Friday, January 30, 2009

Russian Bank, Aeroflot to take over Malév following collapse of parent company:


Russian Bank, Aeroflot to take over Malév following collapse of parent company: "January 26, 2009, 8:54 CET Russian Bank, Aeroflot to take over Malév following collapse of parent company By MTI Russia's state-owned Vnesheconombank will take over Hungarian national airline Malev and operate the airline in partnership with Russia's Aeroflot, Hungary's Finance Minister Janos Veres announced at a press conference held jointly with Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov on Saturday. Veres said that the Russian owner had agreed to keep Malev a national airline as well as its rights in European Union air traffic. Malev is owned by AirBridge, a company in which two Hungarians own the majority stake and Russian tycoon Boris Abramovich holds 49 percent. The Russian Vnesheconombank had guaranteed the financing of Malev's operation since its privatisation in 2007. Zubkov said the ownership change occurred due to the previous Russian owner's 'not very assertive management style' as well as the effects of the financial crisis. He added that Malev had a 'promising future'."

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lufthansa launches new Lufthansa Italia brand


Press releases: Lufthansa launches new Lufthansa Italia brand New Italian airline to be established - Lufthansa Italia to offer direct connections from northern Italy to European destinations - Flights already available for booking from 99 euros 26.11.08 Lufthansa is launching its new 'Lufthansa Italia' brand in Italy tomorrow. The new airline blends traditional Lufthansa values, notably reliability and high quality, with Italian flair. With an initial fleet of six aircraft, Lufthansa will be offering the best of connections from northern Italy to major European destinations from February 2009. Lufthansa is to found its own Italian airline under the new brand early next year and apply for an Italian Air Operator Certificate (AOC). 'Lufthansa Italia will position us in an important market characterised by strong demand, which also holds out opportunities for buoyant growth in the future. We will be offering our Italian customers an extensive route network from northern Italy to attractive destinations in Europe,' said Lufthansa CEO and Chairman Wolfgang Mayrhuber. 'Milan and Lombardy rank among Europe’s economically most important and strongest regions. A good route network connecting them with Europe’s principal cities is essential. Lufthansa Italia is making this a reality and at the same time is demonstrating a clear commitment to the region.' Flights to the first two destinations, Barcelona und Paris (Charles de Gaulle), will be operated from 2 February 2009. Flights to Brussels, Budapest, Bucharest and Madrid will be added to the timetable four weeks later. London (Heathrow) and Lisbon will be brought into the network with the start of the 2009 summer flight schedules at the end of March. The new services will provide Lufthansa customers with fast, non-stop connections. Flight bookings through the usual distribution channels with the new Lufthansa Italia airline began in mid-October. An Airbus A319, seating 138 passengers in Business and Economy Class, will be operating the flights under the Lufthansa Italia brand. The discreet cabin design betrays its Italian origins. The passengers will be served by Italian flight attendants with Italian delicacies adding a note of originality to the in-flight menu. In cooperation with the Milan Airport operator SEA, the infrastructure at Malpensa Airport will be successively upgraded to provide Lufthansa passengers with more service and comfort at the airport. Awaiting them from spring 2009 is an enhanced lounge product and fast-track passage through security. Deutsche Lufthansa AG Corporate Communications"

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The Sun Sets on The Budapest Sun


After a run of sixteen years, The Budapest Sun, the English language newspaper is closing its presses down for good. Though many ex-pats had a love-hate relationship with the paper, it was a fairly reliable source of what was happening in the city and country in English. There were columnists and restaurant reviewers that readers loved to hate and always prompted a number of letters to the editor. Now that negativity will have to be vented elsewhere. There were clues when the longtime editor, Robin Marshall left the paper. Then the paper switched from an every two week newspaper format to a magazine style issue. This only lasted for the month of January 2009. Employees were only told this last week that the news portal was being nailed shut. The website will continue, without its printed partner. This comes as no real surprise as many newspapers are crumbling under the pressures of economic times and the exponential growth of readers preferring to read their news online for free rather than shell out some money for paper versions of the news. This leaves the Budapest Times ( as the sole survivor in the English language printed news arena.

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Questia - A Wonderful Resource


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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Outdated Currency in Your Drawers? There is Hope.


This was sent to me and I thought it worthy of passing on to those that may be interested. I have not used this service, so cannot vouch for it, but it you have outdated currency, you are certainly not losing a thing by sending it in. Ryan Dear Dr. James,
I've been reading some of your travel writings and while not exactly travel related, thought that the following may be a topic of interest for your readers.
What do you do with your travel money after you return from a foreign vacation? Save it for next time, convert it back and spend it, throw it in the garbage? Realistically no one is going to throw money away, but that's what actually happened to billions of dollars!
Starting in 1999 many countries belonging to the European Union adopted the euro. Financial institutions in these countries and around the wrold allowed the exchange of old domestic currency into euros, however this redemption period has long since passed. Now, for example, if you attempted to exchange your German deutsche marks in to euros or dollars, your bank would simply say "no".
There is the equivalent of billions of dollars of these non-legal tender banknotes in the desks, sock drawers and wallets of millions of vacationers. Money that could be used for paying bills, a night out on the town or savings is impossible due to the lack of any exchange mechanism. The Currency Commission is here to solve this problem.
Our mandate is to facilitate the conversion of old, expired banknotes. Currently we redeem banknotes into euros, Canadian or US dollars. Other currencies may be added if the need should arise. All of this takes place through The Currency Commission website
People simply sign-up and enter the face value of any banknotes that The Currency Commission accepts. Upon receipt of old banknotes, The Currency Commission validates the currency to ensure authenticity and will then issue funds to the recipient in the currency of their

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Voice From the Past


I received this e-mail yesterday, which really blew me out of the water. How did she find me? Yes, I taught at MJC from 1987 to 1999. My courses were Human Services 101, the entry level social work course; Human Services 145, the internship course; Psychology 110, Human Sexual Behavior; and once Sociology 101. This is the third student who has hunted me down to say they were inspired to earn their MSW. Others have chosen affiliated fields, but return to tell me about it. This is the first time this has happened since leaving the States.

Hi Dr. James,

I was looking for a professor who taught at MJC in 1995 psychology and human services class. I attended those classes and I was inspired by Dr. James teachings. I am now a graduate of social work and I was just wondering if I am contacting the right person.

If you are the same professor who taught psych 110 in 1995 at MJC please write back. I would love to get some guidance in the social work profession.


Lupe Larios-Garcia

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Kitchen Remodel


Before we left on vacation, we decided the kitchen needed remodeling. One of the former Hungarian Fulbright teachers who had gone to the US for a year, has a brother who is a carpenter. We have been in touch with her thanks to our friend Jennifer, who was the exchange teacher from the US here in Budapest. We are having the cabinets replaced and in the process adding more where there is currently wasted space. Some of the oversized drawers are being converted from three to five draws. Most importantly, we are making room for a larger stove/oven. We picked out the cabinets and the counter top before we left. I am disappointed that our first choice of counter top is not available, so we had to settle for number two. The cabinet sample is darker than it really is in reality. It is a shade or two lighter than it looks here. Yesterday, we went to pick out the tile for the splash board and the floor. We also picked out the new stove/oven. It is everything I could want with ten functions: regular oven, convection oven, broiler, combinations of the three, and it is self cleaning. Yahoo! The last thing we have to pick out is the new sink. The double sink we have now has an attached drainboard. Being stainless steel, it has become corroded over the years with our mineral infested water, so the new sink will be built in. The tiles should be here by February 5th, so we will press forward after that. I cannot wait to get started, but more importantly, I cannot wait until it is all done.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Death of a Vacation


