Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is basically a collection of mountainous islands with skyscrapers stuck on the coastline and any other flat areas. The airport is a man-made island in order to create a flat, long area for the runways. When it comes to infrastructure, it is very interesting. The very modern shops at the base of all the buildings are connected to old, dirty looking apartments above. The incredibly clean, modern and efficient subway system is a joy to ride. All of this was evident on our amazing trip to see the Big Buddha. This landmark, a giant Buddha Statue on the top of a mountain, is located right beside an ancient Buddhist monastery. To get there we took the subway over to the island, then a bus up to the Big Buddha. It is a beautiful site with statues of warriors, a temple, wisps of incense in the air and of course the Big Buddha itself. On the way back we walked through the very commercial shopping area to get to the cable car which we took back to the subway system. This cable car winds up over the mountain, across the water, and then turns 90 degrees to get to the other island. Amazing! It also provides a great view of the airport and the islands that make up Hong Kong. A subway ride, followed by a walk through some very narrow alleys packed with shopping stalls got us back to the hotel. In the evening we decided to have dinner at the hotel next door. It was probably one of the best meals we have had in a restaurant. The style was unique and the ingredients were fresh. YUM!  
Now we are sitting in the Business lounge for Cathay Pacific waiting to get on the plane to Vancouver. We both feel shocked by the fact our trip is almost at an end. It seems strange that when we land we will be back in Canada. At the same time it seems like such a long time ago that we left the house on a cold winter’s morning to head to the Toronto Airport. We will see you all soon!
By the way, Happy 44th Anniversary (Belated) Mom and Dad! And Happy Mother’s Day!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Singapore to Hong Kong...It's Still Pretty Hot

Our last day in Singapore was spent wandering around Chinatown and the markets, enjoying the atmosphere. Chinatown was full of vendors selling all sorts of clothing, including tailors who would make you a personalized suit in 8 hours. It was exactly what I pictured, crowds of people weaving through stores of colourful clothing and strange trinkets all packed in narrow alleys. Singapore itself was an interesting country, in some ways it was very organized, while in others it was not. For example, they have electronic signs all over town stating exactly how many parking spaces are available at various sites. Amazing, since it means you don’t end up driving around aimlessly searching for a non-existent spot. However, the concept of a line up seems to be lost on a large number of people, as demonstrated by the shoving match that occurred while we tried to get into the zoo the other day. (Colin was shoved out of the way by a bunch of older ladies).
So now we are in Hong Kong. We wandered around the Chinese food stalls last night looking for dinner. Although English is one of the two official languages, most of the signs were only in Chinese. So, we ended up going into a small, clean and friendly looking place to order a rice dish and noodle dish of their choice. Good food resulted! Today we headed down to the Stanley Market which is basically a ton of stalls selling clothing, trinkets, purses etc. Prices were really cheap, I got a little silk dress purse for $20 Hong Kong, which equals about $2.50 Canadian. No clothing however, sizes were too small for Colin and my North American hips were not going to fit into the dresses! In the evening we took a shuttle bus to one of the huge shopping centres, the whole area was big name designers so no purchases were made. Walking back to the hotel was a challenge, none of the streets are parallel and the buildings are all skyscrapers so you cannot find a landmark to head towards. Got here safe and sound however!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fun & Fish in Singapore

