My Life Abroad: The Adventures of Two Birds
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Thu
31
Dec '15

U.S. Trip 2015

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This year we decided to take a trip back home to visit, and since Rae hasn’t been back since she was 4 months old, everyone could get a chance to bond with her, now at age 2-1/2. We started off our trip at Disneyland for 3 days and then continued on to Las Vegas for the duration.  Now that my family has relocated to Las Vegas, it gave us a chance to explore the suburbs of Vegas and get an idea of how the other half lives (ha-ha).

We took a week off to go up to the snow at South Lake Tahoe, visit with friends and play in the snow – Rae really loved getting into the snow! Even I have missed it!  Birdie and I took one weekend to fly up to Portland and stay for a weekend, dine, shop and visit with friends.  I hadn’t been to Portland before and I really enjoyed going to ‘food truck row’ to try all the wonderful food!  It rained every second we were in Oregon but I really enjoyed the experience. It’s somewhere I will love to continue visiting, but with the rain, I don’t think I could ever live there!  Who am I kidding, I’m never leaving Melbourne!

We finished off the trip, with a trip up and down California visiting from Sacramento to Petaluma, Escondido and then San Diego before we headed back. I don’t think we will be back again until 2018 – when we will be visiting to attend my 30-year high school reunion… 30-years, I can’t believe it!  See you then.

Wed
16
Jul '14

Baby’s first Asian Holiday

Seriously, no time to blog while on holiday anymore, the baby just keeps me so busy.  We had a good time, it was so hot in Thailand, and no so much hot but the humidity would just knock you flat out.  We spent every day in the pool, and about every other day getting massage – heavenly!  We’ve all come home with a tan, including baby and we got to see so much while we were there!  The beach near our hotel was divine, some great sunsets while we were there.

sunset surin 2

Surin Sunset Day 3

sunset surin

Surin Sunset Day 13

 

I’ve been promoting different animals in our lead up to Thailand, saying “Elephant” and “We will see an Elephant in Thailand” – so when we get to see the Elephant it is exciting for her.  Raegan fed bananas to the baby elephant, and we took a 1-hour trek on the big momma, which was about 30 minutes too long for Rae – it was so hot she was not handling it well.  But still fun and there were some good views.   Here are some snaps from our day – click the link to see our Asian Holiday photoalbum:

The full photo album can be found here, enjoy:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152257354106309.1073741848.656851308&type=1&l=ef19c6e3d4

The hotel was very nice, usually we move around when we travel through Thailand but this time we stayed at Surin Beach for the entire 17 days.  The hotel was eclectic and beautiful, and two nice pools.  The beach was just a stones through away, and so was our massage joint, just outside the resort on the main road.  The restaurant was superb and the staff was excellent!  There are limited things to do in Surin, you are about 25 minutes from Patong where the major shopping is but if you just want to lounge at the beach this is a perfect beach to do it at.

We did daily swimming, to the beach a few times, most dinners at beach side restaurants, many many cocktails and some beautiful scenery.  I definitely wont miss the hot

Our little swimmer did well, she loved getting into the ocean with Daddy and swimming every day with Granny and Grampa or Mum and Dad.  I think our first Asian Holiday with Baby was a success!

Tue
6
Sep '11

Hike and Helicopter Tour of Uluru and Kata Tjuta

We’ve arrived at Ayres Rock Campground and we’ve settled into our spot in the designated area.  Other campers are in the distance.  You can see that some are like us – amature campers – and others are completely professional campers and travellers.  Some with gear out the ass, and some in their cozy Winnebago’s (here called Caravan).  We’re contemplating if we should get a pop up caravan… we like to travel, maybe when we retire (haha).

The dogs have been great, and Lulu’s continued potty training while on the trip has been successful.  She waits until she is out of the car – so what I was hoping for, thank you God for small favours.  We stop at rest stops for the dogs to run around and have a bit of a play before we venture on down the long road.

First night, disaster.  I go in to go to bed and the bed is flat.  We have a double cell blow up matress, so it’s kinda like a Queen bed and it’s pretty tall off the floor so you don’t have to get down on the floor to get into bed. And you just hook up to a power point to give and take air from the bed. It’s nice and we’ve had it for about 5 years, we’ve used it on all of our camping trips and we love it.  It’s almost like sleeping in a real bed at home.  It makes all of our trips comfortable and you don’t have to dread going to bed.  But low and behold, it has a hole or a leak.  Something has gone terribly wrong.  It has enough air to sustain our going to bed on it (as if we had a choice), and about every 30 minutes I had to flip the switch to dispatch more air to the bed.  This went on through the night.  A sleepless night indeed.  The bed is now in the bin. (We got a new one in Alice Springs just in time for our last camp on the ride home.)

Rod went off to Reception at the campground in the morning to see if a cabin was available for rent for our second night, and luckily there was one.  I don’t think I could have slept on the ground so I am so happy that we were able to get a cabin for our second night.  The cabin has one Full size bed (this must be the master bedroom), and the second bedtoom has 2 bunk beds.  There is a kitchenette with hotplate, small fridge, all the dishes and things you will need, and a small table and chairs.  We spent most of our second day out and about at the National Park anyway but we had a place to crash.  Hallalujah!