Who ever it was that said "You can never go home again." must have been just returning from a glorious vacation. If we were twenty years younger, we would have had serious thoughts about immigration. Our friend Tracey from TN had sent us a card years ago that states "It is not the destination, but the journey". We have had this on our kitchen countertop wall as a reminder that life is a journey and you never really reach your destination until you die. When I think about that saying in more rational terms, the journey can be exhausting. In order to get home again from the wonderland of OZ, we flew from Adelaide to Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia Airlines with excellent service, seats, and comfort. Flight time was 7 hours 15 minutes. Our layover was shorter this time, only two hours. Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam was on KLM for an excruciatingly unbearable 13 hours and 10 minutes. The service was actually better than going, but the plane was the most uncomfortable 777-400 I have been on in years. The seats were cramped with absolutely no legroom. Once the passenger in front reclines, there is more roominess in a straitjacket. Once in Amsterdam at 7:00 am the next day, we had an hours wait for the last leg to Vienna. Flight time was 2 hours. From Vienna, we had an hour and a half to wait for the train to return to Budapest, finally arriving at our door at 4:00 pm. We made valiant attempts to stay up past 8:00 pm, but it did not happen. It did not take long for the afterglow of five weeks of bliss to wear away. With fourteen students this semester that I am advising for their Masters thesis, there was a lot of reading waiting for me to come out of the jet lag coma. Risking my mental health, I checked the online registration for my courses for this semester. They listed me for a course that another instructor teaches, did not list one of my classes that is mandatory, and did not code three of my classes for both the BA and MA students. Giving them a color coded grid with all of the information just at the end of the semester was obviously not enough. We are also having our kitchen remodeled. The cabinet maker and tile man are anxious to get started while it is cold and dismal; they are not overburdened with work at the moment, so want to get the small job out of the way. In order to facilitate this, we need to shop for the tiles for the splashboards and floor, a sink, and a new stove. The fridge is only a year old, it stays. The difficulty comes with having to coordinate all of this with our beloved Balazs who is our interpreter, our friend, and our adopted child. He had the audacity to get a full time job. : ) Now, we have to fit into his work schedule, which is a rotating shift, making it difficult to grab him when the stores are open. Today's adventure will be to go look at tile until he is available and hope that is before 12:30. The stores close early on Saturdays. Hey, getting the kitchen remodelled is one perk to being home, so I guess you can go home again if you plant a carrot to have hanging in front of you to return.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The shuttle from the Central Bus Station to the airport is seamless. It is waiting there just about every half hour, until later in the day. The cost is $8.00 per person for the trip. The airport is not huge for an international airport, but then again, neither is the Budapest airport. Our first segment was on Malaysia Air. My individual movie screen did not work. The flight attendant allowed me to move to another aisle seat; the plane is not full. We coordinated what movies we would watch so we watched the same movies. The first was Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I really did not care for it much, but loved seeing the Barcelona shots, making me want to return. Secondly, we watched Bangkok Dangerous, with Nicholas Cage. A real boy flick, lots of action and killing, but a surprise ending. Finally, The Women, which is a remake of a classic film from 1939. As good as it was, it was only because of the the cast. The original is so classic and one of my favorites. I also had time to watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother for some unexpected laughs, a show with Kelsey Grammer Back to You and partially through an episode of Notes from the Underbelly, but that was interrupted with the announcement on landing. The flight was over 7 hours giving plenty of viewing time. We gained two and a half hours landing here. Yes, a half hour. Adelaide is one half hour off from other parts of the state. Now we have a three and a half hour lay-over before our flight to Amsterdam, but the Kuala Lumpur airport has free WiFi, unlike Amsterdam, where I had to pay for it. Our next leg is on KLM. If they don't have individual movies screens, than we will just sleep. It is too difficult watching those screens hanging down from the ceiling. The inauguration is looming and we are so disappointed to be missing it. We thought we would be home on the 20th, but forgot the time differences and international date line.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

We Bid Adieu to Adelaide


Well, I think I have learned that close to five weeks is my limit for a vacation. We have traveled on planes, trains, taxis, shuttles, trams, subways, buses, monorail, boats, ferries, and foot. After numerous tours both out of cities and within the cities we have landed, each day has been full. A vacation should include some kick back time and relaxation, but we have this constant fear of missing out on something good, so each day is a race to see/do as much as possible; the exceptions being places like Cairns where there is only so much to do, but you are stuck based on airline tickets purchased before you knew better. After getting Ron to agree to a natural awakening this morning, one of the few with no alarm clock set, I was awake at 6:00 am, so read in bed until he stirred. We did our breakfast thing in the well equipped kitchen in the hostel. One of our goals was to try out the O-bahn bus/tram. We went down to the transportation information office to find out where we caught it. There are over a dozen, but we were given ideas about the best choices. One ticket for $4.20 was good for a round trip if we returned within two hours. Getting on the J1 bus, we rode like a regular bus through the city, but then it enters a track area, where the special wheel attaches and the bus goes on its own. The driver does not need to steer, and the bus travels at close to 65 mph with only two stops at stations before reaching the end of the line. Our end of the line was a mall. We browsed around for a short time, noting that Kmart and Target were the anchor stores. Both are popular in the cities we have visited. Taking the bus back, we first sat in the back seats to take pictured, moving into the front late for more photo opportunities. For more info, see The rest of the day was browsing used bookstores, stopping for cold drinks with the heat running in the 90s, and stopping for a snack at an Irish pub, where we ordered nachos. Go figure! It saddens me to leave Australia. This was a trip I had planned fifteen years ago, but it was diverted by a new relationship. After fifteen years into that relationship, we, not just I made it, making it worth the wait. I don't think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much if I had done it back then and alone. So to recap, we visited five of the six states of Australia, but neither of the two territories: Adelaide, the capital of South Australia Melbourne, the capital of Victoria Sydney, the capital of New South Wales Cairns in the State of Queensland Hobart, the capital of Tasmania and a whole lot of places in between. What we missed: Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, and Western Australia. Australia is the world's smallest continent, but the sixth largest country in the world, based on size, not population. Current population estimates for 2008 were 21,007,310.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Last Tour of This Trip


When the alarm went off at 7:15 this morning, this tour thing did not sound as appealing as it did yesterday. Because of the multi-male bathrooms, we are able to get all bathing needs done simultaneously. Ron is always quicker with his glasses than I am with my contacts, so he was up in the kitchen fixing breakfast by the time I was ready.

The shuttle bus was prompt at 8:40 like they told us. It held 22 persons and we were told it would be full. Still, the seating was comfortable for a day's adventure. The day started out hot and continued to get warmer as the day went on. The shuttle was cool, but not well enough to battle the heat.

The driver/guide was a great commentator, starting as soon as we had collected everyone, pointing out different things along the way. I kept saying, remember this, remember that, but after the second winery, it was all down hill from there.

How many people can say they have seen the World's Largest Rocking Horse, or even care to admit they did? This was our first stop after a colorful history of Adelaide and North Adelaide, a separate city. There is a toy manufacturing company that is really out in the boonies. Having difficulty drawing crowds, they followed the example of other businesses that constructed giant things to attract attention. So along with a giant lobster at some restaurant that we did not visit, they had this rocking horse constructed of cement and steel. Since 911, the insurance for letting people climb to the top was so expensive, it put the company out of business. The people who bought the business started charging people $2.00 to climb up to the top to help defray the costs of insurance.

Along side of the toy company, but also owned by them is an animal sanctuary, where they keep birds that have been hurt, kangaroos, wallabies, peacocks, and some type of geese. As you walk through the toy store to get to the gates of the animal kingdom, there are bags of sawdust for sale, but labeled “genuine rocking horse manure”. Getting into the petting zoo is free.

They had some gorgeous birds, but we were warned as much as they like to be petted, they also like to bite finger off. Further in, there was a peacock strutting around, but partially molting. He came right up to us. Behind him was a peahen with chicks. Neither of us had ever seen peacock chicks before. The gray geese with yellow markings came up to us too, until they realized our hands were empty. Then we were shunned as cheap pariahs who would not spring for the $2.00 bag of food.

Three kangaroos were huddled together, one was lying on the ground. When I was busy scratching the one eating, she totally ignored my advances, but the one lying down burst into the air, looked totally startled and then hopped away. We both thought this was hysterical behavior, but then realized he had just made a major poop, missing my sandaled foot by an inch. He was on the run.