The first day in Singapore is a bit of a blur. We had slept very little on the overnight flight, so we wandered around in the neighbourhood and then got some sleep.
Day two was amazing! We walked down to the Singapore Flyer, a giant ferris wheel like the one in London, England. The ride gave us great views of the city allowing us to get "the lay of the land".  When we got off the Flyer we wandered around the surrounding complex and found a Fish Spa. We put our feet in a pool of water containing tiny fish that nibble off the dead skin found on your feet and legs. During this time we also got a 10 minute shoulder massage. Then we moved to a second pool that had larger fish that continue the process. In the end we had our feet in with the fish for 30 minutes. It is the strangest sensation - kind of tickles in a funny kind of way. The fish really loved Colin's feet, especially his heels! We both felt our feet tingled for a long time afterwards. Once the fish were done we went signed up for a hop-on hop-off bus tour. We rode most of the route, enjoying the commentary as we went along. After a quick rest at the hotel we headed back to the Flyer building where we enjoyed some incredible satays with great peanut sauce from one of the stands, along with a glass of sugarcane juice. After dinner we got on a bus for our Night Safari Tour. This is a zoo that is open after dark to display nocturnal animals. It starts off with a tram ride along paths in the rainforest. Animals are on either side along the path, some of the less dangerous ones are just walking around free. After the tram ride we walked along other paths to see the rest of the animals. This was magical - the quiet paths in the dark with a huge variety of animals such as Sloth Bears, Fishing Cats, Flying Foxes, Bats, Mousedeer, etc. The end to a perfect day!
Today (day three) was less dramatic and VERY HOT. The sun was shining, so the 32 degree, 90 % humidity was crazy! We jumped back on the hop-on, hop-off tour bus to check out an area of shops that included floating junks that had been changed into seating areas. Not very busy during the day - probably great at night. Then back on the bus up to the Botanical Gardens. The part of the gardens we saw were lovely, but the heat got to us both, so we headed back to the hotel. Once the sun set we took a cab to the top of Orchard Road, the huge shopping area here in Singapore. The stores were all big names like Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vitton (sp?) so we didn't buy much. We did manage to get a good dinner for some of the stands and Colin found some sandels to replace the ones that fell apart during the trip.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Good-bye to W.A.

Our last week in Geraldton was great. Colin & Brad tried to go fishing, but large waves slowed them down. Instead we had a relaxing day around the house and then went on a "Kangaroo Hunt" that night. This was a non-violent hunt however, where only pictures were taken. We went searching for kangaroo near the Australian National Security Site where they have listening devices and radar. The kanagroo apparently like the area, and there is limited access. Of course we also met some very nice security gaurds checking out what we were doing, but they actual helped us find some kangaroos in the end!
Wednesday we went to the Perth museum which explored the animals and history of the area. The most interesting part discussed the famous shipwrecks of the Batavia and Zeewijk. Following the shipwreck of the Batavia a group of men took over and ended up killing 150 of the survivers. The poor people on the Zeewijk spent 10 months on the tiny islands totally exposed to the elements before they got fed up, made themselves a small boat out of the wreckage and sailed back to civilization. Colin cooked all afternoon, putting together a lovely pork rib BBQ dinner including roasted potato salad and coleslaw. Yummy!
Thursday we left Jack and Tess with Claire's parents to go on a tour of the Abrolhos Islands. You fly out there in a tiny little prop plane (7 seats including the pilot). The airstrip is a dirt path on the East Wallabi Island, which is not inhabitted. We walked down to the beach where we went snorkling. Unfortunately the water was quite cold and the visability was limited. We wandered around the island afterwards finding lizards and wallabi in the brush. Beautiful! During the flight home we passed over the Easter group of islands then the Pelsaept Group as well. We saw the sites of the shipwrecks and lots of fishing villages, some of which were just a few houses on a tiny piece of land.
Friday Claire and I headed to the spa for a full body exfoliation and facial. What a wonderful way to relax (especially when the men are at home taking care of things). A nice lunch out and a bit of shopping finished off a great day out.
Saturday we went to the farmers market before heading back to the house to pack up. We flew out of Geraldton to Perth and then took a night flight to Singapore. So now we are in our Singapore hotel, slightly tired due to a lack of sleep.
We are both going to miss Claire, Brad, Jack and Tess. I can't believe it took us so long to visit.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Family Time in Kalbarri

