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.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

F1 Melbourne

We went to the Australian Grand Prix today, a Formula One race. I was surprised by how much was going on; there were 5 races today, plus F1 practice and qualifying. In addition, all over the park there were shows and activities to participate in. Our favorite was the Crusty Demons, a motorcycle jumping and trick team. They are the some of the best motorcycle riders from around the world, including an ESPN X-Games gold medalist, and the first rider to do a front flip on a motorcycle in competition. There were also airplanes doing stunts and flybys, an educational expo, rides, lots of food and music. We walked around most of the track except by the grandstands where you needed a special ticket. We watched the races from three locations, a tight turn, a turn at the end of a straightway, and the middle of the straightaway. All spots were good for different reasons. Two things Misa noticed right away are how loud the cars are and how fast they are.

They had one race between a regular Mercedes sports car, a supercar (a stock car like in NASCAR), and an F1 car. First they had each car drive around the track as fast as they could, and handicapped the race based on those times. So the Mercedes left first, then after about 15 seconds the stock car, and then after about 15 more seconds the F1 car. All three got to the homestretch at about the same time, with the stock car closing in on the sports car and the F1 closing in on the stock car, it was very exciting. Right at the end the F1 passed both to finish first, with the sports car in second, and the stock car in third. It took about 2 minutes for the sports car to go around the track, compared to a minute and a half for the F 1.

After the qualifying competition for tomorrow's race to see who would start on the pole and in what order the other cars would start we headed back to our hotel. We stopped at Subway for supper, did homeschool, and now are headed to bed.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Great Ocean Road, Part 2

Friday morning we got up early for the second half of the Great Ocean Road. We ate, packed, said goodbye to our Heath mouse friend that visited our back door every morning, and headed for the Otway treetop walk. In the rainforest there are some giant trees, about as tall as the redwoods in Muir Woods but not as big around, and they have built a walkway 150 feet above the ground amongst the tops of the trees. At one point there is a tower that goes up another 65 feet to 215 feet, and it is still not as tall as the tallest trees, which can reach 300 feet. There is not much more to say: rainforest, ferns, huge trees, streams, fungi, beautiful, amazing, breathtaking... 

After the hour walk we ate lunch and hit the road. Our first stop was Gibson's Steps were we got to see our first rock formation out in the ocean. Basically the entire second part of the Great Ocean Road is these huge columns of sandstone were the land used to be, but erosion has left these islands and arches all by themselves standing in the water. The most famous group of them, the twelve apostles, was next, followed by Loch Ard Gorge.

By far the second day is more spectacular due to the high cliffs and rock column formations. The entire Great Ocean Road over the two days of driving was 150 miles.

After the Great Ocean Road we drove straight to Melbourne 3 hours, arriving about 6:30. Once again our travel agent outdid herself, with a two bedroom serviced apartment right in downtown Melbourne. I think we only paid for a one bedroom, but this is all they had available. With the F1 Grand Prix here this weekend I am guessing everyone is booked to capacity. We will go to the Grand Prix tomorrow, and I will go again on Sunday while Katka and Misa visit our friends that live here in Melbourne.

One random observation: everything in Australia is quite expensive.  For example, if we go out for fast food we eat for about $30; if we go to a sit down restaurant it costs about $90; and a days worth of food from the grocery store for three meals costs about $60. For the most part we can avoid buying most things, and we do not have any bills to pay, but we have to eat. The cost of some things, like sunscreen, are way out of whack. A decent sized tube of sunscreen is $18 Australian, or $19 US, versus $10 for the same thing at home.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Great Ocean Road, Part 1

Wednesday we flew from Hobart to Melbourne, rented a car and drove the first part of the Great Ocean Road to Apollo Bay. The Great Ocean Road is sort of like the PCH in California from Monterey down to Morrow Bay. It hugs the southeast coast of Australia over a good part of the way from Melbourne to Adelaide. Our first stop was the golf course in Anglesea, which is home to 400 kangaroos. Apparently the kangaroos were not home on Wednesday, because we didn't see any. It is a large area for sure, but how 400 kangaroos all hide out of sight is beyond me. Luckily we had more success at Kennett River, where we did find Koalas living in the wild. Koalas are sort of amazing, in that they don't really seem to do anything. They sleep in the trees in the most uncomfortable looking positions, just wedged between two or three branches, and occasionally wake up to eat whatever is close by before going back to sleep. Despite not seeing any kangaroos in the wild yet, we have seen echidnas, wallabies, koalas, a Heath mouse, cockatoos, red parrots, Australian king green parrots and lots of other cool birds. Echidnas and wallabies are our favorites so far, but the birds are sometimes amazing, sometimes beautiful,  and sometimes very funny looking.

