Friday, May 18, 2012

Tahiti Part 3 - Moorea

Tuesday morning Misa was still getting over her cold so Katka and I let her sleep in while we took a tour of the north end of the island.  We visited two high lookouts, two bays, a juice factory and pineapple distillery, a pineapple plantation, an ancient temple, and numerous other sights.  It is hard to describe how beautiful it is here, you will just have to see the pictures, but even those do not do it justice. After the tour we walked into town for our first meal outside of the hotel, and returned for homeschool the rest of the afternoon.  In the evening Katka wasn't hungry so Misa and I went to dinner by ourselves and then to feed the fish.  It was the most amazing night on the water.  There was a lot of action, and we saw lots of jellyfish, a seahorse, and numerous different little worm-sized creatures swimming around.  The most interesting thing was watching the big fish hunt the little fish.  It seems like the lights in the water attract plankton, so there is always a huge school of small fish, around 6 inches, hanging around the lights.  The big fish, 1.5-2 feet long, swim below them, waiting for one to wander off a little bit by itself.  When it does they chase it, and if they catch it they eat it whole.  One time we saw a little fish try to escape by jumping out of the water, but the big fish jumped after it and caught it in mid-air.  The little fish often did escape by jumping, sometimes at least 3 feet above the water.  We were so amazed and having such a great time that we were there for two hours before we even thought about what time it was.  It was by far the best night of the trip to Tahiti so far. Wednesday we rented a car and drove around the island.  We rented an iPod touch with a GPS guide of the island that alerted you whenever you were near something to see or a place to stop for a photo.  Then you could play a short entry about the sight and see a picture so you knew what to look for.  It took about three hours to go around the island, half the time driving and half seeing sights.  We stopped at a few of the places we had seen the day before so Misa could see them too.  When we got back I dropped Katka and Misa in town for lunch and went to fill up the car so we could return it full of gas.  On the way back to the hotel I stopped for a cheeseburger at a roadside stand.  We all met back in our room fed and happy.  We went for an afternoon swim in the pool.  While we were at the pool two guys that were spear-fishing caught a large octopus.  Its head was about the size of a softball, and its arms over a foot long.  From the tip of one arm to the tip of the opposite arm it was about three feet.  I am not sure it was legal, but they looked like they live here, and they just bagged it up and took off.  After swimming Misa did some homeschool, we ordered room service for supper, and then we went to a traditional Tahitian village for a music and dance show.  It was pretty impressive, particularly the guys that did the fire portion of the show, twirling large batons around them with fire on both ends.  They could twirl them so fast that it just made a circle of fire and you couldn't see the ends of the baton. Thursday was my birthday, so I got to choose what we did.  I chose sea kayaking and snorkeling.  It was beautiful.  We took a bunch of  videos, I hope they turn out nicely.  After lunch we went for a swim in the pool.  After our swim we went back to the room for showers.  While I showered Katka and Misa went into town to look at a dress Misa had her eye on.  When they got back they had a cake for my birthday.  It was a beautiful French cheesecake, all decorated fancy with a big 47 on top and a single candle.  I was really surprised; Misa didn't really have her eye on a dress, it was just a decoy to go to town for my cake.  After they sang Happy Birthday we had cake and coffee, a perfect birthday party. After supper we went back out to feed the fish.  Again, it was amazing - but this time because there was a five foot reef shark swimming around where we were snorkeling today.  We also saw lion fish, and some shiny silver fish like a silver dollar with a foot long greenish tentacle growing out of the top.  It looks exactly like a piece of seaweed, which is probably great camouflage.  On the way back to the room there was a huge crab walking on the sidewalk.  When we went to get a picture it froze and let us walk up close.  We easily could have grabbed it, but you have to feed the crabs here coconut for a week or two before you can eat them, so we let it go.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tahiti Part 2 - Moorea

I woke up Saturday morning to the sound of strong wind and rain, with the sun beating in my eyes.  I know, it didn't make sense to me either, so I looked outside. The sun and wind were real, but the "rain" was the wind blowing through the thatched roof.  The frayed edge of the roof was blowing against the window, sounding exactly like rain. Because of the wind the ocean wasn't pleasant for swimming but the pool was fine, so we spent the day there and in our bungalow.  Saturday night they had a special buffet dinner and Tahitian dancing show.  We also rented a movie, so it was a late night.  We didn't get to bed until midnight. Sunday morning we had to move from our overwater bungalow to a regular room.  Misa developed a bad cold so she spent the day in the room texting her friends, working on homeschool, and watching a movie.  Katka and I had a day together by the pool, then we walked into town for ice cream, and then dinner at the hotel restaurant. I guess for Mother's Day Misa gave Katka a day alone with me.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Tahiti Part 1

Thursday, May 10th we got up at 3am for a 6:30 flight to Auckland. We were in Auckland for 2.5 hours before we left for Papeete,the capital of Tahiti. We arrived at 9pm May 9th. We stayed two nights in Tahiti on the west coast near Papeete.  The first night we checked in and went straight for dinner at the restaurant in the hotel.  It was already 11pm but we were not too tired because it was only 7pm Sydney time.  We tried to explore the hotel a bit after dinner, but it was pitch black and hard to tell where the resort stopped and the ocean started. We slept in until almost 11am Thursday morning, much better than the 3am we woke up the first Thursday we had this week.  Katka and I explored the area around the resort bit, but we were sort of in the middle of nowhere.  We felt lucky to find a little food stand for lunch and a convenience store to buy snacks for the room.  Then we saw a couple of people walking with a bag from McDonald's, and I knew where my supper was coming from if I could find it.  Misa was still in bed when we got back at 1pm.  So Katka went to the pool while I checked my email and Misa ate the breakfast we brought from the convenience store. After Misa ate and got ready we joined Katka at the pool, it was pretty impressive.  They advertise it as the largest infinity pool in Papeete, and I suppose it could be.  It was at the pool that I started to look around and realize how beautiful Tahiti is.  The water is crystal clear, and various shades of blue depending on the depth and what is under, coral, rocks, or sand.  Tahiti is in French Polynesia, a huge group of volcanic islands.  The volcanos loom over everything, steep and covered with green trees, shrubs, and grass.  The sun set right over the island Moorea, lighting up from behind as if it was on fire. We stayed at the pool the rest of the day.  For supper Misa ordered room service, Katka had some tuna and crackers that she bought at the convenience store, and I headed for McDonald's.  But on the way I noticed a bunch of new restaurants had sprung up near our hotel.  Trailers with kitchens in them had been set up in the parking lots along the street, and tables and chairs set up around each trailer.  I wandered into one large parking lot and found a pizza and crepe restaurant.  I got a wonderful pepperoni and mushroom pizza to go and took it back to our room.  Somehow I resisted the Nutella and banana crepe.  We ate dinner on our balcony, soaking in the ocean breeze.  I can honestly say May 10 was bad and good, one day of each. Friday we took a ferry to Moorea, an island about 10 miles from Tahiti.  We weren't sure where to go, and there weren't really any signs pointing us to the boarding gate, so we actually didn't go on the ferry with our luggage, but a second ferry they had running at the same time for the overload.  We got to Moorea about 15 minutes after our bags, but they were there waiting for us when we got off, much to our relief. Our hotel for the week is the Moorea Pearl.  The first two nights we are staying in an overwater bungalow.  Our bungalow sits on four pillars about 3 feet above the ocean.  We have a little private pier with a ladder for swimming, and a window in our floor for watching the fish.  Misa and I swam about 150 feet around the bungalows toward the beach, but ran into coral about 100 feet off-shore and had to swim back to our bungalow.  I wasn't too excited about the 300 foot swim in open ocean, but I survived and feel happy for Misa that we tried. We spent the rest of the day in the pool, then supper at our hotel where we stole some bread to feed the fish under our bungalow.  Misa figured out how to throw the bread so it landed under the window in our floor, creating a feeding frenzy we can watch, since all of the TV is in French.  When we turn on the light for our back porch it also turns on a light under our bungalow so we can see the fish.  There were probably around 50 small fish (6 inches) and 20 large fish (1-2 feet) under our bungalow all night. Now we are getting ready for bed, Misa is reading while Katka and I write our emails and updates.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Goodbye Sydney

Our last day in Sydney we walked across the Harbour Bridge to The Rocks.  It is about a mile across.  When we did the Bridge Climb we received tickets to go up in one of the four pylons, which has a small museum about the building of the bridge, and an observation deck for views of the harbor and bays.  After going up in the pylon we continued to The Rocks for lunch at the Australian Hotel.  After lunch we walked back across the bridge to Kirribilli and started packing.  Because of the souvenirs and some clothing we bought while we were here all of our suitcases are stuffed extra full.  I guess we won't know until morning if they'll actually close or not. For supper Katka and I went out to eat in Kirribilli for the first time.  Despite all of the nice places to eat in the area, we always went somewhere else to eat out.  But because we were sort of in a hurry tonight we stayed close by and had a really nice meal.  I think Mother Nature put on a little extra show for us today, because it was beautiful, nice and warm - high 70s, and not a cloud in the sky. And when we got back from supper there was an extra special sunset. Looking back it has been an amazing three months, but we are all ready to move on.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sydney Opera House

Monday they had a going away lunch for Katka, Misa, and me at school.  I was nice to see how many people I had met and for Katka and Misa to get a feeling for the great folks at UTS.  The lunches we had at UTS every week after seminars were the highlights of the week for me.  I loved the discussion, jokes, and advice.  Australians are great conversationalists and love to make a joke, usually at someone else's expense.  They tease the Kiwis and Tazzies the most, although Queenslanders and folks from the Outback and West get their fair share.  But it is all in good fun.