Back on the bus, the driver sent around a list of the seven entrées we had available to choose from and then making it more difficult, there were four different desserts. When we made our first wine stop, he called it in.

Our first winery stop was the Wolf Blass Winery, started by a German man who immigrated with a degree in oenology already in hand as well as years of experience. When he arrived here, they were only creating three types of wine and would not take his ideas seriously. He settled into creating the wines they wanted for years, but then took his VW Beetle and drove around the country offering his expertise as a consultant. Finally, he returned to this area, bought some land and started his own winery making wine his way. After winning a number of international wine awards three and four years in a row, people here started to take notice. The visitors center is modern with a entry sculpture of eagle wings that weighs fifty tons. In the center of the courtyard is another eagle statue. The land was originally named something with eagle in the Aboriginal language and the flag of Germany has an eagle on it.

Here we tasted seven wines. Since I am not much of a wine drinker, I taste and then spill the rest. Not today, however. I was threatened that if I were tempted to spill the rest into the bucket provided, I would be harmed if I did not spill it into Ron's glass instead. Just out of spite, I drank them all, whether I cared for them or not and generally, it was a not.

Our lunch was the next stop at a town called Nuriootpa, a German settlement and there we ate at the Vine Inn. Due to the size of our group, we were allocated three tables. Each table was given a plate of German appetizers, pickles, sauerkraut, and smoked meats sliced. We had access to a large salad bar, but once they started bringing out the lunches, most of us avoided the salad bar. I had chosen chicken parmigiana, which was a huge portion, served on a bed of French fries, or chips as they call them. There was no way I could do this justice and partake of the salad bar too. When I was finished, bursting was my main concern, so I went for a quick walk around the building. At my setting when I returned was my dessert, cheesecake with blueberries. It was not the solid NY type cheesecake, but rather a creamy fluffier type, so I was able to shovel it in, but not without reservations of popping my belly button. Ron had a fish called barramundi, a local fish. His portion was as large as mine. We were having a chat with the others at the table. I mentioned that I was disappointed in that we did not see any kangaroos on Kangaroo Island. One of the men turned to me and said, “Well, you better avoid the Virgin Islands in that case.” Though it is an old joke, it struck me funny, considering he was Australian.

As we waddled back to the bus, we made our way to the Vinecrest Winery. This was a boutique winery run by the 5th generation of wine makers, located in the Barossa Valley. Our driver had warned us that the first winery after lunch was difficult and he was right on the money with that statement. Here they offered six samples. I settled for four, before calling Uncle and quitting. When liquor is concerned, I am a cheap date.

With not enough time to stop for photos, we did quickly stop at the Menglers Hill Lookout, which has a wonderful panorama over the entire Barossa Valley. Onward, we went to the Barossa Vines Winery, another boutique winery offering us six samples of their offerings. When we left here, our guide was telling us that they were closing the tasting center since they have another winery also. The financial crisis that has impacted the world has really hit the wine industry severely, so many are trying to cut costs wherever possible.

South Australia, of which Adelaide is the capital, is the driest state in Australia. They are on severe water rationing, since they have been under the needed rainfall for nine years. They had been using water from the Charles River, until it was found that the other states who were using it also has created a danger to the river, but lowering it to the point of harming the entire eco-system.

The last stop was the Kies Family Winery. They offered six different tastings, but by this point, I threw in the towel completely. They had a coffee shop, so I sprung for a coffee and aspirin instead. Ron, the trooper that he is did not want any winery to feel under appreciated, so he soldiered onward.

Finally, we had one stop left, but not another winery. It was the whispering wall. What it actually is is a dam that at one point in time was the largest dam in the world, but no longer. Due to its construction, if you stand on one end and speak in a normal voice, a person 140 meters away can hear you like you are standing next to them. Ron stood on the one side, while I walked to the other. While others were in line ahead of me, I could hear the people speaking to them as clear as a bell. When I spoke to Ron, I did not get an answer. Trying a second time, there still were no results. I thought it figured since he never answers his mobile phone at home either.

One thing that the guide did tell us about that I do remember is that they have a Oban bus track here. It is the only one in the world, outside of Germany. A specially equipped bus can drive the city streets, but when it gets to this specific track, a special part comes down from the wheel and the bus is driven automatically without the assistance of the driver. We would like to try this tomorrow.

The Tour Down Under, a major cycling event is having its pre-event tonight. Lance Armstrong is here to make his comeback debut. Cycle clubs from all over the world are here to compete. It seems that this was Adelaide's dream ten years ago to increase tourism. They worked out with the cycle clubs in Europe to host this event, which is a win-win. The weather here is warm to hot this time of year, it gives the cyclists the training in a competition they need before the European season starts, and the city gets flooded with tourists. They expect 500,000 tourists alone for this event.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Adelaide, Oh Sweet Adelaide