I really can’t do too much walking so we went out to The Olgas (Kata Tjuta) to one of the shortest hikes and ventured up to see the rock formation up close and personal.  It’s amazing there are so many of these rounded rocks and together they run for miles, we went down a common track to see some of the native flora and the rocks themselves. Then off to Ayres Rock (Uluru) to look at it up close.  Rod took me to the area where people climb the rock, there werea lot of people climbing.  It’s pretty damn steep and there is just this rope that you hang on to, to get up there.  It’s climb at your own risk kind of thing and climbing is not encouraged or preferred by the park.  They let you do it anyway.

Going out to the National Park to see the two rock formations is common, but the sunset view is most popular.  Last night we watched the sunset at Ayres Rock, today however, Rod went off and bought us a helicopter sunset tour of both Ayres Rock and The Olgas.  He’s never been on a helicopter before so this is going to be a new adventure.  I’m excited to see both of these enormous rock formations from above!

    

We’re back on the road heading to Alice Springs today for 2-days before starting our journey back home.  I’m looking forward to seeing Alice, which is the second biggest town in the Northern Territory. If you are unfamiliar with the states and territories of Australia you can refer t omy map: Map of Australia.

Here you can see all the pictures from our hike and our helicopter ride:  Hike and Helicopter Album

Wed
17
Aug '11

Road Trip to Ayers Rock (Uluru), in Central Australia

A quick update: We finally have our itinerary

Check back here for pictures and video during our adventure through the Outback. I’m really looking forward to this trip and seeing the sights of the red dessert.  I’ve never been to the Outback so this is very exciting.  And we can have our fur babies with us to enjoy being out on the land.  I’m hoping to do some combination camping and staying in hotels that can accommodate the dogs. 

Central Australia Trip

Day 1
Depart CBD 5pm
Drive to Horsham (298km)

Day 2
Depart Horsham at 7am
Drive to Clare SA (543km)
Visit local wineries

Day 3
Depart Clare at 9am
Drive to Coober Pedy SA (734km)

Day 4
Day in Coober Pedy

Day 5
Depart Coober Pedy at 8am
Drive to Yulara NT (735km)

Day 6
Day at Yulara, Ayers Rock, The Olgas, Mt Conner

Day 7
Depart Yulara at 7am
Drive to Alice Springs via King Canyon (631km)
Visit Kings Canyon

Day 8
Day at Alice Springs
Drive to Devils Marbles (100km)
Drive to Tennant Creek (80km)
Drive back to Alice Springs (180km)

Day 9
Depart Alice Springs 8am
Drive to Coober Pedy SA (688km)

Day 10
Depart Coober Pedy at 8am
Drive to Gawler SA (846km)

Day 11
Depart Gawler 9am
Visit Barossa Valley wineries
Drive Home (805km)

Well, we’ve been talking about this for a while and now we’ve decided to pack up the dogs, get a house sitter and head out on the road for our first ever “road trip”.  We’re going to spend 10-days on the road and see some of Central Australia’s beautiful country side in a trip to see the wine country of South Australia, then up to the underground town, and opal mines of Coober Pedy, and last but not least up to Uluru also world with the majority of gem quality opal.

South Australia Wine Country (Wine Tasting) – Barrossa Valley

The Barossa Valley is one of Australia’s oldest wine regions. Located in South Australia, the Barossa Valley is about 56km (35 miles) northeast of the city of Adelaide. Unlike most of Australia whose wine industry was heavily influenced by the British, the wine industry of the Barossa Valley was founded by German settlers fleeing persecution from the Prussian province of Silesia (in what is now modern day Poland).

The hot continental climate of the region promoted the production of very ripe grapes that was the linchpin of the early Australian fortified wine industry. As the modern Australian wine industry shifted towards red table wines (particularly those made by the prestigious Cabernet Sauvignon) in the mid-20th century, the Barossa Valley fell out of favor due to its reputation for being largely a Shiraz producers whose grapes were destined for blending. During this period the name “Barossa Valley” rarely appeared on wine labels. In the 1980s, the emergence of several boutique family specializing in old vine Shiraz wines began to capture international attention for the distinctive style of Barossa Shiraz, a full bodied red wine with rich chocolate and spice notes. This led to a renaissance in the Barossa which catapulted the region to the forefront of the Australian wine industry.

Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy today relies as much on tourism as the opal mining industry to provide the community with employment and sustainability. Coober Pedy has evolved in to one of the most unique places in Australia and perhaps the world. It is a cosmopolitan town with a population of 3,500 and over 45 different nationalities.

The relaxed and friendly lifestyle of the town has made it a breeding ground for cultural tolerance, diversity and acceptance. Coober Pedy is probably best known for its unique style of underground living.

There is a range of underground accommodation (as well as above ground if you prefer). There are authentic underground homes to explore as well as underground museums, opal shops, art galleries, underground churches and, of course, opal mines.

Ayres Rock (Uluru)

Uluru ( /u:lu:’ru:/), also known as Ayers Rock, is a large sandstone rock formation in the southern part of the Northern Territory, central Australia. It lies 335 km (208 mi) south west of the nearest large town, Alice Springs; 450 km (280 mi) by road. Kata Tjuta and Uluru are the two major features of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Uluru is sacred to the Ajangu, the Aboriginal people of the area. The area around the formation is home to a plethora of springs, waterholes, rock caves and ancient paintings. Uluru is listed as a World Heritage Site.

