Friday, June 26, 2015

Part 7 - The Land Down Under

I forgot to mention that after we went to the aquarium, I had to see a street called Batman Avenue. However, it’s not named for who you think it is. It’s named for a man named John Batman. Why is he a big deal? He founded the settlement on the Yarra River that eventually became Melbourne. He’d be the equivalent of Chief Paduke around here.

We decided to head to the Melbourne Zoo after we’d rested a bit. We were supposed to meet the two co-workers of Josh’s for dinner, so we decided to take the tram (what I’d call a streetcar) to the zoo instead of walking. Melbourne has a pretty extensive tram system. You use a card that you tap as you get on the tram and when you get off. It’s pretty much the honor system though. One of Josh’s co-workers who had left had given Josh his car (they used the tram to go to the hospital to work a few times). There is a “Free Zone” that covers part of the city. However, the zoo was outside of that. You pay based on travel between zones. It cost something like 5.00 American for a roundtrip (the zoo is about 1.25 miles about or 2 kilometers as I’ve learned by now) so I wouldn’t call it inexpensive. Anyway, we got to the zoo with no problem on the tram.

It was quite a large zoo. We however ran into the same issue we had at the aquarium. There were a ton of families with young children there. We managed to out run the crowd on the path finally. It was your basic zoo with elephants, giraffes and zebras. The zoo is well-known for its gorilla exhibit. However, when we got to the exhibit, there was a sign up saying “The Gorillas need downtime from visitors”. I’ve never seen that before. Near the end of our visit, we made it to the exhibit that had the “Little Penguins”. So, I was actually able to take a few pictures of them. We saw most of the zoo and hustled back on the tram to meet Josh’s co-workers. They had been told to go to a Spanish restaurant for dinner. Unfortunately, when we got there, we found out it did not open for another hour. So, we set off to look for somewhere else to eat dinner. We found a place called “Queen Street Rescue”. I remembered reading about that restaurant online. They had several Australian dishes. I ended up going with Fish & Chips again and found these were much better when what I’d gotten before. Once we finished eating, we took off for our final destination.

Several of the people at the Melbourne Children’s hospital had recommended we go to an Australian Football game. I knew nothing about the sport except vaguely remembering it being shown during the NFL strike in the 90s. The teams to play would be the Essedon Bombers versus the Geelong Cats. Essedon is part of Melbourne so they were the home team in Ethiad Stadium. We’d seen people all day in their colors (Black and Red). They were sporting what I thought were some spiffy looking black and red scarves. So, we walked on over to the stadium. It was a domed stadium that seated about 35 or 40 thousand people. One of Josh’s workers picked up the tickets at will call and we went in. Our seats were about midway up toward one end of the stadium. I had read a little about the game. You score by kicking the ball. It looks like a rounder thicker football. There are two sets of goal posts at each end of the stadium. If you kick it between the two closest ones, you get six points. Kicking between the others is one point. There is a line marked with a 50 that I found was 50 meters from the goal posts that would come into play. I figured I’d root for the Bombers (for obvious reasons).

The referee started the game by bouncing the ball between two players like a jump ball in basketball. You can either run the ball (you have to bounce it every so often), pass the ball (you cannot just throw it, you have to punch it with your fist) or most often, kick the ball. If you kick the ball from outside the 50 meter line to a player inside the 50 meter line and it goes over 14 meters and they catch it, he can get a free kick at the goalposts. He can also elect to “play on”. You can also make a kick at the goalposts during live play. I will throw out at this point that I still don’t totally understand all the rules so I may have some of these wrong. Anyway, Essedon got 4 free kicks but only scored one point each. Then Geelong turned it on. They were up 19 to 5 at the end of the first quarter. The halftime score was 59 to 6! Essedon didn’t score a six point goal in the first half. I found out that this was the first time that this had happened to them since 1984. Their red and black clad fans booed them as they left the field at half time. They played better in the 2nd half but still lost 122-53. Josh told me when we got back to the States that the people at hospital apologized to him for sending us to such a non-completive game. I wasn’t upset, I found it quite interesting.

