Cairns, total solar eclipse and Great Barrier Reef

My timing for Cairns was only partially based on the solar eclipse. It just happened to fit in with my travel plans. So when I started looking for accommodations in Port Douglas in mid-September, I quickly discovered that everything was sold out or very expensive. I searched everywhere but it was the same story, finally went on Price Line and got a very sweet deal in the heart of Cairns. My find was Hides Hotel a double room with shared bathroom $70/night. The bathroom and showers were next door. Refrigerator in my room and breakfast included. Refrigerator in rooms seem to be pretty standard.

I had no idea what a big thing a total eclipse is. I met some Swedish people who had started planning as far back as 12 years ago, though it seemed that the majority had made their bookings 2 years ago. The area was expecting somewhere between 30-50.000 visitors. Every night the supermarkets were sold out, which made the headlines of the local paper, and I could confirm. It was a really big deal, but there was not a T-shirt to be had to commemorate the moment.

Since I was going snorkeling later that day I choose to watch it from the Esplanade, this is the street winding along the ocean since Cairns has no beach, but a manmade lagoon. It is 6 am and already quite crowded. 6.30 am a big black cloud obscures the sun and it is still there at 6.45 when the eclipse happens. The sky got darker until it looked like late dusk, all the birds disappeared, a few minutes later it started to get light again and the sun appeared. With my special glasses I could see the moon covering the sun or at least part of it and slowly it moved across the sun until it had disappeared. Quite the accidental experience to be had by me, then again, life often is made up of accidental experiences.

The previous two days I had spent on tours, Monday it was Daintree Rainforest, a river tour and Cape Tribunal. It was a perfect day slightly overcast and not too hot. Saw a crocodile in the river and some incredible mangroves. The Rainforest was teeming with birds and some quite incredible trees and vines. Saw the Orange-footed Scrubfowl , Lots of signs warning of Cassowarys but none sighted. It was a very rewarding day, despite the bug museum where you could see thousands of insects collected by this one man.

I wish I had been a better tourist or preparer because I agreed to take the cable car up and historic train down from Kuranda the following day. After having been in the rain forest for almost an entire day I didn’t need to ride on top of the canopy to arrive in a total tourist trap of a town. The train down was probably very interesting if you like old railways and trains, it was quite impressive actually when you consider the conditions that the men had to work under. Don’t know if it was worth taking an organized tour, especially since all that happens is the bus takes you to the cable car and picks you up at the train station. I am sure that you can have the same experience by purchasing your own tickets.

I don’t know what Cairns is like on non-eclipse occasions but it is a very touristy beach town with lots of travel agents, souvenir shops and backpacker hostels. It is also very clean, early mornings the streets are swept with automatic street sweepers, the sidewalks are pressure washed where necessary and you just don’t see any litter despite the hundreds of tourists of all ages.

Most days have had very early starts so at this point I am in bed very early am too tired to go out for dinner, buy some pate, local Brie and wine at the supermarket and picnic in my room.

When I booked my snorkeling trip I knew that I did not want a large boat with a pontoon and gift shop, and my instincts were correct. A smaller boat that anchors at the outer reefs makes for a so much more intimate experience. This was confirmed by one of the crewmembers who referred to the pontoons as snorkel factories. The smaller operators switch between reefs depending on conditions. It is also important to find out weather conditions. If it is very windy it is hard to snorkel, and horrible on the boat if you are prone to seasickness.

After the eclipse I make my way down to the pier for my first snorkel tour on The Great Barrier Reef, with Ocean Quest cost $140. I have never seen colored coral in the ocean usually it is grey, brown and beige, at our first reef I saw blue, pink and yellow corals and of course a lot of fish. Even saw a shark. What a thrill to be in a place I have only dreamt about. I was so pleased with my experience, that I booked a trip for the second day. This one was on the Odyssey a slightly smaller and older boat but the price was right $89 including lunch, plus wine and cheese for the trip back. If you like me, only snorkel and don't dive it was perfect. Wetsuits and dives were extra, whereas on Ocean Quest they were included with one dive. After I filled out the forms I was asked if taking of my medications would impede me in any way and I said jokingly “No, not at all but make sure you have the number to the flying doctors in case” little did I know that it was almost needed as I slipped on the wet sun deck and landed on my left new knee and twisted my ankle. Talk about being scared, I was so frightened that I had damaged my knee. Sat with an icepack and managed to go snorkeling at the second reef.