Uluru is one of Australia’s most recognisable natural landmarks. The sandstone formation stands 348 m (1,142 ft) high (rising 863 m/2,831 ft above sea level), with most of its bulk lying underground, and has a total circumference of 9.4 km (5.8 mi). Both Uluru and the nearby Kata Tjuta formation have great cultural significance for the Aṉangu people, the traditional inhabitants of the area, who lead walking tours to inform visitors about the local flora and fauna, bush foods and the Aboriginal dreamtime stories of the area.

Kata Tjuta National Park (Olgas)

Kata Tjuta, sometimes written Tjuta (Kata Joota), and also known as Mount Olga (or colloquially as The Olgas), are a group of large domed rock formations or bornhardts located about 365 km (227 mi) southwest of Alice Springs, in the southern part of the Northern Territory, central Australia. Uluru, 25 km (16 mi) to the east, and Kata Tjuta form the two major landmarks within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

The 36 domes, covering an area of 21.68 km2 (8.37 sq mi), are composed of conglomerate, a sedimentary rock consisting of cobbles and boulders of varying rock types including granite and basalt, cemented by a matrix of sandstone. The highest point, Mount Olga, is 1,066 m (3,497 ft) above sea level, or approximately 546 m (1,791 ft) above the surrounding plain (198 m (650 ft) higher than Uluru). Kata Tjuta is located at the eastern end of the Docker River Road.

Alice Springs

Alice Springs is the second largest town (sometimes incorrectly referred to as a city) in the Northern Territory of Australia. Popularly known as “the Alice” or simply “Alice”, Alice Springs is situated in the geographic centre of Australia near the southern border of the Northern Territory.

The site is known as Mparntwe to its original inhabitants, the Arrernte, who have lived in the Central Australian desert in and around what is now Alice Springs for thousands of years. Alice Springs has a population of 27,481 people, which makes up 12 percent of the territory’s population Alice averages 576 meters (1,890 ft) above sea level; the town is nearly equidistant from Adelaide and Darwin.

The town of Alice Springs straddles the usually dry Todd River on the northern side of the MacDonnell Ranges. The region where Alice Springs is located is known as Central Australia, or the Red Centre, and is an arid environment consisting of several different deserts. In Alice Springs, temperatures can vary dramatically with an average maximum temperature in summer of 35.6 °C (96.1 °F), and an average minimum temperature in winter of 5.1 °C (41.2 °F).

Kings Canyon, Northern Territory

The walls of Kings Canyon are over 300 metres high, with Kings Creek at the bottom. Part of the gorge is a sacred Aboriginal site and visitors are discouraged from walking off the walking tracks.

Two walks exists at Kings Canyon. The 2 km (return) and approximately 1 hour Kings Creek Walk traces the bottom of the gorge. At the end of the walk is a platform, with views of the canyon walls above. The 6 km (loop) and 3-4 hour Kings Canyon Rim Walk traces the top of the canyon. A steep climb at the beginning of the walk, which locals call “Heartbreak Hill” (or “Heart Attack Hill”, due to its steepness), takes visitors up to the top, with spectacular views of the gorge below and of the surrounding landscape. About half way during the walk, a detour descends to Garden of Eden, a permanent waterhole surrounded by lush plant life. The last half of the walk passes through a large maze of weathered sandstone domes, reminiscent of the Bungle Bungle. A slow descent brings the visitor back to the starting point. The loop can also be done in reverse (anti-clockwise), but the National Park Rangers encourage visitors to walk in one direction.

So, I’m already ready to go!  Stay tuned and follow along on our trip as we make our way across Central Australia.

Wed
20
Apr '11

Elephant Trek at Big Buddha

It’s been so hot out here, we spend a bit of the day in the pool relaxing and cooling off.  We have been doing a bit of shopping around and we frequented my favourite china shop today, with handpainted works… dishes, cups, tea pots, vases, etc.  This time I bought a beautiful urn to add to the house and decorate with a number of my other Thai goodies – hopefully it will be a great addition to our home renovations. 

 

I’ve been taking some shots with the new camera, Birdie got me an Digital SLR for my 41st and I’m trying to learn how to use it. 

I’m still learning, I love my new camera!!

The Elephant Trek day started out with breakfast at the hotel, there’s an array of american breakfast as well as asian options.  Each day has something a little different, but always good.  We usually meet for brekky at 9am so we get a good sleep, then start out on the day.  For the Elephant Trek we got a pick up via bus at the hotel and headed off up the hill around past Kata Beach, into the mountains in southern Phuket.  We started with a 30 minutes ride on the elephants, I’m a bit afraid of heights especially when your going down a steep slope on the back of a big arse elephant.  I got  pics of our partners in crime, Lawrence and Norelle, but there are non of us until I can get the small camera downloaded… here’s some of my best pics… see more by clicking the photo album at the bottom of this blog post.

