impossible to even attempt a recap of all that we have experienced because I have forgotten most of it anyway. Doesn't that just kind of suck big time? We planned and studied for this excursion for more than a year, and now I can't remember what we did in Hobart, let alone recall that Hobart is the capital of Tasmania. (I had to look it up!) It's that Fading Memory Disease that seems to have taken hold post 50. That's why we journal and take pictures, my friends. To remember all the places and events that you could have sworn you were at, but have absolutely zero recollection of. The human mind can be a cruel thing at times, can't it?

Rather than bore you with a recap of all that you might have read over the past 26 days, I thought that I would instead regale you with a few things that I didn't do while Down Under.

  • I didn't eat Vegemite. Vegemite is a dark brown paste made from yeast extract. It is used a a spread for sandwiches and crackers and sometimes used as a filling for pastry. It is an Aussie delicacy and as much a part of their heritage as boomerangs. It also looks and smells like something that one might find in an infant's diaper. I may have been desperately searching for vegetarian alternatives, but believe me when I say that I wasn't that desperate to eat.
  • I didn't see a single dolphin or penguin. (Everybody please join together for a collective groan of dismay!) Yesterday here in Auckland, The Husband graciously offered to take me to the aquarium that specializes in Antarctic creatures and has a full breeding program dedicated to the Emperor Penguin. I graciously declined his offer for two reasons. Firstly, if we went to the aquarium I would forever be denied all whining rights associated with being able to claim that I came all the way down here and didn't see a single penguin. Secondly, I really wanted to view the creatures as they were meant to be and happy in their natural habitats. That was my single greatest joy throughout this trip....catching purely candid glimpses of animals as they interacted with us on their own terms. If the dolphins and penguins chose not to visit me during my time here, I can deal with it.
  • I didn't suffer from motion sickness. (By that I mean that I didn't puke. There were several instances of wooziness, but it all stayed within.) Yay me!! Of course I still have to endure three more flights, so there is still time! Travelling is so much more fun without the constant upheaval. Everybody cheer for 21st Century medicine.
  • I didn't read a single newspaper; hard copy or online. I did see a couple of cable news channels like MSNBC, BBC, and Fox (Ugh!!) so I wasn't totally out of touch. We know about Netanyahu's election faceslap, Obama's inauguration, and the upcoming HarBowl. (thanks for that one Older Son!) But, I think that I now know what 95% of the world feels like being blissfully ignorant about world affairs. There is great peace in stupidity. The problem is that I am neither a peaceful nor a stupid person. It all begins again in earnest on Monday.
  • I didn't shop all that much. T-shirts and trinkets.....and a didgeridoo! Sorry family. I love you all, but this is an expensive part of the world. Diet Cokes cost $3.50. I hope that you are satisfied with t-shirts and trinkets.
  • I (we) didn't do all that much here in Auckland. It is a beautiful city that is surrounded on all sides by water. The people here nickname it the City of Sails because of the over-abundance of boats, but we were content to just walk around. There are hills a la San Francisco and traffic a la downtown anywhere. Ferries will take you to neighbouring islands for shopping or picnicing, or an easy to use transit system is at the ready to transport you throughout the city. It is the beginning a long summer weekend here, and the locals couldn't escape fast enough. We were just at our end. Tired and spent. Next time....Auckland deserves a do-over.
So.....that's a wrap folks. I have appreciated all of the comments, Facebook likes, emails and such. I was told by my cousin to stop apologizing for this blog. I guess it is old insecurities popping back up that anybody would actually care about what I have to say. It still floors me...this interweb thingy. Thanks for coming along for the ride, even if only virtually. I will return to my former rantings and ravings when I have a chance to decompress. For those of you in The Great White North, The Husband will be happy to brief you all in person. He returns next week.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Haere Mai Ki Tauranga

It seems quite interesting to me that no matter how hard I try to move away from it, world religions and their connections to Judaism seem to follow me wherever I go. I suppose that it is an inbred experience that I simply cannot evade nor ignore. Case in point was our tour today of the Maori Marae (village) and the fascinating insights we were given into the Maori way of life. About 10% of the population of New Zealand is Maori and almost 15% of the city of Tauranga descends from its native people. A few Judaic/Maori similarities for you all to ponder.

Both peoples really like their stories. Here is a wonderful little midrash told to us today.

It seems that the mountain Mauao was in love with a nearby mountain that was also a high priestess. Because of her standing amongst the mountains, she was already promised to another mountain. Mauao was devastated, and asked Tangaroa, God of the Sea, to move him far away from his spurned love. The sea fairies came that night to drag Mauao out of the harbour of Tauranga so that he would not suffer any further, but the fairies could only work their magic under the darkness of night. When the sun rose at dawn, the fairies were turned to stone and Mauao was trapped in the harbour on his own, surrounded by the stone fairies. And that is what his name means....Mauao....caught by the dawn.

I think that I should start calling The Husband Mauao.

Both the Maori and us Jews love to sing and dance. We were treated to a cultural concert today by a group of young people who were determined to get us up and moving. It reminded me of Israeli dance night at synagogue where it is almost like pulling teeth to get anybody up and dancing. Watching these kids try and teach a bunch of old men all named Bill and Bob the Haka...the Maori fight dance, was comical indeed. We should try and teach them Hora Or.