Hey folks! We spent the weekend in Kalbarri, a small town north of Geraldton where one of the larger rivers meets the ocean. It is a tourist area aimed at families with beaches, parks and a little shopping. We went to a lookout the first day where there was a natural bridge, then on to the Gorges where we walked down a path to a beautiful viewing spot. This spot included "nature's window", natural hole in a rock. The day was extremely hot, so a lot of water was required! On the way back we saw a Thorny Devil on the road, we stopped to take a look and ended up causing a traffic jam! Everyone wanted to stop for pictures as well!
Day two took us to a different lookout where we hoped to see some whales or dolphins. No luck there, but Colin got some great pictures of a hawk. That evening we went to the beach and watched the sun set over the water. Can't say we were suffering! A two night Echure tournament ended up as a draw between the Aussies and Canadians, we also had to learn a few new rules because the Australians do everything differently!
We headed back in time for a nice lunch at home and a restful afternoon. Monday night Claire's parents, sister, brother-in-law, neice and nephew came for dinner. It was great finally getting to meet them.

If you are looking to Skype with us we should be back in business next Monday when we arrive in Singapore!  Details will be posted then!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Relaxing in Geraldton

Hello readers! Sorry we disappeared for awhile, but our computer does not like the internet connection here.
We were picked up at the airport by Claire and her 4 year old son Jack. A short drive got us to their lovely home where we were met by Brad and their 1 year old daughter Tess. The last few days have been filled with family life. Trips to the park, tours of the city, good food and great friends. Colin & Brad even managed to get in a round of golf, so you know Colin is happy (even if he has a slight limp).
Today Claire, Colin & I went on a tour of the Lobster Factory where they can have up to 5 tons of live lobsters in tanks at one time. We watched them unload the boats and put the lobsters down a conveyor belt where people sorted them by size and colour. The lobsters then end up in tanks full of ocean water. When they are ready to ship they put the lobsters into a cold water bath to put them so sleep, then they pack them in styrofoam containers with wood chips. These containers will arrive at their destination with 36 hours and the lobsters will wake up when placed back into ocean water. Really interesting.
Tomorrow we head up north to Kalbarri for a couple of days. It will be a little warmer because we are heading towards the equator. It seems really weird that north is warmer! Don't feel sorry for us, it has been between 26 and 32 degrees every day since we arrived here!
Look for an update early next week and HAPPY EASTER!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Three Days on a Train...

So we headed back to Sydney for one day where we spent a lovely day walking around and enjoying the sunshine. A good night of rest was needed because we got on the train at 2pm on Wednesday. The trip was suppose to start off going through the Blue Mountains and the city of Peterborough, but there was a derailment near Broken Hill, so we were sent south through Melbourne to avoid it.
There is nothing more restful then sleeping in a very narrow bunk bed on a moving train! Actually, it was not that bad and the set up was ingenious. The bottom bed folded down out of the wall onto the seats, then the upper bunk lowered down from the ceiling.
We spent our days in the lounge chatting with other passengers and making new friends. We spent most of our time with a lovely family including 9 year old Maya and 10 year old T.C.  We played games (scrabble, fish) and did crosswords the whole time. Great way to pass your days as you bounce around. We also enjoyed the company of Jessica a young girl from Russia, Greg a ice-cream addicted older gentleman and Greg's buddy Jack.
The Indian Pacific train stopped in Cook, a town that at one point has a population of 12000 and is now down to 4. Empty buildings and LOTS of flies. We also spent a couple of hours in Kalargoolie (sp?) were we walked around the gold mining town. It actually seemed quite lovely, but most of the stores were closed.
We arrived at 9am in Perth and sadly said goodbye to our new friends.  We checked into the hotel and then took a quiet cruise on the Swan River. Must get a good night sleep since we are off to Geraldton in the morning to see Claire and Brad! I can't believe I am finally here 26 years after our first letter!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Beautiful Blue Mountains