Monday night we had tickets at the Sydney Opera House to see Onegin.  It is a beautiful Russian ballet about a man that doesn't realize what he has until it is too late and he ends up with nothing.  It was exceptional, easily as good, or better than, the ballets we have seen in California or Prague at the National Theater.  The cast was quite large, probably 30 dancers at least, and the sets were great.  There were two intermissions, which caught us by surprise.  Unfortunately that made the ballet run an extra 20 minutes so we missed our ferry home by 5 minutes.  We decided to get some food and wait for the next ferry, but after 30 minutes we discovered that because it was so late at night the ferries were on a 60 minute schedule instead of a 30 minute schedule.  No problem though, we can just take the train from Circular Quay to Wynyard and transfer there to Milson’s Point.  Except when we got to Wynyard there was no train to Milson’s Point; due to track work they were using busses instead.  So we followed the signs and exited the station into a dark alley, no busses in sight.  But when we looked through the station to the other side we did see busses.  We figured that someone just turned around the sign, and the arrows were pointing the wrong way.  So as crossed through the station to the other side I turned the sign around.  Except that was not the correct side, the busses really were on the dark alley side, we just didn’t go far enough.  Unfortunately because I turned the sign around a whole group of other people joined us going the wrong way.  We quickly went back to the other side, indiscreetly turning the sign back around as we went through the station.  Of course all of the running around meant that as we got to the bus it was just leaving.  We waved at the driver and knocked on the door, but he just shrugged his shoulders and drove away.  It was now 45 minutes after the ballet was over and we were done running around.  We hopped in a cab and were at our door 5 minutes later and $15 poorer, which is what we should have done in the first place.  Although it was frustrating, we didn’t let it ruin our special night at the Sydney Opera House.

I was excited for Tuesday at work, not because it was my last day, but because my friend Vern was coming for the week.  Vern is the one that told me about UTS six months ago, and the reason we were able to spend the semester here.  I met Vern about 12 years ago and a conference in Oklahoma, and he has been a good friend and colleague ever since.  We have written several papers together, and he asked me to join him on some projects that turned into the papers that got me tenure.  Vern also knows Katka, Katunka, and Misa because he traveled with us in Norway, and was in Prague once when we were all there for a conference.  So on Tuesday we went to lunch and spent a good part of the day together catching up.  I haven’t been going to many conferences the past few years so we haven’t been able to see each other a great deal, but it was just like old times seeing him again.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Harbour Bridge Climb

Saturday morning we headed to "The Rocks" for the Harbour Bridge Climb. Misa and I had been there once before, but didn't end up doing the climb because it was hot and we didn't want to spoil it just because we had the wrong clothes on.

On Sunday I couldn't find the ferry schedule so we took the train to Wynyard station and walked from there.  We got to the Bridge Climb at 11:00 and they had openings for an 11:25 climb.  There were only 7 people in our group, Katka, Misa, me, a mom and son from Tasmania, and a young couple from Ireland. The normal group size is 14, so we felt lucky to be in a smaller group.

The safety and security they have is almost crazy.  First they do a breathalyzer to make sure you haven't had too much to drink, and you have to sign paperwork stating that you are physically fit, not pregnant, haven't had a recent surgery, aren't on any medications, etc. Then you leave all of your belongings in a locker. Other than your clothing, the only thing you're allowed to take on the climb is your glasses or sunglasses, and they give you a strap to hook those on so they don't fall off when you are on the bridge. Then you put on a special grey and blue Bridge Climb jumpsuit, which is a full bodysuit, like the orange jumpsuits convicts wear, just in better colors. Then you go through a metal detector to make sure you didn't "forget" to put everything in your locker. You then get a safety harness and a training session. During the entire bridge climb you are tethered to a steel cable, which keeps you from falling or jumping. The practice session involves climbing up and down two ladders while tethered so you can get the feel for it, and they can make sure you understand about waiting until the person ahead of you is off the ladder before you get on and start climbing or descending.

After the training you go get the rest of your equipment, a fleece jacket in a bag attached to your harness, a walkie-talkie with headphones attached to your harness, a handkerchief with a wrist strap, and optional items such as a hat and gloves, which attach to your jumpsuit.  There is nothing on you that can fall off or blow away, which is important because you are climbing the bridge above cars, trains, pedestrians, and cyclists. After training we headed outside for the climb. The climb follows one of the top arches up to the half-way point, where you cross to the other side and walk back to the starting point. Along the way your guide tells you about the construction of the bridge and interesting bridge facts and stories, and stops periodically to take pictures, available for purchase at the end of the climb. When we got to the very top we took a group photo, and then we sort of spread out, the Tasmanians in front, then our family, and the Irish couple bringing up the rear.  We all stood there admiring the view when there was some commotion behind us. I started to turn around when I heard Katka say, "look, he is proposing!" I turned around and the Irish guy was down on one knee with an engagement ring asking his girlfriend to marry him. It was like something out of a movie.  She said yes and we all cheered.  It must have gotten really dusty because my eyes were watering, I even had to use the handkerchief.

Of course the mood for the rest of the climb was awesome, everyone was happy and chattering about the engagement. I told Misa it was fate, that we didn't make the climb the first time, and that I couldn't find the ferry schedule so we took the train instead, arriving exactly at 11:00, with the next available climb at 11:25 with the cute couple from Ireland.  The bridge climb is pretty spectacular, but now it is one of those special memories that we will have forever.

After the climb we went to a nice German restaurant with live music, the typical polka/waltz band.  Katka commented that she likes it because in Germany they have the same songs as in Czech. So we were enjoying the band with Katka singing along in Czech, when she said, "this is a Czech song." We told her that we know, she told us about the songs being the same, just different languages, when she said, "no, I mean they are singing in Czech." The band was Czech, as were about half of the other employees in the restaurant.

Katka and I went to one of the UTS professor's house for dinner. Bernhard and his wife Maria invited us, one other professor, and Bernhard's uncle and his wife. Misa was invited too but didn't feel up to it after the bridge climb, so she stayed home, which was fine because she had homeschool to do anyway.  The dinner was great, everyone was from Europe originally except for me, and we all had interesting backgrounds or stories.  Unfortunately we had so much fun we stayed until almost midnight, which meant we were all tired on Sunday.

Sunday morning I got up and went to Chatswood to buy some things we needed for our last week here.  When I was there I found a bookstore that had books on sale 75% off.  So when I got back to our apartment I grabbed Misa and we went to Chatswood for lunch, book shopping, and Ben & Jerry's ice cream.  When we got home Katka was ready to go out, so Katka and I went back to Chatswood for sushi, while Misa stayed home to work on school.  It wasn't the Sunday we had planned originally, but we were all too tired to do much else, and it was a nice relaxing day.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Update and Thoughts on Bali

This was a fairly typical week for us.  I went to work every day, and Misa came with me on Wednesday for homeschool and to watch her shows (Modern Family, The Middle, Shark Tank).  The other days she did homeschool in the morning and then went somewhere with Katka in the afternoon.  Except on Friday Misa stayed home while Katka went on a tour of "The Rocks," part of Sydney that is now a fashionable area with specialty shops, galleries, restaurants, and several museums, but in 1788 was the location of the first convict settlement in Sydney.  Thursday night I rented a movie at a self-serve place similar to Redbox in the US, except here it is green and charges $3.50, not $1.

Riding the train to work one day I started to think about our amazing trip to Bali, and recalled a couple of interesting things.  On the way to Nusa Dua we had a conversation with our driver about driving in Bali. It seems like chaos, and very dangerous. The streets and roads are very narrow, with no space for parking along the sides. But that doesn't stop people from parking, effectively blocking half of one side of the street. To get around the cars traveling in that direction have to go into the oncoming lane. The streets are also full of scooters (small motorcycles), most going slower than the cars.  As there are no speed limits in Bali the cars go as fast as possible, which is never very fast due to the traffic. To pass the scooters the cars have to go partially into the other lane and straight into oncoming traffic. The scooters also don't always use the proper lane, sometimes driving on the right side of the road, and sometimes the left. Of course, like many island nations, they drive on the left side in Indonesia. So as we are driving to Nusa Dua we are constantly swerving into oncoming traffic to go around parked cars, scooters, or trucks going too slow. Of course the cars going the other way were sometimes also passing or swerving, so for a few seconds we would be driving on the right side of the road and the car coming toward us driving on the left.  It was shocking that somehow we always seemed to get back into the correct lane just before colliding head-on.  And don't get me started on how close we came to all of the people, dogs, chickens, bicyclists, etc. that were traveling on the edge of the road.  Organized chaos is almost too nice of a way to describe it.