Our first reef was a disappointment all grey and very few fish then after lunch we arrived at Hastings Reef. O.M.G. I have never seen anything like it the most amazing corals, fish and giant clams. At times the reef was so close under me that I was afraid of touching it, but fortunately never did. I had brought a disposable camera, the pictures are not great. The colors of the corals, seeing the fish munching on it as well as smaller fish in real Technicolor and up close is an experience I would love for everyone to have.

My last day in Cairns, had planned to go to the botanical garden before my flight to Sydney tonight. It is the first really sunny and very hot day, my ankle is aching and it is too hot to walk, so I am sitting at a café writing Left that afternoon for Sydney where it was pouring with rain.

When I checked in I found out that Delta in its infinite wisdom had booked me Sydney-Los Angels-Atlanta-New York with a 12 hour layover in Atlanta. Fortunately I was able to get a direct flight but had to hang around for 6 hours. Great, let me go to the Delta lounge except I had left my Amex card at home. Fortunately there was a kind gentleman who let me in on his card. Uneventful flight home and now I am left with lots of good memories of Australia.

Mornington Peninsula

Mornington Peninsula

When we finally arrived in Melbourne I was warmly greeted by Peter and Barbara my hosts for 2 nights. They are friends of a friend of mine, who very kindly offered to take care of me when they knew I was coming to Melbourne.

Peter is the absolute best guide imaginable, closely followed by Barbara. First we drove around to Lygon Street, the Little Italy part of Melbourne, we went past Victoria Market that had much to my regrets been closed the whole time I was visiting. Peter regaled me with stories of how much of Melbourne came to be. He had certainly not exaggerated when describing the marketing techniques, unique to Lygon Street, of the restaurateurs. As we walked by, they all but offered us the lease to the place if we ate there. We ended up at Papa Ginos an excellent place with delicious food, which they knew about, by the time we left the line was out the door.

On our rather lengthy drive I appreciated even more their offer to pick me up. Somehow Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula is so synonymous that one thinks of them as one, or at least I have. They live in a charming house not far from the ocean. The first thing that struck me was a gorgeous quilt hanging on the wall. It turns out that Barbara is an extremely talented quilter as well as superbly organized.

Next morning after breakfast we drove around to the small towns and then picked up their son Tim before heading to T’Gallant winery for a tasting and lunch. It is an Italian winery and I think we tasted almost their entire production but settled for a great Pinot Grigio to go with our lunch which was delicious.

We then drove around to the different outlook points overlooking Port Philip Bay with beautiful vistas everywhere. One stop was by the Flinders golf course where we watched Para Gliders. As we stood there a man preparing to do some hang gliding asked me to be his co-pilot, which meant that I held the wings while he got ready to take off. It was exhilarating watching them flying around on the winds.

After having absorbed as much as I could of the history and geography of the peninsula we headed back home for dinner. Barbara had prepared lovely salads and Peter barbecued some steaks. It was very fascinating listening to Tim who has traveled the world as a mining engineer. We tried the sparkling Shiraz and decided we didn’t like it. Barbara came to the rescue with an excellent wine and we had a lovely and interesting evening ending with some awesome confectionery and mince pie.

The next morning it was a very early rise since my flight for Cairns left at 9.20 am and the drive as I said was long from Tootgarook to the airport.



Arrived, after yet another miserable experience going through security. So far every airport except Ayers Rock has greeted my information that “I have an artificial knee and it will beep” as if I am this criminal trying to get away with something. There are body scans, pat downs and every piece of belonging is scanned and rescanned. This time I was scanned for explosives as well.

My hotel is located diagonally across from Southern Cross Station where the airport bus lets you off. When I checked in I was told I had been upgraded to a junior business room. Very nice, I now i have my own bathroom, coffeemaker and refrigerator. However internet is $2 for 6 minutes. Went to the local IGA on the next block got yogurt and bananas for breakfast. Learnt something new, always thought IGA was chain of grocery stores mainly in Connecticut now I discover it stands for Independent Groceries Association. Woolworth and Coles are the main supermarket chains here.