I went out at one point to get some food. I ended up getting a drink and some candy bars. The concession stand was totally different than I was used to. All the food was out cafeteria style. You picked it up and took it threw a line to a cashier and paid for it. On my second trip, I got my staple from home – a hot dog. It was one of the worst I’d ever had. It wasn’t cooked well and the bun wasn’t steamed well. I didn’t even finish it. I did find the fans while cheering strongly for their teams were not nearly as obnoxious to each other as NFL fans usually are. We stayed for the whole game then walked back to our hotel. We loaded up our suitcases to be ready to depart for home the next day.

In my next post, I’ll relate about our trip back home. It was not uneventful….

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Part 6 - The Land Down Under

So after we had visited the farm, we headed to our next stop which was the Koala Sanctuary. You were able to walk around and see koalas in their natural habitat. Josh and I took the long path around the park. We saw a lot of wallaby’s around us. We saw six or so koalas in trees sleeping. We found out they sleep somewhere around 20 hours a day. I would have to say this way the least impressive part of our tour. Our guide then took us around the island and we were able to see some spectacular coastline views of Phillip Island. After that, we headed for what is called the penguin walk. There is a species of penguin called the Little Penguins. They are small penguins with a bluish coloring. They come up out of the ocean at dusk to the beach and then waddle overland to their burrows. There are rows of seats set up at beach so you can see them come up out of the water. There are boardwalks you can stand on and watch the Little Penguins walk across land to their burrows. One of the rules the rangers reminded us of several times was that no photography was allowed. The flash scares the penguins. Literally seconds after the words were out of their mouths, I saw a bright flash behind me. The ranger came over to again remind that group that photos were not allowed.

We waited eagerly and finally the penguins started to come out of the water. We watched several groups come up and then went to the boardwalk to watch them walk on the land. Josh staked out a great spot right over a ditch and we waited. Our patience was rewarded as we saw multiple groups come right under us and go into burrows. People still ignored the rangers request not to take pictures. They had to threaten to take one man’s camera away from him. Josh finally went to the visitor center to get something to eat. I stayed and watched a few more penguins go by. I then started walking up the visitor center. ON the path to my left, I saw many more of the Little Penguins walking to their burrows. We gathered together and got on our bus and left (after our guide looked underneath for any stray penguins). It was about an hour and half trip. We stopped at what I would call a rest stop back home. It had a McDonalds in it, but I didn’t get anything. We finally got back close to ten to our hotel and went to sleep.

We got up for our last full day in Melbourne. We ran a few miles on the treadmill at our hotel and then headed out for breakfast. I had read good reviews about a place called the Pancake Parlor. We walked to the shopping center where it was supposed to be. It took a bit of searching and we finally found it. They offered pancakes with ice cream on them, so Josh ordered that. I couldn’t bring myself to order pancakes with ice cream for breakfast (despite Josh chiding me saying that I might as well be at the IHOP). My pancakes were excellent. We left and headed out for the aquarium. We got there and found we had a fatal error. It was a Saturday and not only that, it was a three day weekend (the Monday was the Queen’s Birthday). So, there were a lot of parents with kids especially kids in strollers. We finally managed to get around a large group of these. There were some very neat exhibits there. You could go through a huge glass tube and watch large manta rays glide right over you. We finally got to a crocodile that was monstrous; it was fully 15 feet long and quite imposing. We finally reached the penguin exhibit. They had a large exhibit of the penguins I am more used to seeing. It was funny to watch them move around. A woman was trying to feed one fish. It was funny to watch one penguin in particular nip her on the arm, legs and even rear end trying to get a fish. You could also watch the penguins swim. I did not realize how fast they can dart around in the water. The aquarium had some neat exhibits, but I don’t know that it was worth what we paid for it (35 American each).

Afterwards, we walked to Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar so I could get another 80s milkshake and Josh could get one as well since he missed getting one with me a couple of nights earlier. He pronounced the milkshake excellent just as I had. We walked back to our hotel to rest a bit before heading out for our afternoon and evening activities. In my next post, I’ll let you know how sports fans are in Australia and how they compare to Americans.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Part 5 - The Land Down Under

We got up the next morning and decided we needed to take an outdoor run since we had not done that the whole time we’d been on our trip. The bus wasn’t going to pick us up til 9:40 so we headed out. We ran to the actual harbor and saw the beach and several large ships anchored there. We walked out on the pier and then turned around and came back so we ended up with about a six mile run out of it.