We both believe that The Holy One breathed life into the first man. The traditional Maori greeting involves the touching of noses and foreheads. When you touch noses with your host, your breath mingles together and you become one. When you touch foreheads you exchange and share knowledge. I think that all that I was exchanging was my rhino virus.

We both believe that there is sacred space that requires the removal of shoes. Inside the Marae, they believe that nothing from the outside should touch the sacredness of the holy place. We Jews just like warm locations. I think that it did all start with Moses and the warmth of the burning bush.

Finally, as we entered into the sacred space, the women were forced to the back of the room. Our own little Maori mechitzah. They liked to explain that there is real equality amongst the people, but Jews have tried that one on me for years and until men and women sit side by side in houses of worship, I don't buy the equality argument. the Maori lost me on their polytheism and idolatry, but why quibble. The strength and backbone of their heritage revolves around teaching the next generation. Sounds like L'dor Vador to me, no?

Following the cultural tour, The Husband and I decided to walk Mauao. We were enticed by the magnificent day and the promise of dolphins and penguins on the far side of the mountain. Let's just say it was a lovely hike and not tease me any further with the promise of dolphins and penguins.

We dock in Auckland tomorrow and our cruise is at an end. It is weird to think that a month can go by so quickly. It was the best way to spend January that I could ever have imagined.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A Few Final Tidbits from Our Last Sea Day

This incredible experience is winding down. There is some sadness in that it all seemed to go by so very quickly, but positively outweighed by the tremendous excitement and giddiness felt at all the new things we have witnessed. Today is our last sea day. Tomorrow we pull into Tauranga and finally debark in Auckland on Friday. I am so not looking forward to the marathon flights back to North America, but I do take comfort in the fact that I will be returning to the Southern Home and not to those horrible subzero temps that I keep reading about emanating from The Great White North. Stay warm, my friends. I feel your pain. (Really!!)

I thought that I might do a bit of housekeeping on this final lazy day and just share a few of the stray thoughts and stories from our trip.

I have a cold. A miserable, sinus congesting, cough-inducing, eye-watering rhino virus. The good news is that it is occurring now and will be clearing up in time to fly. The bad news is that I have a miserable, sinus congesting, cough-inducing, eye-watering rhino virus. It seems so unfair. I have been extraordinarily vigilant about hand washing and Purell, (Even more that my usual almost obsessive/compulsive behaviour!) and I still caught the f***ing thing. Here's the spooky/crazy part of it all. I had a cold on the day of President Obama's first inauguration too. (Remember Sephora Maven?) I am wondering what this might portend for the President's second term. I will accept your thoughts on the matter.

There is a lovely little string quartet on board that often plays in the lobby at cocktail time. They are a far sight better than most of the wannabe musicians here. We have sat and listened several times. They did an hour long concert one evening featuring the music of Beethoven, which we unfortunately missed because we forgot the time and were instead at the other end of the ship listening instead to a poor unfortunate British lass butcher The Girl From Ipanema for the umpteenth time. But, I digress. While sitting and enjoying the quartet one evening, I happened to remark to The Husband that they got me to thinking about the band on the Titanic that supposedly played Nearer My God To Thee as the ship plummeted to the bottom of the Atlantic. Just as the words came out of my mouth, the foursome started playing the theme from the James Cameron movie. I half expected to see Leo and Kate round the Promenade deck. It was weird.

Speaking of The Husband. He seems to have developed a schoolboy crush on the very very young (25 years old tops!!) Ukrainian girl that refills the fruit in our cabin. Svetlana is tall, willowy, very blond and very accommodating. Every evening she knocks on the door, brings in fresh fruit and hand-dipped strawberries, and says in the most sunny of voices, (you must imagine this being spoken in a Ukrainian accent or it just doesn't have the same cache.)

"Hello Mr. _____(Insert his first name here!) How are your fruits today?"

Of course The Husband has turned these benign episodes into a sexual fantasy that has spun ridiculously out of proportion. Now if she had enquired as to the health of his fruits and nuts, I might have something to concern myself about. In all seriousness, she is a terrific girl who I think will be the recipient of a very large tip come Friday.

A nice non-bashing Husband story. Many of you who have know us since childhood will recall what an amazing photographer he was in his youth. He started taking pictures as a kid and before long, he had a darkroom setup in his parents' basement and was winning awards in school for his photos. We still have some of his phenomenal concert pics from the 70s of Queen, Rush, and Harry Chapin shows he attended. (I would have to dig through boxes to find them, but they are definitely there!) And then.....he just stopped. I never really understood why. Maybe he found other creative outlets or maybe it wasn't a challenge any longer considering that any bozo (that would be me!) with a cellphone can snap a picture today. Or maybe it was because Sister/Cousin married a pro into the family. Whatever the reason, there just wasn't any artistry in it for him anymore.

I was the one snapping photos at birthday parties, school assemblies, and family functions. Until last year. I wanted to buy him a new DLR camera for his birthday. As I began to do the research, I knew that I was out of my league. I told him of my plan and he sat down with The Photographer to get some updates on the new world of photographic equipment. He bought his new camera and lens, and has been like a kid with a new toy ever since. You have seen just a small sampling of his amazing eye and artistic vision with some of the shots I have posted. (If you can't tell the difference between his pics and mine, then I pity you. That's like saying you cannot tell the difference between Barbra and the hacks on American Idol.) I have been pushing him to post a shot of the day on Facebook during this trip. If you are fortunate enough to be his friend there, you may have seen a few more. Everybody knows him as a computer geek or a distillery geek or even a temple geek. I have always loved the artist in him. It gives him a creative soul. I'm glad that he is re-embracing it.