Our driver asked us if we ride scooters in America, and if we had ever ridden one. I told him no, that I had never been on a scooter, and they were not common in America. He asked if we would rent a scooter to ride around one day in Bali. I told him no, that it didn't seem safe. He said that it is safe, "once you get to know the situation." He went on to explain that traffic flows and follows patterns, and once you are familiar with it you are fine. A few minutes later we saw two tourists riding on scooters; our driver pointed them out and said, "see, they are enjoying themselves, they know the situation."

It was hard to get used to the money in Bali. The currency is the Rupiah, and exchanges at about 9,000 for $1. About every other day I withdrew money from the ATM, and the maximum it let me withdraw was 1,250,000 Rupiah. So every other day I was walking around a millionaire.  Tipping was especially difficult, because I never knew what was appropriate. When we got through customs and to the baggage claim there were three porters waiting, each with one suitcase. Although we didn't need help I didn't protest, not knowing the local customs. After we got through customs I gave them $5 ( total, not each) and told them we were fine on our own. Our guidebook suggested 20,000 was a good tip for a driver or guide for half a day, in other words, TWO DOLLARS. When we arrived at our hotel I tipped our driver and guide 50,000 Rupiah, about $5 each, and they were very happy. But then when the bellhop escorted us to our rooms and brought two of the suitcases I also gave him 50,000 Rupiah, which is about what I would give the bellhop in the states (which is hypothetical, because we never use the bellhop in the US). So the driver and guide each got $5 for about 2 hours of helping us out, and the bellhop $5 for 15 minutes. Once I left 20,000 Rupiah as a gratuity, because after you have been in Bali for a while you start to think of 20,000 as quite a bit of money, but when I realized I had left $2 I felt guilty.

After our 30 minute tour of the temple at Uluwatu our guide asked for a $10 tip. He was the first person to ask for a gratuity, and definitely the first person to be bold about the amount.  Even our guide wouldn't tell me how much to pay him after he spent the whole day driving me around, and when I tried to give him $40 he said it was too much and gave me back half.

The price of gas in Bali is about $2 per gallon; Indonesia has some oil reserves of their own and the government subsidizes some oil and gas. Gas is sold at regular filling stations, but also at roadside stands in liter and two liter glass bottles, often empty vodka bottles to other clear containers. At the filling station gas was 4,500 Rupiah for one liter, and at the roadside stands 5,000 Rupiah for one liter.

There are no words for our seasons in Balinese (winter, spring, summer, fall).  They have only two seasons, wet and dry, so those are the only words they need.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Nothing much to report, we didn't do much in Darwin. We arrived in Darwin at 3am local time on Friday, and didn't get to sleep until 4. Other than venturing out for food, we stayed in our room. For supper we ordered in room service and watched the movie "We Bought a Zoo," which was much better than the title implies.

On Saturday Misa and I stayed in for homeschool while Katka went on a four hour tour of Darwin, I guess they show you all of the sights twice. Saturday night we tried to watch another movie in our room but the remote control wouldn't work to order the movie, so we watched the Australian version of "The Voice," followed by "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," which is as bad as the title suggests. We actually turned it off after a while because it was just dreadful.

Sunday morning we slept in, ate breakfast, packed, relaxed, and went to the airport. We got to our apartment in Sydney about 9:30, just enough time to unpack, start some laundry, and get ready for bed.

Katka and I decided that it was a nice weekend, a relaxing one that we really needed after our two week trip. Now we have our last 11 days in Sydney, let the countdown begin!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Nusa Dua Part Three

Wednesday we had to get back into homeschooling, which was hard on Misa. She had no interest in school while sitting in a beautiful resort with a pool and beach beckoning. So after sleeping in, breakfast, and taking a looonnngg time to get ready, we started. It really wasn't much, but when we were done she was ready for a day of relaxation. So Katka and I had a day to ourselves. We started with a swim in the hotel pool, then went to Uluwatu Temple, which was built in the 11th century. It was a 45 minute car ride each way from Nusa Dua. We arrived and were met immediately by a local guide that provided the required sarong for me to cover my legs and a sash for Katka, which is all she needed because she was wearing long pants. The guide provided a little commentary, showed us the best places for photos and helped keep the monkeys from stealing our sunglasses, camera, and anything else they could get their hands on. Once again the monkey babies were better than the temple for me, and all of the monkeys were fun to watch. The temple itself was nice, if not terribly ornate, probably due to its age. I expected it to be much larger for some reason. Misa pointed out that it is better not to have expectations in advance, because then you are never disappointed but that is difficult. The temple sits atop very high cliffs with beautiful 180 degree views of the ocean.

Katka and I continued our date with dinner alone at our hotel while Misa watched TV and ate room service. Eat, Pray, Love was on TV, either by coincidence, or perhaps because they show it every day for tourists. We only watched TV one day and it was on, so that is the explanation I am going with. The theme at our hotel restaurant was Balinese night, so they had traditional Balinese music and dancing, similar to what we saw in Ubud, except the musicians and dancers were all children, 8-15 years old. It was much more entertaining than the music and dancing we saw in Ubud. When Misa heard the music in our room she came down to the restaurant to watch with us. It was a fun night.

Thursday morning we got up early to go to the beach before we had to check out of the hotel. Because it was not low tide there were waves, and the lazy river current was also still there, so we had a lot more fun. We returned to the room to shower and pack, checked out, ate lunch, and sat in the cafe doing homeschool and relaxing the rest of the day. Now we are headed to the airport for our flight to Darwin, a perfectly wonderful week complete.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Nusa Dua Part Two

After the girls returned from shopping and I finished my email we went to dinner. Every night in the resort they have a theme night in the restaurant. Last night was market night, tonight was Chinese night. They had a large buffet, with Peking Duck and Mongolian BBQ as the specials. The only non-Chinese food was probably the fruit and desserts, which were a mix of Indonesian and Western, but the also had dim sum, and those might not be Chinese either now that I think about it.

Tuesday morning we went back to the water sports place for snorkeling, a glass bottom boat ride, and a trip to Turtle Island. We started with snorkeling. When we got out to the snorkeling spot our driver went to the front of the boat to drop the anchor, but left the boat idling so it would stay in place against the current. Of course the boat still drifted into the area where people were snorkeling and an Australian man missed being hit by our propellor by just a few feet. Luckily his wife saw him swimming toward our boat and yelled to get his attention. After the anchor was secure I moved to the back of the boat and started to put my fins on when a large wave came and rocked our boat. I went flying into the water and we were done snorkeling. It was crazy there, with boats coming and going, no clear markers for the snorkeling area, and a good chance of getting hit by a boat.

After our driver pulled me back on board we headed to the glass bottom boat area. There were about 15 glass bottom boats in a small area, and our driver spent the whole time yelling to the other drivers; it was like social hour at the local pub. A few times we drifted into other boats, like bumper cars on the ocean. Despite the chaos we got to see lots of beautiful fish, which were attracted to our boat by the slices of bread we were throwing into the water.

Our trip ended at Turtle Island. It was at least a 15 minute boat ride at high speed along the coast, and then out into the ocean a short way. It was great because we got to see a good portion of the coast. We approached the island through a forest growing in the water, it must have been high tide. After a few twists and turns we arrived in someone's backyard, at least that is how it felt. We unloaded and were met by our guide, Jimmy. A lot of the locals that work with tourists have adopted Western nicknames, I guess so it is easier for us to remember their names. We asked Paul in Ubud how he chose the name Paul. He said that after he was done with a 3 month training period he was offered a job with the tour company. He accepted, and they gave him a shirt and name tag that said Paul on them, so he became Paul. He said now in his village even his friends call him Paul.

Our first stop on Turtle Island was the big sea turtles. They brought out a huge 55 year old turtle named Andrew. After a few photos with Andrew we moved on to the baby turtles. They have a turtle breeding program and raise the turtles in safety until they are old enough to be released into the wild. In the wild out of 100 eggs only 1 turtle survives. We were able to hold the small and medium turtles, their shells were very beautiful and colorful. Of course the little ones were the cutest. Then we went to see the other animals, and before I knew it Jimmy was wrapping a 10 foot python around me. Luckily Katka was there to take a picture, I have always been afraid to get my picture taken with a large snake before.

The other animals we saw were a sea eagle, a raven, monitor lizards, an owl, monkeys, and flying foxes (bats). We got to see the bats up close and even pet them. They are just so cute up close it is ridiculous. They are like furry little dogs, with cute little faces; it only gets a little freaky when they stretch out their wings, and their feet are quite unattractive. Misa could not believe how thin their wings are, you can see right through them. The bats were wide awake and cleaning themselves with their tongues like cats. Jimmy put his hand up to them and they licked it like a puppy.