  

Following the Elephant Trek we were taken up to the Big Buddha statue at the top of the hill.  There are quite a few of these big monuments to Buddha in Thailand, they are sometimes accompanied by a temple, and some are monumental prayer spots.  The Thai Buddha is my very favourite and I am a big fan of Buddhism.  Here’s to obtaining enlighteningment…

    

And smaller gold Buddha monument at the site…

 

Check out the photo album here: Thailand 2011 – Photo Album

Sat
30
May '09

Candace makes the L.A. Times

I just want to preface this article in the L.A. Times about my best friend Candace and the Roar & Snore tour she provides at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park – you are fabulous!  You can do anything!  You are living your dream and I want you to live YOUR dream, not anybody elses!  We are so proud of you, this article is fantastic!!! 

San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park offers overnight camping near wildlife

The roar of the lions, the circling vultures, the breakfast of Frosted Flakes? It may not be Africa, but it has its charms.

By Jane Engle, Reporting from Escondido
12:15 PM PDT, May 16, 2009
L.A. Times

“It’s cheaper than going to Africa, I’ll say that,” Christine said as she scanned a rolling savanna where giraffes, gazelles and elephants ambled within a few dozen yards of a tent she shared with her husband, Jim.

For the Claremont couple and more than 50 other safari wannabes like me who spent a chilly Saturday night in March at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, the aptly named Roar & Snore camp out was also enlightening, fun and a little eerie. But not necessarily restful. (Pictured below: Candace Zylman, left, leads the Roar & Snore tour)

candace-tour.jpg“Oh God, where did I put my earplugs?” my partner Wesla asked soon after bedtime, as sonorous snoring erupted from nearby tents. “That’s going to be louder than the animals.”

Not always, we would learn. More on that later, along with the truth about rhino flatulence, grisly lion treats and how to train an elephant.But first: Why are we here? Like Christine and Jim, we couldn’t make it to Africa (or so I thought, until my editors agreed to send me; see “South Africa” article, left). Instead, for Christmas, Wesla had given me a night at the 1,800-acre park in Escondido, where countless beasts and birds fly, swim, roam and mate, many with only a moat to protect them from herds of camera-wielding bipeds. Or vice versa.For $129 each (plus $35 for park admission), Wesla and I got a tent, dinner, breakfast, three after-hours walking tours and plenty of face time with park staff during an adults-only edition of Roar & Snore, which is also offered for youth groups and families with children.

Among our fellow campers were veteran park-goers and newbies such as Tammy and her daughter Tara of Virginia Beach, Va., visiting during Tara’s spring break from college.

“In the past we’ve cruised,” Tammy said. “We thought we’d do something different.”

That it was. Wesla’s verdict: “A really cool experience.”

candace-tour1.bmpAfter a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, Wesla and I pulled up to the park gates, checked in and by 4:45 p.m. had spread our sleeping bags across the vinyl floor of our 9-by-14-foot canvas home near Kilima Point.

We had paid an extra $20 each for a so-called vista tent overlooking the nearly 70-acre East Africa habitat; cheaper ones are off the rim.

Below us grazed a dozen hoofed — what? After searching in vain for signage, I collared Candace, one of several perky camp guides.

“We’re a nonprofit,” she said. “We put up as many signs as we can afford.”

Then she clued me in: Those were Thomson’s gazelles, sporting dark racing stripes. And over there were reticulated giraffes, a few fringe-eared oryx, a regal-looking defassa waterbuck, several African crowned cranes and, atop distant hills, African and Asian elephants.

Closer in, near the camp’s dining patio, a couple of hulking white rhinos snuffled in the dirt.

“They’re kind of gassy,” Candace said, giggling. Something to do with inefficient digestive systems. Turns out you can get too close to nature.

candace-tour2.bmpAbove us, swirling turkey vultures that I had mistaken for hawks cruised for roadkill. It was not the only time that night I would feel like prey.

Speaking of food: A buffet of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, veggie burgers, barbecued beans and green beans, consumed at communal picnic tables, made for mostly happy campers, although some growled that the $8.25 mixed drinks were more mix than drink.

Just as well. We would need sharp senses and sure footing for our post-dinner forays: two brisk 90-minute hikes through the darkened park.

“Our adventure begins,” camper Christine said, grinning like an excited 5-year-old as two dozen of us trooped behind Candace down a dusky road toward predator habitats. I felt like a child sneaking into the zoo after closing.

Candace fed our fantasies.

When we passed a pacing female cheetah that glared at us with shining eyes, Candace said, “You just finished dinner. You smell like food.”

Thanks to a moat and a swath of electricity-charged grass, we were spared. Not so some visitors.

“Every once in a while, a not-so-bright bunny gets in the enclosure,” with predictable carnage ensuing, Candace said.

candace-tour3.bmpLounging lions seemed less wild than mild, which they kind of were, having been trained, she said, to open their mouths for tooth inspections and tolerate sundry pokes and probes. Their favorite summer snacks, though, were chilling: frozen rabbit’s blood, which park employees dubbed “bloodsicles.”

Not all our guide’s insights were as G-rated. Hoping to give other males a chance to mate, staff had shunted a Cape buffalo to a habitat by himself, we learned.

“He’s nicknamed Longfellow, and it’s not because he likes the poet,” Candace said of the horned Lothario.

We paraded past African black rhinos, nyala antelope and more animals before returning to camp for a snack of cheesecake, cookies, hot cocoa and coffee, and then heading out on our second hike.