A quick update. The winner of the New Zealand trivia contest was Brother/Cousin with the first correct answer of takahe. His email was time stamped a few minutes earlier than Twin Son's Better Half. There were a few others that were correct, but his was indeed first and thus wins the tacky NZ souvenir that I will bring home just for him. Did any of you not Google the answer? Cool bird though, eh?


Monday, 21 January 2013

Kiwi Didja Know

As we have docked at the port of the very cosmopolitan city of Wellington, I thought it might be fitting to provide you all with a couple of useless New Zealand facts just in case it ever shows up as a category on Jeopardy. We'll call this "Didja know?" (Alex can take a hike!)

Didja know that Wellington and not Auckland was the capital? While the neighbour to the north remains New Zealand's largest city, Wellington has been its capital since 1865. Sort of like Toronto's suffering from Ottawa complex. Huh!!

Didja know that Kia Ora is Maori for hello? They use it all the time here. Huh!!

Didja know that New Zealand was a country without land mammals until some totally useless bipeds introduced them to the island? This place was the ultimate aviary for thousands of years until people decided to show up. These days, there is a concerted effort to repopulate both islands with native birds and attempt to rid them of pests like mice, rats, and the dreaded Australian possum. Animal sanctuaries are a huge deal here and places like the one we visited today, Zealandia, are taking huge steps forward in finding and helping to breed long thought extinct species, as well as provide them with natural habitats away from those nasty mammals. Huh!!

Didja know that the kiwi is both a fruit and a bird? Of course you did, but did you ever stop to think about how much the fruit resembles the bird? Both brown, fuzzy, and round like a ball. I wonder if you'd find green flesh and black seeds if you cut open the bird. Huh!!

Didja know that an inordinate amount of people here positively glow and glisten when discussing the indigenous flora? I have never seen so many people that turned on by botany, ever!! Frankly, it is all a wee bit unnerving. I half-expected to have to sit for an exam about the growing habits of the Silver Fern both yesterday and today. The life and times of New Zealand's greenery is way above my pay grade, but the environmentalist and conservationist sides of me say "Good on them!" Somebody has to care. Huh!!

Didja know that the only international embassy in Wellington that is protected by armed guards is the American? That says something extraordinarily disturbing about the scary world outside. Huh!!

Didja know that I will give a prize (don't get excited, it's not that big of a deal!) to the first person who can accurately name this bird?

There are only about 250 of the creatures left in the world today and we saw this little critter named T2 gorging himself. Very cool, yes? Huh!!

Didja know that the tui is a bird with two voice boxes? It can sing and call for its mate at the same time. I'm thinking that such a gift might be handy come High Holiday time. I could sing my own harmonies. Huh!!

Here's hoping that you are a little more educated about our friends the Kiwis. Either that or I just wasted a good five minutes of your time.


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Liquor is Quicker, but Liking the Hiking

We have finally hit the apex of the South Island with our stop today in Picton. This northeast corner of the island is known as the Marlborough region and is the ferry terminus access to Wellington which is only about 40 nautical miles across the Cook Straight. As an aside, I must tell you that I was a most inattentive geography student in high school. Frankly, the whole subject simply bored me to tears. It wasn't so much the "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego" stuff that I loathed, but rather all the shit about rock formations, tectonic plates, fault lines, and palaeolithic eras that used to lull me into a catatonic state in Mrs. Sherk's grade nine class. But here....all of a sudden I am rapt with attention when there is talk of previous seismic activity or calderas that were once active volcanos that have given nutrition to soil that previously was barren. Go figure! But, I digress.

This region is world famous for its wines, and given my new penchant for lushdom, The Husband and I originally thought that a wine tasting tour of the area might be nice. But....and here's where that prejudice I have for non-active bus rides rears its ugly head once again......we changed our minds and decided to hike the Queen Charlotte track in order to take in the natural beauty of the New Zealand landscapes. Of course this meant getting on yet another seafaring vessel. (The Holy One must be having a real chuckle at my expense with all of these f***ing boats.) The Sound was at its calmest today (thank you!!) and the trip over was breezy but easy. (I was promised dolphins on this trip down under!! " to Australia and New Zealand", they said. "Dolphins practically follow the boats." What utter bullshit. Haven't yet seen one of the miserably shy creatures yet.) Nevertheless, in spite of Flipper dissing us, we set out to walk a 2.5 metre section of the Queen Charlotte track. We made the right decision. We were gifted with beautiful flora and the odd native bird that made for a truly picturesque 90 minute hike. We got to view skyline vistas of both Mistletoe and Waterfall Bay.