After seeing the animals we ate lunch and went back to our hotel. After a quick break to freshen up and get a drink we took the shuttle to the beach. Our hotel has an area of the beach just for hotel guests, and a small restaurant and bar where you can get drinks and snacks like pizza and burgers. It was really strange in the water, because there were no waves. Well, there were waves, but they were breaking a few hundred feet out in the ocean. At the beach there were no waves, but the water was running in a strong current along the beach. It was like a lazy river waterpark ride. We would go into the water at one end of the beach, and the current would slowly take us to the other end, where we would get out and walk back to the beginning. The current was strong enough that if you swam against it you just stayed in one place if you didn't swim really hard.

After a while we were tired and wanted to relax, but Misa and I both left our books at the hotel, so I decided to go back and get them. The hotel shuttle runs about every 20-25 minutes, and just as I got to the shuttle stop the shuttle was leaving. So I decided to wait for the next shuttle. As I was waiting a couple of other people joined me. We were all waiting when we saw a kite fly over with no one holding the string. Pretty soon a little boy came running after the kite. It got stuck up in a tree, and I went to help the boy get it down. With the boy sitting on my shoulders holding a stick we got it out. When I returned to the shuttle stop the people were gone, I missed the shuttle. I decided to run back to the hotel, but I didn't really know how far it was. After running for for about 1/2 mile here came the shuttle, I didn't miss it after all. So I hopped on, rode it back to the beach where it turned around and went to the hotel. What I didn't realize is that when I got on the shuttle I was already back at the hotel, about 50 yards from the entrance, which was blocked from view by a hedge. Basically I ran to our hotel, took the shuttle to the beach and back, and then ran back to the beach after grabbing our books. Katka and Misa wanted to know what took me so long.

When I got to the beach Katka and Misa had beach chairs but there wasn't one for me. I noticed an unoccupied chair off by itself, so I grabbed it and pulled it about 10 feet into some shade. There was a towel on the chair, but because the chair was not close to anyone else I didn't think anyone was using it. I was wrong. This very not nice Russian lady came back from the beach to find me sitting in her chair, 10 feet from her sandals, which somehow I missed back at where I grabbed the chair. So I jumped up, apologized, and ran to get her a new towel. She just scowled at me, oh well. Of course Katka and Misa watched the whole thing and could not stop laughing.

We read for a while longer and took the shuttle back to the hotel, where it was BBQ night at the hotel restaurant. The buffets here are not good for me. It is bad enough that the have table after table of good food, but then to have an entire table devoted to desserts is too much. All of the meats were cooked to order, with a good variety of fish, beef, and lamb. After stuffing ourselves we went back to the room to relax and get ready for bed. It was a long and good day.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Nusa Dua

After Ubud we took a shuttle to Nusa Dua, an area on the coast near Denpasar, the capital city of Bali. Nusa Dua is a new resort area built on reclaimed land. There must be about 15 hotels here and a couple of shopping malls. We jumped into the hotel pool for a short swim before going to the beach for a sunset dinner. And when I say we went to the beach for dinner, I mean that the table and chairs were in the sand. We picked out our fresh seafood and paid by the kilo (pound). Katka and Misa had lobster and I had prawns. They grilled the seafood, I had mine with garlic and sweet chili. Once you paid for your main course and drinks, the soup, fruit, and vegetables were included. Along the beach are 24 restaurants, covering 1/2 mile. On the beach they were selling grilled sweet corn with garlic butter. The man was peeling the corn and cooking it fresh on the fire, so after we ate we went down and bought one ear for Misa. When we got back to our hotel they had a small market set up in the hotel. We bought 5 dresses ($35), 4 bracelets ($5), 3 necklaces ($8), and 3 carved wooden owls ($5). Given that we don't have any extra room in our suitcases, I am not sure how everything is making it back to Sydney.

Monday morning Misa and I went to the beach for banana boat riding, parasailing, and kite riding. Somehow Paul had booked us the activities for $10 each. When we tried to add another activity we found out the normal price is $30 each. Even $30 is a good price, but somehow we did all 3 for $30. The parasailing was amazing, we have never tried it before. The banana boat riding was fun, but the kite riding was really cool. The "kite" is a large inflatable raft. We were flat on our backs on the raft with our feet on a ledge, and holding onto some straps. As the boat pulled the raft faster and faster it went up in the air like a kite, and we were facing away from the boat, standing on the back of the kite. It was sort of surreal, as we were just standing on the ledge and holding on to the straps, we easily could have jumped off. We hired a photographer to take pictures, and I had my video camera on. Misa thought the kite riding was the most amazing, but she liked the parasailing the best.

We returned to our hotel for lunch with Katka. We found her sitting by the pool relaxing, she likes that more than banana boat riding, parasailing, or kite riding. Now the girls are shopping while I am checking my email and sending updates.


We arrived in Bali about 8:45pm and went straight to Ubud, the area made famous in the book Eat, Pray, Love. When we arrived at the hotel we were seated in the lobby and brought a welcome drink, guava lemonade, that was perfectly refreshing. At this time we started to get the idea that we were not in a normal hotel. Our travel agent made the arrangements for us, and somehow I don't think she stayed within our budget. We were escorted to our room by one of the bellhops. It was a walk through narrow streets and walled compounds. When we arrived at a padlocked gate he told us this was our room. He opened the gate and inside there was a wall with a sign, "Welcome Bruce/Katerina/Michaela Dehning to your private villa." Behind the wall was a huge covered chaise lounge and our swimming pool. Not the hotel pool, our swimming pool. At this point we were already a little in shock, and then we went into our villa. As Katka said, it is hard to describe-just imagine a movie. The villa is in the style of a thatched roof hut, with a very high ceiling, except the walls are all glass. There is a nook for the couch in one wall, and a large desk at the head of the bed. The villa is divided in two, in the back half are the sinks, shower, and toilet room. Outside there is another shower and the bathtub. The indoor shower is in a room the size of a large walk-in closet. It is a little hard to get used to taking a shower in a glass room with no curtains on the outside windows, but the only things outside that can see you are the frogs in the pond because there is a wall around each villa making them a self-contained compound. Around the back of the villa where the toilet, tub, and showers are located is ponds instead of sidewalks so no one can go there. After a tour of the villa Misa was sort of freaking out, almost not able to believe it. I was just happy it was already paid for.

Our second day in Ubud we stayed in the resort until evening. First we slept in, then we went for breakfast. This also gave us our first view of the resort in the daylight. The hotel sits right in the middle of a huge terrced rice field. The resort is shaped sort of like a bowl. On one rim of the bowl is the building with the lobby and on the opposite rim the restaurant building. On the right side of the bowl is the pool and spa area. The villas sit on the sides of the bowl with a park at the bottom of the bowl. The park has rice paddies, a small creek with a bridge over it, and a lake area. Despite the resort being quite large there are only 28 villas and two more under construction. I would estimate that there are about two employees for every guest. The space between the villas and buildings has the feeling of an ancient town and temple area, sort of like something from an Indiana Jones movie. One thing I had heard about Bali is that people come here for two reasons, it is cheap and the people are amazingly nice. I'd say that is an understatement. The Balinese are the nicest people we have met so far, easily eclipsing Tasmania and New Zealand. While walking to breakfast the first morning by myself I passed about 15 hotel employees. Every single one smiled and greeted me. OK, I thought, of course they are nice, we are paying the hotel a lot of money for the employees to be nice to us. But when we went into town it was the same way, people smile and nod or say hello.

After breakfast we went for a swim in our pool, then we had a meeting with Paul, a representative from the tour company. After the meeting we went for a swim in the large hotel pool. We were the only ones there. We ate lunch in the pool. Not by the pool, but at the swim up bar in the pool.

From 4-5 in the afternoon the hotel has "tea," or for Katka and I, "supper." In addition to tea or coffee they have a buffet with a few small entrees like chicken strips, mini pizzas, chicken wings, fried sweet potatoes, or fried bananas. Then they have sweets such as sticky rice with coconut and brown sugar, brownies, sticky rice with coconut cream, and warm apple pieces cooked in cinnamon. After tea we went into Ubud Village to the Ubud Palace to watch a traditional dance. First they had an instrumental number, then they demonstrated two types of traditional dance, and then they put on a four act "epic" which I would describe as an opera, but with dance instead of singing. It definitely was not ballet, but much heavier and more dramatic. It was very interesting, but not necessarily very enjoyable. A couple of the dances were nice, but the unusual music and costumes made it difficult to enjoy. I am glad we went, but I don't need to go again during my time here, on earth.

Breakfast on Friday was so good I ordered the same breakfast on Saturday. The waiter said, "oh yes, like yesterday." Katka and Misa stayed in the resort for the day while I went out on a tour of Ubud with Paul. First we went to the monkey forest where I tried to get a picture with a monkey sitting on me. Except when the small monkey did hop on me he grabbed the banana and ran away too fast for a photo. Then the big monkeys starting coming for the bananas and they scared me so I gave them all of my bananas and told them I didn't have any more. I guess they believed me because they left me alone. The woman selling the bananas kept the monkeys from stealing her bananas by shooting them with a slingshot when they got close. It was actually very entertaining to see the monkeys, and I was only scared once when a large monkey grabbed my shorts and I pulled away, causing him to show me his teeth and fangs. I was happy to give him a banana.

