Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve 12/31/2012

Today was a quiet sea day as everyone prepared for the ending of 2012 and the upcoming celebrations
on-board. We docked in Hobart, Australia at dinnertime. Besides the security on the dock we had security boats patrolling the harbor side of the ship. As the hour grew later, the harbor bridge was lit and more and more boats crowded the water.

For this New Year's Eve we had dinner at the steakhouse restaurant and sat with a couple who are retired from working at Bell Laboratories. The gentleman explained to us that he worked on a team that wrote codes that were used in the creation of the Internet. As an aside, the man (who was wearing a red bow tie) and his wife were the other couple on board who shared our anniversary date. For a birthday or anniversary, following the daily program about our current location, the ship puts greetings to you on the television. We knew that one other couple had an anniversary on December 27th, but until tonight did not know who they were. The other couple lived for a short while in Minneapolis and now lives in Palm Springs. They are friends of Myra and Jeff Halpren (Jon's parents and Jeff's parents were very good friends and often hosted parties together). Although we had known neither couple we quickly found our commonality. It was a good dinner because it ended with baked Alaska.

At midnight the captain blew the ship's horn and we watched a magnificent fireworks display that is put on each year by the city of Hobart. Being in the harbor we had a front row seat.

It is now 12:30 am (7:30 am in Minneapolis). Tomorrow at 4 pm, there will be another New Year's celebration for all the American passengers, as the ball drops in New York City. Throughout the day other celebrations will occur to usher in the New Year for passengers of all the different nationalities.

For now, Jon and I, along with the Tasmanian devil are among the first of our family and friends to celebrate what we hope will be a happy 2013! We are headed to bed, as we will start the year with a tour at 8:45 tomorrow morning.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Melbourne 12/30/2013

December 30, 2012
Melbourne, Australia

In total we will be spending three days in Melbourne. In order to start with an overview of the city we took the introductory highlights of Melbourne tour. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Another Sea Day 12/29/2012

Some find the days at sea boring. I find them to be enjoyable, relaxing, and surprisingly, thought provoking.

It is no secret that my sister and I have a close relationship. We are grateful to our parents for having the foresight and setting the example of how to bring our two families together as if they were one. We have been told that our extended family is “mixed together like a bowl of spaghetti”. It is something of which we are proud and from which we reap many benefits. One of which being that our children, though first cousins, have always related to each other more like siblings.

For the past few years Alicia’s and our children have spent New Years together. They continue to do so with families of their own and yet another generation of our parent’s offspring is being raised as if they were siblings and the bowl of spaghetti gets even larger. The group, with the addition of Sam and Theo this year, is currently together in Palo Alto.

Our family tree would show Alicia’s son, Jeremy and his wife Laura as parents to Melanie and Jenna; Alicia’s daughter, Tracy and her husband Marc as parents to Benjamin and Theo; Marcee and her husband Jon are the parents of Rosie and Sam; and Amy is the grand “Ahme” to them all.

How much fun it has been to receive the pictures of Sam and Theo together, of Rosie meeting Theo and of Melanie, Jenna and Benjamin meeting Sam. We get reports that Rosie is spending time with Benjamin and that she still idolizes and copies the actions of Jenna and Melanie. We have heard that Sam is getting to ride on the shoulders of Jeremy. We assume that Marc has had his infamous cookie making sessions with all the older ones.

My father always said that family was the most important thing in life and that having everyone together topped the list.  I received an email from my sister this morning:

“Stephen and I were just talking about how amazing it is and fabulous that your kids schlepped all the way across country. I skyped with mine for a minute. They had rain on the drive up from San Diego and Melanie said they saw four or five rainbows, but that they didn't find the pot of gold. I told her that their all being together was the pot of gold and her parents seemed to agree. Blessed is right. It's quite remarkable.

As this year nears the end, for our family 2012 has indeed been a one in which we have grown in number and for which we indeed feel blessed.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Kangaroo Island 12/28/2012