There was even entertainment brought to the group by Yours Truly. For days The Husband has been a bit worried about this hike given the fact that his running shoes no longer had any soles due to the melting off that occurred at Ayers Rock. He didn't have another pair suitable for hiking, so he just made the best of it. (They are now in the trash. one less item to pack!) I kept worrying that he was going to tumble down a cliff because he had no traction. Instead I was the one who slipped down a mud-covered slope and landed right on my ass. No worries. The only thing damaged was my dignity. Temple "Sings all the Time and Won't Shut Up" choir members might have called it my "falling out of the bass section" moment. I popped right back up and yelled "I'm okay!!"

Check out this great photo of a weka, another of New Zealand's flightless birds. Kind of like the kiwi.

The moral of today's story? When in doubt remember that drinking may be great, but it's effects are temporary. Nature? Those effects last a lifetime.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Is that Silver Fern or Heather?

One of the things that is so very striking about New Zealand is the pastoral beauty of the entire country. There is so much lushness and greenery, and the rolling hills and craggy coves seem like they were painted on as scenic backdrops by MGM or Warner Brothers. Seriously. Everything looks like a film set around here. I had a movie moment today in Akaroa. As we tendered into the small, but quaint village from our ship, I honestly thought that I was looking up at a scene from Brigadoon. You know the part. Remember when Gene Kelly goes up into the hills to help Cyd Charisse collect the heather? And then the whole orchestra starts and suddenly they are doing a full ballet up and down the mountains? Well, I half expected them to dance right down into the harbour to greet us. The funny thing is that Akaroa is much more colonial French than Scottish, but the environs still evoked that "Heather on the Hill" moment. The water here is turquoise; as turquoise as any December birthstone I have ever owned, and when the sun is shining just right, as it is today, it has an almost opalescent quality.

This small area of the world was devastated just a few years back by the horrendous earthquakes that levelled Christchurch. There were numerous tours that drove the 90 minutes into the city, but we were warned that while the Kiwis are rebuilding, there is still much damage and much that remains inaccessible. So, instead we decided to spend the day admiring Akaroa. One of the by-products of the earthquake is that many of the artists and native artisans that previously resided in Christchurch have relocated to this coastal village. There are galleries and studios dotting the entire area, and bread and breakfast accommodations are abundant and doing a thriving business during these summer months. (By the is finally getting warmer. Praised to the God that knows how much I hate winter!) The town manages to keep its French heritage with Gallic names on all the street signs and a few bleu, blanc, et rouge flying proudly. This combination of French and English intermingles easily with proud the Maori culture that has been a fixture on this part of the South Island for much longer than the colonials. The Maori influence is heavy in the jewelry and art designs. The area is also home to the very rare Hector's dolphins, and while I would have loved a chance to swim and play, those kinds of tours and sightings are never guaranteed, so I am just praying one or two might greet us we leave port.

One of the highlights of our day was definitely our trip up the steep (and I do mean steep!) Rue Balguerie to visit The Giant's House. A mosaic artist by the name of Josie Martin has converted her home and gardens into a contemporary art gallery. As much acclaimed for her horticultural sense of style as for her artwork, Ms. Martin began her restoration of the old house 18 years ago. While digging in the garden, she discovered shards of old china that had been buried because there was no trash pickup in those days. Feeling that they belonged with the house, she saved them and began using them to mosaic her front steps. Well, the project just mushroomed and it is a sight to behold.

Sometimes a place just surprises. That was today in Akaroa.


Friday, 18 January 2013

Kia Ora

A hearty Maori welcome from our first touch of land here in New Zealand. After 2 sea days crossing over from Australia and yet another in the scenic cruising Mecca of the Fiordlands, we were more than ready to be on land once again. So, what do we two idiots decide to do? Why, take a wildlife cruise around the Otago Peninsula of course. Our two hour excursion didn't depart until the afternoon, so we decided to take full advantage of the early morning docking in Port Chalmers by grabbing the shuttle into Dunedin. No, Blue Jay fans. Not that Dunedin. That particular location is on my "still to visit" list. This Dunedin has the distinction of being settled by Scottish pioneers. In fact, they tell me that Dunedin is the Gaelic word for Edinburgh. Since we arrived quite early on a Saturday morning, (Good Shabbos, all!) we decided to wander the streets of the fourth largest city in the country and breathe in the atmosphere. As we strolled by the Cadbury factory, I do believe that The Husband was sated by a full contact high. We were very taken with the weekend farmer's market that featured everything from local produce to organic beer. Once again, we were struck by the myriad of food trucks and independent stalls just aching for anybody to sample their fare. Hello Rob Ford!! Are you still the mayor?

As The Husband and I were planning this trip, we very consciously decided that while we were interested in seeing the sites of the various cities we visited, we were more inclined to soak up the surrounding natural beauty. (I am absolutely not knocking those whose tastes run to visiting churches and castles, nor am I dissing those who would like to spend 8 hours on a train viewing the landscapes from a window, I am merely suggesting that this is where our tastes run. We've barely shopped either, so any of you expecting a myriad of souvenirs might be disappointed.) Thus our crazy and somewhat bizarre decision to board a small open-aired vessel in what felt like sub-Antarctic temperatures. The Otago Peninsula is located exactly halfway between the Equator and Antarctic, but today it really felt like we were dipping more toward the iced continent. I wore four layers of sweatshirts complete with hoodie. I looked more like the Micheline man than a tourist and I kept searching my pockets in a vain and desperate attempt to locate my little black gloves. The point of this lunacy was to espy some of the local wildlife and their natural habitats. We weren't disappointed . While we didn't get to see the rare yellow-eyed penguin, which is one of the rarest in the world, (at this time of year they spend almost 80% of their time feeding underwater) we did get to view the Northern Royal Albatross and the New Zealand fur seals up close and very personally. The albatross, which breeds only every second year at Taiaroa Head, lays an egg the size of an orange. These amazing birds have a wingspan of over three metres and can fly at over 100kph.....and we got to see dozens of them doing just that. Check out these incredible in flight shots from the photographic wizard also known as The Husband. A special shout out to our dear friend The Birdwatcher. We thought about you a great deal today. You would have loved it.