A highlight was the African elephant area, where we ogled a day-old calf and his mom while nearby, two researchers sat with laptops, recording his every move. The tender scene belied the power of the pachyderms, whose enclosure includes of concrete-filled steel pillars. Keepers never share the same space, Candace said.

Not that elephants are untrainable.

“These guys would do almost anything for alfalfa pellets,” Candace said. As if on cue, one of them bellowed.

“They heard the magic word,” she said.

By 11 p.m., Wesla and I had turned in for a less-than-magical sleep, disrupted by the snores next door and several drowsy treks to the bathroom about 180 paces away.

No matter. What happened shortly after 6 a.m. banished weariness. That’s when the lions started roaring.

In the still pre-dawn, their majestic chorus hollowed out the misty air, obliterating every other sound. I flinched as my nerves recalled some forgotten prehistory when humans were the hunted. It was thrilling, unsettling and unforgettable.

candace-tour4.bmpThe rest of the morning brought an alfresco breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, pancakes, fresh fruit and, of course, Frosted Flakes with Tony the Tiger on the box; and another hike, where we viewed Sumatran tiger cubs and their mom, endangered California condors, North American porcupines, bighorn sheep and other beasts.

We had an up-close encounter with a baby alligator and heard the tale of the negligent roadrunner, who had a way with the ladies but a habit of deserting the nest. For that, the bird suffered in solitary confinement, where he raced back and forth.

“He’s looking for the female,” said Cindi, our morning guide.

The Roar & Snore ended about 9:30 a.m. after we packed up and the staff took our stuff to the parking lot. Later, we rode the park’s Journey Into Africa tram, which rolled past the same savanna we had traversed the night before and beyond to areas we hadn’t seen.

After the wake-up call by the lions, it all seemed anticlimactic. How do you follow that act?

jane.engle@latimes.com

Tue
30
Dec '08

ยินดีต้อนรับสู่ประเทศไทย

Welcome to Thailand!

Our flight was excellent, I’m not so sure if I can travel with the cattle again after going business class. The flight just flew by so fast 9-hours and we were in Bangkok at the airport waiting for our connecting flight.  We waited in the Thai Airlines silk lounge for our connecting flight to Phuket and arrived just after midnight on the 30th.  A quick ride to jenga.jpgthe hotel from the airport and we met up with everyone that was out at the bars and we thought – we’re so tired, just one drink. 

But we ended up out till 4am when the bars close here on Banglor Road with the group having drinks.  Mat, Blair, Damien and Georgia – we had a good night and weren’t too tired to hang. 

After a good sleep we proceeded on New Years Eve day to go shopping and show Damien and Georgia around to the best shopping places.  We stoped during shopping for a beer at little bodega and the guys played jenga against the bartender.  Hilarious!

We’ve  spent a bit of time drinking out of fruit – sitting on the beach at beach bars soacking in the heat and having a great time. Here are the snapshots from our first full day:

coke.jpg georgia.jpg rod_coconut.jpg mat.JPG 

We all met later for drinks after a full day of shopping and then went to dinner and the fireworks started about 10pm.  We ran home and changed then went back to Bangla Road and Beach Road where we watched the most spectacular fireswords show – well not really a show – you can just buy the most massive fireworks on the street here.  Bangla Road is where everyone hangs out and it was a crazy scene on the street, insane amounts of people:

bangla-road-nye.jpg

welcome-to-patong.jpg

lantern.jpgEveryone buys BIG fireworks and goes down to the beach and sets them off. Like big kilometer sized up in the air ten stories high fireworks.  A bit dangerous but they went on for hours and hours.  Incredible! The most awsome thing we saw were these lanterns made out of paper you can buy, they have a built-in ring of cardborad that you can light and after a few minutes of being lit they start to gain heat and fly off into the sky.

Rod and I sent one up for my Dad which was very cool! There were thousands in the sky at any given time between 11pm and 4am. 

Some of the pictures look like stars they just twinkled off into the sky for miles and miles. It was one of the most beautiful things I think I’ve ever seen.

It is something everyone should experience! It is something I will never forget for the rest of my life.  Here are some more snapshots of the lanterns in the sky – click to enlarge.

lantern2.jpg lanetrn3.jpg lantern3.jpg lantern4.jpg lantern5.jpg

So only a day and a half left here and we fly out to Koh Samui for the majority of our trip. On the little island we will relax, eat, drink and scuba! Check back in a couple days for our next update.

Hi to Dawn & Woz, Candy, Melzie, Mat’s Mum, and all of our friends checking in – we’re all having a great time!