We had enough time to grab breakfast beforehand. I found a place close to our hotel called Krimper which had high rankings on Yelp so we headed there. We had a little trouble finding it and finally realized it was behind what looked like a set of warehouse doors. Josh ordered almond French toast and I went with my staple of bacon and eggs. My ears perked up when the server asked what I wanted with my toast. One of my options was “Vegemite”. Josh had been looking for that all trip since he wanted me to try it. He kept telling me (with a sly grin) that I just had to try it. We didn’t want to buy a whole jar so I hadn’t had any yet. This was my chance. I had heard of Vegemite for years in the Men at Work son “Down Under”. When I got my food, I spread a little bit on toast and took a bite. I’ve never tasted anything like it. It was awful and I presume it must be an acquired taste. We left there and stopped at what I’d call a convenience store. Interestingly enough it had (like many of them do in Melbourne) the brand of IGA. IGA to me is a supermarket but not in Melbourne at least. We got to our hotel and prepared to wait for our tour bus. It arrived about five minutes late but we got on and headed out for our tour.

Our driver/guide was named Peter. He asked us all to introduce ourselves. When I said my name and that I was from the US, he told me I had “a ripper of an accent and he loved it”. I laughed about that considering I thought he had a really good one. We took off for our first destination which was the Moonlit Sanctuary. There would be numerous animals native to Australia there. We got there and Peter stopped me trying to apologize about the accent comment. I laughed and said it didn’t bother me at all and told him I felt the same way about his accent. I found out while it was free to enter; you could pay to do various things. We chose to pose with a Koala and then each bought a bag of kangaroo food. We headed out and stopped by the dingo pen to look at them and then lined up at the Koala pen. A young lady came out to tell us about Koalas. She said that the one thing you should not do is touch them on the head. Their eyes are very small and it frightens them when they are touched on the head. We were free to touch them on the back though. Josh and I took our turn touching a koala and each taking a picture of the other. That was pretty neat. The next stop would be the wallaby and kangaroo trail. This was supposedly the place where we would feed them. I was skeptical (as I often am). We saw a wallaby in the woods and it wouldn’t come to us so I grew more skeptical. However, that all changed as I rounded the curve. There were several kangaroos and they bounded right up to us and ate out of our hand! We fed them for a while and then went on to the next curve and there were more! I would say we easily feed 20 to 25 each. Josh we as excited as I’d seen him since he was little. He pronounced this “the best part of the trip”. We used up all of our food and looked at the wombat, emu and several birds. Then, our lunch was ready. We had snags (grilled sausages) with salad and potato salad. They were excellent. We went back out and Josh petted the dingoes and we walked around until it was time to go. We loaded up and headed for our next destination.

Peter told us various things as he drove along about the country. For example, he talked about Keith Urban. I had always though he was from Australia. Peter let us know that Keith Urban was actually born in New Zealand moved to Australia when he was two. We got to our next stop which was Churchill Island. There was a huge farm on the island called Heritage Farm. The island had been farmed since 1872. When we got there, we were offered tea and biscuits (cookies) by our guide. I had to steep my own tea something which I don’t remember ever doing in my life – I’m used to being an iced tea drinker. By the way, I never saw a single place in Australia that offered iced tea. We got to see a sheep shearing (and feel the fleece with its lanlolin), a demonstration of whip cracking and watch a dog round up sheep. We also got to walk around the far and enjoy its wonderful views. We really enjoyed this as well.

We were only halfway done with our tour, but I’ll leave the rest for my next post. We’ll find out that even in Australia, people often won’t listen and do what they are told.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Part 4 - The Land Down Under

The next morning Josh and I slept in since he didn’t have to go to work. We breakfasted on leftover Krispy Kreme plus leftover desserts he’d gotten from working at the hospital. We checked out of our hotel and walked down the street to the hotel we’d be staying at. Amazingly enough, we could check in even though it was in the morning. We had a one room suite that had a kitchenette and even a washer that doubled as dryer. Once we got settled, Josh and walked down to the Victorian Market. Josh was impressed especially with all the butchers. I got him a sausage roll which he agreed was excellent. We planned to meet his co-workers for lunch so we rested for a bit and then headed out.