Not even twenty-four hours in Adelaide and I am ready for medication again. Part of it most likely due to not having the air conditioning on last night. We did not ask for it, because it would cool the three other rooms around us too, so we were being considerate. Having the window open for air did not work either. We are on the ground floor and the party people who are not allowed to cause a ruckus inside, stand outside to drink and carry on. It was a trade-off between heat or noise. I woke with a sinus headache, not feeling rested, and as dreary looking as before Hobart. Where did that Hobart healing go so quickly? Up in the kitchen, we made our scrambled eggs and raisin bread toast. There were young and old scrambling around cooking, cleaning up their dishes, or using the computers in the lounge. As I watch all of these twenty somethings, it makes me sad that I missed out on these opportunities in my youth. When I grew up, hostels certainly existed, people my age backpacked primarily through Europe, and experienced life. I on the other had was raised with fear. Fear of being alone, fear of asking my family if I could go, fear that I knew the answers already, fear of not knowing what, where, when, and especially how to navigate from one place to another. There certainly wasn't Internet back then to help plan the details out or to keep in touch to let those left behind know I was still living and breathing. For God's sake, my family had a fit when I went to Europe the first time and I was then thirty years old. They had no sophistication about travel, museums, culture, or life experiences in that fashion. Since then, I have truly made up for these deficits by traveling extensively. This is the forty-eight country Ron and I have have visited together in the last fifteen years. I have been to Mexico before I met him, so I am one up on him. With all of the flurry of youthful activity, I also regret that my own nephews have been raised with the same types of restrictions I lived through. Our parents were so much more liberal with my brother, it would seem he would be more liberal with his sons, but apparently not. When we lived in California, I repeatedly asked for them to come visit, even offering to pay the airfare. Since, we have made the same offer for their visiting Budapest, all to deaf ears. Even appealing directly to the offspring has not dented their armor. The response is always, I will have to ask my father, but then there is never another response. The eldest no longer needs his father's permission. Soon he will be graduating college and is over twenty-one years old. One would think that if you had college buddies who knew you had an uncle in Europe, they would prompt you to visit just so they could join along. Free lodging for all, what a deal. Apparently, American youth have a lot to learn from European and Asian youth who seem too jump on any opportunities they can. Back to the moment, Ron tried booking the tour he was interested in, the wine tour. Unfortunately, they were not planning on running it tomorrow due to lack of interest. He is considering other tours with different companies. The major agenda item today was shopping. We have not bought a single souvenir or gift yet. Each time I have seen something, the response I get is “That will be everywhere we go, do you really want to lug it around? Wait until we return to Adelaide.” Refusing to do anything until we went shopping seemed to work, now we had to remember where the shops were. The first one we went to had some of the things that caught my eye in Melbourne, but at twice the cost and not as good quality. Keep looking. Another shop, but more disappointment. They did not have what I wanted. They did have some adorable plastic bag storage bags with kangaroos and koalas on it. I bought five of them for gifts. With today being Saturday, nothing will be open tomorrow, so the pressure was on. There was a small department store that is a chain and I had a feeling, which turned out to be correct. They had some stuffed animals that were just right and at a better price than anywhere I had looked. Put a bunch of these in the shopping cart. As we were sitting at a coffee stop, Ron had mentioned Iowa with the idea of going there this summer. Normally, that would be fine with me, but we may have to return to New Jersey to clean out my father's house, in addition to deciding on what to do with our things in his back room. This led to my re-entry thinking, which I really hate dealing with. Re-entry thinking usually starts toward the last two to three days of a vacation if I am lucky enough to hold it off that long. The phenomenon creeps on on me with thoughts of things I need to do as soon as I get home that have to be dealt with. As soon as I get home, I have fourteen thesis students to advice and kick in their butts to get their thesis written and completed by March. Never have I had this many in one semester before, so the reading is going to be insurmountable, but each was warned with a strict time line expected of them for my return. This led to thoughts of my father and his predicaments, leading to the B and B if we were both gone at the same time, but how could one of us make decisions on what was worth keeping or not alone? However, this led to the negative thoughts that neither of us have a valid driver's license any longer, so there is the hassle of getting from the airport, but more importantly, the stress of being held captive at my father's house since he does not drive any longer. He doesn't have Internet access, so I am cut off from the world; the city he lives in is not all that sophisticated to have Internet cafés within walking distance. It may be lesser of a strain and expense to have the whole lot of it shipped to Hungary and we sort it out there. Oh, how I hate re-entry thinking. A diversion is what I need, to ban it from my mind. The Tandanya Aboriginal Museum did the trick; we went to look in their gift shop. Everything there is guaranteed work done by Aboriginal people. We found a small wall hanging called “Men's Ceremony” that was also on sale for 20% off. That and a boomerang will fill our souvenir needs for ourselves. The next stop was the Central Market, after taking a two stop ride on the free inner city loop bus. The market is a humongous place filled with produce stands, butchers, cheese shops, and pre-cooked foods for sale. Aside from the Budapest Central Market being more attractive, next to this one, it looks like a small convenience store. It was mobbed with people shopping for the weekend. The market is closed on Sunday and Mondays. One would think it was a Christmas rush at a give-away sale. Avocados out for sample were creamy, rich in flavor, and ready for eating. We bought a couple of them, a few sweet potatoes, and some sausage with chicken, spinach, cheese, and onion. Ron likes a snack before dinner with a glass of wine, so we found some sharp cheese we sampled, so we bought a piece along with plain crackers. At another stand, we found beautiful bacon to supplement our breakfast. We walked out with our arms full and spent less for two days dinners than we would have for one night in a restaurant.. There is some sort of bicycle race starting here on Monday, but tomorrow is the pre-event, though I have no clue what that means, there are a number of cyclists riding around the city. We returned to the hostel to put our food away in the wall filled refrigerators in our marked bag. Now I am sipping tea and writing while sitting on the balcony of the second floor, shaded and enjoying the breeze. When Ron mentioned he wanted to go on a wine tour, I briefly stated he should go alone since I don't like most wines. He went and booked it for tomorrow for himself without asking me again. I sent him back to book me too. Being Sunday, there will not be much for me to do here alone, so I might as well get to see some of the countryside. They also have an offer that if you spend $100. on travel you get a free hour of Internet that they otherwise charge $4.00 an hour for, but it turned out that one person has to spend $100. on themselves, not combined. Well, I wanted the day out anyway, so the tour should be fun, but in the meanwhile, I am paying $5.00 an hour for WiFi or Internet in any fashion. Our plan is to do laundry on Monday evening. The worst thing when you get home is to have lots of wash to do. The charge is $3.00 for a load of wash and the same for the dryer. We only travel with a small amount of clothes, so one load should do the trick if we combine colors with whites. The dryer can be increased with 20 cent coins. When we get home, the only dirty clothes to worry about will be the ones we are wearing. This is another advantage of traveling with only a carry-on suitcase for five weeks. I left behind three shirts as we went, shirts I had intended to toss or donate anyway. When they used up their usefulness, I left them behind, lighting the suitcase. Conversely, we bought about five t-shirts with slogans on them, so we do have alternative clothes to wear. When we get home though, the clean clothes can be put away and we can recuperate the flights with “no worries” as everyone says here. No worries, mate. No worries, no worries, no worries. No wonder the Australians can afford to be nice and kind. None of them have worries. Must be nice. The other thing that I noticed is that they spell thank you as a closed compound: thankyou or Thankyou. Oh, and gyro or giro is yiro. There are tons of slang words we have had to ask as people used them, but none that I will commit to memory for longer than our flight home. We did not do much after returning earlier. Ron bought at bottle of sparkling shartz wine, so we had a couple of glasses before dinner with the cheese and crackers we bought. The wine went down really well, but the kitchen started turning into a frenzy, so we hightailed it in to start our dinner too. We fried the sausages in a cast iron skillet while microwaving the sweet potatoes. After the sausages were cooked, I cut the sweet potatoes into large chunks and fried them in the balance of the butter from the sausages; the sausage did not have any fat to coat the pan. It was delicious, but we continued drinking the 750 ml bottle of wine with dinner as we sat on the balcony enjoying the breeze. If you don't know how much 750 ml of wine is, let me tell you, I can get shitfaced on 200 ml. This particular wine is sweet, so after a more than a few glasses, I was ready to collapse face first into my dinner dish, reminding me of Ruth Gordon in Where's Papa, an old movie with George Segal. Ron, bless his heart continued drinking, finally finishing off the bottle to save me from myself. His Irish background comes in handy for things like that. Give it to Ron, he will drink anything, reminiscent of the LIFE cereal commercial, “Give it to Mikey, he'll eat anything.” After crawling to the sink to get the dinner dishes done, somehow I miraculously made it back to our room, though I don't remember it spinning before dinner. After resting for an hour, Ron insisted we walk around the block to get our gastric juices the motivation to perform. That was the longest block I walked in five weeks.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

So Long Hobart, It Has Been Great


Check out time is 10:00 am. This seems to be fairly standard practice here, but it seems way too early to me. We had everything ready, went for breakfast and checked out. The shuttle was arranged to take us to the airport at 2:40 for our 4:15 flight to Adelaide. We had time to kill. These were the best four nights sleep I have had in years. The coffee shop in Salamanca Square had free WiFi Internet with a purchase. This was the first time I had an opportunity to download mail so it took some time sorting through the spam and the good stuff. We were there for close to an hour, before Ron started getting antsy, so I knew I could not take the time to upload blog entries then. The day was gusty, really windy, making it feel colder than it was since the sun was trying to penetrate the clouds. We had not explored the wharf, so we did that, but the wind was blowing the water off of the bay making it feel like a cold rain. There is much history down at the docks if one is interested in Australian history, but we gave it a quick going over. We walked into the downtown area, where the wind was still whipping around. People walking around in shorts and short sleeve shirts were huddling themselves against the gusts of cold air, but looking accepting as this is a fact of life for them. It seemed like we were never going to get close to the time for the shuttle, so we headed back to the 24 Hour Salamanca Bakery to share a sandwich for lunch. Yet, we still had over an hour to kill. After picking up our things at the hotel, we went to the meeting point and waited. The shuttle was late, so Ron ventured back to the hotel to have them call again. As soon as he disappeared from sight, the shuttle showed and I had to run to get him. Hobart is by no means a large city, so the ride to the airport was not a long one. The whole of Tasmania has 500,000 inhabitants on the island. There was something healing about Hobart and Tasmania. I never used my sinus medication nor did I ever have to use a tissue. I felt better than I have in years, breathing like a teenager again. The dark circles under my eyes disappeared completely, and I am actually feeling good about the way I look facially, at least. With all of the eating out and the coffee stops, my body doesn't look as good as my face. At the moment, if I was floured down, I could be a fill-in for the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Much of it is water weight, since I am accustomed to drinking a couple of liters of water a day. It is impossible to do on a vacation when you wind up spending half of the day looking for a men's room. Tasmania is really a beautiful state and well worth the trip. Checking in to Virgin Blue, we found our plane was going to be fifteen minutes late. This after e-mailing me that our flight was moved up by five minutes. The plane was unusual as it only had a 2-2 configuration, but very long. The safety card showed it as being an E190. I had never flown on one before. The flight was less than two hours and Adelaide has a half hour time difference, so we gained one half hour. The shuttle was the best way of getting into the city; for $5.00 each it is a bargain. We were dropped off right around the corner from our hostel. This is the same hostel we stayed at when we first started the trip and we are just one room away from our previous room. The hostel room for both of us is $88.00 a night, a bit pricey for a hostel, but this one is worth it. After dumping our things, we went to find food. We bought some things at the Chinese supermarket since it was the only one open. We have breakfast covered anyway. Then we went to the Hog's Breathe Café for dinner. Funny, we did not do much today, but we are both worn out. There is something about the stressors of getting to and from the airport and the poor circulation of air on planes that knocks you out. Ron is already talking about what tour he wants to take while here.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mount Field With Devilmania