After the monkey forest we went to Paul's house to pick up his two sons. Paul showed me around his family compound where he lives with his wife, two sons, and his mother. In total it is about the size of the land we had in New Hampshire, maybe a third of an acre or a bit more. There are six buildings on the compound, each serving as a living area, kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom. Behind the buildings they have chickens and a pig pen, where there was a 300 pound pig very pregnant. Paul's mom cooks every morning and that is the only time they cook each day. The kitchen has a wood stove, and they have a small two burner gas stove that they use for boiling water or heating things up. Water comes from a 40 foot deep well. Appliances included a refrigerator, TV, computer, and the stove. Paul got the compound from his parents because he was the oldest son. His older sister is married and lives in her husband's family compound. Paul's wife was painting little wooden cats and she gave me a pack of four, each painted a different color.

After Paul's house we visited three villages, each specializing in a different art form, painting, woodcarving, and silver. The whole time we were driving Paul was telling me about Balinese culture and customs. I learned all about rice farming, Hinduism, art, family life, and education. We stopped for photos of rice paddies and a waterfall and then we went for lunch. The restaurant was open air, and right next to a large rice paddy. I tried traditional smoked duck with a coconut sauce, it was very good. After lunch we visited a spice and coffee farm, where I learned how they make a special coffee here called Luwak. First a mongoose eats the coffee berries and digests the skin. The coffee bean passes through whole, where it is collected and cleaned. Then they dry the beans, peel them, roast them, and grind them. After walking through the garden and seeing all of the spices growing in their natural form we sat down for tea and coffee tasting. They brought me 12 small cups, 5 teas and 7 coffees to taste. The tea was very good, my favorite was perhaps the lemon grass, and my favorite coffee of course the mocha. Then I tried the famous Luwak coffee harvested by the mongoose. It was very good, but the roast was a bit dark for me. They say the mongoose knows the best coffee beans and only eats the fruit with the best beans inside. I bought some Luwak coffee and lemon grass tea to take back to the US.

We made it back to the hotel in time for tea, so I said goodbye to Paul and went for tea with Katka and Misa. After tea Katka and Misa had an appointment at the spa for a massage, scrub, and soak. It has not been hard to adapt to the lifestyle here. While the girls were at the spa I caught up on my email and started writing this update. When they got back we ordered a late night snack from room service and went to sleep. At least once or twice a night a large frog that lives in the pond next to the villa lets out a big croak and wakes us up, and loud enough that we cannot believe he isn't in the room with us.

Sunday morning we met Paul for a trip to see Ketut Liyer, the medicine man from Eat, Pray, Love. He was doing palm readings but there were quite a few people waiting so we did not have our palms read. We did watch him for a while and got a photo. He is quite a character. After Ketut's house we went to the monkey forest. There were so many funny monkeys there. The best was a monkey that found a rock to play with. It was passing it back and forth on the ground between its hands and feet, pushing it back and forth as if it was grinding some grain, and rolling it around. At one point its baby monkey came and sat on is lap to nurse and it didn't even pay it any attention, it just kept playing with the rock. There were lots of baby monkeys, some just a little larger than my hand. After just observing for a while we decided to buy some bananas and try to get some pictures. We all got photos with monkeys climbing on us, sitting on our heads, on our laps, and hanging from our arms and legs. At first Katka and Misa were scared, but the man selling the bananas helped us sit and feed them first so they could just sit on us and not have to climb us. One little one crawled up in Misa's lap and just sat there. Then one sat on her head. You have to be careful though, because they like to steal your purse, hat, map, sunglasses, or anything else you have on you. We watched one little monkey sneak up behind a boy that was sitting down, jump on his head to grab his hat, and then run away. The poor boy's father never was able to get the hat back. Any time people sat down the monkeys would come over and try to open their purse or backpack, they were not shy at all. We did see one sad sight, a mother monkey carrying around her dead baby.  It looked like maybe the baby had fallen and broken its neck. We were told that the moms will often continue to carry around the dead baby. There are three monkey forests in Bali, and about 300 monkeys live in the one in Ubud.


The flight from Alice Springs to Darwin on Wednesday was surprisingly long. It was 2.5 hours from the south end of the Northern Territory to the north. Australia is big, and it only has 6 states and one major territory (the Northern Territory is huge, the other territory on the main island is Canberra, the capital city, which is a territory the way Washington DC is). New South Wales where we live, for example, is much larger than Texas.

Darwin was much nicer than we expected. Once again the vision of an old outback town (or city in this case) was quickly dispersed by reality. Darwin is a nice, albeit hot, city of 100,000. Katka and I explored the bicentennial park and Doctors' Gully area while Misa relaxed in the room. We ate a quick meal at a nice Thai restaurant on Mitchell street before going swimming in the hotel pool. Even though we were right by the beach we couldn't go in the water due to salt water crocodiles and stingers (jellyfish).

Thursday we slept in, worked on homeschool, visited the Darwin Military Museum, and flew to Bali, Indonesia. The military museum was more interesting than I expected. Darwin was unsuccessfully attacked by Japanese submarines, and then successfully by an air raid, in the two months after Pearl Harbor. In the air raid about 250 people died, with more than half of them Americans, including 88 on the USS Peary, which was sunk in Darwin Harbor. The attack was the first of about 100 by Japanese on Australian soil, and it was the worst in terms of casualties. The attack is shown pretty well in the movie Australia, which also depicts the life on a cattle station in the Northern Territory. After the museum we took a cab to the airport for our flight to Bali.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Alice Springs

The drive from Kings Canyon to Alice Springs took about 5 hours, plus 30 minutes extra for leaving Kings Canyon on the wrong highway, which dead ends about 1/100th of the way to Alice Springs, and won't be completed for a few more years, plus stopping for gas and taking the time necessary to get over the $150 it took to fill up the tank, plus stopping for lunch, so 6.5 hours.

So by the time we got to Alice Springs and refreshed, we only had time to walk around the town and see what an old outback town felt like. Well, I can tell you, it doesn't feel anything like a small town in the outback, with a McDonald's, Target, shopping mall, hospital, golf course, etc. About the only way I knew I was in the outback and not Ft. Morgan, Colorado, were the large numbers of Aboriginal people walking around.

For supper we got some veggies at Woolworth's, which may or may not be related to Woolworth's in America, but here it is a grocery store, and then went to Bojangles, a famous old-style outback pub. The walls are covered with items from the history of the outback and the Northern Territory. Misa pointed out that if it wasn't a pub they could call it a museum. We met our new friends there, the woman from Slovakia and the Kiwi that we first met in Uluru and had run into every day since. We had a great time, the food was good and we had a lot to talk about.

Today we went to see the city sights, starting at the ANZAC Hill overlooking the town, then the Royal Flying Doctor Service museum. Due to the extremely large area between the coasts where almost no one lives, there are tens of thousands of people without access to medical care. So in 1928 they started the Royal Flying Doctor Service, with bases all over Australia, to fly nurses and doctors to where they are needed and to fly patients to hospitals when necessary. It is a huge operation, with 23 bases, 68 aircraft, and over 500 employees. From Alice Springs they can cover anywhere in a 350 mile radius within 3 hours of getting a call. What surprised me the most was that each airplane costs $6 million, is replaced every 10 years, and are purchased with donations.

After that we went to the old telegraph station. Originally Alice Springs was a relay station for the telegraph from Adelaide to Darwin. There had to be a relay station every 200 miles where the morse code was retransmitted, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The retransmission consisted of a guy sitting at a desk, listening to the morse code come in from the previous telegraph station, and simultaneously tapping it out and sending it down the line to the next station. The completion of the telegraph line allowed messages from Australia to go to England and the response sent back all within two days. Previously letters were sent by ships and the round trip was 6 months. By coincidence it is Heritage Week here this week, so they had a couple of old guys that actually used to work in the telegraph offices in Australia showing us how it worked. In Australia they were using morse code to send telegrams until the late 60's. This week they have someone at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney manning the station at the other end, and are sending telegrams back and forth between Alice Springs and Sydney. Misa had a little lesson on morse code and telegraphs and got a certificate. Katka surprised us all by remembering that she learned morse code in scouts and surprised us even more by remembering the code for a lot of the letters.

We ate lunch in town before heading out to the Alice Springs Desert Park.  It is a large educational area with native plants and animals on display in a huge 3,000 acre park. We had a nice animal lecture by one of the park rangers and walked through a good portion of the park to see the native desert plants. The highlight, of course, was the nocturnal house, where we got to see active native desert animals that thought it was night because they switch on the lights at night and off during the day. I guess we find the animals in Australia extra cute because they are unusual to us, but it is hard to see a little furry creature with big eyes and big ears and not want to take it home.