Today is one that comes along ever so rarely, when everything around you is perfect. It is so beautiful, that even though I wanted to take a nap, I didn’t want to miss a moment of the day. We have just finished eating lunch outside, on the back deck of the ship. The skies are sunny, the temperature is just right for sitting outside and there is a very slight breeze. Against the backdrop of islands off in the distance, we are surrounded by calm water, turquoise in color and as clean and fresh as the air we are breathing. We have to pinch ourselves to be certain that this is real. It could not be more beautiful.
This morning we pulled into the port city of Peeneshaw, Kangaroo Island (population 200). We took the tenders to shore and boarded buses for an overview of this jewel of an island. I had read that “the best thing about Kangaroo Island is just being there” and we found this to be true. Although it is isolated (one gets here by ship or by the ferry that runs from Adelaide) and much of the land is untouched and unspoiled, there is a surprising amount of activity on the island.
True to its name, there are kangaroos, and we saw a few, dark brown in color, in their natural environment. This was only because the morning skies were cloudy. Kangaroos and penguins that are on this island are nocturnal. There is also a sheep dairy and cheese factory; a honey farm, as this is home to the last wild colonies of ligurian bees; a distillery, featuring spirits and liquors with unique Australian flavors; a lavender farm and a conservation park where one can observe up to 500 dark New Zealand fur seals from a boardwalk along the beach. We saw lakes that were naturally covered with salt that the early seal hunters used to preserve the animals, a practice that is thankfully no more. The island also supports rock lobster fishing and a growing number of wineries. Kingscote, the island’s largest city (population 300) boasts a two-street downtown, in which my husband quickly found the bakery. None of these outshine the beautiful bays, beaches and vistas, the abundance of eucalyptus trees and small bushes called "melaluka", and the many species of birds. 

If there was a disappointment, it was that we could not see all of these during our short stay.  We have learned about a wonderful place to stay here called the South Ocean Lodge.  Who knows, there should always be a reason to return!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Day three of Sea Day Trilogy 12/27/2012 - Anniversary

Today is the last at sea before Kangaroo Island. It is also our 42nd anniversary. One of my favorite editorials was written by Ellen Goodman and published on a Valentine’s Day. It is about the eternal romantics who see no further than what Goodman refers to as the “getting stage” of a relationship. She comments on how few think about what happens after the “I do”, the time a relationship is truly tested. She concludes that true love is not to be found in the initial stages but in the times that follow, working through the everyday complexity of life while furthering friendship and trust.

I must say that I remember with fondness the “getting stage” for Jon and me; the night we met on a blind date; the parties at the AE Phi and TEP sorority and fraternity houses; the trips back and forth on the turnpike between Denver and Boulder; the nightly phone calls; how Jon came to visit in Houston for Thanksgiving because etiquette required that the man first call on the woman’s family and how before I could visit Minneapolis during our winter break, I had to buy gray gloves to match the gray suit I was taking with me.
I remember the night in May when both of our parents were in Denver and we became engaged, the beautiful engagement party that Jon’s parents gave in Minneapolis and all the events surrounding our wedding. After a honeymoon in Acapulco we lived six months in Denver so we could both
complete the last semester of college. Those were wonderful times, full of fun and little responsibility. Then one June day, we made the trip to Minneapolis and as Ellen Goodman relates, the reality of our marriage began.

An increasing number of years of marriage requires a lot of mazel, or luck, the ability to talk things through, a commonality of basic values and a commitment on the part of two people to do the hard work that makes a marriage work. If you have these, marriage can be a wonderful thing.

Yes, you share the sad times, arguments, compromises, illnesses, losses and the agonizing over making correct decisions. But you also share the happy times, laughs, fun times with friends, holidays with family, wonderful travels, pride in each other’s accomplishments, the birth of your children and as my father would say, the times “you are busting your buttons” as you watch them grow and accomplish more and more on their own. You get past the years when they think you know nothing to the time when they become your friends and you have the special privilege of being the grandparents of their children.

Throughout it all you have the joy of being in each others company, of celebrating life cycle events, of truly knowing each other and building and sharing a life together. Ellen Goodman would claim that this is the best “stage” of all. On this our anniversary day, we would agree and feel very blessed.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Day two of Sea Day Trilogy 12/26/2012

We have often spoken about Dag, the “Norwegian God”, otherwise known as the captain of the ship, Song of Flower that we were on in 1994. Captain Dag was tall, blonde, handsome, approachable and totally in command of his ship. I must say that with each day I become more impressed with the captain of this ship. He was born in Ireland and now calls England, home. He is also tall, handsome and approachable, in total control of the ship and has a wonderful wit.

Today’s update at noon began with him explaining that if we didn’t know what day it was, not to worry, as he had to scratch his head and wonder himself this morning. He then proceeded to tell us the correct day and date and how we were currently headed due east, halfway between Perth and Kangaroo Island. He reported the outdoor temperature to not be as hot as the shuffleboard tournament held this morning. He informed us the sky was sunny and the sea was calm. He thanked the righteous among us as we are all benefitting from their good fortune.

Yesterday, two of the prizes at the extravaganza were charts signed by the captain, one of Australia and the other of New Zealand. The cruise director announced them as “maps” to which the captain corrected him by saying  they were “charts” and that we carry no “maps” on-board. The cruise director answered that the captain must be giving these “charts” as prizes since he had no use for them on this cruise, and if this frightened us we were out of luck, as we could not leave the ship on a sea day. The banter between the captain and the cruise director gets better with each day and adds to the enjoyment of the trip.