Then I get my fare card which is called MYKI, which has replaced the regular fare tickets, it is refillable with lots of bells and whistles for $20. Most likely an extravagance on my part given that Melbourne has a free tram that goes around the center as well as a free bus that seems to cover a very large area. No matters I am off to explore. The regular tram that stops close to the hotel takes me to the Greek Quarter, I have been longing for grilled fish. The Greek quarter consists of approx: 6 restaurants, had expected a slew of them, but there are only a few on Lonsdale Street. I stop at one and have grilled Whiting and a glass of wine it sets me back $40,

Next morning I oversleep badly, take the free tram and see part of Melbourne with a very nice guide who explains that all the new high rise apartment buildings have water saving features built in. This is further expounded on by the guide who takes me to Philip Island. Apparently after the severe drought all new homes have rainwater cisterns built in, the water is used for baths, toilets, showers and watering the gardens. In the event that the rainwater is depleted a switch turns on the water main. The sightseeing tram is obviously old and very charming. Again I am struck by the civic mindedness of Australia providing free sightseeing with a knowledgable and charming guide. I never did get to try the bus.

After an indifferent lunch of Lamb Vindaloo I go to meet the Grey Line bus I am off to see the Fairy Penguins as they emerge from the ocean and make their way into the burrows to feed the babies left behind.
Thanks to another internet friend I had bought a discount ticket on Travel Zoo.

Our guide was exceptional, as we got to Philip Island early he made a detour and we got to see Wallabies and Echidna an animal unique to Australia it is a mammal that lays eggs and looks like a porcupine. My camera was too slow to catch the Wallabies, they are similar to Kangaroos but much smaller. It was such a treat to see animals in the wild. Apparently I had a ticket to the secluded viewing area. It quite sight to see a few thousand of the world’s smallest penguin emerge from the water and start their walk home. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures, it was a most amazing and awesome moment to witness this. This is a picture I found on the on the internet.

Tuesday Melbourne Cup Day, it is the horse race of the nation, in Victoria this is a holiday so everything is closed. The rest of the country stops while the race is going on.

It is truly astounding to see all the young girls and not so young with fascinators and other kinds of hats ready to go to the horse race. It also seems that regardless of the shape of legs and thighs the hemlines are minimal.

I decide to go to Healesville Sanctuary in the Yarra Valley a 2 ½ hour trip by train and bus. The animal sanctuary is a remarkable kind of zoo. Most of the animals are clearly viewable and available for supervised petting by the park rangers. Spent a few hours enjoying myself, had a meat pie for lunch, and then it was time to catch one of the few buses that would connect me with the train. Going through Yarra Valley I was sorry that I don’drive, then I realized that it is a blessing since I couldn’t have driven and tasted all the wines grown there. There are acres upon acres of grapevines, verdant hills and lush grazing grounds for what I think are Heresford Cattle. It is truly a magnificent bucolic landscape with mountains in the background.

Back to town and a quick tram ride down to St. Kildas beach, where the crowds continued to celebrate their day off . It is still early but I am hungry and pop into a Spanish restaurant and order a grilled pork chop. It arrives very artfully presented on a wooden board with a minuscule amount of salad in the upper corner cost $15. However the wine was cheap $3 a glass because it was happy hour. I am still hungry when I leave so I pop into one of the many bakeries that line the main street. I buy a piece of cheese cake and an almond croissant to have with my coffee the next morning.

Wednesday morning I start the day by walking along South Bank before going to the Melbourne Arts Center hoping to see an exhibit of Nigel Triffin’s aka “the Dogster” stage models. Unfortunately the exhibit had finished a few weeks earlier.  Again I am struck by the thoughtfulness one encounters. One restaurant had a suntan lotion SPF30 dispenser and umbrellas for the guests to borrow.

 I continued on to the botanical gardens where I spent several very happy hours walking and enjoying the environs. Also learnt a lot about Australian forests only 21% of the country is forested. This is one botanical garden not to be missed Had a very good calamari salad and a glass of excellent Chardonnay.

My original plan had been to go to the Arts Museum followed by the Botanical gardens somehow that got sidetracked. This trip has been all about the flora and fauna and to my own great surprise not even about the food. Probably a mistake since this is a country for foodies, but I have not suffered or felt deprived.