Another day with Charlene to look forward to, today we were going to Mt. Field. First things, first though, breakfast were more mouth watering pancakes with whipped cream and maple syrup. When Charlene came to get us, she said she had a total of six for today. This was really a relief since we felt we had to talk all day since we were the only two on the tour yesterday. With Britney with her, her daughter, it broke up the monotony. She picked up an Aussie couple from Sydney, a South Korean, and a Brazilian along the way.

On the way, we stopped at a little town for a coffee and bathroom break. Mt. Field is a national park with wildlife and millions of trees. There are a number of walking trails, each marked with the amount of time it would take to go from the car park to the destination. Charlene was returning for us in close to three hours, so it limited how many trails we could do to return in time. We went to the Russel Falls first. It was a small falls, but pretty nevertheless. After seeing Niagara, Victoria, and Iguassu falls, anything smaller is just not an incredible site.

From there we took the trail to the big trees. We walked quite a distance, but we were uncertain if big trees referred to height or width. Thinking in terms of California's big trees, we never came across anything like it. What we did see were tall trees and what I read later was that they are the world's tallest flowering tree, part of the gum family. I kept having the feeling that dinosaurs were going to come out of the trees at any minute. The wooded area was so lush, it felt like Jurassic park. You can go through at night too, but I think that would be too creepy. Along the way, a man was standing on the trail looking into the woods, but not moving. As we closed in on him, he pointed to a wallaby eating. It is the only one we saw, but the others say they say five or six along the trails.

After we all met up again, Charlene took us on a ride to the top of the mountain. As we drove, you could see the foliage change from tropical and lush to more desert type shrub foliage. The air increasingly became colder and the wind was really whipping around. We all donned our jackets when reaching the peak. At the top is a pristine lake, but I stayed by the van for warmth. I could see it just fine from the top and did not need to stretch my legs any further to have a closer look. Driving up and back is risky business, since they had snow up there just two weeks ago and the narrow road is a two way lane. On the way back, I sat up front with Charlene for more leg room, but sitting on the left front side, makes me feel like I have to assist in driving.

On the way back to Hobart, we stopped at another fruit stand. This one had Bing cherries the size of small apricots. They were the sweetest, juiciest cherries I have ever had. They also sell nectarines and apricots, but were out of both.

Charlene found lots of things to talk to the other Aussies about, and the woman kept saying “yea, yea” to everything she heard. It was quite funny for awhile, then became annoying after forty-five minutes. We were the last to go at the end of the trip and told Charlene to say hello to Britney for us and we would recommend her to others. I was so glad she had more people today, being a single parent trying to get a business off of the ground. She has to compete with Grayline Tours.

After a rest and a nap, we went to the New Sydney Hotel again for dinner. I had the scallops, because after trying one of Ron's last night, I knew I had to have them before leaving this country. Dinner was great for the third night in a row.

We walked across town so we would have room for dessert at the 24 Hour Salamanca Bakery. I had to try their caramel cheesecake. Heavenly!

Tomorrow, we are out of here and back to Adelaide once again.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Where the Devil Are Those Tasmanians?


Okay, I am obsessed with breakfast, it is the most important meal of the day isn't it? Today, we had three gloriously large, perfectly round and the exact thickness I prefer, pancakes served hot with whipped cream and maple syrup. Can you say YUM? This is a treat, not something they have in Hungary. By 9:00, we were sitting outside waiting for our tour shuttle, it was cooler today than yesterday, but felt like it would get hotter during the day. By 9:25 our shuttle had not shown up yet, so I ran up to the room for my phone and jacket as an insurance policy. As I walked out the door, Ron was walking to the shuttle. We were so lucky. Our tour guide/driver is also the President, CEO, CFO, and Managing Director of the the company Devilmania Tours. All of this and she reminds me of Bette Midler to boot. Meet Charlene who had Britney riding shotgun. Britney is Charlene's 6th grade daughter off on vacation. We were a group of two, R to the second power or R-squared, us and only us. Being a small group, we had some leeway, like when Charlene asked if we minded if she stopped at the chemist to pick up a prescription. Although we expected some commentary as we drove, it was more like chit-chat, which was fine with me. Charlene took us to a fruit stand to try Tasmanian cherries and apricots. I have to say, these are the best apricots I have ever tasted; we only bought four, but we are sorry we did not buy more now. The cherries were sweet and meaty, but just as good as California or even Hungarian cherries. Charlene drove us to the Tasman Arch and the Devils Kitchen, both are natural rock formations formed by the waves continual erosion of the rock. Both areas were incredibly beautiful, but the colors of the waters defy the vocabulary of the English language. There are no words to identify the shades of blues and greens we viewed. Ron wanted to stop off at the Tasmanian devil reserve, where they are breeding them. As ugly as the little creatures are, they are dying of a rare mouth cancer that is only transmitted through other devils. The object of the reserve is to preserve devils that are not infected, giving them a place to breed so they don't go extinct. They are ugly little creatures and look especially creepy when they are snarling. Within the park are other interesting creatures, including a large number of kangaroos and wallabies. They are so nonchalant about people it is easy to walk up to them to take photographs. We found one with a joey leg hanging out of the pouch. We were hoping more would appear to the paparazzi, but no deal. These celebrities can be so evasive. Our major stop was Port Arthur, the penal colony was established in 1830 as a timber camp. It was after 1833 that it became a “punishment station” for repeat offenders from all of the Australian colonies. Based on discipline and punishment, religious and moral instruction, classification and separation, training and education, the English prison reformer Jeremy Bentham set the rules for his penitentiary. By today's standards, this places was sadistic in a number of ways; however, the signs and information posted at each building for self-guided touring really makes all attempts to dissuade the tourist from regarding any of the procedures here as anything, but necessary. Even reporters of the time who visited wrote disparaging remarks about the treatment of these prisoners who were supposed to be reformed through being forced to attend religious services amongst other things, but even then they had to stay five feet from the next prisoner, even when ball and chained. Each prisoner had to perform labor of some sort, repeaters had hard labor duties. There is a guided tour every hour, but we missed one and did not have time to wait for the next one to start. We were also supposed to take a harbor cruise for twenty minutes, but we had to meet Charlene at 3:30, so we basically only had time to go around to view the different buildings. Okay, I saw it. Another human abusing human setting that has become a major tourist attraction. When you first enter, you receive a playing card with some interesting little pictures on it. At the end, you can look up your card and see what prisoner you were and what your crimes were. I was a sixteen year old who was sent here for stealing a shirt. I was assigned to twelve years of hard labor. After I was released, I stole shoes and was again imprisoned. Hell, I was working on a full outfit. For the initial offense I was sent from England to Australia for reform. One woman was sent from England for stealing a handkerchief. Charlene was there to collect us at 3:30. The ride back was fairly quiet, so we fell asleep. She left us off downtown where we walked around the pedestrian mall, we had not discovered yet. At 5:30 on the dot, the stores closed, bang, bam, boom, all gone for the evening. As I was watching the news tonight, there was a special report on the news about Australian restaurants. There seem to be an unusual number of food poisoning problems. It seems this is the same issue in every country and every major city in any country could document the same problems. What I did find interesting was that of the top ten complaints about restaurants, number five was the high cost of eating out, another was wine that is quadrupled in price from the same wine available from a bottle shop. Another one that is common is hidden charges. Some of the lesser complaints were that there was not a pepper mill on the table or it took too look to get a bottle of water. With a short list of options for restaurants that are open after 6:00 pm, we made the easy choice of returning to the New Sydney Hotel for dinner. The Moo Brew pilsner beer is so very tasty. The spicy chicken burger was well worth the trek back here. Tomorrow is another tour with Charlene, but she told us she has a doctor's appointment and an appointment to have the van steam cleaned inside, so there may be a sub-driver. Our exciting life.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Oh, What a Feeling in Hobart, Tasmania


Wow, our breakfast at this hotel is anything off of their menu. I had Eggs Florentine, while Ron had Eggs Benedict. What a treat that was. The trade-off is that the coffee is instant and not even a good instant. This prompted us to finish our breakfast and find a coffee shop for a better cup of java.