We met them at a place called Grill’d that had very good grilled hamburgers. After that, we headed south across the Yarre River and went to the National Gallery of Victoria. We’d seen it the night before and it was free to enter, so we decided to see it. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not an art person. They had a huge amount of art from various countries (Asia and Europe). The bizarre thing was they had no art at all from Australian which we would have been interested to see. My favorite painting was one of St George and the Dragon. The top floor had a “modern” art display about television. I walked around one corner and saw such a shocking display that I immediately exited. I then saw a sign saying “Some of the exhibits may contain offensive material”. They certainly did. There was an exhibit of TV remotes from around the world. It led me to my familiar recourse of “This is art?”. When we left, Josh and I agreed that we were really playing a game of chicken. Had one of us just admitted we didn’t really like what we were doing, we would have just left. I think I would have been upset if I actually had to pay to get in.

When we got back to our hotel, I watched several game shows I’d started watching while there. There was an Australian version of “Deal or No Deal”. My favorite was a show called “Eggheads”. Each day a team would try to take on a team of “Eggheads” and try to win a cash prize. There would be multiple one on one battles with questions from a topic. The loser would be stricken from their team for the final round where there was one more round of questions to determine the winner. The Eggheads won every time. The show succeeded in putting Josh to sleep. He didn’t want to get up so I struck out to find some dinner. I ended up at a place called Mad Mex that appeared to be something like a Qdoba or Chipolte. It was OK but not nearly as good as those. Right down the walkway was a place called Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar. They had all sort of chocolate drinks and desserts. I ended up getting what was called a 80s milkshake. This was a chocolate milkshake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream crowned with hardened chocolate coating. It was fabulous. I got back to the hotel and found Josh had foraged out for a pizza. He couldn’t find me when we went out so he was slightly miffed that I had gotten the chocolate milkshake without him.

We talked about our upcoming day. I had signed us up for an all day tour of various attractions that we hoped would be very entertaining. I’ll give you the details in my next post including the part Josh said “was the best part of the trip”

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Part 3 - The Land Down Under

One of our favorite shows to watch is the British comedy “Keeping Up Appearances”. It centers around the life of snobbish Hyacinth Bucket (which she pronounced “Bouquet”) and her attempts to impress others. My favorite character in the show is Onslow who is married to Hyacinth’s sister Daisy. He describes himself as “bone-idle, work-shy and out of condition”. He spends his life doing whatever he likes and not caring what others think. He is the antithesis of Hyacinth. The actor who played him (Geoffrey Hughes) passed away a few years ago. He was also the voice of Paul McCartney in the animated movie “Yellow Submarine” Throughout the show, he wants to find a “bacon butty” sandwich but never seem to be able to get one. I discovered that a restaurant close to our hotel had one for sale so Josh and I each went and got one to go. The ones we got had a thick layer of bacon on a sandwich roll. It was seasoned with what was called “Brown Sauce” which is close to A1 sauce. The sandwich was excellent; I can see why Onslow always wanted one now.

Josh headed off to the hospital to work and I walked to see the Eureka Tower. This tower is a large skyscraper which is 89 stories tall. It’s the 2nd tallest building in Australia and one of the tallest residential buildings in the world. They offer not only a ride to the observation desk, but an opportunity to go outside to an observation deck plus go on “The Edge” where you are in a glass enclosure suspended in the air. Josh had gone to the observation deck and said it was great, so I headed on out there. You take an elevator to the observation deck and then you can walk around to your heart’s content. It’s fully enclosed and climate control. They have viewers pointing to various landmarks plus arrows on the glass showing locations and distances to further off places. I also read on a sign where they have a race up the stairs to the top every year. I walked around a while and then went outside to the to the outside terrace. It’s full enclosed but you get the real feeling of feeling the wind in your face and hearing all the noise below. Finally, I decided to go into the Edge. You can buy tickets on the observation deck level so I bought one. Before you go into it, you have put show covers on as to not damage the glass in any way. You also have to give up your cameras and phones. The said it was for safety sake, but I feel them wanting to sell you a picture of you is at least part of the reason. You enter the glass room and then they slide you out away from the building. The glass is opaque at this point then suddenly becomes transparent. You get an unbelievable view of the area from there. The young lady told us (through a speaker) that we could even lie down on the floor and pretend we were Superman. Of course, I had to do that. They took a picture of each of us which of course I had to later buy. We exited the cube and picked up our belongings. I looked around a bit more then took the “lift” (what we call an elevator) back to the ground level.