As I exit the botanical gardens am trying to find some sort of public transportation but none is to be had. I walk along the north side of the Yarra river, it seems for miles, until I reach Federation Square. These are the most marvelous super modern buildings and square juxtaposed against Flinders Station and St. Pauls two Victorian sand stone buildings. Unfortunately I never got a good picture of it.I step inside and there is a huge TV screen showing CNN and the election results. I go to get a beer and sit down in this large space to watch my President get re-elected. Hear Romney’s concession speech and President Obama’s acceptance speech. I was very happy and also sad that there were no fellow Americans to share this with, However all Australians I have met so far are extremely happy by the outcome. Actually I am amazed by how well versed and knowledgable people are about our politics.

During the day as I walked by all the great looking menus and restaurants on the South Bank I had decided to have dinner at one of them. Changed my mind I didn‘t want to have a great meal by myself in a fancy place. Ended up in Chinatown, where to my surprise I found Singaporean Chicken and Rice, one of the great dishes of the world.

Next morning it was an early awakening, because I was going on a two day trip to The Great Ocean Road and The Grampians a National Park with many wild animals.

The driver Adam was very funny, it was his last day on the job so in one way he didn’t care, yet he was extremely knowledgeable and made sure to share that knowledge with all of us. I am now an almost expert on the mating practices and mating sounds of Koalas. The GOR as it is called was built after the First World War by returning veterans It is a long winding road with magnificent vistas and quite remarkable rock formations in the ocean. We were regaled with shipwreck stories, and Adam made the surviving characters come to life. We also stopped to see Koalas and for lunch in a small town. Small Australian towns are very charming we two story buildings and a retro feeling to them. Late that night we arrived in the Grampians at a hostel.

Next morning was another early riser and we set off to do some walks. I managed to bite off 5 km 3.125 miles before 10 am. Both my knee and back are doing very well. On the second walk I choose to go to an outlook, instead of going down and then up 265 steps, to see a waterfall. On my solitary walk I saw a Wallaby just sitting there staring at me. What a is to see animals in the wild. Earlier in the morning we had seen a large group of Kangaroos.

Before leaving The Grampians we visited an Aboriginal information center. Though set in very beautiful award winning buildings, it was so sad to see the eyes on the photographs. There was very little in the way of modern life. What has struck me wherever I have encountered Aboriginals regardless of tribe, they don’t look at you, actually you don’t exist. The other is you don’t see any of them working in stores or any other visible occupation. In Kuranda this total tourist trap of an Aboriginal village with 5 zillion stores not one Aboriginal clerk or shop keeper.

On our ways back to Melbourne we stopped for lunch in a small town that had more roses in the front yards than I have seen in years. Later at a winery for a tasting. I got suckered in to buying a sparkling Shiraz that ended up not being so good


It is always difficult to take time to write, especially when you are with other people you want to be with and not on the computer. Having just spent 3 wonderful days in Brisbane, with my ex-neighbor Caren and her wonderful husband Paul and their two children. Caren and I got to know each other 20+ years ago in NYC, I always promised I would visit and now I have kept my promise.

Despite the fairly late hour of arrival I was met at the airport and taken to their lovely home in Brisbane. I forgot to mention they also have a Cavapoo named Peppa. She and I became instant friends and for the
rest of my stay I had a bed companion.

The first day we started out to explore Brisbane, our starting point was an outlook that elicited many wows from me, then on to the Regatta Hotel. A hotel is a bar that was at one point a hotel, there may or not be rooms to rent upstairs. There are hotels everywhere in Australia and most of them go back a long time. This was a very cute place with wrought iron works. Being in Oz a beer was in order which was delicious.

Next door there was a huge liquor store with more beer varieties than I could imagine and a tremendous selection of wines.

We then proceeded to South End which has beautiful walkways edged with bougainvilleas and a lot of restaurants. We ended up at a Vietnamese place where I had Pho, trying to cure my persistent cold. It was totally amazing to see how a large swimming area called “lagoon” had been created by the river with sand surrounding it.

There was also a freestanding bike repair stand with tools for use by anyone. All in all I feel as if this country really cares about its people. It seems there are public bike rentals in every city. Wonderful open spaces for enjoyment. Lots of public art everywhere, even public barbecues in the middle of the city.