We finished our last day in Sydney by wandering around the market in the morning. It focused on handmade crafts and clothing. Interesting to look at and tempting to shop in, but then we remembered we had to carry around our purchases for 1 more month, so we just window shopped.
In the afternoon we went to the Sydney Opera House to watch a performance by the symphony. This is the best way to see the Opera House. The concert hall was beautiful and the acoustics were impressive. We sat in the back row and heard every note perfectly. It was a great way to round of a nice relaxing day.
We got on the train the next morning to come to the Blue Mountains. Upon arrival we headed to “Scenic World” where you ride a cable car down a very steep mountain into the gorge below. The views are amazing – mountains, valleys and the famous Three Sisters rock formation. Then after a brief (but interesting) walk through the rainforest you take the “steepest railway in the world” back to the top. Railway my *** (insert your own word). It is a low, large container on the track with reclined seats so you don’t fall out. The entire thing is caged in with wire. You go up backwards and the slope gets as steep as 52 degrees (doesn’t seem bad until you try it). Crazy! But, also an interesting experience. We finished the day with a great meal at the local Korean restaurant!
Today we walked around town poking into the local stores and enjoying the fresh mountain air. We watched the documentary “The Edge” which describes the unique ecosystem in the surrounding rainforest, the discovery of an ancient species of tree and the conservation efforts occurring in the area. Bought a copy for the department to use! Right now Colin is making his famous roasted garlic soup (stop salivating Kevin) and mushroom risotto (we are staying in a hostel so there is a fairly good kitchen). I am the luckiest woman in the world! (Don't tell Colin I said that, it might go to his head)

Friday, April 8, 2011

tigers 30, bunnies 6

We just got back from the "footy" game.  The Tigers won over the Rabbitohs (a.k.a. the Bunnies...even their fans call them this).  It was so much fun!  We sat in the front row right in the middle, this made it a little hard to watch some of the plays, but it was a great place to sit in the crowd.  The game got more intense as the night went on, by the end players were picking each other up and throwing each other down in a manner usually reserved for wrestling.  The crowd also got more crazy (but not frightening) as the game progressed, yelling out exactly what they felt.  My favourites..."What's wrong princess" (yelled at a player who was injured, interestingly enough when they carried this guy off the same people were cheering the loudest for him) and "Get up you wanker" (aimed at a player trying to get up while being tackled by 3 guys).
 The people sitting beside us were great, the guy was a huge Rabbitoh fan who got the mascot "Reggie" to sign his flag and shirt.  His friend was a very quiet young lady who was cheering for the Tigers.  Once he realized his team was doomed he focused his energy on getting on "telly" by cheering loudly anytime there was a camera pointing our way.  In the end he even waved a huge Tigers flag in a last ditch attempt.  They were lovely people and were fun to watch the game with!
If you want to you can go onto Utube and find the game.  Watch for us in the background - we are probably cheering or laughing!

busing, walking & biking around...

We have had a busy 3 days here in Sydney, Australia. The first day we took the Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour Bus around the city to find out the history of the town. Then we transferred to the Bondi Beach run where we got off and checked out this historic area. The beach itself was beautiful and the town was lovely, but it was a little too cold for us. Some lovely gelato made up for this.
The next day we got up early to catch the bus to the Australian Museum. This was advertized as one of the top 10 places to see, but we were a little disappointed. It had an interesting dinosaur display, but otherwise mainly consisted of stuffed animals and birds. We walked on to the Hyde Park Barracks, a museum dedicated to the convicts that originally populated the area. These Barracks housed the convicts at night after they spent the day working for their “masters” as part of their sentence. It was a great look back at how Sydney was run in those days. I also found out that James McMullen (distant relative perhaps) was sentenced to 7 years for pickpocketing...interesting find. We continued our walk all the way to the Sydney Opera house where we bought tickets for the Saturday afternoon symphony performance (something to look forward to). Finally we strolled across the first part of the Harbour Bridge. By then our feet hurt, so we came back to the hotel for a quiet evening in.
Today we headed out to Manly on the Ferry. It was a beautiful sunny day so we rented a couple of bikes to go check out the sites. The man renting the bikes said there were a couple of short, steep hills but we didn’t let this stop us. Short my gluteus maximus! (If any of my students are reading this the term refers to a muscle in the human anatomy, look it up for educational purposes). Once we got past the one LONG uphill the rest was beautiful. We enjoyed a beautiful view of Sydney and a leisurely ride along the beach. Manly is not to be missed, the town is lovely and the beach was the best yet. Of course all this riding made us thirsty so we headed to the local microbrewery for their sample tray. Five small glasses of interesting beers made on site. (Again we took one for the team!) Tonight we are hoping to find a nice Tapas place for dinner before we go to the Sydney Football Stadium to watch the South Sydney Rabbitohs play the Wests Tigers. This is a game in the National Rugby League, should be a blast! 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tauranga Zoo and Sydney Aquarium