During our hunt for caffeine, we stopped at the Tourism Office. Small, but quick and efficient, we had all of the information we needed to makes some decisions on day tours. Hunting down options for exchanging money, we did not find any significant difference between the banks and the exchange office.

The balance of our day was spent wandering around Hobart looking at the different neighborhoods pointed out by the tour office as interesting places. This is a pleasant little city, very hilly, more so than Sydney. We found a number of little used bookstores and found a couple of good titles we have been hunting for, but the criteria is that it has to be a paperback and under eleven inches in size otherwise they are just too weighty.

When we returned, we had to get to the tour office before 5:00 to book our trips. We changed money, went back to the hotel to drop off some things, and then headed out again. We have been buying a couple of little gifts for a friend of ours in South Africa; she just released her sixth novel. She based it on our apartment from when she came to Budapest and is sending us a copy. We wanted to mail the gifts from here having more secure feelings than if we sent them from Budapest. The registered mail envelopes could not be removed from the post office, so we had to bring the things there to mail. That was out of the way and on the way. At the tourism office we booked two tours for tomorrow and the day after. Friday, we return to Adelaide for our finale before returning home again.

Walking wore us out, so the hotel called and said “Hey, don't you need a nap?” Who could refuse such consideration, so we went back for a beer and then a snooze. The bar was jammed inside and out with young people, mostly wearing black and all having dead bands or armbands of white and blue or white and red. I thought they were here for the cricket match, but when I asked the waiter, he said it was a funeral for a 20 year old.

Watching these young people made me wonder yet again and certainly not for the first time. When did it become acceptable for men to use hair pins, bobby pins, barrettes, and headbands? How does that transition from “god damned faggot” of my generation when I was their age to now it is de riguer or not even noticed. Along those lines, I noticed a number of men with pierced ears, both ears. A number had those hole stretchers in them that look like rims on a car's tire. It would be interesting to touch bases with them in twenty years or more to see if they had to have their ear lopes surgically cut off to remove the Brahma bull lopes left after years of stretching or do they still have them into their forties and fifties? While I am on body modifications, I have never seen so many tattoos as we have seen here in Australia. Not only men, but women too have tattoos on their arms, legs, tops of their feet, and where else that does not show in public, I don't even want to know about. It is not that I am against tattoos, I have one myself and know the pain involved, so how can they stand to have the multitudes of them they have?

Using our Frommer's, we hunted out a restaurant, but it no longer exists. We found a pub restaurant where we chose to take a chance. Great gamble. I had chicken schnitzel with guacamole and cheese melted over it. The chicken was all white meat: a half plate size portion, thick and moist throughout with lots of the green stuff hidden under a perfect layer of a white cheese. It came with a small salad, but I had already ordered spicy fries with it. One of our more memorable meals.

A walk home to relax and some television watching and it is called an evening.

Side note, Ron read in the local paper that the waters across from us are infested with jellyfish, so there is not swimming until further notice. There have been three shark attacks around the country within the last week. All three people survived, but had to beat the shark off. One man had ninety teeth wounds on his leg. Anyone for snorkeling? Not me.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Good bye Cairns, Hello Hobart


Andrew our personable weather forecaster told us this morning that some areas around us had twenty-four inches of rain in the last twelve hours. Two feet of rain in twelve hours. How amazing is that? Because of this, he thought it wise to bring us to the airport earlier than he anticipated last night, which was fine by me. I thought he was cutting it close as it was. As we were driving past these green fields, they were littered with dozens of wallabies grazing. It was so funny to see so many of them in one place. I also kept seeing signs stating “Do not transport electric ants. Make sure you do not have any with you.” I meant to ask Andrew what that was about, but got sidetracked and didn't. I will have to Google them. Again, we were checked in within ten minutes with our boarding passes for both flights. We have to connect in Melbourne to continue on to Hobart. The Melbourne flight first hand to fly in from Melbourne to do a turn-around and it arrived late, so we were late taking off. We only had thirty minutes to make our connection for the Hobart flight, so we were slightly concerned about missing our connection. As it turned out, it was not a concern at all. It was the same plane at the same gate, but not the same crew. For the first segment, the entire crew was male. For this segment, it is mostly male. Virgin Blue is so efficient, but our departure from Melbourne is as we are landing. Will we make it? Sure we will, it is the same plane we just got off of taking us to Hobart. Not an all male crew this time, but still friendly and efficient. Hobart airport is small. On the baggage carousels, there are options listed for getting into the city. The best bet was the shuttle at $25.00 per person with a return. It was sitting outside the door, there were only 8 others and Hobart is supposed to be small, so did not take too long for us to be dropped off at Customs House Hotel. Coincidentally, it is also a pub hotel, which we did not have a clue about. We had to check in at the pub, reception was closed by our arrival at 7:30 pm. The bar staff was pleasant and quickly got us settled. As we drove into the city, I noticed there was not much open. This looks like a sleepy little city. Our room is extravagantly large with a sizable bathroom. We went downstairs to question the bar staff about restaurants and other than suggesting their own, told us to the left and right on the street out the door there are plenty of choices. We are directly across the street from the harbor and across the street in the other direction is a lovely Parliament park. We walked in one direction and found nothing open, turned around and went the other way. A few blocks away is the Salamanca Square, where there are a number of restaurants and pubs. Checking out menus, we found that prices here are even higher than Sydney. All of the little shops in between the eateries, drinking stations were closed, but looked worth investigating further. I needed to buy cigarettes and could not find anywhere that they were sold other than one pub. I had to get a token from the bar staff that needed to be used before I could insert my money. This is how they keep under 18 year olds from buying cigarettes. Anyone under that age who can afford them is doing something else illegal. Finally deciding on a place to eat, we ordered while sitting outside, but it became a little too chilly to stay there. Inside was a strangely cut up large room with triangled sections separating tables. The food was delectable, but the portion was minuscule. For the prices, they should have given a double portion. Still being hungry after we finished, we refused the offer to see the dessert menu and order a coffee, but went across the square where there is a 24 hour bakery. Their selections are sinful, there are so many of them. Apple cake with dates and almonds screamed out my name so loudly, I was embarrassed at the attention I was getting in a public place. Ron decided that brownies are the true test of a good bakery. The scores are in, each judge held up a 10 on the their scorecards. Back at the hotel, our room is totally quiet, the bed is comfortable, and the television works. All of the American television shows seem to be a half year behind. They are just previewing the new season of Desperate Housewives. Off to sleep.

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Reader Comment from Charles


SWEET !! I admire you for living abroad. I just found your site and it seems real interesting, especially the snorkeling stuff. I have never been to Hungary, or snorkeled Falkland Islands. I'll have to take a trip and add it to my site, Keep up the great posts. Take care. -Charles

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Palm Cove - Cairns


Sunday and pouring rain did not inspire us to go anywhere, but since it was our last day in the Cairns area, we wanted to see Palm Cove. The other guests as well as Andrew had told us how nice it is. Around one in the afternoon, there was a break in the weather, still more rain coming, but Andrew said that according to the forecast, if we did not go then, we would miss out.