The next couple of days were spent traveling around, first the Gold Coast, where it was so windy that I had problems standing upright, hence few surfers. The Gold Coast is a ticky tacky town but we did take the dream ride in the “Duck Boat” The less said the better, but for those who don’t know, it is a car that becomes a boat. Much loved by children since their parents buy the Quacker which they blow continuously.
The boat ride took us past incredible mansions, one even had a helicopter in front of it. Another was built almost completly by bullet proof glass!!!!

Dinner much to my happiness was eaten at home every night. How could I be here and not have a barbie
(BBQ) Following day we went in the opposite direction to the Sunshine Coast.We started at Eumundi Market there were more than 1000 stalls selling everything you can imagine. It was great, just like a street fair but much higher quality.
Then we proceeded to some really cute little towns and had lunch in one of them. The landscape is breathtaking and quite varied. It was a beautiful day for this kind of outing. We ended up at a guest house where Caren and her daughter were staying later in the month. The view from the back porch was fantastic.
It also didn't hurt that there was a resident chicken who had just laid an egg on the sofa.

Since we were having dinner at home we stocked up at a most exquisite grocery store, James Street Market. Each and every item was like a jewel with prices to match. We also stopped at Coles, a super market chain, to pick up Tasmanian mussels which I was going to transform into a Paella. Fortunately the went on before we had a chance to eat anything or even start preparing. These particular mussels we were warned were very toxic having been exposed to an algae and had been recalled. How fortunate that we watched the news that night, and at that moment, wouldn’t relish the thought of cutting my trip short.
According to Caren it never rains in Brisbane. It is always sunny or sunnier. Anyway for your information it rained the morning I left which I was very sad to do. Am glad the weather matched my mood. It was so nice to be with friends, have a sweet bed partner, and in general a fabulous time. Their hospitality was exceptional and I am looking forward to reciprocating in January.

Uluru a.k.a. Ayers Rock and Kata Tjutas

Leaving Sydney and going to Uluru and Katja Tjuta also known as Ayers Rock and the Olgas. It was almost sad to leave my home away from home, but I knew new adventures were awaiting me.  What I didn’t know was how quickly, When I got to the airport I informed security that I have an artificial knee and that the alarms would go off. This got greeted by let’s give this woman the third degree. My innocent folding plastic shoehorn that I acquired long ago on some airline was handed from hand to hand, the blunt scissors were ¼ inch to long, but they were going to let it pass, and so it went until I was finally cleared.

Once I got on the Virgin Australia aircraft it just continued in the same vein, Fortunately I had brought my own lunch, because once the flight attendants had finished handing out lunch to regular fare passengers they decided to retire to the galley and hang out. It had me questioning the wisdom of purchasing an Australia pass, not because I was flying at discounted prices and had to buy my food but I was also not able to get a cup of coffee even though the drink cart was next to me. Fortunately subsequent flights totally allayed any concerns I may have had.

As the plane approached Uluru airport, one could feel the palabable excitement on the plane. The rock was clearly seen in the middle of the desert. There is this large monolith with nothing but shrubs around it. An impressive sight indeed, and one begins to understand how the aboriginals has made this into one of the holy sites in the area which has now become a National Park and a World Heritage Site.

The bus taking me to, Yulara Resort which has many different hotels, was waiting   and very soon I arrived at Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge which is the backpacker part . My room was a mixed sex 4 bedded room but it wasn’t quite ready. I knew that I had to share bathroom but didn’t expect the whole place to be long cabins and the showers and bathrooms a distance away. As it turned out it was fine. There was also a communal kitchen with its own dining area, laundry facilities, a bar, restaurant, and a casual take out place as well as a swimming pool.

At night you could order a cook your own Barbecue meal with a salad buffet, there is  a selection of different meats including Kangaroo  and Crocodile skewers that you cooked on very hot griddles. The food prices were very reasonable which could not be said for the excursions.
For my first night I had booked a dinner under the stars. This included a sunset view of Uluru, buffet dinner, an astronomer explaining the stars as well as unlimited wine, beer and sodas. All for the bargain price of $ 177. Since there was a full moon the stars were not really visible, but the sunset was gorgeous. I had a great time sitting at a table with a couple from Canada and another from Manhattan.