We also stopped at the Split Point Lighthouse, Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch, and lots of viewpoints and scenic overlooks. The Great Ocean Road is actually a memorial to WW1 veterans, built by the veterans returning from the war in honor of their fallen comrades. It took 13 years to complete, from 1919 to 1932.

Our motel in Apollo Bay has a perfect view of the ocean. We have a small two bedroom "lodge" with a covered porch in back to sit and watch the waves. Ater we arrived and unpacked Misa and Katka went down to the beach while I went into town for food. I found a great frozen pizza, but when I got back to our motel I discovered our kitchen doesn't have a regular oven. So for supper I microwaved the pizza and then cooked it in a skillet to make the crust crispy, it was delicious. I think the expression should be "hunger is the mother of invention."

Thursday we caught up on homeschool. Misa had a bad cold when we were in Tasmania so we took it easy on the homeschooling. Having two nights in the same hotel means no driving, and a chance to relax and homeschool. So after a morning of school we drove out to the Cape Otway Lightstation. We were driving in the Great Otway National Park on the way there when we spotted a koala up on a branch, right over the road. Before we knew it there were koalas everywhere, "like ripe cherries," is how Katka described it. They really are funny little animals, just balancing out on a limb, hanging there like wet bags of socks someone threw up into the tree and they got stuck. Sometimes they wake up, look around, scratch a little, and then go back to dozing. In a zoo we did see one walking around in a tree and even jumping between branches, but in the wild we haven't seen one so much as change positions to get more comfortable. 

The Cape Otway Lightstation included several historical buildings and a monsoon. It started raining as we headed into the lighthouse, but stopped when we were at the top taking in the views. But then the rain started coming in sheets and by the time we made it to the cafe we were drenched. We waited out the rain in the cafe and when it stopped walked quickly to our car and drove back to the motel. Now we are relaxing with the back porch open so we get the nice breeze, we can listen to the waves, and watch the ocean. Soon we will have to start homeschool again, but for now we can enjoy the view.


Our flight to Hobart on Friday was again ridiculously early (7:00am). We got up at 4:00, left the apartment at 5:00, and were at the airport at 5:30. The check in process here is almost fully automated. They use a computer terminal to check in like other airports, but the terminal prints both your boarding passes and luggage tags. You simply attach the luggage tags to your suitcases following the instructions provided and place them on a conveyor belt. The bags are weighed and scanned on the conveyor belt, and sent on their way. This whole process takes about 5-10 minutes, and no airline employees are involved.

After picking up our rental car at the airport in Hobart, we arrived early at our hotel. Because our room was not ready, they put us in a room that was ready, a deluxe suite with 180 degree views of the bay. Needless to say Misa found no reason to leave the room for the rest of the day except for a short trip out for lunch.

Katka took a nap after lunch while Misa and I read and rested. Katka and I explored the waterfront and then found a fun Irish pub for supper. We brought Misa back some food from the grocery store.

On Saturday we drove to Port Arthur, a UN World Heritage site and location of one of the first and largest convict settlements and penitentiaries for repeat offenders. After America declared independence, England needed a new place to send its convicts, and Australia was the new location. As a comparison, 80,000 convicts were sent to America through the years, and 165,000 to Australia. The convicts that didn't manage to walk a straight line after getting released from prison, or the trouble-makers from the other prisons in Australia were sent to Port Arthur. Now it is a beautiful and tranquil place, but at the time the conditions were brutal. The maximum punishment (besides hanging) for breaking the rules was 200 lashes. The entry fee included a guided tour and cruise around the bay. We learned a lot about life in Australia at that time, and the history of convict settlements in Australia.

After Port Arthur we headed for our next destination, Swansea. We arrived just after sunset, and at the reception the woman asked me if we had our evening tea yet. I replied no, thinking that maybe Misa and Katka would like some tea before going to bed. The lady then informed me that we should hurry then, because the restaurant would be closing soon. By evening tea she meant supper, asking me if we had eaten yet. Despite the Australians speaking the same language as I do, we often misunderstand each other. One of my favorite greetings they use is, "How're you going?" It is sort of a mix of our "How are you doing?" and "How's it going?" 