Love Lainey & Rod

flowers.jpg

Mon
14
Jul '08

San Francisco, California (day 3 of 35)

Our Last Day In San Fran

Well, day two of our San Francisco adventure included recovery from the Veronicas concert at the Fillmore and the Jass club that followed – and of course the several wonderful drinks throughout the night.  Overall succes on day one.  Day two was the adventure card called the “Go San Francisco” card that was to include pretty much anything group of tours on a list a mile long.  We opted for the…

1) San Francisco Red & White Fleet Bay Cruise, from Pier 41 to the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz and back:

wharf-sign.jpg cablecar1.jpg red-and-white-fleet.jpg us-on-the-boat.jpg  bridge3.jpg flag-birdge.jpg alctraz-buildings.jpg alctraz-sign.jpg elaine_boat.jpg rod-bay.jpg

2) we moved on to the WWII ship SS Jeramiah O’Brien which survived the War and is somehow still afloat on the dock of the bay in San Francisco:

ss-jerimiah-obrien.jpg guns.jpg guns2.jpg guns3.jpg jerimiah-obrien-ramp.jpg us-navy-ships_subs.jpg sub.jpg shipboard1.jpg

3) next the famous San Fran Wax Museum, then finally 4) the Trolly Tour of San Francisco starting at the Pier going through Union Square, China Town, Italy Town, and more.  Overall the day w as fun but it was so long:

 beetlegeuce-wax.jpg  julia-roberts-wax.jpg wax-musem_diana.jpg reece-wax.jpg mona-lisa-wax.jpg 

My feet are still swollen from the flight so I have been completely dying with all the walking around.  Everything in San Francisco was great and we had a wonderful trip, hope you enjoyed the pictures!  Here were my favourite views from Union Square San Fran:

macys.jpg barneys-ny.jpg lv.jpg ae.jpg ghiradelli2.jpg

We had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, which famous for it’s Cheesecake is also an excellent place for lunch or dinner.  I had the blackened Mahi Mahi and Birdie had the Beef Ribs.  Excellent.  With a piece of New York Original Cheesecake to go… we were on our way. 

After sleeping in we were off to get the rental car and we were off to Mom’s in Sacramento (1-1/2 drive).  So we’re here for the night, to visit and have dinner and then tomorrow we are on our way to the Bay Area. It was nice to visit with my Mom since her last visit to Melbourne earlier this year and to see my very missed Kitty Kahlua.  We’re looking forward to seeing everyone including our friends in Chico the following weekend, and then being back in Sac with Mom for a week before the Reunion(s).

We’re now in San Jose, California and off to the amusement park Paramount’s Great America tomorrow!  Check out the pictures and check back soon. 

Fri
11
Jul '08

Arriving in America (day 1 of 35)

Arriving in America via Qantas 

35000-feet-qanta.jpgMan, I seriously felt like we got upgraded to Business Class.  When we checked in I complained of Rod’s “long legs” – cause that works sometimes to get different seats (of choice), and they offered us Emergency Exit Row seats.  So that was nice.  But when we sat down we found that the third seat was free!  OH MY!  It was great, I got the window and got to lean against the bulkhead to sleep and Rod got this isle to stretch out his legs.  As you can see from this picture at 35,000 feet, it was purce clouds.

With about 3 beers and a cocktail each, watched a movie (Rod watched Fargo and I watched Untraceable and with Ashley Judd and Flawless with Demi Moore), we popped a sleeping pill, had a meal and we slept almost the rest of the way. Meals were decent and we had good service. We actually felt rested when we arrived! I’ll have to rate this the best flight one of the very best, and it was Qantas (we usually fly Air New Zealand).

Enough about air travel… we had a car waiting for us at the airport, you know… one of those guys in suits with the bluetooth headset glued into his ear with a sign that said Ms Hay. Funny. He was a Pom (English) named Steven that’s lived most of his life in America. He was great and explained every street and shopping centre, bridge and building on the way from the airport to Union Square.We’re staying at the Marriott on Market Street in downtown San Fran. We are here, on Fox FM’s dime, for three day. Yesterday we shopped… Old Navy and GAP is right across the street from the hotel. Couple malls. Then we were off to the Fillmore to meet the Veronicas.

The Historic Fillmore Auditorium

the-fillmore-wall.jpgThe Fillmore Auditorium is a San Francisco icon. It is one of the venues that has been around since the mid-1960’s.  The Fillmore became a focal point for counterculture in general with acts like The Grateful Dead, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and so many others. Legendary ambience and stellar performances with light shows, strobe lighting and uninhibited dancing was what it was known for. Started by the infamous Bill Graham, the auditorium fell to the hands of a deteriorating San Francisco neighbourhood and the venue was moved in 1968 from the original building on Geary Blvd to where it stands today on Market Street. In the 1980’s the Fillmore became a private club called “The Elite Club” and later became a club for headlining punk acts like Black Flag, The Dead Kennedys, and Public Image Ltd. During the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 the venue was severely damaged and closed. Graham died in a freak helicopter accident in 1991 (ironically right outside the main gate to the Navy Base I was stationed at in Vallejo California), when his helicopter, flying too low, got caught in the electrical pole wires and all were electrocuted. In 1994, through the wishes of Graham, the Fillmore was reopened with the band The Smashing Pumpkins playing the first show. The Fillmore has once again become a San Francisco hot spot with frequent shows, the capacity if 1,250 guests. The venue was great, a real experience, and there were plaqued pictures of many artists and bands that have played the venue, quite a sight.

The Veronicas play The Fillmore Auditorium

The Veronicas were one of the opening acts and played a short :30 minute set with some of their music from their first CD and some new tunes that have just been released. They were known by the crowd and were warmly accepted. They closed off the show with Hook Me Up before Natasha Beddingfield headed on stage. We were called back stage to meet the girls as they walked off stage.They are so tiny and when I say tiny I mean they come up to my shoulders.They introduced themselves Lisa and Jess and the first thing Rod asked is “who’s with Dean?” ha-ha!I believe it was Lisa, she said “I am” and batted her eyes. Cute. They were so nice and asked about us – this was their gig on the U.S tour and they were heading back to Brisbane on Sunday. I got a coule little posters for some friends from work’s girls, and brought things of the girls for Jess and Lisa to sign – which they did gladly. I took a few shots during the show. We had a really nice time , they put on a great show and my personal item to take home wasn’t a signature – I got my picture with them for the blog and here it is:  (I am crouching down a bit so I don’t look so damn tall!)