The next morning I had booked what I thought was a sunrise guided tour to Kata Tjuta. It was a bus that took you there and would pick you up in 3 hours for the cost of $80 plus the park pass of $25.  I could not have managed a complete guided walking, but it would have been nice to have some explanations. The sunrise was very lovely with the rocks  taking on many different hues. As awe inspiring as  Uluru  is, I found I preferred Kata Tjuta or the Olgas as it is also called. There were several rocks and the stone is different from Uluru which is only one rock. One could walk around but I only managed to get to the first outlook, then I called it quits. The walking was just too difficult for me to manage.

By the time we returned to the hotel it was very hot and I decided to go and lay by the pool which was a nice break, but after a while that got too hot as well so I returned to my room.
The first night I had shared the room with an English girl and it was just the two of us, because it was late in the day we assumed that we were going to be alone the second night as well.

When I got to my room the door is open and this very tall man is standing in the doorway. First thought, we are being robbed, my laptop was being charged and sitting out. As it turned out he was one of our new roommates a Norwegian who was traveling with his Portugese friend. Two aging, sweet, gentle, hippies who were on their way to a week long outdoor music festival held outside of Cairns, they were to share our room for the night. How lucky was I, they had rented a car and invited me to join them for the sunset at Ayers Rock, since I already had my park pass I accepted with pleasure. I also got to see the sunrise and it was not at all like the pictures. The red is not as vivid and I couldn’t see any inner glow, which is how it had been described as happening when the sunrays hit the rock.


 I am glad that I have been here but it is time to move on to Brisbane.


Greetings from Sydney.                                                    Oct 22, 2012
Though the actual travel time was quite lengthy 30 hours give or take it didn’t seem too bad. I slept part of the time thanks to pharmaceuticals, courtesy of my friend Lena. The layover in L.A. went very quickly thanks to some Australian co-travelers. I encountered my first and am sure more to follow Aussie expressions. One of the men said “I am going to get pissed” I of course assumed it meant to get annoyed, he meant to get drunk.

 Sydney greeted me at its worst I think. Icy winds which were almost gales that eventually turned into torrential rains. Fortunately my very lightweight  Uniqlo down jacket protected me well. It turned out that my phone refused to go on Wi-Fi so I ended up buying a Sim card, I purchased a Telstra card for $30 which was excellent. But before that I needed to change money. Banks here don’t exchange money unless you have an account and I ended up having to go to a money exchange that  totally took advantage. $460 US became $420 AU very quickly. Next on the agenda was a transport card. The man at the corner deli informed me that my best bet would be single senior cards $2.50 each valid until midnight daily. He also informed me that as of that moment I was an Australian senior, no complaints on my part. This card permits me to travel as much as I can in one day on buses, ferries and CityRail.

No to waste any more time I took the bus to Circular Quay and saw the famous opera house as well as the harbor bridge. I walked around for awhile until the rain became too much. Ducked into the Museum of Contemporary Art and had a sandwich. Jetlag was setting in and I needed sleep. I thought I remembered where to get the bus to go back to Potts Point, but I didn’t. It was raining cats and dogs and I was directed to a kiosk where  the bus information was. He knew exactly which bus and sent me to Bridge 3.
There is no Bridge 3 but there is a Bridge Street. I did eventually get back to Sydney Central Backpackers which is my home away from home for a week. Before I tucked in I had managed to buy a delicious Australian goat camembert and a bottle of N.Z. Semillon/Saugnon Blanc which I sampled.

It seems that every area in Sydney is called a suburb except the central part. In the case of Potts Point there is a very clear demarcation to Kings Cross which is very seedy to put it mildly. Yet they are next to each other, they even share the same subway station, one exit genteel, the other less so. The hostel where I am staying is quite nice and very busy. I have a single room on the ground floor which is most adequate. The bed is extremely comfortable and  I have so far not had any problems sleeping. It is definitively a lively place with socializing going on into the wee hours. I bless my ear plugs.
Feel very safe since I have a Panda on my door

There is something a little peculiar here in Sydney, nothing is clearly marked, neither the train stations nor the zoo. Will get to the Zoo later,this is not quite true it’s very clearly marked if you know where to look. The Central Station has no large bulletin boards saying which platform the trains are on. Fortunately there are a lot of employees to ask. Once you get to the correct train there is a lot of information. The transport system though is quite remarkable, my $2.50 daily ticket ,is today taking me round trip on  a two hour journey  61 miles from the center into the Blue mountains. Yesterday it took me on a round trip ferry ride to the Zoo several busses and trains. I know I am not supposed to use this ticket but my grey hair lets me pass as an elderly Australian.