The true highlight of my day was catching the seals resting on the rocks. There were dozens of them and an equal amount of pups. If they were as cold as we were, they certainly didn't show it. The pups, which probably arrived sometime in December, didn't stray too far from their moms, and were just out enjoying the day. Several even decided to pose and preen for us. Once again from the artistry of The Husband.

As we head northward tonight for the hopefully much warmer port of Akaroa, we can only pray for as much beauty as the southern tip of the South Island has provided.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

I've Never Been So Happy to be Cold!

An absolutely accurate re-creation of my morning's wake up told to you all with hardly any embellishment whatsoever.

7:10 am: The Husband rolls out of bed for what I believe will be his normal morning routine. I am totally comatose, as should every normal person be at this ungodly hour on vacation. All of a sudden there arose such a clatter. (Ok. I borrowed from Clement Moore, but that's what it sounded like!) The Husband fully clothed in only a bathrobe, threw open our stateroom curtains and screamed,

"Oh my God! Photo op!!"

I almost hit the ceiling as I jumped three feet out of my skin. Still with my eyes closed and my mind still lingering in the last throes of a dream that will probably require intensive and extensive therapy to sort through, I soporifically mumbled something sensitive like,


He was already outside in his bare feet, (morning temperatures hovered around 8C) camera in hand snapping away at what could only be described as f***ing amazing. Sorry for the vernacular, but this place defies a proper description. We have entered Fiordland National Park and are currently cruising through Milford Sound. Throughout the rest of the day we will also enter into George Sound and Dusky Sound. (Don't they ring true as the names of a strange 60s trio? Perhaps part of the British Invasion?) We have scurried around the ship to scan out the best views possible, but it seems that we are in the prime real estate right here in our cabin. The Husband is afraid to leave for fear that he will miss "the shot". But, honestly. Who can blame him? The combination of white wispy fog and pillowed clouds pinned effortlessly against an azure sky, paint the perfect backdrop for the steep crystalline rocks that seem to just emerge as if grown out of the turquoise waters. (How poetic was that?) We spy glaciers in the distance and a slight snow (yes snow!) covering on some of the mountain ridges. Apparently it has rained relentlessly here for the past several days, but today the skies are clear, crisp, and absolute perfection. They tell me that fur seals were spotted on one of the craggy inlets, but sadly we missed them this time. Hopefully we will se more later today.

It is truly fascinating that there is approximately 5 metres of fresh water that sits layered on top of the sea water below. That water layer is constantly fed by rains rushing down the intense waterfalls around the Sound and by glacial H2O.

A shout out to my friend The Kayak Lover. The early morning sunrise saw a multitude of paddlers in the sound. Can you even imagine the view from that perspective? I think that maybe I have discovered your next adventure.

Sometimes pictures are definitely worth more than words. Check out a few from the artistic eye of The Husband. Today is the absolute definition of scenic cruising.


Wednesday, 16 January 2013

A Few More Odds and Ends

We have two consecutive days at sea and another where we will be sailing through the apparently stunning (since I have yet to see it, I can only go by other people's observations and descriptions) Milford Sound, so I thought that it might be prudent to clear myself of a few more stray thoughts cluttering my already useless and vacuous brain. Sorry if this bores you to tears, but sometimes these things just need to be said.

My parents are full of stories from their travels of meeting rabbis aboard ships and attending Shabbat and other holiday services. Well, not on this particular vessel. There hasn't been a single religious service that I would feel comfortable at, and all of the daily Bible study has focused on verses from Luke, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and the Letters of Paul. There may not be all that many MOT (if you need translation for that one, email me!) on board, but lighting Shabbos candles tomorrow evening in Milford Sound would be nice. I'm on Shabbatical, I haven't left the family. If the Friends of Dorothy and the Friends of Bill W. can have their meetings, why not the Friends of Moses? Might have to be included on my comment card.

This is a shout-out to Younger Son. As much as I love watching The Amazing Race, I know now to an absolute certainty that I could never handle being a contestant on the show. Too many modes of transportation that actually move....a lot! (And that is without discussing the possibility of bungee jumping or skydiving for which they would have to render me totally unconscious!) I have been really great on this trip and my motion sickness has remained under control, but I am using every possible trick at my disposal to achieve this sense of balance. I can't imagine having to pop a pill or suck on a ginger stick just before having to complete a Roadblock or Detour. Nope. I will remain forever a fan and enjoy it for the beautiful travelogue that is.

These days at sea have allowed me to catch up on my reading. I have complete two books already and am well into a third. The saddest part of my trip so far was finishing Maeve Binchy's final novel A Week in Winter. People who know me well know of my affection for Ms. Binchy's work, and turning the last page of this book was like saying goodbye to an old friend. I shamelessly stalled on the last few chapters just to prolong the emotion. It wasn't her best work, but it was a wonderful epitaph to a sincere author.