For supper we went to a pizza place next to our hotel and then homeschool and reading. One downside of all the reading we have had Misa do during her life is that she reads very fast and all the time. With books here costing $20 each it is painful when she finishes one in two days.

Kings Canyon

Sunday morning we drove back to Uluru - Kata Tjuta Natonal Park to visit the other major rock formation in the park, Kata Tjuta. It is 36 mounds, similar to Uluru, but each one smaller, and all together in one formation. Some of them are actually taller than Uluru, but not as large around. Even though they are not the main attraction, I like them better. They're the same red color, but the texture of Uluru sort of looks like the bark on a tree, and Kata Tjuta looks like straw. The rocks are lots of different shapes, and a few at one end sit together like loaves of bread. There is a walk between two of them in the "Valley of Winds." We thought about doing the hike, but the heat was a bit much, and we knew we had a long drive ahead of us. So we drove around for a few different angles, walked up close to them for some photos, and headed to Kings Canyon.

On the way to Kings Canyon we stopped for lunch at Curtin Springs, an authentic Australian cattle station (ranch) with over 1,000,000 acres. I'm not sure what the largest ranch is in Australia, or the world for that matter, but  a million acres sounds like a lot. By my calculation that is a 40 mile by 40 mile square, or the road from Longmont to Denver on all four sides.

We made it to Kings Canyon about 4:00, so we decided to go straight to the canyon, to see if we want to go back tomorrow, or just leave straight to Alice Springs in the morning. Let's just say we are going straight to Alice Springs. Not to diminish the beauty of Kings Canyon, but there are several better canyons just in Colorado, and I'm not even going to mention the rest of the west. The closest comparison we can make is Zion National Park, but that is only because of the feeling, it cannot compare to Zion. The red sandstone contrasts with the green trees and shrubs, and there is some unusual flora here, but the extra four hours in the car was probably not worth it, until dinner tonight. We went to a BBQ restaurant like you might see in a movie about the Australian Outback. It was like a huge shed, with rows of tables, and a two person band playing. I am guessing it was husband and wife, and neither was a great singer, but they could really put on a show. The woman got someone from every group or family up on stage at one point or other, got them into silly costumes or wigs, and had them help sing or play an instrument. Katka got drafted from our family, and had on a crazy black wig. She really got into it, singing and dancing along with a group of 6-7 other moms. I could sing along with the chorus of most of the songs, they were old cowboy or country songs, including Waltzing Matilda, of course.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


We left Sydney at 10 am, flew 3.5 hours, and arrived in Ayers Rock at 1pm.
"Wait!" you shout, "if you left at 10 and flew 3.5 hours then you arrived at 1:30." 
"No," I reply, "you forgot about the time change."
"Then certainly you arrived at 12:30."
"No, 1pm, they only change their clocks by 30 minutes here from Sydney time."
Yep, right now it is 10:15 here, but 10:45 in Sydney, it is a half time zone.

Uluru is very similar to Devil's Tower in Wyoming. Uluru claims to be the largest freestanding rock in the world, and is 1,142 feet from base to peak, while Devil's Tower is slightly taller at 1,267. Devil's Tower covers 2.1 square miles, and Uluru 2.6 square miles. While the most striking feature of Devils's Tower is the vertical stripes and faults, the most striking feature of Uluru is its distinctive red color. As the sun moves across the sky the rock changes from shades of red and orange to almost purple.

After checking into our hotel and eating lunch we drove to the rock, visited the Aboriginal cultural center, took a hike around part of the rock, drove around the rock, and then parked to watch the colors change as the sun set. Most of the people we talked to are also getting up at 5:30 to watch the sunrise. I might go see the sunrise if I'm still awake (no chance), otherwise I'll just Google "Uluru sunrise" and see what I missed.

For supper we ate at a fun BBQ place here at our hotel. You order a cut of meat, and they give it to you raw so you can cook it yourself. We had a lot of fun cooking our food, particularly Misa. I think we would always pay a little extra at a restaurant if we could cook the food ourselves. The meal included a salad and potato bar, and was a much better bargain than the other option for supper, a $55 per person buffet where someone else gets to cook the food for you.

Misa described the atmosphere at this hotel like a youth hostel (in a good way). There is a common area with picnic tables, a bar, and some pool tables where everyone sits, eats, and socializes. While walking around Uluru today we met a Slovakian woman, and when we sat down to eat she was sitting right next to us. On the other side was a nice man from Leeds, so we had conversations going all around.

Now it is time for bed, but I'm not sure how we will sleep; the time change really has thrown us off.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Easter Show

Tuesday I worked, Katka went to visit Sydney's famous Town Hall, and Misa stayed home to work on homeschool and relax.  Sometimes she just needs a day off from traveling, which I completely understand.

I presented a paper at the school's weekly research seminar.  It isn't a great paper, but the folks here were kind and gave me some good feedback.  One thing I will really miss when we leave here is being able to talk about my research with thre faculty and get great suggestions on what to try or ideas on how to proceed.

Katka really enjoyed seeing the Town Hall, it is an impressive building and well maintained.

Wednesday we went to the Easter Show at the Olympic Park.  If you have ever been to a large county fair or smaller state fair you have a pretty good idea of what it was like. However, there were a few reminders that you were in Australia instead of Colorado.  For example the Save the Bilbies tent with the live koala, wallaroo, and bilby on display, or the stadium devoted to the wood chopping events, or the showbag hall.  If you are not familiar with showbags, they are large plastic bags full of items with a related theme at a discount price.  For example, most show bags cost $5 to $15 and contain merchandise worth up to $50.  There were over 300 showbags for sale, everything from sports (rugby and Aussie Rules Football), toys (Barbie, Smurfs), candy (Cadbury and Mars company seemed to be represented the best), drinks (everything from Powerade to Pepsi to milk), movies (Harry Potter, GI Joe), magazines (the entire gamut), fashion (perfumes, makeup, accessories), etc.  The hall where they were on display and for sale was about the same size as the hall for sheep shearing, which means you know it was one of the biggest.

We started with lunch, then the dog agility competition, Sydney Royal Dog Show, cats, equestrian show jumping, the petting zoo (ridiculously large and fun due to the number of baby animals), pigs and piglets (lots of piglets), the junior rodeo, the stockmen's ride (show), a freestyle motocross exhibition similar to the Crusty Demons we enjoyed so much in Melbourne, and finishing with a fireworks and pyrotechnics show.  Even if we had two more days we wouldn't have been able to do everything at the fair.  The things we wanted to do the most but didn't have time for were the carnival, Bonnie Yard Dog exhibition, the fashion and style pavilion, wood chopping competition, and lots of shows.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Sunday and Monday

Our plan on Sunday was to go to the Hoopla Festival at Darling Harbour. It is a 4 day festival of circus, sideshow, and street performers, about 25 in total. They have 6 areas with stages or tents set up, and admission is either free or very reasonable, $5-$10 for most shows, $15 for the most expensive. After homeschool in the morning we went to the festival in the afternoon. At the festival we watched one street performer - a juggler/comedian, one acrobat, and then paid to see 4 acts in the "Big Top," a tent that held around 100 people. They were good, funny and talented, including juggling, breathing fire, hula hooping, and a couple of physical comedy/parody-type acts. We also walked around the Darling Harbour area, exploring the parks and fountains, stopped for coffee and ice cream, and watched all of the people there for the festival. 

Monday we did homeschool in the morning and then Katka and Misa went to Luna Park while I stayed home and worked. We didn't plan on a second day at Luna Park, but Misa really wanted to show it to Katka so they decided to go. They had a lot of fun, and came home with several prizes from playing the games on the midway. I also did some grocery shopping, which is a never-ending chore here. Luckily most of the small shops around us were open, even though Easter Monday is an official holiday.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Friday was a holiday here so I stayed home from work. Katka and I went to Bondi Beach again while Misa stayed home to work on homeschool. We did the cliff top walk from Bondi Beach to Bronte Beach. It was another spectacular day, bright sunshine and beautiful colors. The coast in this area is alternating rocks and beaches, so you get both the crashing of the waves on the rocks and the beautiful white sand beaches. 