Tuesday morning I was picked up By Dianne and Murray who so graciously offered to take me sightseeing. They are a couple who befriended my friend Sue, and subsequently me, through the Travelzine a Yahoo group of intrepid travelers.

 They drove me up the Eastern coast to Palm Beach, a magnificent drive along the coast. We stopped a couple of times and saw some amazing native ferns and flowers. We ended up at a small place by the water. It was a combination grocery store, restaurant and take –out. We opted for the fish burgers with chips and a bottle of wine as take out. With that we were given wine glasses, a bottle of water and water glasses. The view was lovely overlooking the boats that  people used to get to and fro the island. Basically the same food was served as in  the restaurant at 2/3 the price. The burgers were delicious served with aioli, salad and capers.  
 Dianne enjoying her lunch at Church Point

The weather has greatly improved, the sun is shining and the winds have abated over the days. It has been a whirlwind of impressions.

After they had left me off back at the hostel I felt that I should continue enjoying the lovely weather and the extraordinary diversity of fauna  I went to the Botanical gardens They are very large gardens next to the Sydney opera, Though almost everything was labeled it didn’t strike me as a botanical garden as much as a lovely very large park with flowers and different statues and a fountain surrounded by water.

I got very excited when I recognized a native pine that Murray had pointed out earlier in the day. It is a very distinctive looking Norfolk Fir. There were also some interesting looking birds, which I found out are called Australian White Ibis.

Have found out why all the different parts of Sydney are called suburbs except CBD. That is because they were all separate townships at one point. Not that it makes it much clearer but now I know.

Wednesday October 24
Spent a delightful and most frustrating day at Taronga zoo , nothing is clearly marked, the map makes no sense but I did get to see Koalas, Kangaroos, a two headed reptile, Platypus and many other animals. The platypus is a semiaquatic mammal endemic to eastern Australia, including Tasmania. Together with the four species of echidna, it is one of the five extant species of monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth. Had a delightful lunch of a Reuben Sandwich at one of the cafes made with what seemed homemade bread. Am really amazed at how good the food is at public attractions. This was true throughout my visit.

I did take the bus up from the ferry landing and the cable car down. Make sure that you sit with your back to the zoo so that you get the full view of the harbor it is breathtaking. There was a regatta going on as we descended it was fantastic to see the white sails mirrored in the opera house, or is it the other way around. 

There was still plenty of time before my dinner date so decided to go to Bondi Beach. This is one of the main surfing beaches in Sydney and looks like it would be a nice place to live in. There was an outdoor art show along the beach which I saw part of before I went to “Iceberg” which is a swimming club, restaurant and bar. As a foreigner all I had to do was show my driver’s license and I was admitted to the bar. Had a nice glass of wine for $6.50 while watching the swimmers in the pool, the pool, which is common all over Australia is an enclosed part of the ocean. Since there seem to be surf everywhere this is a calm piece of water for swimmers.

Then it was time to meet my internet friends for dinner at China Doll on Woolloomooloo wharf. There are many aboriginal names but not as many vowels perhaps. We had a really delightful evening and it was nice being able to put faces to the names.

The next morning took me to the Blue Mountains, am really trying to pack in as many “should do’s” as I can. When I got off the train in Katoomba  went straight to the Hop-on-hop-off bus counter ad bought a ticket. Should really have read the guide book more carefully or even the pages I had printed out, could as easily have done this by public transportation. The bus takes you to various starting points then you have to hike. I opted for the moderately easy walk, it was anything but. What was supposed to take 30 minutes took me 90 minutes because I somehow managed to get onto another pathway. Though the views were quite spectacular I have to recognize that I am not a hiker, and it is not something that I really enjoy. Got back around 6 pm and bought some steamed Chinese dumplings 8 for $10. Sydney is not cheap.

