Thursday, February 16, 2012


Greetings from our apartment in Sydney. I mentioned to Katka how amazed I am.
"That we live in an apartment in Sydney with a view of Lavender Bay?"
"No,” I replied, "that we have Wi-Fi in our apartment in Sydney." You see, I had just returned from the mall where I bought a Wi-Fi hotspot, and was focused on the small picture, my success of getting it set up.  Katka was focused on the big picture, that we live in an apartment on the other side of the globe from her homeland.

We left Franz Josef Glacier early on Thursday and drove to Greymouth.  It was the first oddly unkempt city we had seen in New Zealand.  There were buildings that needed painting and the streets were not particularly clean, but the people were as nice as always.  After lunch at a small cafe we returned our rental car and took the Tranz-Alpine train four hours over the Southern Alps of New Zealand from Greymouth to Christchurch.  It was a spectacular ride, almost like stepping back in time.  The train was sort of old and run down, and the tracks were not smooth at all. Most of the land we passed through between the mountains was either deserted or ranch land with cows and sheep.

Arriving in Christchurch about 6pm, we got to our hotel in time for a quick walk into the city for dinner while Misa took a shower.  I was shocked at the damage from the earthquake last year.  Someone told us that 60% of the buildings in downtown Christchurch have to be demolished.  As we walked down the street, about every-other-building was fenced off, slated for demolition.  And this was not in the badly damaged central business district that is closed entirely.

Katka and I split a pretty good pizza, and brought some delicious chicken strips back for Misa.  She was having a grand time at the hotel enjoying her solitude.  She was only a bit bummed that we made it back so fast, as she was getting ready to order some room service.

Our flight was scheduled to leave for Sydney at 6:30am, so I set my alarm for 3:15.  At 3:45 the ringing of the telephone woke us up; it was our back-up plan wake-up call.  Oh no, my alarm didn't go off! Was it the snooze? Did the electricity go off? No, it was the AM/PM!  Just like that episode of Seinfeld with the marathon runner.  So we got ready like our family never gets ready (fast), and made our 4:30 taxi to the airport. We had a little trouble at the airport convincing them we were allowed to check two bags each, but finally they relented.  We grabbed a pastry for breakfast, got on the plane, and were in Sydney at 7:30.  The school had a taxi waiting for us, and we were in our apartment by 10:00.  The apartment is OK, two bedrooms and two bathrooms on the 17th floor, but the view is ridiculous.  If you have a map of Sydney, we are across Harbor Bridge, and we overlook Lavender Bay .  Right below is us the "Luna Park," which is what amusement parks seem to be called in the rest of the world, and just beyond that is the water, stretching on and on.  The bay is very active, with lots of ferries and small boats racing to and fro.

Misa was so tired that she "might fall asleep from exhaustion," and Katka was doing laundry, so I went off exploring by myself.  My goal was to get an Australian cell phone and Internet.  First I wandered around our neighborhood, locating the train station, parks, convenience store, small grocery, and kebab restaurant, where I had an awesome lunch.  It is my new favorite restaurant in Australia.  While I was eating lunch I noticed a travel agency on the second floor of the building.  We have two trips still to plan, Tasmania/Melbourne and Perth/West Coast/Adelaide.  So I stopped in and had a chat, and will go back on Monday to finalize at least the Tasmania/Melbourne trip. 

The travel agent found a cell phone store for me and gave me directions on how to get there.  It turned out to be in a shopping mall one stop from our house on the train.  The train is like an above and sometimes below ground subway.  From our house there are two train lines and one ferry.

The shopping mall was a godsend; there is a nice supermarket, butcher, fruit and vegetable store, pharmacy, food court, and lots of cafes.  And most importantly there is a Vodaphone mobile telephone shop.  I picked up a pre-paid SIM card with $20 on it; the number is (04) 1457-0013, where 04 is the area code for this part Australia.  The country code for Australia is 61, so I guess to call from the USA it would be 011 614 1457 0013, but you don’t ever need to call, as my US phone is always on and costs me the same amount of money.  I also picked up a Wi-Fi hotspot, $99 for 6GB.  We’ll use about that much each month.  What is cool about the hotspot is that it works from the cell phone network, so you can use it in the park, in the car, on the ferry, in a tree, etc.  The apartment where we are staying charges $50 per week for 1GB of Internet, so we are getting 2GB more for half the price.  You can see why I was so excited.

On the way home I picked up some groceries and schnitzel at the butcher.  Katka cooked the schnitzel for supper and we had it with some delicious Australian apples.

Tomorrow we are going for dinner to the home of some folks from Ladera that also moved to Sydney this year.  We get to take two ferries to get to their house; I might just take my hotspot with me.