A couple of days of wildlife in Sydney. Yesterday we went to the Tauranga Zoo on the north shore of Sydney Harbour. We walked down to the harbour and took the zoo ferry across to the zoo, taking in the beautiful sights of the city along the way. We float past the Harbour Bridge on the left and the Sydney Opera House on the right. What a view for the ride!
The zoo is set up on a large hill, so you take a bus or a gondola to the top, then work your way down.  We started by going through the Australian section; kangaroos, emus and tons of birds all around you on the path.  These animals are not behind bars, they are just a few feet away from you as you walk by.  The nocturnal area has bats, possums, kangaroo rats and other night time critters in specially lite glassed in areas.  Of course the more dangerous animals are properly set behind glass or in cages.  This included cassuary, a creature we missed seeing on our driving tour of the north, its home area. What a piece of strange and exotic work! This thing is crazy weird! (See large bird with blue head below).  The rest of the zoo included Tasmanion devils, lions, snow leapord, seal show, crocodiles and, of course, penguins.  You name it, they had it!  What a great day!
Today we went to the Aquarium, another amazing animal adventure.  There were a lot of tanks containing smaller fish, starfish, sea horses, jellyfish, platypus (very cool) and even some shark eggs lite from behind so you could see the tiny embryos moving around.  Then you go down ramps into the various large aquariums located in the harbour.  You walk through glass tubes at the bottom so the fish swim by and over top.  The first one stars rays and the dugongs (or sea cow) - very cool!  Then on to the shark aquarium with sand sharks, reef sharks, nurse sharks and huge rays!  The whole thing was mesmerizing and, in a strange way, peaceful. 


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Daintree Rainforest

Today we went with our wonderful guide David on a trip to Cape Tribulation through the Daintree Rainforest.  You have to go across the river on this small "ferry" that is more like a large raft that is pulled across the water using cables.  Then you enter the rainforest...amazing...the trees and plants were incredible.  They were all classic examples of plants fighting to get to the top of the canopy in order to get to the light.  This is considered to be one of the oldest rainforests because it contains plant species only found in the fossil records everywhere else in the world.  The isolation of Austalia has preserved these plants over time. 
We walked down the beach at Cape Tribulation, one of the areas first explored by Captain Cook when he ran into the Great Barrier Reef and spent 48 days fixing the holes in his ship.  We cruised down Cooper's Creek in a boat that reminded us of the African Queen.  The creek runs through the mangroves, very interesting habitat.  Here we saw a couple of crocodiles, including one big one!  A little local tropical fruit ice cream and a walk through the rainforest at Mossman Gorge finished off the day.  What a wonderful experience!
By the way we figured out why the bird ran into Colin yesterday, apparently they spend the day eating fruit that has fermented, so the bird was drunk!  Now he has been hit by a drunk driver and a drunk bird...bad luck, eh!

Friday, April 1, 2011

2nd day on the reef

Today we went out on the Great Barrier Reef again.  We went to 3 different sites, two on the Opal Reef and then Turtle Bay.  The water was warm and the fish were beautiful.  We saw a lot of parrot fish nibbling on the coral, a turtle and even a few sand sharks!  Amazing!  We tried the using the underwater camera and had mixed results, we have included a few of the better ones.
We went out for dinner, and planned to say out for the Cane Toad Races at the local bar, but we couldn't stay awake!  Too much fresh air and exercise.  On the way to dinner we saw huge fruit bats and a swarm of parakeets, one of the parakeets got a little too close and hit Colin in the forehead!