Friday had a reservation for lunch at Marques one of Sydney’s top restaurants. Dianne joined me and as we perused the prix fixe menu we decided to splurge and go for the 5 course as opposed to the 3 course menu. As a rule I don’t enjoy tasting menus but this was spectacular and most of the wine pairings were well matched. This was a good choice on our part.

That night I had bought  a Living Social deal for a Harbor Cruise on a tall sailing ship,
which included wine and hors d’oeuvres and like so many other things it seemed like a good idea at the time.I didn’t take into consideration that it would be dark and impossible to see anything. Did meet some locals, and ended up having a great time, otherwise I have found  that people are not particularly friendly. Very polite and courteous but quite diffident, I have stood on many a street corner with a map and not one person has stopped and asked if they could help me. So different from how I imagined Australians, but have also been told that once I get out into the country my experiences will meet my expectations.

Today was a magic day, my friend Lidia from L.A, another Ziner who I have been corresponding with and I met up to go to the Fish Market I had read that there was going to be a mussel cooking demonstration, apart from that I like fish markets. This one is like no other I have ever seen. All the fish mongers sell ready t to eat food, it is almost like a food court that also sells fish. The varieties of fish is mind boggling, many that I have never heard of. For sale at least 6 kinds of oysters on the half shell, sushi, and sashimi, steamed crabs, lobsters, sea food salads and fish and chips and so much more. I ordered a dozen Pacific oysters and Abalone sashimi Lidia had oysters with Salmon Caviar and also Pacific oysters. We were both overwhelmed by the abundance of food and how different this was to a regular fish market, We ended our day at the Chinese Garden which was not exactly a highlight but we made up for it by going to Paddy’s Market where we got a Chinese massage and picked up some inexpensive clothing.

Met Lidia for breakfast, at my now favorite restaurant , Café DOV at the corner of Victoria and Orwell Streets. We had decided to go to Manly  Beach, and arrived at Circular Quay a few minutes before the ferry was due to leave. Once again the ferry ride was lovely, the Sydney Harbor is rightfully something that Sidneysiders can be proud of. Manly Beach was quite different from Bondi, it appeared more upscale with a lot of boutiques and a supermarket by the wharf. We did some window shopping and I actually bought a night gown before having Fish and Chips at a restaurant   that was recommended. It was very tasty, but not extraordinary.

Unfortunately Lidia had to leave in order to get back in time for her trip to the Blue Mountains. I ambled along a street fair and then went into the supermarket where I was surprised to see how reasonable things were. I had been warned that because the earth is fairly shallow, that fruits and vegetables are not particularly good or tasty. After having walked up and down the aisles, and resisting temptation to purchase unusual condiments, managed to end up in front of the fish counter. There were some wild caught shrimp that looked very good. Bought just over a pound (500 gr) a head of garlic, whole grain rolls, one lemon, some sliced Ham and sliced Jarlsberg as well as a bag of washed and mixed salad, all  for less than $15. Cooked my dinner at the hostel,I had a nice dinner with enough leftovers for the following day’s lunch on the plane to Ayers Rock or the politically correct name Urulu., and in the process discovered how the Australians can afford to live in Australia. The wages are so much higher. Don’t know about taxes yet, will keep you posted. This young girl who unwittingly gave me this revelation, works for an olive oil importer and hands out samples at various markets. She make $26 an hour which seems to be the going rate for temporary workers

One of the things that is most impressive are the public seating areas. One building which housed the blood bank had Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs in the lobby.  Outside in the square were folding beach chairs that encouraged people to sit down and speak to strangers. Also the terrace houses which were so lovely and reminiscent of New Orleans with the wrought iron work.
The shuttle bus picked me up at 7.30 at the cost of $12.50 and dropped me off right at Virgin Australia’s terminal. I don’t know if these shuttle buses run all over Sydney or only in the Potts Point, Kings Cross area because there are so many hostels there. It certainly seemed a bargain to me since the train to the airport is the same price, and then you have to get to the train.

It seemed that I had so much time in Sydney, yet there were many things I neglected which I may or may not be chastised for. I did see a lot and did most of the things I wanted to do, I could probable have used another couple of days to fit in the rest but it was time to move on.