I walked back across the Yarre River and went to look for lunch. There were several little shops called “Pie Face” that I had seen in the city. Pies in Australia tend not to contain fruit but contain meat/and or vegetables. I decided I give one a try. I got a chicken pie which was similar to what we eat called “Chicken Pot Pie”. It was pretty decent but no better than the Banquet ones I make for myself at home. I rested for a few hours til Josh got back. They had decided to go to the Victoria Market. It turned out that on this night, they had all sort of food vendors in the area plus entertainment so we decide to do that .

We got there and they all sorts of different kinds of food. The one thing that was again lacking was soda. I saw somebody walk by eating ribs so I had to find those. Turned out there was a vendor selling “St Louis style ribs”. I got some and they were excellent. I also ended up getting Fried Oreos for dessert. Josh chided me for getting food “that you could have gotten back home”. Josh managed to at least get me a bottle of water. We watched a young lady do all sorts of tricks with fiery sticks and ultimately a large metal hoop. Josh was intrigued by the fiery hoop, he wondered if putting on of those in the doorway to his office might deter visitors. I had seen an ice cream sundae selling but unfortunately the line was much too long. Josh and I and one his co-workers finally left and decided to walk the streets of Melbourne before going to bed. I was slightly concerned about walking around at night but there were plenty of people around so it was no problem at all. We walked through Flinders train station and then crossed the Yarre River and went near the area I’d been earlier that day. We walked around by the Arts Center where there was a smaller replica of what looked like the Eiffel Tower all lit up in blue. On our way back, Josh had a nice treat for me. There was an actual Krispy Kreme in Melbourne. It wasn’t nearly as large as what I used to but I was able to get my usual Chocolate Cream filled donuts. There was a McDonalds down the street so I was able to get an actual fountain drink in a cup. We walked back to our hotel

Josh was done with his work so for the next three days, we would be able to spend the next three days doing whatever we wanted. Two of his co-workers were staying in town so we planned to meet up the next day. In my next post, I’ll let you know where we went.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Part 2 - The Land Down Under

So when Josh and his co-workers got back, we were ready to head out to supper. They had been told to go to Hardware Street which was like an alley with a bunch of restaurants to choose from so we struck out for there. When we reached the first restaurant, there was a huge menu out front to read. Almost immediately a guy came up and started touting how wonderful his place was and offering us a free drink (soda for me and Josh) or dessert to eat at his place. He told us (confidentially of course) that he had the best prices in the alley and we need go no further. But, we did. The scene was repeated every 10 feet or so. Some of the guys would almost physically grab us and try to pull us into their restaurant. It reminded me of when you go to the fair and all the hucksters try to talk or physically pull you into playing their rip-off games or seeing their shows. After a while, we finally got to a place called Max’s and stopped. They had good Internet ratings and a good variety of food. I looked at their steaks which were listed in grams – the Metric System strikes again. I had a T-bone and Josh ordered a kangaroo steak and chided me for not being adventurous in my eating. I didn’t think I could look my daughter in law in the face if I ate a kangaroo steak. I did try a bit of his and it was good, just a little mushy and not as firm as a beef steak. We got done and headed back to the hotel for the evening.

The next morning Josh and I got up and had breakfast at the Queen’s Kitchen right down from our hotel. I went with bacon and eggs again and he had a bacon and egg roll with a monstrous cup of coffee of some type. Josh headed to work and I decided to head over to the Queen Victoria Market. This is a huge market that has been there since 1878. They have all sorts of things. I enjoyed strolling by the many stands of fruits and vegetables – all sold by the kilogram. It looked like high quality stuff except the tomatoes didn’t look nearly as good as the ones my in-laws raise. They also had all sorts of clothing and I scoped out some t-shirts and hoodies to buy for later. And of course, they had all sorts of souvenir type stuff. Finally, I went across the street to a building where the meat was. There were also sorts of butcher shops inside selling all kinds of beef, seafood, chicken, pork and yes kangaroo. It made me wish I could cook meat at the hotel since I am a carnivore and it looked great. They even sold huge bones if you wanted one for your dog. I finally wandered around to the bakery and got a Chocolate Royal. It’s a shortbread biscuit (cook) stuffed with marshmallow and raspberry jam dipped in melted chocolate. It was excellent. I also got a sausage roll to eat as I walked about which was equally excellent. I finally headed back to my hotel to rest.