After checking in we went to the room, then I went out to the car to get the rest of our things. But when I got back to the room Misa and Katka were not there, they had walked out the back of our room down to the bay. All the time in Tasmania it was almost impossible to forget we were on an island, as most of the time we were close to water.

Our next day trip was to Freycinet (pronounced fry-sin-ay) National Park, and a three hour hike to Wineglass Bay, one of the world's top ten beaches. I think it deserves it, based on the beauty of the beach with the hills behind, the remoteness, and the beautiful color of the water. That and the wallabies hopping around, which by itself puts it into Misa's top 10. The hike was almost too much, we had to cross over a good portion of a mountain both ways, and it was really steep. But it was a good workout, and we all made it, and the extra effort made the day more special.

The drive to Launceston took about two hours driving plus a stop for supper at Subway. Our hotel was right in downtown Launceston, a city of about 250,000 people. The city sits right at the conflux of three rivers, and has monkeys. Well, not in the wild, but in the main city park is a large monkey enclosure with 10 or more macaques monkeys from their sister city, Ikeda, Japan. On Monday we walked to the park to see the monkeys, then down to the largest of the three rivers for a river cruise to Cataract Gorge. Cataract Gorge runs right down into the city, and there is a great walking trail along the gorge to a beautiful park at the end. After the river cruise we drove up to the park and rode a chairlift across the lake to the hill on the other side. The chairlift has the largest single span in the world (308 meters, or over 1,000 feet between towers) over the lake, and was part of the Olympic torch relay in 2000. The park itself is amazing, with a large lake that has the gorge on one end and a river with small falls on the other coming down the canyon. Kids were jumping off of a rock about 15 feet above the water into the lake. The park also has an Olympic-size pool, lots of green grass and gardens, a suspension bridge high above the river, peacocks, and wallabies. After a snack, a short walk, and some relaxing time in the park we headed for Strahan.

The drive from Launceston to Strahan was about 5 hours, including a stop at Dove Lake in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park. On the way there someone asked me where we were headed, and I responded "Strahan," pronounced stray-han. They thought about it a minute and said, "oh, you mean Strahan," but they pronounced it "strawn." The Australian dialect has two distinguishing characteristics that I have identified so far. One is that they randomly drop letters from place names. For example, in Cairns they drop the "r" and call it "cans." Brisbane loses the "e" and becomes "briz bun." Strahan lost "ah" and became "strawn." The other habit is to drop all but the first syllable in a word and add a "y" or "i" at the end. Breakfast is brekky, university is uni, a rash guard is a rashy, etc.

On Tuesday, after a look around Strahan, we drove through Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park to Lake St. Clair. We stopped there for lunch and a stroll around part of the lake. Misa saw a neat old branch out in the water, so she found some driftwood and built a jetty out into the lake to get it. Then she found a boulder with a crack in it and put the branch in the crack like a flagpole. I guess she claimed part of Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park for America.

We finished the day back in Hobart, exhausted but happy. Misa and I walked into town for supper and homeschool, and Katka caught up on email and writing back at the hotel.

Overall I think Tasmania was surprising. I did not expect it to be so nice, I almost never hear anyone talk about it, except the Tasmanian Devil from Bugs Bunny. Every city and park exceeded my expectations except perhaps Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park. By the time we got there I was expecting it to be beautiful. Probably the most surprising thing is how dry it is. I know summer is just ending, but I expected it to be really green, whereas it is more like Colorado or the area around Sacramento in California. The other surprise was the cities. Hobart is a regular metropolis, and I could see myself living in Launceston. The small towns and villages are very cute, and the people are probably about as nice as anywhere I have been, equal to New Zealanders I'd say, if not nicer.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Short Update

Yesterday Katka and Misa came to school with me. Next door to my school is the Powerhouse Museum, and they have a Harry Potter exhibit going on. It contains over 200 props and costumes from the movies. So we took the train and tram to my school, and walked to the museum from there. As Misa said, the exhibition was ah-MAZING! After that I showed them around my school and we went to City Market for lunch. The two markets, Paddy's Market and City Market occupy 4 floors of a huge building next to my school. Katka found a suitcase to replace one of ours that lost a wheel in New Zealand plus some souvenirs.

