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.