I decided to then walk to where Josh was working. He is working with the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne to get input on his company’s software. He mentioned a meerkat display plus a large aquarium. So I walked over there. The meerkat display was just like what you see in a zoo and right in the middle of the children’s waiting area. The meerkats are very active to the delight of the children watching them. Then I went to see the aquarium. It’s a cylindrical glass case that covers two floors. There all sorts of colorful fish plus several sharks. It made me smile to see a young boy come in the front door and sprint excitedly to the tank to see “the fishes”. It’s a very bright and colorful place that would appeal to kids. It makes me really proud of Josh to see him working with a place that does so much good for kids. It rained on me a bit but I managed to hike back to the hotel with little problem. I ended up back at the market and got an order of fish and chips. I also got an order of their famous “jam doughnuts” which are sold in a food truck at the market. They were excellent and I brought one back for Josh. He was tired when we got back and pretty much crashed for the evening upon his return. I ended up having Tim Tams and doughnuts for dinner.

In my next post, I’ll tell you how I paid homage to one of my favorite comedians of all time by what I got for breakfast.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

First days in the Land Down Under

After arriving at Melbourne, I can say that honestly I didn’t feel any different than any other big airport I’d been in. People were scurrying all about dragging luggage and grabbing shuttles and taxis. But that was about to change. We went outside and a young lady asked how many we need in a taxi. There were six of us total, so she pointed us to a spot to stand. Within a minute, a large taxi van pulled up and we loaded up and left. The first thing I saw was that in Australia, cars drive on the left side of the road. That was quite different. Then, I saw the temperature was 11. I realized that everything was on the Metric system in Australia. I knew that but it really sinks in when you actually see it in action. I saw several signs with numbers like 60, 80 and 100 with red circles around them. I’d find out later what those meant. We got to our hotel with no issue. It was before noon so we couldn’t check in. We were able to leave our luggage there so we decided to forage about for a café. We found a place called the Phancy Café.

We got our next introduction to the culture. Most of the guys wanted coffee but the menu had items like a Short Black, a Long Black and a Flat White which left us scratching our heads. They only had sodas in 20 oz. bottles and not a huge selection. We scanned the menu and I ordered a ham and cheese toasty which is pretty much a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. I ordered a hot chocolate and ended up with some sort of frothy coffee drink which I didn’t like at all. I send up researching the issue later. A long black is a double shot of espresso. A short black is a basic espresso. A flat white is steamed milk over espresso. It’s like a latte. One of the guys asked for black coffee and our server acted like he was speaking a foreign language. Fortunately while we were there, the hotel called saying Josh’s and my room was ready, so we walked back to the hotel and went to our room. I promptly crashed out. Josh laughed at me later saying that while he and another guy on the trip (who is a team lead) were talking I kept interjecting my opinions of being a manager. I didn’t remember a bit of that.

I got in touch with my friend Daniel Anderson. I’d known him since he was a little boy, I’d taught him in Bible class. He worked in Melbourne and had married a young lady from Australia. He graciously volunteered to pick me up and take me to worship services. As I drove, he would laugh as occasionally flinched as he made a left turn. A left turn there is pretty similar to a right turn here. I kept thinking he was turning in front of traffic. I also found out the numbers in the Red Circles were. They were speed limit signs. They were in kilometers (the Metric System strikes again). You have to multiply the number by .62 to get the mph equivalent. We went to his congregation (Church Street church of Christ). I enjoyed my time with the brethren there. One guy was even a big Tarheel fan who asked if I was a big Wildcat fan (which I answered yes to of course). Daniel took me back to my hotel. Josh was gone (he was at a prep meeting for their work) so I went to sleep. He got back and he’d had a pizza so I didn’t even bother with dinner and went to be for the night.

The next day Josh met his co-workers plus a young lady who works for his company and lives in Melbourne. I headed out for breakfast and ended up going to the Phancy Café. I ordered bacon and eggs and toast. I stuck with water to drink. Their bacon is different as well, it’s more like a fatty Canadian bacon. Another thing I confirmed with Daniel is that you don’t tip in Australia unless get really fabulous service. After I ate, I stopped back at the hotel and then went to forage about the city. I knew we needed some soda and something to snack on. I already had scoped out a Woolworth’s. It turns out in Australia, a Woolworth’s is more like a grocery store than the old five and dime I remember. It took a lot of searching but I finally found it. I got my next surprise. Soda is almost double what it is here per liter. Plus, the selection is much slimmer – the only diet soda was Diet Coke and Coke Zero. I didn’t see any sign of a Diet Dr Pepper or Diet Mountain Dew til I got back to the States. I also bought a pack of Tim Tams. Tim Tams are what appears to be the national Australian biscuit (what we’d call a cookie here). It is two layers of cookie with cream filling and then covered in chocolate. They make all sorts of varieties, but I thought the original chocolate ones were excellent. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at Walker’s Doughnuts. I had read their doughnuts were fabulous – better than Krispy Kreme. They were good, but not that good. So I ended up having doughnuts and Tim Tams for lunch.