We waited to hail the bus down, but it arrived with fifteen minutes. The female driver had long dreadlocks, was personable, and polite. Our ride lasted for almost thirty minutes, before we saw resorts on one side and beach on the other. This was Palm Cove, all three blocks of it. Well, it may actually, be a few more, but none of the others are of interest to anyone other than those living there.

The first thing we did was walk the beach, looking for any seashells and just relaxing to the rhythm of the shallow ocean waves as they softly broke on the shoreline. Pristine sand stretched for miles; the cleanliness of it was incredible impressive. Not only was no human litter, there was barely any seas litter, either. The sand was void of shells, few fragments of driftwood, no seaweed, and no remnants from the ocean left as souvenirs. This only made it more challenging to find a shell or some memento take away as a remembrance. I found one shell, so I won the game over the sea. Ron found two.

In addition to being void of litter, it was also void of people sunbathing and swimming. We only came across on couple sunbathing, but as we walked further, we realized the only bathing was being done in the roped off and netted area. One large rectangular area was marked off as the designated swimming area, with lifeguard overseers. The lifeguard was patrolling in the little shed set above the sand to give a broad view of the area.

It still amazes me that all of the nasty creatures know the net is their barrier and they should not try chew through it, or swim through the holes, or even go to the bottom of the sea and lift up the bottom of the net to travel under and up. With the tides, the water movement, I am also curious as to how they can keep that netting close to the ocean bottom to create a sealed off area.

Part of my answer was answered by a sign behind the lifeguard station. The township, the county, the state, and the nation will not be held responsible for anyone who chooses to swim in this area, regardless of the netting. Although the netting is a barrier, it is not foolproof and no section of government can be held responsible if anything happens, thus you are swimming at your own risk. Right above this warning are pictographs and a note stating that this area is known to have crocodiles, jellyfish, and sharks. How comforting that netting it under these circumstances.

Just after I was getting my laughs over these signs, it started raining: heavily raining. I had an umbrella, Ron had a poncho we bought at the Skyrail, yesterday. But this weather made a fairly dead Palm Cove even deader. There were hardly any people around to begin with, but some of these few fled when the heavy rains started. We used the time to check out what was what.

Basically, this strikes me as an artificial little community set up to sell expensive condominiums, hotels, and resorts on beach front property. Then to cater to these people, you need a small assortment of stores to make them feel like there is something to do here. There are a few clothing stores, a couple of souvenir stores, one small supermarket that is not much more than a convenience store, and a smattering of restaurants spread down the street. People need to drink, eat, and feel good when they are on vacation. I could not help but imagine how beautiful this area must have looked before people started messing with it.

Andrew had suggested a restaurant if we were going to eat here, so we found it easily amongst the four choices. I had a burger called the LOT. It was too. It was a hamburger, beetroot, pineapple, fried onions, fried egg, lettuce, tomato, and BBQ sauce. I could not keep it together to bite into it. We also shared the largest french fries I have ever seen. They were larger than steak fries, hot, and delicious. All the time we were eating out on the balcony under umbrellas, the rain was coming down in sheets.

As we were finishing our meal, the two women at the next table started talking to us. They admitted they had too much wine, but chattered away. One of the women left to go to the ladies room and never returned. It took her friend about twenty minutes to realize this, but then she kind of panicked and went looking for her. It was kind of comical. Eventually, she found her and came back to announce it.

Ron went to the grocery store to pick up snacks for later and I went to check the bus schedule. There was four minutes before the bus, so I ran to get Ron. There were two guys waiting on the other side at the bus stop, so I asked if they saw a bus go by. They told us we were on the wrong side. This led to one of them telling us he is a medical doctor and is trying to get licensed in the States. We were so rapt in conversation, we almost missed our stop.

The rain was intermittent showering and pouring, so when it was only showering, we took that opportunity to jump into the pool for a swim.

Time to pack up. We leave tomorrow for Hobart, Tasmania on Virgin Blue.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Skyrail in the Rainforest and Kuranda Railroad - Cairns


Another day, another tour. Today we set out for the Rainforest Skyrail Cableway and Kuranda Railway. Once again, Andrew drove us to the resort to catch our shuttle, but then ran back home to transport all of the others to the airport. We will be the only guests for the rest of our stay.

The shuttle arrived promptly with a family of five on it and within twenty minutes had us at the boarding station for the Rainforest Skyrail. We had tickets for 10:15, but arrived at 9:50 and thought we had to wait it out. However, there was no one waiting in line, so they let us on early. We had a whole gondola to ourselves. The Skyrail Cableway is 7.5 km (4.66 miles). It glides just above the rainforest canopy; each tower was put in by helicopter so as not to disturb the environment. Swiss engineers were called in to design the system, which was completed in 1995 after one year of construction. Tower six is the tallest at 40.5 meters or 133 feet. There are 114 gondolas.

After boarding it took about fifteen minutes to reach the Red Peak station, the highest point on the cableway at 545 meters or 1,788 feet high, where you get out and explore the rainforest at this point along boardwalks. Umbrellas are provided for those who did not think to bring one. A guide met us and offered us a free walking tour as he pointed out a number of trees and facts about them and this area of the rainforest in general. He was quite impressive with his knowledge. After he completed his tour, we were free to roam the area before boarding another gondola to the next section.

In another fifteen minutes of hovering over this incredible site of millions of trees and plants, we arrived at the Barron Falls Station where again we were able to walk around a boardwalk to see and read about various plants and trees. At this station is the Rainforest Interpretation Center where there are a number of displays on the rainforest and its inhabitants both animal and vegetative. We learned that Australia's rainforests are the oldest continually surviving rainforests one earth, dating back 120 million years. This rainforest occupies 900,000 hectares. Australia's rainforests have 2,800 plant species, of which 380 are considered threatened. Seven hundred of them are not found anywhere else in the world.

Also calling the rainforest home is the Southern Carrowary, the largest flightless bird of Australia, two types of tree kangaroos, the primitive Musky Rat kangaroo, the largest butterfly of the continent, the Cairns Birdwing. There are three lookouts that provide a great view of Barron Gorge and Falls. We spent a good deal of time wandering here, before boarding another gondola for the balance of the journey.

At the end, we disembarked in the village of Kuranda. Very touristy, it is souvenir shops and restaurants galore. We had train tickets for the railroad going back down at 3:30, the last train of the day. There are only two of them and the earlier one is at 2:00. We went to the butterfly sanctuary to spend some time. We hesitated at the $16.00 entry fee per person, but once in, realized it was well worth the money. There are over 2,000 butterflies of various species at any given time. After ten minutes in we were offered a free guided tour. Our guide explained the details of half a dozen different breeds of butterflies, their life stages, their sex life, colorations, and so on. The amount of information was incredible, but the beauty of the Ulysses butterfly with its vibrant blue wings outshone anything she had to say. Two of them landed on her chest. She was wearing a white t-shirt with a Ulysses butterfly on it. There is also a large green species that I cannot recall the name of that was an incredible emerald green. At the end of the tour in the butterfly area, she took us into the museum to show us butterflies of the world. Mother nature is quite the artist. Some had wings that when opened looked like snake heads to thwart their enemies.

We really ran through the village concerned about missing the train, but actually arrived with almost three quarters of an hour to spare. With assigned seats on the railway, we boarded. The seating is cushioned bench type seating with four seats across from four seats across. We were on the end with the aisle, not providing the best views. No air conditioning made it hot and steamy, so everyone opened every window in the car, but as the female conductor came through, she closed them all again. The ride is twenty-one miles long, but takes one hour and forty-five minutes to complete. It is considered one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world and would be if we had seats that did not look out on rock sidings. We passed through Barron Gorge National Park passing gorges and waterfalls on the way. It rises to a height of 1,076 feet and makes its way through fifteen tunnels before concluding the trip. It was built by hand in the late 1880s taking five years to complete through the work of 1, 500 men working on the construction. The steam engine was retired two years ago along with some of the romance of the trip.