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Next stop China Town…

We’re off this afternoon to walk around China town and tonight to the top of the Macy’s building for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory” which is a great restaurant that also makes specialty Cheesecakes (per the name). From there we hope to get some good pictures of the city at night. Tommorrow we are going to take a bay cruise, possibly a dinner cruise. Stay tuned for more info, I’ll be blogging daily as we have FREE wireless Internet access from the Hotel!  Only in America! HA-ha.  Here’s a few shots from our first day in San Fran the city around Union Square, the hotel, and Rasselas Jazz Bar (click on the pic to enlarge):

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marriott-lobby2.jpgmarriott-lobby3.jpg jazz-bar-rasselas.jpg jazz-bar-rasselas2.jpg

***

Mental Status: 15-hour flight was’nt too bad, still recovering from jet-lag but making the best of it. 
Favourite thing this week: Looking forward “this week” to selling more Reunion tickets, and seeing Mom on Sunday.
Book this week: Two books this week:  1) Everybody Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger (the author of The Devil Wears Prada and Chasing Harry Winston), and 2) The Dark Tide by Andrew Gross.
Happy Moment today: Helping Candace buy her ticket to visit us for Thanksgiving.
Looking forward to next week: Visiting my Gramma, seeing my friend TeeBiss and meeting his fiancee, and Lucy’s Mexican cooking!
I already miss: Norelle, Melzie, and my kitties 🙁

Sun
22
Jun '08

Day Seven from Phuket, Thailand

scuba6.jpgSCUBA

Our scuba adventure was spectacular.  Nothing like the Great Barrier Reef of course, but still, all the same, I love scuba diving.  I had been contemplating getting my certification this trip however it takes three full days of dives to get it done.  I’ll save it for next time.  This is my second trip diving, and my 4th and 5th dives.  Each dive was about :50 minutes and it was just like riding a bike – I remembered everything and just went for it.  We went to 12 meters (40 feet) deep on these dives, we got to see some fantastic fish – my favourite were the moray eel and the clown fish in the anemone (Nemo).  We got a few good pictures diving and the clown fish as well.I think what I missed on these dives were the beautiful coral that we saw during our Queensland dives.  I think it is a combination of the tsunami and the population of tourists here that have deteriorated the coral, and the scenery. Yesterday we went to the Phi Phi Islands to go snorkeling.  Birdie and I took Mum and Bronwyn and had a nice time.  The water was a little murky but we could hand feed the fish pineapples, rip off a little piece and the fish would swarm. You can see the pictures from Scuba Diving under My Photo Albums.

sign.jpgTSUNAMI ZONE

The most interesting of this day was the visit to Phi Phi Don (where they filmed the movie The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio), and to Phi Phi Island.  At our stop to Phi Phi Island we saw that the Tsunami really took it’s toll on this very small island.

They lost 650 people from this island and one of the guys that were working on our boat that day lost his entire family, parents, wife, and two children.  When the Tsunami hit Phuket, a call was made out to Phi Phi Island to warn them of the wave, but our tour guide said that nobody believed the warning – as they had heard nothing of such a wave before.

Trees are broken off and you can see everything is new on this very very small island.  It is sad to think that people living in very small leafy shacks were swept out to sea. Now they are doing these Tsunami Drills quite often, getting people ready for notification. If an outer island experiences something similar to an earthquake or Tsunami there will be a siren and people are asked to go to high ground.  Generally if you are at sea, in the deep water you won’t even know its happening – as were the people on our guide’s boat the day of the Tsunami three years ago.  They left Phuket at 9:30 am and arrived at Phi Phi Island at 10:30 – missing the Tsunami by :30 minutes – when they arrived at Phi Phi it was gone… everything was gone. They were lucky that day.

monkey-beach1.jpgMONKEY BEACH

Monkey Beach was a fun experience, even though the tide was high, the monkeys who usually wait on the beach for the tourists to feed them were in the trees. We pulled the boat right up to the trees at the top of the water where the beach is usually during low tide.  The monkeys sitting in the trees would take watermelon right out of our hands.  One got clumsy and fell onto our boat and instead of jumping off, helped himself to our box of watermelon, stuffing his face!  But it was time for us to go so we just backed the boat up and starting heading out.  Monkey still on the bow of the boat eating looked up and realised that we were starting to go.  He jumped down into the boat, threw down his last piece of watermelon and ran for it – straight through all the people on the boat to the end of the boat and dove in.  He swam pretty good for a monkey doing doggy paddle… all the way back to shore.  They were quite cute, however they are wild and you cannot touch them. They where fun to feed and to watch hanging from the trees.  I would have liked to spend more time at this stop along the way. If you do a Phi Phi Island tour be sure it stops at Monkey Beach!

elephant.jpgFANTA SEA

We went with the family to see FantaSea, which is an animal show, with Thai dancing and culture.  We went to the buffet dinner and we got to see and feed the fish, elephants, etc.  I got my picture with an elephant, fed them bananas and sugar cane.  The actual FantaSea show wasn’t quite as spectacular as all of the “theme-park-like” atmosphere. It has beautiful costumes, a cute story about a magic elephant, but it was just too much “wanna-be Vegas” for me.  There were some acrobatics that were a bit lacking and mid-show comedy that could have been easily forgotten.  My suggestion save your money for the County Fair.