Other than that we have settled into a bit of a routine. I am getting a lot of work done at school, except not so much today. On the way to school I got stuck at my station because of an injury to a passenger a couple of stations ahead. The delay was about 30 minutes.  Then at school I uploaded the photos from our last trip: and worked on our next trip.  For such a small island there seems to be a lot to do in Tasmania.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Two Observations

I like the fact that advertisements here are required to disclose the total cost of a contract for things like cell phones.  For example, they advertise $69 per month, but then disclose the total is $1,800 minimum over the life of the contract, including up front fees. I think many people would think twice about signing up for some of the things they do if they considered the total cost. Even something cheap like Netflix used to cost us over $200 per year.

Our apartment building has 23 floors, but the elevator goes to 26. Yep, you guessed it, they skipped the unlucky floors. It goes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 26. In Chinese and Japanese 4 is pronounced the same way as the word for death. So there are no unlucky floors with a 4 in them in our building!

We had the first research seminar presentation at school today.  The presenter was another American from the University of Washington that is spending about 6 months here. I have started to realize how much I miss being at a heavily research-oriented school. That and having a lot of time to focus on my own research has been great. Misa has been a little sick lately so we're taking it easy this week. The only thing we want to do this week is attend the Harry Potter exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum on Wednesday or Thursday before it leaves Sydney.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Gold Coast

Our last day in Queensland we went to Surfer's Paradise on the Gold Coast, south-east of Brisbane. Back in the 50's the area was an almost unknown part of Australia, when someone had the brilliant idea to change the name of their town to Surfer's Paradise, and the rest is history. Now it is one of the most developed coasts in the world. I don't know how a country so small supports such a large vacation area.  They must have millions of tourists every year. It is mile after mile of high rise hotels, condos, and apartments.  There are a few theme parks in the area, including Sea World, Warner Bros. Studios, Wet-n-Wild, and Dream World.

We arrived south of the main part of Surfer's Paradise after a long train and bus ride and walked along the beach watching a kite surfer and an occasional regular surfer. Swimming in Australia is only allowed in certain areas of the beach, and the rest is reserved for surfers and boogie boarders. The lifeguards focus on the swimming areas, and there is a large volunteer surf-watch group that watches both the swimmers and the surfers, but mostly the surfers.  Not many folks were out, it was still early, and the weather was not very good, windy with rain on-and-off.

We had lunch at a local surf club.  I'd describe it as a country club for the water sport set.  The dining room was open to visitors, with a 10% surcharge over member prices.  It was interesting to eat with the locals, and the view of the ocean was awesome.  While we ate lunch the sun came out, so after lunch we enjoyed a nice walk up to the main part of Surfer's Paradise, and then a promenade with lots of shops and cafes.  We finished at a large inlet, part of a bay with a large wharf, and walked along it to Beach Rd. to catch our bus back to the train station.  The train on the way back had WiFi, so I checked my email and Facebook and finished homeschool for the day with Misa. Despite the poor weather and not being able to go for a swim, it was a good day.

We made it back to Sydney on Sunday early in the afternoon.  After unpacking I headed to a mall with a K-Mart to buy a mattress topper for our beds.  One thing I have noticed that was also true on our first visit, Australian hotels (and our apartment) have hard beds.  I think our bedss are actually just bricks covered with a few layers of cloth.  Even after adding the one mattress topper I bought today I might have to go back for another one or two.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Brisbane and the Australia Zoo

The flight from Cairns to Brisbane was uneventful. Once we got checked in we went to the train station to figure out our transportation for the next two days. We had lunch in one of several food courts around the station, and went back to the hotel for homeschooling. In the evening we walked down to Queen Street, a pedestrian mall with lots of shops and restaurants. We walked almost all the way across the river, and then back to our hotel, grabbing supper along the way. Brisbane is a surprisingly nice city. There is the wonderful downtown, good public transportation, nice people, lots of good shops and restaurants, good weather, interesting neighborhoods, and apparently quite a nice theater and concert hall. In many ways it is the best city we have visited in Australia.

Friday morning we caught the train to Beerwah, home of Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo. It was everything we hoped it would be. We got to see the crocodile show, a snake and bird show, Misa got to hold a koala, we fed the kangaroos and wallabies, visited the animal hospital, and saw lots of Australian wildlife, inside and outside of the cages. It is only a bit unfortunate that it is so far from Brisbane. It took us an hour-and-a-half to get there, and two-and-a-half hours to get back to our hotel. The trip back took so long we got all of the homeschooling done. That plus a nice conversation with a young Australian woman saved the trip home from being a complete disaster.

Tomorrow we see another top 10 Australian sight, the Gold Coast.