Today for us was a most enjoyable lazy day. Jon continues to play bridge each morning and also went this afternoon. I am working on my journal (blog) and editing my photos. With books, games and movies on our i-pad , knitting projects and activities on-board there is plenty to do and of course, a nap is always an available option.Tonight we set our clocks ahead by only a half hour. There are only eighteen places in the world where this occurs, and Central Australia is one of them.

I have mentioned how the sun has been glistening on the water during the day. Tonight the light of the moon is shining on the especially calm water and it is most beautiful. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Day one of Sea Day Trilogy 12/25/2012- Christmas

Woke to another glorious sunny day with calm waters and an occasional glimpse of land far in the distance. For three days we will cruise the Great Australian Bight, along the southern coast of Australia, on our eastern path to Kangaroo Island.

This morning at breakfast the Captain was in the dining area shaking hands with passengers and crew alike, wishing us all a happy holiday.
At noon, when the Captain made his daily announcements over the loud speaker, the cruise director joined him and it went as follows:
·    - The sound of jingle bells
·    - Captain: (in a deep voice) “Ho, ho ho, a happy holidays to you all!
·      More sounds of jingle bells
·    - Captain: This is the Captain speaking and informing you that we have picked up on radar a gentleman flying through the sky. He has asked permission to come on-board this afternoon.
·    -Cruise Director: Yes, and I understand he also inquired as to if we have a chimney.
·    - Captain: Oh, right. I told him that it was on the gingerbread house in the main lobby.
·      More sounds of jingle bells
·    - Cruise Director: Captain, This is usually the time you tell the passengers our location and the weather and sea conditions.
·    - Captain: How do I know? Today, ask that of the man on the sled. Yes, well, I guess if I don’t tell you, you will to continue to ask, so here goes…
The Captain then gave his daily report and the cruise director announced the special events for the afternoon and the whole thing ended with the sound of more jingle bells.

We did have quite a busy day today. Jon had bridge and time with his trainer. This afternoon we went to “Santa’s Grand Atrium Extravaganza”. Each of the ship’s departments set up games. Guests had 45 minutes to go to as many places as they could and win tickets, that would later be used towards a raffle for prizes. The casino crew had cards on the blackjack table. Guests won a ticket if the card they drew was higher in value than the one picked by the dealer.  The stage crew set up karaoke, for which a ticket was won by singing a song. The dining crew had spices to smell. Identify a certain number and collect a ticket. The engine crew had six boards with bolts attached to them. Six people were given a bucket of screws and the boards. The ticket went to whoever identified and got all the screws on the fastest. The cocktail lounge had a game of putt-putt, with obstacles of beer bottles. There were many more games.

Guests could also vote for their favorite game. It was fun, quite festive and at the end guests put their tickets into a drum and the captain drew the prize-winners. The winning department was the dining crew that was dressed in sombreros and Mexican hats and had set up a game of Mexican ring toss with chillies and English cucumbers.

From there we went to the Gala Teatime with special holiday teats followed by Snowball bingo and by then it was time to think about dinner. One of the restaurants was turned into a French bistro, special for last night and tonight. The evening show featured two comedians and if we had stayed up long enough, at midnight the Queen’s Christmas message was being broadcast live on our TVs’.

Good thing tomorrow is another sea day, so we can get some rest and relaxation.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Freemantle & Perth 12/24/2012

Last night as we left Geraltdon, the captain announced that we were heading into rougher water and would be experiencing “motion with the ocean”. He expected it would last for about an hour then he would put “medal to the pedal” so that we would not arrive late to our next destination. Gratefully, he was correct about the sea conditions but we still arrived later than scheduled this morning.

If you had a visitor come to the Twin Cities and you took them on a tour through the city, a boat ride on Lake Minnetonka and finished with a drive down Summit Avenue, this would be a close description of what we did today in Perth and Freemantle.

As described in our tour guide, “ Perched on the serene Swan River and framed by the Swan Valley vineyards, Perth boasts a modern, sophisticated atmosphere. Perth is known as the City of Lights, referring to every light in the city being turned on when John Glen flew his first orbit of the earth in 1962. The action was repeated in 1998 when Glen flew aboard the shuttle Discovery.”
Kings Park

Western Australia covers one-third of the Australian landmass, but with the country’s total population of 22 million only 2 million reside in “WA”. Perth is the fourth most populous city in Australia and a thriving metropolitan area. We began our day with a city tour, highlighted by stops at Cottesloe Beach and Indiana Tea House, where visiting dignitaries are entertained; Kings Park and Botanical Gardens, with a view of the city skyline along the river and a ride through the business district in which we saw a wonderful sculpture of a group of kangaroos all holding briefcases. From there we boarded a boat for a ride down the Swan River and our return to Fremantle, viewing the riverside estates of Millionaires’ Row and numerous yacht clubs along the way. The day was warm, but our guide explained that strong afternoon sea breezes, know locally as the “Freo Doctor” give a welcome relief.