We took it all the way to Cairns where we thought we would have dinner and avoid another take-out menu dinner. The rain was coming in sheets here too, so we tried staying under awnings as much as possible. As we walked, we noticed the sky was littered with the bats we saw hanging from the trees on our last time here. At dusk they were flying the friendly skies looking for their meals. At times, sections of the sky were black with bats.

Not being able to decide where to eat, we wandered into one of the street markets. In the back was a food court, so Ron had fish and chips and I had Chinese. We had fifteen minutes to catch our bus, so we ran for it otherwise the next one would not be for another hour.

After fifteen minutes on the bus, the driver pulled over and told us he was letting all of us out in the rain. We had to board the bus behind him. The back bus took a different route than we were used to and for a few minutes we thought we were in trouble. When Ron asked the driver, he explained he was a local route, not an express, so there would be more stops. Trying to find our stop in the dark is challenging, but each driver has been patient enough to drive slowly when we think it is approaching.

By the evening now, it is pouring rain in buckets, but still that pool is calling out to us and the water is warm. It would be rude to decline such a gracious offer.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Eat, Swim, Read, Write - Cairns


This is my version of "Eat, Pray, Love". If you have not read it, you should. Today was the first day of rain we have had this trip. There are warnings of a monsoon or cyclone coming in this direction, but if it materializes, it will be long after we have left for Hobart. Andrew keeps us abreast of the weather report on a thirty minute cycle if we are around to hear it. He has used monsoon and cyclone at different times, but I have yet to ask how they classify them differently. Once you get him started on weather, it is difficult to escape. He talks about the weather more than US Midwesterners do. My day consisted of breakfast, reading, a swim in the pool, writing, a swim in the pool, reading, a nap, a swim in the pool, and reading. Then I strained myself by dragging myself to lunch, then took another nap, and continued the cycle all over again. Swimming in the rain is not a problem since it is still warm and there is no lightening to be concerned about. Ron took a walk to the beach and arrived just as the lifeguard caught a box jellyfish in the protective net around the beach. Ron was able to see one up close and personal. It was a juvenile, but the tentacles were still over a foot long. The lifeguard was going to ship it to a research facility. This is one of the twelve most deadly animals on earth. They just need to brush against you for you to be poisoned. Respiratory arrest starts in two hours. I read, swam in the pool, wrote, swam in the pool, read, took a nap, swam in the pool, and read. The Argentinians and I did not get out of a towel all day. The joys of staying at an all male resort.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Going into the Big City - Cairns


We ventured into Cairns today getting the bus at the correct time, but not sure which direction we needed. Apparently we did not realize what an adventure it would be, so we each stood on one side of the road to flag down anything that came. Since I was on a bend, I could only hear large motor noises and tried flagging down a couple of trucks before realizing they were not buses.

When we finally had a bus arrive, for the first twenty minutes, there were only three of us on it. Traveling through the suburbs, it is strip mall after strip mall, but once we reached a highway, the highways were beautifully manicured; I could easily have felt like I was in Hawaii. The hills and mountains in the background filled with trees, foliage and lush flowers planted along the way, was really lovely scenery. It was in the 90s today with equally high humidity, so the mist was playing off the tips of the mountain tops. Our journey lasted forty-five minutes before we arrived at our destination.

Cairns immediately reminded me of an East coast city, circa 1970s. Only a couple of buildings look like they were built long ago, while the others look like they were built without the aid of an architect's imagination. There is not much of a city there; the streets were fairly empty of tourists. The central business district is just about three long streets made up of restaurants, souvenir shops, cafés, and of course, hotels and one casino. Here and there is a mall or shopping plaza interspersed with the other stores. We walked up one street and down the other, checking out everything, lest we miss some hidden treasure.

Stopping for a coffee, we thought we had picked a prime location with outside seating. However, when we asked for an ashtray for the outside table we were informed that there is no smoking outside anywhere in Queensland. Queensland, the state we are currently in restricts smoking within four meters of the opening of any food serving establishment. Perhaps this is the reason why there are so few people eating in these places. Making it stricter, you cannot smoke in any area that is covered either, which includes awnings; most of the stores have metal awnings that span the entire block. In order to smoke, you have to stand in the curb and on a corner like a pariah. This explained the congregation of people at the curbs and corners of the streets, puffing away until they finished and then went back to the store or restaurant they came from.

One section of the business district has all of the Asian oriented stores and businesses that range from travel agents to souvenir shops that specifically cater to the Japanese and Korean tourists with all of their signs in both languages. Business must be poor is the city. There were a number of empty store fronts with for sale or for rent signs posted in windows.

As we walked the streets, we saw this fascinating tree that had hundreds of branches coming from the trunk rooting into the ground. We found it was a type of fig tree called a strangler fig. A sign on the tree caught my attention and thinking it was an explanation of the tree, it was a request to inform the authorities if anyone spots a flying fox bat baby that has fallen to the ground. Included in the warning was not to touch it as they carry a virus fatal to humans. When I looked up, there were hundreds of bats hanging in the tree. All of the squawking we assumed was coming from birds was in actuality coming from the bats hanging around. Although daylight, they were busy flying around, spreading their wings, and most likely fighting for territory. We thought better of staying under the tree for too long fearing bat pooh bombs.

Our host had suggested we walk toward where the beach should be, but explained that Cairns does not have a beach, but a mud land. With the waters out, there is very little sand, but a large mud area, so the city built a pool for the locals to swim. It is splendidly designed so that it starts as a fountain working its way into a full fledged pool. Boasting a full 43,000 square feet, each area of this salt water pool is clearly marked with the depth and one point is deep enough to dive into. Huge starfish sculptures elevated into the air on poles are fountains pouring water into the pools. There is park area all around for sunbathing, plus ingeniously, the city installed permanent grills, in series of three that can be started with the push of a button, so people can barbecue and then eat at the picnic tables spread through the area. It is so completely user friendly, but no smoking anywhere in the area.

Cairns may be small and the area may seem like one suburban resort after another, but this area is the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites are side by side: the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics Rainforest. The rainforest in Daintree is 110 million years old.

We were told by our host that if we were too hot, we should check out the air conditioned mall to cool off. Malls are malls anywhere in the world, same same, but different. We did however stop into a grocery store to buy a roasted chicken and some salads for our dinner, before catching the bus back to where we are staying. When we boarded the bus, I asked the driver if he would warn us when he was approaching Gannett Road and Bondi Court. He said “Do you see this blank look on my face? I have no idea where you are talking about.” If we were not positive it was the right bus, I would have been concerned. There was no reason to even pay attention until after forty-five minutes had passed and by that time, there were only three of us on the bus anyway. When we told the driver we thought we were close, he drove slower so that we could identify the stop. Our stop is the only one not marked with a sign. It is only a utility post that identifies it as a place to hail buses. One thing I have to say is the bus drivers are terrific and helpful. They will do anything possible to be of assistance and none of the other passengers seem to mind being held up while the driver is helping others.

After a shower, we jumped into the pool to cool off. After reading some e-mails, we chowed down on our dinner while the two Argentinians ordered take-out and the Brit had gone into town. The hosts went out for dinner, so it was cozy. Our chicken and salads were exceptionally good, one salads was an antipasto, which I had doubts about when ordering. It was memory shattering, bringing me back to my childhood. Now I wish we had bought a larger container. What a treat to jump back in the pool to cool off before going to bed.

I have come to grips with appreciating where we were staying. The host Andrew is beyond accommodating and the other guests are really a treat to spend a few hours with in the evening. The one clincher is there is WiFi here. If I had to hunt around for it, it would have been murder. Oh and the pool calls with invitations to jump in regularly.

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