At the beginning of this trip journal, I told of Princess dissing our airport transfer in Sydney and of The Husband being on the warpath. We were actually understanding of the mixup at the time, but the thing that really burned us was the fact that when we spoke to a representative from the line on the phone, she was nonplussed and told us to take a cab; we were on our own, even though we had our confirmation in hand. The Husband then proceeded to email Princess from our hotel in Sydney and never received a response. Very bad form and atrocious customer service, right? Update? Well, the Husband went to discuss it with the people here on the ship, using the sea days to his full advantage. The crew member who dealt with him was shocked at the behaviour of the Sydney group and stunned at the lack of email response. She fully refunded our cab ride from the airport and......sent us a bottle of Cabernet and 6 chocolate dipped strawberries for our trouble. Now that's customer service.

I have never been on a ship that is more attuned with hand washing and Purell around food. Like other ships, there are Purell stations everywhere in an attempt to combat Norwalk. Unlike other ships, there are personnel stationed at the front of every buffet line making certain that people use them. The craziest thing that we have seen onboard are idiots (and there are many) arguing with these staff members saying that they don't want to Purell. WTF??

A few travel tips that I have learned that have become invaluable.

  1. Do not overpack. I know that you might really want to take along that extra pair of black pants, but avoid the temptation. As The Husband has said many times during this trip, nobody cares what you wear or if you wear it 3 times. Your suitcase will have more extra space and your back will thank you. Ladies...this goes for makeup and shoes as well. I managed to get all of my makeup into one small case the size of this iPad. I know that I am low maintenance when it comes to this stuff, but you really don't need it and will look just as beautiful.
  2. Take advantage of the ship's or hotel's laundry service. Best money ever spent. Less packing and constantly clean clothes. It really does pay for itself.
  3. Ziploc bags are your friends. (Especially when the sunscreen explodes in 50C heat!) Invest in the 2 gallon size. (I realize that this is an American sizing, but find a way to purchase them if you are travelling.) I was able to get most of my stuff into the large bags.
  4. Just because the food is there and readily available doesn't mean that you have to eat it. Buffets can be the bane of the travel experience. Be wary and be careful.
  5. Keep a journal. It doesn't have to be a public blog like this one and it can be in point form, but write or record your sightings. It will help you identify your photos later on, and believe me when I tell you how much I have already forgotten. The journal is your memory tweak. My mother is fond of reminding me of how she made The Lil Bro and I keep journals of our vacations when we were kids and how she still has them. Some were even on tape. (I'd hate to hear those 9 and 7 year old voices today! Oh the humanity!) Just make the effort. You will be glad after the trip is over. The Husband uses my blog posts when he puts together his photo books of our vacations. The written and the visual together in one package.
I'm done for now. Tomorrow-Milford Sound. New Zealand here we come.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Getting Lost

Melbourne seems to be a city that is getting it right. There is old world architecture to explore, sitting right alongside modern structures. One can take a relaxing stroll along the banks of the Yarra River, or venture into the CBD in order to partake in some high level shopping. (Do you know that it took me 3 Australian cities to realize that CBD was local slang for the Central Business District? I am only slightly slow on the uptake.) I would describe Melbourne as a city with 19th century charm, but living firmly and fully in the 21st century. This is a city with integrated transit that combines buses, trams, trains, and streetcars all with a single fare card. The cars share the busy streets with bike lanes and dedicated streetcar rails, and nobody seems to be complaining. (Remember....we are here at the beginning of the Aussie Open tennis tournament and two separate cruise ships are in town, so don't tell me that they don't have a similar population! The place is packed!!) The waterfront, both at the riverbanks and the oceanfront is healthily developed and teeming with locals and visitors alike. There are cafes, shops, galleries, and a myriad of businesses to peruse and explore. On the other hand, I might describe my hometown as a city still struggling to get out of the 1980s. The comparisons between the two places has been striking to me.

The Husband and I decided to purchase a one day transit card that took us from the port right into the heart of the CBD. We literally got lost, but had no trouble finding our way out. Melbourne is a city that finds excitement in its alleys. Street art is everywhere, and it isn't overstating to suggest that it adds tremendous character to the place. Kiosks of street food dot the entire district. We even saw one guy making crepes outside a department store. Fruit stands are abundant, and just like in Sydney, there seems to be a real emphasis placed on physical fitness. Joggers and cyclists are everywhere. The city decided it would be a great idea to set up common spaces for people to watch the tennis matches. We passed by several parks and squares that had big screens in place along with chairs and small cafe tables that were just begging for a passerby to take in a set or two. How brilliant is that? Not only does it instill national pride, but it brings business into the area.

There is also a free City Circle Tram that is a 30 minute circuit around the city. It allows for on/off privileges, and gives a weary tourist a chance to see the city from the view of a local. Since it is starting to heat up again here Down Under, we took the opportunity to see Melbourne from the seats of the tram.

One of my favourite things about this city is the graffiti. Graffiti is legal here so long as the artist and business owner agree on the murals (and it isn't just gang tagging) and the proper permits are obtained. As a result some phenomenal pieces dot the front and back walls of local shops and, once again add to the idea of a forward thinking city that embraces its artistic nature rather than suppressing it.