Friday night we went to see a rugby game. It was the Wests Tigers versus Brisbane Broncos. Now in Australia there are two types of rugby, rugby league and rugby union. Before we left for Australia I had two friends come over to watch rugby so they could explain the rules and strategy. I got a pretty good understanding of it when one friend said, "did you know there is another kind of rugby? It isn't as much fun, each possession is like a down, and they get 6 downs to try and score before they kick it to the other team." I wanted to be sure I went to the proper type of rugby, so before we picked a game I went on Wikipedia and looked it up. The two types are Rugby Union and Rugby League. I read a little on Wikipedia and basically it says that Rugby League is simpler and has more action. So we went to see a Rugby League game. Well, Rugby League might have more action, but it is like a game of Red Rover for grownups. One team has the ball, and the other team lines up about 10 yards away. Then the team with the ball sends one guy to run into the line of the other team to try and break through. Of course he doesn't, he gets tackled, and the teams line up and another guy tries to break through the line. This happens 6 times before they kick the ball to the other team. Every once in a while the guy with the ball trying to break through the line pitches it to another player for him to try and break through, but that is about as exciting as it gets. On each play there are 5-6 players participating, and the other 20 or so watching. In the game Friday night half the the scores came when the team fielding the kick wasn't able to catch it and the kicking team ran down the field, picked up the ball, and ran it into the end zone. It turns out that Rugby League is what my friend was warning me about, and what I learned before we left is Rugby Union. But it doesn't really matter because we had fun just being there, the excitement of the crowd, the halftime entertainment, the comments of the people sitting around us, and the exhibition of baby farm animals outside the stadium before the game (?). With time it will be even more special, because who do you know that has ever been to a Rugby League game?

 Saturday Misa and I went to the Koala Park in North Sydney so Katka could write. The Koala Park is a small zoo we discovered last time we were here. They don't have many different types of animals, all native to Australia, but because it is so small you can get right up close to the animals, and you can feed the kangaroos. We went to three good keeper presentations, one on koalas where we got to pet a koala, one on sheep shearing, boomerangs, and sheep dogs, and the third on the little blue penguins that live in Australia. Misa loves feeding the kangaroos, and we were there at the end of the day when all of the kangaroos stood up and turned toward the gate, as if on alert for danger. I turned on my video camera because they were all looking toward me and it seemed like something was going to happen. Misa walked up and asked, "why are they are all standing up?" Then she turned around and said, "look, a koala!" And climbing into the kangaroo pen was a koala. It didn't pay us any attention as it walked right past us, climbed a fence, walked across the top of the fence for a while, and then climbed down the fence to get to a tree on the other side. It climbed the tree and started eating; I guess it was hungry and out of the 100 trees in the zoo it picked that one for supper. The whole time we could have reached out and touched it, and it completely ignored us. I guess there are few predators for koalas, because they are completely unafraid. It was one of the neatest things I've seen, and special because in this huge kangaroo pen it was just Misa, me, the koala, and a bunch of curios kangaroos. The video I have is perfect.

Of course life has trade offs, and because we watched the koala we missed the bus that would take us to the train station. Our choice was to wait another hour or walk to the station. We walked, but it was at least two miles up and down hills. By the time we got to our apartment at 7:00 Misa was exhausted. We were supposed to finish homeschool, but we'll have to do it on Sunday instead.                                          

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Week Before the Long Weekend

Monday I went to school and Katka and Misa went shoe shopping. Misa found the coolest shoes here, retro high-tops with a hidden wedge heel inside. So after work I walked down to the shopping area between George and Pitt streets next to Darling Harbour to meet them. We had a snack at Pizza Hut before heading home for chicken, ham, and cheese stuffed pastries. Needless to say I am having trouble keeping my weight down here, even though we walk everywhere.

Tuesday I stayed home and so I could get my hair cut and we could go to Ben & Jerry's for free ice cream day. Then Misa decided that instead of waiting in line for ice cream we should just go some day when it wasn't free and buy it. We decided to do the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb instead. Basically you walk up to the top of the arch on top of the bridge and back. Except by the time we got to the bridge we were already tired and it was hot. So we walked into our new favorite part of Sydney, the shopping area between Pitt and George streets, on a quest for Pop Tarts.

Even though in California I would never buy Misa Pop Tarts just to eat at home they are hard to find here and kind of a delicacy, so off we went to a convenience store I know of that sells Pop Tarts, American cereal, and American peanut butter, including the infamous Goober Grape and Goober Strawberry.

We had fun wandering, just looking in the shops, cutting through the Strand Arcade from George to Pitt street, and finally settling on Cookies and Cream Pop Tarts; so I guess you could say we actually got our ice cream after all. (Actually I did, because I tried the McDonalds 30 cent ice cream cone. It is the only thing that costs less in Australia than in he USA. It isn't actually worth much more than 30 cents, as it tastes sort of like Cool Whip.) For supper we went to Chatswood for sushi. It is one of those places that has the sushi going around the room on a conveyor belt and you grab what you like as it goes by. They even have several items that I like, too many even to have one of each in a single meal. As there is food constantly in front of me to grab and eat, I quit eating when the hassle of eating with chopsticks is greater than the enjoyment I am getting from the food.

Wednesday Misa went to school with me for homeschool and to watch her shows. We met Katka in Darling Harbour for supper and a walk around the harbor. It was a beautiful, warm evening. The past two weeks have been the best weather of all the time we have been here. What was one of the wettest summers in recent memory in Sydney has turned into one of the most beautiful autumns. The ferry ride back to our apartment was a perfect ending to the day.

Thursday I was at work all day, while Katka and Misa did homeschool and visited the Botanical Gardens. Fr supper Katka made an awesome chicken wing and potato dish, which we followed with Friends, Modern Family, Friends, and Modern Family. We can't wait for "The Voice" to start here on Sunday now that My Kitchen Rules is over.

Tomorrow is Easter Friday, then comes Easter Saturday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. Except in Tasmania, where they also have Easter Tuesday. They have an Easter Bilby here instead of the Easter Bunny, and I'm not sure what day he comes to hide the eggs anyway. Not that it matters, because we couldn't find white eggs to color, so we colored the brown ones they sell here. Somehow Misa managed to make all of the colors work except purple, which turned the brown egg even darker brown. If it wasn't so much fun it would be sort of depressing. We have all sorts of activities planned for the long weekend, but I don't want to jinx it by writing about them now. You'll just have to wait for our next update to see if we made it.                                        

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bondi Beach and Luna Park

Saturday morning we woke up to beautiful sunshine. So after homeschool, we headed to Sydney's most famous beach, Bondi. They say it bond-eye, rhyming with bonsai, not Ghandi. To get there required a train switch at Town Hall, and a bus from Bondi Junction to the beach. Not as pleasant as the ferry to Manly, but well worth it. You can see what I mean in the photos we just posted:

I'm just glad it is fall and not summer, because the beach was almost full anyway. I cannot imagine how it is on a hot summer day. I've heard it is just a solid mass of people, that you almost can't see the beach. For the first hour or so we just played in the waves and got used to the water. Of course Misa could do that all day, but I was tired of the pounding I was taking from the waves, so we rented Boogie Boards for the rest of the day. The waves were pretty big and one after another after another.  I think because of the way the beach is in a bay, the water gets funneled in and it creates extra waves. It is the kind of beach I like because I can walk out a couple of hundred feet and still touch bottom when the waves go out. Anyway, the Boogie Boarding was amazing. Our plan was to walk from Bondi to Bronte, but we didn't get out of the water until almost 6pm, and didn't really feel like walking anywhere. After we got home and ate supper, a Harry Potter movie was on TV, so we were up until 11. I think except for maybe homeschool in the morning Misa would describe it as the perfect day.

Despite going to bed after 11 on Saturday, we were up by 8am on Sunday. That's because we went off of daylight savings time. We "fell back" an hour, giving us an extra hour of sleep, or an extra hour of the day, either one is a bonus. We decided to take advantage of the extra hour and nice day by going to Luna Park. Luna Park is like the old Lakeside amusement park without the big roller coaster. It even has the Wild Chipmunk (Wild Mouse), fun house (Coney Island), and old fashioned bumper cars. From what I remember the fun house was just like the one at Lakeside, including the sidewalk with moving parts and the huge wooden wheel that you sit on and it spins fast and faster until everyone flies off except one person. One of my favorite rides of the day was the giant slide in the fun house. They have burlap sacks to sit in so you don't risk any burns, and you really go. On the first ride Misa and I were getting set up to go down side-by-side when a Chinese woman came up to me and said something I didn't quite catch. I think everyone here must think I am hard of hearing, because the accents really throw me sometimes, and I'm always saying, "sorry?" Anyway, whatever I answered must have been what the Chinese woman wanted to hear, because before I knew it I had a two year old Chinese girl sitting in my lap for the ride down. The little girl seemed to forget who she was riding with because when we got to the bottom she was all smiles. I only wish I had a picture. 

I'd say the rides are pretty terrifying for how simple they are. In one of them you stand in a round room that spins really fast. Then the floor drops and you are stuck to the wall hanging in mid-air. It is pretty cool. The kids that had ridden it before did crazy things like turning sideways or doing funny poses. Some of the rides were similar to what we have in carnivals in the US, but they crank up the speed or make them go completely vertical. They also make the rides really long, so you don't just hop on and ride 90 seconds and you're done. I'd say several of the rides lasted 5-10 minutes or more, which is a long time to be flung about hoping your head doesn't snap off.

Due to the end of daylight savings time it got dark early on Sunday. As we headed home at 6pm it was already dark, but that meant we got to watch our Sunday night shows in the dark :)

Tomorrow, April 3, is free Ben & Jerry's ice cream day. All of the Ben & Jerry's in the world give out free ice cream cones on the anniversary of their founding. So we are headed to our local Ben & Jerry's to wait in line two hours to save $10. It is a good thing I don't teach economics.