We finished our tour with a drive through Fremantle. It was explained to us that when jails in England became overcrowded, prisoners were sent to Australia to build the cities. This occurred between the years of 1850 and 1868 in a number of places, Freemantle being one of them. Freemantle is the original site of settlement in this area and the Fremantle jail still stands along with many well preserved 19th century, colonial-era buildings. Over the years Fremantle had become run-down and unsafe. The area was renovated when the World’s Cup was held here in the 80’s and is now a destination for shops, restaurants, coffee houses and a large market, originally built in the 1870’s, and housed in a Victoria–era building.

Although many activities were planned onboard to celebrate Christmas Eve, we were tired from our day of touring, had dinner in our room and headed to bed. We could have easily been one of Santa’s first stops.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

12/23/2012 Geraldton

After being in Exmouth (population 2,500), arriving in Champion Bay and approaching Geraldton (population 33,000) seemed like entering a huge metropolis. It was somewhat disheartening to see a McDonalds, KFC and Target not far from the pier. Proud our American companies span the globe but sad to see that even a town such as this can’t remain purely Australian in nature.

We boarded the bus to begin our tour and were instructed that in Australia everyone must wear a seat belt. The bus could not leave until we were all buckled up. My first thought was that this would be a wonderful policy to enact on school buses back home.

As we made our way to our destination of the Greenough Wildlife Park, our guide began with a short history lesson. Geralton began some 40,000 years ago when various Aboriginal tribes lived in the area. The first European exploration of the area was in 1839 and the first farmers began to settle here in the late 1850’s.

Because of its fertile soil, the area is considered part of the “Wheat-belt of Western Australia”. This port city is also a center for manufacturing, tourism and fishing. It is home to a thriving rock lobster industry. We are here at the height of the harvesting of these lobsters, which are small and resemble what we call crayfish. They will be sent to locations throughout the world and in Australia each could be sold in a restaurant for approximately 15 Australian dollars. As with all other things, living in Australia is expensive.

We made our way past large sand dunes that are along the coast and protect the city from the ocean. We were told that strong winds over time will shift the location of these dunes and they will eventually cover the neighborhoods in their path. Our guide said that later in the day we would stop by a tree whose trunk had been turned on its side by these strong southerly winds. The “leaning trees”, as they are called have become something of an icon for the region.

We continued our drive, passing wheat fields, which were covered with bails of hay. We went past the hamlet of Greenough, which was a thriving agricultural center for the original farmers and where buildings have been restored so that visitors can explore this representation of early life in the area.

When we arrived at our destination, rangers, who were holding two baby kangaroos wrapped in blankets, met us. We were told that this was a rehabilitation facility with a collection of indigenous Australian species. Many of the animals were brought to the center after being injured or orphaned. If possible they will be released back into the wild and those that cannot be will stay here for the remainder of their lives. The animals we would see are comfortable being handled by humans. We could feed the kangaroos and the sheep, but only observe the birds, emus, dingoes and later there would be a time when we could watch the feeding of a salt-water crocodile.

When she was a little girl, we would sometimes call Marcee, “Marsupial”. Later we discovered that a marsupial was an animal that had a pouch and that the kangaroo fit into this category. Here we were face to face, feeding Macopus Rufus, Macropus Fuliginosus, and Macropus Robustus (Even Jon couldn’t have come up with better names).  We left the reserve, on this early part of our journey to Australia, feeling as if we had been greeted by some of the animals most associated with this country.

We boarded the buses to make our way back to the ship, visited the hamlet of Greenoch, saw a leaning tree and finished with one more stop at the Aliinta Wind Farm, which is the largest wind farm in Australia, where over 50 wind turbines stand like giants against the backdrop of the rolling hills and the ocean… a fitting representation of the area’s past and future.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Exmouth 12/21/2012

After leaving Bali (which I will write about later) on the 19th we spent the 20th at sea and today arrived at Exmouth, Australia. It was hot (113 degrees F, the average daily temperature being 100), dry (rain falls usually 3 days a year), on the Western coast of Australia and in the bush (We were told that it is called the bush simply because the land is full of pretty much nothing but bushes).