Today is our final day in Australia as we now shift course towards New Zealand. I am sorry to put the Aussies in the rearview, but am excited to see what the Kiwis have to offer. This is a wonderful country that is full of diversity, history, culture, adventure, and just plain fun. Their motto of "No Worries" has been so instructive. I sincerely hope that I can return someday to see and do even more.


Saturday, 12 January 2013

Hello Hobart

A fine G'Day from here in Hobart, capital of the southern island state of Tasmania. (Yes...also home to the Tasmanian Devil, but I will get to that in a minute!) We are experiencing some very strange temperature fluctuations. When last we saw land two days ago, it was a very balmy 35 degrees. When we docked in Hobart this morning, we were greeted with almost winter-like conditions of 14 and rainy. (Who says that global warming is a myth?) Very few people were prepared for the dramatic shift in climate and there was a run on slickers and sweatshirts from the shops downstairs. Just a few days ago, this entire state was engulfed with wild bush fires and searing temps. The crazy part is, that everyone expects the next round of heat to set in tomorrow. We just got caught up in the one day down cycle.

This city is also the birthplace of the silver screen legend Errol Flynn. They are very proud of this fact down here in Hobart, and I liked his movies as much as any other Hollywood historian, but I honestly think that they should find a local hero who hasn't been dead for over sixty years. That said, the people on our tour this morning, seemed to like the connection.

We spent the morning touring the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. This small oasis is doing tremendous work to care and nurture injured, orphaned, and endangered animals that are indigenous to Tasmania. The kangaroos are extremely friendly and are allowed to roam freely about the facility. We visitors are encouraged to pet and feed them. Several ate right from my hand. That was really cool. Bonorong is also working hard to preserve and protect the native Tasmanian Devil. The devils are dwindling in the wild and it is thought that their numbers have decreased to less than 4000. They can be nasty little beasts, just like Chuck Jones and the gang at Looney Tunes characterized them. Even though they are kept enclosed in a natural and extraordinarily large area, it is not unheard of for one or two to lunge at a tourist's camera if a keeper is not close by. The park is also home to emus, wombats, wallabies, and a few koalas, who are just about the laziest animals this side of a sloth. All the stupid creatures do are eat and sleep. Cute, maybe.....but totally incurious.

Upon return from Bonorong, we wandered the streets of Hobart. I can't believe it, but The Husband managed to find and drag me into the one local distiller in town. He spent about a half an hour grilling them on mash tuns and still capacities, all the while sampling a dram or four. They exchanged business cards and my guess is that a new connection has been born. The man couldn't be happier.

Salamanca Place is an area of town where artisans, shops, and cafes are plentiful. We meandered through many of them and enjoyed the local atmosphere before returning to the ship.

I must say that I do not like being cold Down Under. I preferred the extreme heat to the damp cold, so here's hoping for some better weather in Melbourne.


Friday, 11 January 2013

A Few Odds and Ends

After a week of constant motion and frenetic pacing, (7 flights in 7 days-and that doesn't include the coach trips!) we finally have an off day. We are aboard the beautiful Diamond Princess and sailing towards Hobart in the state of Tasmania. The Husband decided to surprise me with my birthday present a few days late in that he upgraded us to a full suite. It is really beautiful with all kinds of extras and amenties that will make our sailing truly luxurious. The man has class and taste. Gotta give him props for that!

We were the last group to board ship yesterday. I must say that the tour was amazing, except for the fact that our group seemed to always be last to arrive everywhere. By the time we got to our stateroom, the place was readying for the muster drill. We sailed at 8:00pm and we still hadn't eaten or unpacked. A little more time to explore and get acclimated would have been nice, but c'est la vie. Since I don't have any real adventures to report today, I thought that I might just give a few random thoughts.

Australia is a magnificent country that runs the gamut of beautiful beaches to austere Outback to lush rainforests to vibrant cities. There is unique flora and fauna to explore and discover, and adventures to be had at every turn no matter what your interests may be. I may not be as daring as Sister/Cousin's Rogue Adventurer, but I gave it all my best shot, and I am happy that it did. There is still more ahead and I am game for it all.

The Aussies are quite amused by this whole debate America is having about guns. This is also a gun culture. They love their hunting and sport shooting. Lots and lots of weapons down here, but they think that the Americans are behaving badly in the wake of Sandy Hook. We have watched several news programs whereby Australian pundits have offered suggestions to the Americans on sensible gun laws. The world at large has little sympathy for the stupidity that is found in the archaic interpretations of the Second Amendment.

Never get between a North American and their turn at the buffet. Oh how some of these people can eat. We were given breakfasts as part of the tour, and every morning saw a different hotel buffet. The Husband would have his cereal and scrambled eggs, while I settled for tomato juice and fruit, but we were the exceptions. It was like feeding time at the zoo. Overindulgence of meats, omelettes, fruit, danishes, croissants, just went on for forever and day. At one point, one of the women in our group asked Jim our guide, how it was that the Aboriginal men stay so slim. We wanted to scream out together "They avoid the buffet tables!!"