We have a couple more days of shopping; the Cabaret show and then we are off to Bangkok for a day before we leave.  

So far we are developing great tans and have spent a lot of time at the pool. We’re having a great time with our new niece Maddyn, and with the family.  Lot’s of massages and spa treatments as well as shopping and sight-seeing.  There is a lot to do here and for very cheap. The Baht, Thai money, is worth so little compared to our dollar.  Such a good inexpensive tropical holiday!  Fantastic.

Check back for more soon!

Fri
18
Apr '08

A free trip to the U.S.?

Well I really can’t believe what has happened.  Yesterday on my drive out for a site visit and training at one of our many hospitals, I hear a contest on the radio (Fox FM) to see The Veronica’s live in concert in the U.S.  So of course I think… hmmm, free trip to the U.S.?  I entered immediately texting my name in:  LaineyBird.  Low and behold I get a call back saying I won a CD!  And I’m now in the drawing to win the trip, tickets, and the backstage passes.

The Veronica’s In Concert

veronicas-4ever.jpgGot a call today when I was out with Rod and 10 other of his work mates for lunch at the Dumpling King.  Fox FM was calling to make sure my phone was on in case I won today – thought that was weird.  At 3pm sharp I got the call and I AM THE WINNER!  We won two tickets to the U.S. and the concert is in July, and backstage tickets. They are billing the concert in New York but they said it could be anywhere.  We will keep you posted on the dates and the information as soon as we get it.  We will extend the trip on either side to accommodate the Reunion, the spreading of Dad’s ashes at Yosemite, my Reunion in Houston and whatever else we can cram into this trip!  You can check out The Veronicas online at www.theveronicas.com.au.

So…  I’m off to have a drink with my husband and celebrate!  See you in July!

Sat
5
Apr '08

The Penguin Parade, Phillip Island

penguinsashore.jpgBirdie and I really tried to think up some new things this trip so that we could enjoy seeing new sights as well.  One of the most talked about exhibits in driving distance from Melbourne is the Phillip Island Fairy Penguins (also referred to at “Little Penguins”).  These penguins migrate in after a 17 day trip from Phillip Island through the Melbourne Port and back, each night about the same time they start to arrive at the Phillip Island beach where they then walk out of the water in groups and find their burrows where they will sleep, mate, and molt.  This was the coolest thing to watch – there are several types of tickets you can get for this, the general admission is $20-30 each, then we went for the Sky Box which is an enclosed box above the beach where you get to ask questions to the rangers, take part in the nightly count of the penguins as they come in to shore, and you get to use binoculars to see the little penguins as they waddle across the beach.  There is also a higher priced ticket which allows you to be right on the path that they walk as they come in – with our badge we got to walk down through all the lighted paths to see the penguins as they came in. They are quite little.  Check out the full photo op from the Photo Album page.

Sun
30
Mar '08

Balloonatics

Day Two: Balloon over Melbourne

17.jpgWell, we woke up at the crack of dawn… I mean before the crack of dawn to drive into the city and meet up with our Balloon driver.  We got to take part in the ‘filling-of-the-hot-air’ and the preparation for our flight.  Once we all jumped into the basket – and there were me & Rod, Adam & Mom, Rod’s parents Barb & Chris, and two other couples, plus the driver – we took off.  It really wasn’t scarry at all, and I’m afraid of heights!  It never felt like we really left the ground. 

I can’t believe the sights from up there – we rose to about 1,500 feet in the air and got a great view of the city at day break.  We were also the first of 6 balloons taking of from this point in the city as well, so we got to see each of the other balloons take off from up above.  We passed right over the city, we could see the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground), Telstradome, Flemington Raceway, the Eureka Building (tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere), Rod Laver Arena (Australian Open), couple golf courses, some parks, and an overview of the city – its quite large. 

Mom and Adam seemed to have a great time and we all got tons of pictures.  Here are some of my favourite and you can see all the shots from this balloon ride from the Photo Album page.  Click on any of the pictures below to take it to it’s own page, then click on it once more to enlarge.

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This afternoon we are having a BBQ with family and friends to welcome my Mom and brother to Australia.  Check back for pictures after today.

On schedule for tomorrow…

Tomorrow we are visiting the Healesville Sanctuary Zoo and having lunch at our wedding site: Kellybrook Winery so Adam can see where we got married.  Keep checking back for more fun pictures during their visit this week.

***

Mental Status: Having a great time with my family! Still on a high from the balloon ride this morning.
Favourite thing this week: Looking forard to some fun events…. can’t say – the itinerary is a secret!   Shhhhhhhhhhhh
Book this week: I’m not reading this week as I am on holidays.
Upcoming events: Healesville Sanctuary, and my favourite – feeding the kangaroos by hand.