I struck out later for Flagstaff Gardens. It was a park right down the road that had been established in 1862. I enjoyed a nice walk. I noticed what appeared to be a basketball court with no backboards. After I studied up later, I found out that was a court for netball. It’s a game played mostly by young ladies. You are not allow to stand within a couple of feet of someone when they shoot. I remember then I was watching what I thought was a girls basketball game earlier on TV There. I thought “man they play no defense at all they keep backing away from the shooter”. I now realized they were playing netball.

Well, that’s plenty for this post. Come back for my next post when going out for dinner made me feel like I was in the game row at a carnival.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Flying to the Land Down Under

The big day to head out on my trip had arrived. I would be able to fly out of our local airport (Barkley Regional) which would leave at 6:25am. So, I wanted to get there about 5:30 which required me to get up about 4:30am. I got there no problem. I checked my bag and the young man very kindly explained how things would work once I got to Melbourne. I got through security with ease (one of the nice things about Paducah) but we waited after security for about 20 minutes before boarding. I am constantly reminded by Josh that I get to Barkley too early every time. We got on the plane, took off and got to O’Hare on time.

When I got to O’Hare, I headed straight for the United club in the F concourse. I’d heard it was one of the nicer new ones and I had over 5 hours to kill so I went in to buy a one time visit pass. They are normally 50.00 but because I got there before 8, I got a pass for 35.00. The new lounge is beautiful. There are plenty places to sit and relax with plenty of outlets and free wireless Internet. They also give you all the soda you want (I filled up on Coke Zero). They supply breakfast with various items – I got some scones and bagel sticks. I relaxed on a large couch and did some work and just rested. They brought out lunch about 11:00. I had vegetable soup and crackers and even tried some hummus. They had something called Brownie Brittle for dessert. Since Internet costs 9.99 at O’Hare plus I got breakfast, lunch and soda for free, it really ended up not being a bad deal. I finally had to pack up and head for my flight to LAX.

My flight to LAX went fine and I got there about 4:00 LA time. I grabbed a bottle of soda and a candy bar and started looking for TVs. The Cardinals were playing the Dodgers (in St Louis) so I figured someone there would be showing the game. I figured incorrectly, no one was. I ended up keeping up with the game on my phone while waiting for Josh and his co-workers to get there. It was very good to see him when he arrived. We went to dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s for our last “American Meal” before our trip. Josh and I bought a couple of candy bars for the trip to Melbourne. It was going to be a 15 hour flight.

We got on our plane and headed out. There was in-flight entertainment on the back of each seat. Josh and I played Yahtzee against each other and I started flipping through TV shows. Then I made a mistake. For the first time I can remember in many years, the flight provided airline food for free. I ate the dinner they provided thinking that even that I’d had trouble with the food years ago, I’d be fine today. Well, the food disagreed with me and I had an unsettled stomach all the rest of the way. I watched several shows (including a pretty good mini-series about Harry Houdini) plus listened to Mike Matheny’s book “The Matheny Manifesto”. I put on a mix of 80’s music to try and sleep. I dozed a bit but never could sleep. Too many people would jostle me when they walked the aisles. They offered us additional food (a snack and breakfast) but I could not eat much of it. While you are on the flight, they give you paperwork to fill out. You have to fill out a customs/immigration card stating they you are not carrying in things like explosives, fruits/vegetables, meat, etc. I had also had to say I was carrying in medicine. You fill out a separate form questioning you about Ebola – they want to know if you’ve been to Africa recently. You need this to get through Immigration/Security.