Being somewhat out of touch does have its advantages. Thank you to all the people who sent me articles and Facebook posts about the hockey lockout's end, but here's the thing....Who gives a flying f***? For that matter, who cares one whit about Brian Burke's dismissal either? These bastards have taken an entire continent for a ride for the second time in 7 years; people who will earn more in six months than most of us will earn in an entire lifetime. I don't see any of them, owners or players, compensating the waiters, parking attendants, stadium cleaners, small business owners, or concession stand workers for their lost income incurred during the stopage. I'm a Torontonian through and through, but I am boycotting hockey for a while. These assholes don't deserve my loyalty. Bring on baseball season.

Still hoping to spot my first dolphin at sea. I love when that happens. It is how we are supposed to see dolphins, living in their natural homes.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

A World Treasure


Enough said, except that I do expect somebody from my hometown to print this on a t-shirt and present it to me upon my return to the Great White North.

Today was one of those days when I just looked to the heavens and said thank you. It was life-affirming. The images were stunning, breathtaking, awe-inspiring, and absolutely magnificent. There is a whole world down there that we can only visit and observe. I feel like they let me in, if only for a short while.

Tomorrow it is back to Sydney and to board our ship. This has been an incredible week of new sights, sounds, smells, and experiences. The world has suddenly become a whole lot smaller for us.



To the Moon Alice

One of the things that I think I enjoy about the Aussies most is their totally laid back attitude. When they say "No Worries!", they really mean it. It isn't lackadaisical by any stretch, rather it is a comforting manner and understanding that life is going to happen anyway, so we may as well just lay back and enjoy the ride. Wouldn't we all be much happier and healthier if we just adhered to this philosophy? It is more than not just sweating the small stuff. It is a basic knowledge of how to put one foot in front of the other even when the shitstorms occur.

An example. As I have previously posted, it is so bloody hot here right now it defies adequate description. Yesterday and today, every major city on the continent registered temperatures over 40, with some areas seeing the mercury rise to over 50 degrees Celsius. We spent the day in Alice Springs, smacked dab in the middle of the Northern Territory. At it's hottest today, we were told it was over 45. Our luggage was baking in the bottom of the coach for about 6 hours straight. When we arrived at our hotel later this evening in Cairns, The Husband noticed a peculiar odour emanating from our suitcase. The sunscreen exploded!! The good news? Mom's brilliant packing system that kept the offending liquid contained in a Ziploc bag. The bad news? We need sunscreen. It is an imperative in these conditions. No worries!! Found a 24 hour convenience store where they basically needed to see our bank statements to purchase a bottle, but at least we have it for our visit to the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow.

We spent the day touring the lovely town of Alice Springs. Initially a stopover for travellers heading north to Darwin, it has become an important Eco-tourist location. The Desert Park is a national park that is serving to educate and protect the natural flora and fauna of the desert. A walk through several aviaries and nocturnal habitats allowed us to view many desert creatures playing happily at home. A couple of hours of shopping the galleries and shops in town, saw The Husband purchasing our piece of Aboriginal art in the form of a hand-painted didgeridoo. I'm thinking it will make the perfect complement for the cello, English horn, and piano for Kol Nidre this year. It will help support the basses. It really is a beautiful example of the local artwork.

Some random thoughts. A bit more about the heat. It has been so hot that the soles on The Husband's running shoes melted right off. He now has sponges instead of rubber on the bottom of his shoes.

Decent flights today. Anytime that there isn't somebody having a stroke has to be considered a good flight.

As we were checking out some of the local animals, we came across a certain species of gecko. A gentleman in front of me decided to enquire very loudly and in his most southern of drawls, "Isn't that the fellow that sells insuuurrance?" Oy!

Check out these amazing shots of The Husband's from the park today.



Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Opening Hearts and Minds

There is striking beauty in the barrenness of the desert. The fiery ferrous hue of the sand provides an almost perfect balance against the clear blue of the sky. The vegetation gives off the impression of ordered chaos; purpose in its placement. The intense heat here in the Northern Territory Outback makes us truly appreciate the elements in which we live. Water is our life spring and fire our unexpected visitor.

The Aboriginal tribes of Anangu who live on and manage the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park have known these things for thousands of years. This land was created by their ancestors and they still believe in and abide by the laws and culure that have been handed down.

We had an opportunity to visit the cultural centre at the park and were introduced to two young Anangu women who explained the various tools, artwork, family roles, and heritage of their people. They joked with us in their native tongues and found it funny that we would travel so far when they live so near. The land was handed back to the native peoples several years ago, and they have taken great care to return their dignity to the place. I love the Aboriginal art and am hoping to convince The Husband to buy a small piece. Each canvas tells a story that is personal to the artist.

We had an opportunity to walk near the base of the rock and see some Aboriginal cave paintings. A native bulletin board as it were. Climbing the rock is frowned upon and there is very limited access to it, but at the height of the summer it is strictly forbidden.

We piled back into the coach for our 5 hour trip to Alice Springs. The starkness of the Outback was breathtaking to witness over this long stretch of highway, but it also meant more motion for Dawn. Oh how I wish that I could teleport from place to place. A beam me up Scotty moment would be very handy right now.

In Sydney I kept having "Finding Nemo" moments. You know....Sydney Harbour, the seagulls, etc. But in the Outback I keep looking for Mick Dundee. I half expect him to cook me a goana for dinner.