Not much is in Exmouth. There is the Harold Holt naval station that was built by the Americans and now run by Australians, on which are communication towers as tall as the Empire State building (this is the most powerful radio transmission station in the southern hemisphere), the Vlamingh Head lighthouse that is 100 years old and the only lighthouse in the world that is still lit by kerosene oil and a very small center of town with shops and bars. There are also miles of unspoiled white sandy beaches, a coral reef, and water, which is turquoise in color and amazingly clear. This area is known as a fisherman’s paradise. This is truly, Australia; barren, unpopulated (population is 2,300) and untouched.

We went on a tour (the air conditioning was broken on our bus so we could only get hot air from the blowers) to see the sights. We saw our first native Australian animal, the emu, which looks like an ostrich. No kangaroos were seen because they were hiding in the bushes and would not come out until nightfall. We had a chance to have a short swim at Bundegi beach and the cool clear water felt wonderful.

For the two of us, this was a special day. Arriving in Australia means that we have had the privilege of setting foot on all seven of the world’s continents. It was quite thrilling when we stepped onto the pier.

This morning we met with a trainer in the spa, who is going to work with Jon on strengthening his back muscles. Tonight we went to the Friday night services and met two lovely couples from Melbourne with whom we had dinner.

Many nationalities are represented among the passengers. We have met people from Singapore, Australia, Ireland, Norway, South Africa and England as well as the USA. Many are going all the way to Beijing. Some have been on the ship since October, when the trip began in Mumbai. A few have been in previous years on world cruises. lasting over 100 days. One couple is on the ship for six months. Their trips make our 54 days seem like a very short journey.

Although the company is now called Regent Seven Seas and the logo is an "R" there are places onboard where the original Seven Seas logo is displayed. It brings back wonderful memories of our family trip with Alicia, Ilsa, Daddy and Gene to the Baltic, which we took on the Seven Sea’s ship, Song of Flower. There are a number of crew and passengers on this ship who also sailed with Seven Seas and the infamous Captain Dag.
All is well. We are both fine and happy to not be in the snowstorm in the mid-west. Tomorrow another day at sea and then the next stop will be Geraldton.  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bali 12/15/22012

If you want to get to paradise, it takes a long time to get there. We woke at 6 am on Wednesday morning, 12-12-12 to finish the last minute packing and headed to the airport for a 1 pm flight to Tokyo. After flying 13 hours, we had a two-hour layover and got back on the plane for a 7 hour flight to Singapore. The planes have flat bed seats, which are interesting as they are arranged at an angle and feel like personal pods.

Between Tokyo and Singapore we were so ready to sleep. When I tried to put my seat into a flat position the seat belt got stuck under the seat. The flight attendant got my seat belt out and I tried to get my seat to lay flat only to find that it was stuck and would not move in any direction. The flight attendant returned, pushed the reset button to no avail. Now there were two flight attendants taking my seat apart with no luck in getting it to work. A third flight attendant appeared and I was told that they would be right back. I think they had to radio the mechanics on the ground to find out what to do. Now I had three flight attendants disassembling my chair and working on the control panel. They could not get it to lay flat but they did get it to move again. By this time I was so tired, I told them it was fine, I just wanted to sleep. In the morning the flight attendant asked if I would like him to put my seat back up and I was most happy to let him deal with it. I then sat down to find that part of the seat belt was again lost under the seat. The flight attendant returned, fixed the seat and asked if he could give me some miles for the inconvenience. I told him that I would not refuse them. I gave him my “skymiles” card only to have him return and say that the number was not being accepted. He took Jon’s card and it worked fine. Wouldn’t you know Jon got the miles for sleeping through the entire episode. I guess the moral of the story is that new things are wonderful … if they work.  

We arrived at 3am (Singapore time) on Thursday the 13th, fell into bed and slept until noon…too late for the breakfast menu so I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and we headed back to the airport for a 
3 hour flight to Bali. The Singapore airport is enormous and full of beautiful orchids and Christmas decorations. Everything is decorated in white and silver and quite impressive. Looking forward to our return to see the city.

Arrived in Bali at 8pm (Bali time) so when we got to the hotel it was dark and we couldn’t see much. There is a definite style of architecture here and I am looking forward to seeing the Temples, rice fields, beaches and why this island is often referred to as paradise.

Our room is included in our cruise package. We have a garden view room (villa) that has an outdoor patio, small pool with a fountain and a bedroom with a high ceiling made from bamboo poles. All of the hotel personnel are in native dress. This morning we are both tired and went back to bed after breakfast. Today is going to be a lazy day. Will have to explore the hotel and the island “maƱana”.