We finally landed and started the process. The automatic passport readers were out so we had to have our passports manually scanned. I handed the officer my Ebola paperwork. He glanced at it for a split second and we headed on. We came to another group of officers who looked at my passport and then my card I had filled out. They asked about medicine and I told them it was prescription. As I tried to get it out of my laptop bag, she said it wasn’t necessary and waved me on through. So much for needing that letter I got from my doctor. We went to baggage claim to reclaim our luggage and showed our passport one last time as we walked past a young man looking at our luggage for anything suspicious. We got by no problem and were finally officially in the country!

Josh and several of the young men with him stopped at the local location of Optus (one the local phone carriers in Australia) to get a Sim card for use while in the country. My company had graciously upgraded my phone plan to international while I was gone. Once that was finished, we haled a large cab (there were six of us) and headed for downtown Melbourne.

That’s plenty for this post. My next post will tell you of our first adventures in the city of Melbourne.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Prepping for the Land Down Under..

As part of his job, my younger son Josh has to travel to various hospitals. I had gone with him when he did some work in Sacramento. His next assignment took him much further away. He went to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne Australia earlier this year. He encouraged me to get my passport so I’d be ready to go with him on his next trip. I put it off and put it off but finally decided this spring that I needed to go for it.

I found out from Josh that you actually go to the Post Office to get this done. Not every Post Office does this though. The only one in Paducah that does is the downtown Post Office. You can go to the to find this out. It will also tell you if you need an appointment or not. You don’t at Paducah. I went ahead and filled out my paperwork (available online). You can also figure out what the passport will cost. The cost can vary from 110 to 140 based on whether you get just a passport or also get a card you can use to get into Mexico and Canada. I went ahead and applied for the card as well. You then need to make sure you bring proof of your US Citizenship – either a previous passport or your Certified USA Birth Certificate. You also need some sort of Photo ID. You’ll also need a photo for the passport. You’ll need a very specific size and specification for the photo (it’s explained on the website). You can get them taken at CVS or Walgreeens. I opted to get mine done at the Post Office. It would be a few dollars more, but I could do everything done in one place. So, armed with my birth certificate, driver’s license, my filled out application and my checkbook, I headed for the Post Office.

When I got there, there was only one poor lady waiting on customers. There was a good sizde line. When I got to the front, there was a good sized line behind me so I offered to go to back of the line. I did this another time before she finally told me to just stay this time and get it done. She looked over my applications and pronounced it OK. She then took my birth certificate, it turns out it has to be sent with the application. Finally, she took me to the side to get my picture taken. This area looked a lot like what you see to get your driver’s license picture taken at the courthouse. Finally, she took my payment and told me it’d be four to six weeks before I got my passport. Amazingly enough, it showed up within three weeks. My birth certificate came back in a separate envelope.

I also had to buy my airline ticket. Josh’s company had booked him on United which was fortunate for me since the two commuter flights out of our local airport (Barkley Regional) are with United. I priced a few flights and got one almost exactly the same price. We wouldn’t meet up til we got to Los Angeles. We’d be together on the flight to Melbourne from there and together all the way to Chicago on the way back. So, I purchased that one. I had a 5 hour layover at O’Hare and a 6 hour layover at LAX. The flight to Melbourne would be 15.5 hours, I wondered how I’d handle that. The flight back was faster only 13.5 hours with a 5 hour layover at LAX and a 4 hour layover at O’Hare.

I then started to research any specific requirements for going to Australia. I found out that ANYONE entering the country needs a visa even if you are not working while there. You can go to the Australian government web site to apply. Since I was visitor, I could apply online and it would cost me 20.00 Australian (about 16.00 American). This gets you an electronic visa that is linked to your passport. I also read about paperwork needed for entering the country. You have to fill some out on the plane on the way over (I’ll talk about that later). I saw several web sites that recommended a letter from your Doctor explaining why you were taking certain medications. My Doctor (Dr. O’Bryan) very graciously did this for me for free. I also checked my health insurance and found that it didn’t necessarily work in Australia. So I went to Anthem’s Geoblue web site and was able to get a policy to cover me on the trip for about 45.00. So, I finally had (so I hoped) everything I needed.

But, there was one thing more. I have a single credit card strictly for use in renting a car (don’t tell Dave Ramsey). When I checked online, I found that it charged a 3% foreign transaction fee. I had heard from Clark Howard about several no fee cards that had 0% foreign transaction fees from Capital One that gave cash back. So, I applied online and got one.

So with all that, I was ready to go. In my upcoming blog posts, I’ll let you know how each part of the trip went.