Friday, March 30, 2012


OK, so I did not make it to Canberra, but Katka and Misa did, so now I feel like I have been there too. They left on Tuesday at noon from the Central Station, so I went with them there and continued on to work. At school we had a going away lunch for the other American professor that has been here at UTS for the past three months. I am amazed at how good the food is that they order for our lunches. It comes from a UTS food service, not a caterer, but it is nothing like the university food I have had in the USA. This week we had three catered lunches; the food I can remember is prawns, pesto chicken, assorted pies (savory not sweet), a selection of cold cuts, many different salads including pasta salad, Greek salad, and fruit salad. They aways have lots of cut up fruit and a tray of desserts. On Friday a lot of the faculty skipped the presentation but showed up for the lunch after, which I think was kind of cheating.

Tuesday I worked until 9:00 and Wednesday until 6:30. I have some interesting projects going on now and it is easy to stay and work late. Thursday I left work about 4:00 to meet Katka and Misa's train from Canberra. They had a good time, learned a lot about the city and the government, and saw a lot of wildlife, in the city. I guess Canberra is like Central Park, except 100s of times larger and with buildings in it periodically. From the air you can see there is a city there, but from all of the pictures Katka took it just seems like a large forest. Katka described the three types of people they saw in Canberra, people in suits, old people, and old people in suits.

Thursday night I worked late getting Misa's homeschool work ready to send in, and Friday I sent it in from school. The grading in particular takes a long time. Friday evening we went to Chatswood for ice cream and shopping. That is two Friday evenings in a row I have been to Chatswood for shopping, things are really getting wild here in Sydney.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Taronga Zoo

Friday Night Misa went for a sleepover so Katka and I had a date night - shopping at K-Mart. We actually had a nice sushi dinner and walk around Chatswood first, so it wasn't all about the shopping. We were getting tired of the hard, hotel-style beds in our apartment so we bought some duvets and another mattress topper to make them more comfortable. Saturday night was the first great night of sleep I've had since the first night here, when I was so tired I could have slept on the concrete balcony.

Saturday morning Katka and I went to the Kirribilli markets: row after row of crafts, jewelry, clothing, food, and assorted items for the home, most made by the proprietors. I had to run to Manly to pick up Misa, and after lunch Misa and I went to the Kirribilli market and then to Chatswood for more shopping. We went to a pet store and they had some unusual animals for sale, including Japanese quails and chipmunks. I think the chipmunks were very cute, and really not much different than the gerbils or guinea pigs they were selling, but it was still odd to think about having chipmunks as pets.  Katka met us for dinner at a specialty burger place, on par with Fergburger in Queenstown, NZ.

Sunday morning I went out shopping as we waited for it to get a little nicer before heading to Bondi Beach. While I was there I started thinking, wow, I go shopping a lot here, almost every-other-day I go out shopping for food, and Katka too. Then it hit me, that this is how many Europeans still live, shopping every day to two. It is caused by two factors, not using a car, and a small refrigerator. Each time I go shopping I am limited by how much I can carry, and even if I brought home more we wouldn't fit it all in our fridge. The advantage to this is that we always have fresh bread, fruits, and vegetables, much tastier than the same items from the grocery store back home. The oranges are perhaps the most noticeably different, they are so juicy and sweet, and imported from America. It is quite frustrating to be eating oranges here better than we get at home, when they are from home.

After my shopping excursion we headed to Bondi Beach, but ended up at the Taronga Zoo. The weather didn't look great, and we thought the zoo would be better on a cloudy day than the beach. So we took the ferry across the bay to the zoo, and of course as soon as we got to the zoo the sun came out.

Taronga Zoo is built on the side of a hill with a great view of downtown Sydney. The setup is great, they take you up to the top of the hill on a gondola, and then you walk down to the exit on the bottom of the hill. On the map they have large green dots showing you the main route down, and on the actual path down the hill they have matching green dots so you know you are on the right path. Then off the main path you can take walks through areas you are interested in, like "Big Cats," "Australian Walkabout," "African Safari ," "Reptile World," etc.

Many of the animals were especially active, probably because it was not too hot. Our highlights included the koalas (of course), three tiger cubs playing, the duck-billed platypus, the Himalayan Tahr (mountain goats), the gorillas, and of course the wallabies. Like everything in Australia the zoo closed early (5pm), so we were home in time for a night of TV, something we get about once every two weeks. Our favorite show here now is My Kitchen Rules, a cooking show sort of in the style of American Idol. They are in the semifinals now, with four pairs of amateur cooks left. They will be crowning the champions this week and everyone is watching it and talking about it.

Today Misa went to school with me so Katka could run errands and write, and so Misa could do her homeschool and watch her shows. I continue to get a lot of work done, and it is fun to have Misa here with me.

Tomorrow Katka and Misa are going to Canberra for a few days, so I'll be here in Sydney alone. I'll probably just work late every day so I can take a day or two off next week.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Week in Sydney

We flew home (to Sydney) from Melbourne Monday morning, getting to our apartment right before lunch. I went straight to the grocery store after unpacking to stock up. It is kind of nice to know we have three weeks before our next big trip, so we can fill up the fridge and cupboards and not worry about having to throw a lot of things out.

Tuesday I went to work while Katka and Misa got caught up at home. Misa did a lot of homeschool, and Katka did some shopping and got the apartment into shape. We had tacos for dinner, they have a pretty good selection of ingredients for Mexican food here, despite a lack of Mexican restaurants.

Wednesday Misa went to school with me for the day. She did homeschool and got caught up on her shows. At lunch we went through Paddy's Market and found a cool iPhone screen protector that acts as a mirror when the phone is off or asleep, and a new iPhone cover to protect it. Katka went to the Sydney Opera House to get tickets for the ballet, then worked on her writing. For dinner we went down to Chatswood. There is a pedestrian zone there, and a lot of neat shops and restaurants. Being a weeknight it was pretty quiet, except for the parrots, which were apparently having a convention, or a skwaking contest.

Thursday I was at work all day while Katka and Misa went on search of "The Strand Arcade" - some fancy shopping center downtown. They were actually close to my school, but decided not to call me to meet because it was girls day out. I bought some Sourpatch Kids candy for Misa to take to her friend Christian tomorrow when she goes for her sleepover. Christian and her family moved to Sydney from Ladera in the fall and one thing they really miss is Sourpatch Kids. The store where we found it imports sweets from America. Not just candy, but Pop Tarts, Lucky Charms, etc. We wanted to buy a box of Lucky Charms but they were $15, which actually seemed cheap when we found out a box of Pop Tarts was $10, on sale.

I updated our photos today, there are beautiful new pictures from Tasmania and Victoria:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Australian Grand Prix, Part 2

Sunday morning we drove out to visit our friends the Prchals.  They live about 30 minutes south of downtown Melbourne.  They just finished adding on to their house and it is beautiful.  I’d guess they had about 1,200 square feet before, and now they probably have at least 2,500. Radek Prchal is a contractor, so everything is top-notch.  In addition to the new bedrooms, living room, and spa (Sauna and Jacuzzi), they completely remodeled the kitchen and backyard landscaping. We had a nice BBQ lunch in the new backyard along with Radek’s parents.  I left for the Grand Prix about 2:30 and Misa and Katka stayed at the Prchal’s until almost 9:00.

Melbourne really had things running nicely for the Grand Prix.  There were free express busses and trams from various locations around Melbourne straight to the park where the Grand Prix track is located.  The stop at Southern Cross Station was about a 5 minute walk from our hotel, and then a 10-15 minute tram ride. I was nervous that driving into Melbourne from the Prchal’s I might hit traffic, but no one was on the roads.  I guess because there is no parking at the Grand Prix site everyone drives to the closest public transportation and takes that in, spreading out the traffic.

I started watching the race from the spot where we watched qualifying on Saturday - on a hill overlooking the track.  The whole race took about 1 hour and 45 minutes.  I didn’t have a great seat so during the last hour of the race I just walked the whole track and watched from various locations.  I got some good video, as several times I was right next to the track.

I’d say it is hard to watch F1 in person without the right seat.  It was great to go to my first race, but I’d never go again without a grandstand seat with a view of one of the large screens showing the race.  The track is 3.3 miles long, and even from the hill I could only see about 100 yards of track, so getting to see any actual action (passing, spin-outs, crashes) is rare.  Even on the hill where I could see an OK piece of the track I found myself watching the video screen of the race more than the actual race.

After the race I went to watch the Crusty Demons again.  That is the freestyle motocross motorcycle team that we enjoyed so much on Saturday. They were having a competition among themselves for $50,000 and did some amazing tricks.  They had to cancel the “best trick” part of the competition because of the wind, but what I did get to see was amazing anyway.

I stopped at the grocery store for food on the way back to the hotel, getting back about 9:15, just fifteen minutes after Katka and Misa got home from the Prchal’s.  Overall all three of us had a great day.